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Chapel Hill & Carrboro, NC is a great destination for LGBT travelers and weddings

Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle and Alicia Stemper

Town of Carrboro, NC Mayor Lydia Lavelle (L) and photographer Alicia Stemper, at the Spotted Dog restaurant in downtown Carrboro. Lavelle and Stemper were married on October 25, 2014 at the Carrboro Town Commons two weeks after same-sex marriage became legal in North Carolina on October 10, 2014. Lavelle and Stemper had a commitment ceremony in September 2004.

CHAPEL HILL, N.C., Dec. 8, 2014  — If you favor destinations with lots of terrific food, a rich arts and music scene, or a variety of recreational opportunities, Orange County, N.C., deserves your consideration. Nestled in the rolling hills of the North Carolina Piedmont, Orange County is located on the edge of the Research Triangle Park. With more than 139,000 residents,Orange County includes historic Hillsborough, the County seat; Chapel Hill, home of the University of North Carolina; and Carrboro, a former railroad and mill town.  These progressive communities appeal to every vacationer’s taste.

A Welcoming Place for Visitors and Weddings

“Our community has a long-standing reputation as the most welcoming place in the state for the LGBT community,” says Lydia Lavelle, the state’s first openly lesbian mayor. From 1995 to 2004, Carrboro was led by Mike Nelson, the first openly gay candidate elected mayor in North Carolina. “I always feel welcome anywhere I go in Carrboro or Chapel Hill—and this was the case before I became mayor—and able to talk openly about my family and my life,” said Lavelle.  “This is not the case in many communities, and we recognize that we are so fortunate to feel so welcome and a part of the community here.”

In fact, Orange County is currently home to half of the state’s gay and lesbian elected officials, a trend that started in 1987, when Chapel Hill Town Council Member Joe Herzenberg became North Carolina’s first openly gay elected official; the town’s present mayor, Mark Kleinschmidt, is openly gay. Further proof of the community’s values: “Carrboro has the oldest domestic partner registry in North Carolina and recently declared October 10, 2014 Marriage Equality Day in celebration of recent court decisions that brought marriage equality to North Carolina,” explains Damon Seils, a Carrboro alderman. Chapel Hill also has a registry.

Lavelle and her partner Alicia Stemper were the first couple in line to get their marriage license on the morning of October 13 at theOrange County, NC Register of Deeds office.  The couple got married at the Carrboro Town Commons shortly thereafter on October 25, 2014.  Chapel Hill & Orange County is a great place to get married, and the process is easy.  Visit http://www.visitchapelhill.org/itineraries for details.

Experience Orange County

“Being a member of the LGBT community is no barrier to enjoying everything our community has to offer,” Kleinschmidt says. “There are few…exclusively LGBT activities, but there are also no places where members of our community aren’t welcome.”

Here’s a sampling of some of the things you can see and do in Orange County, N.C.:

Food & Drink: Named as one of the foodiest small towns in America by Bon Appetit, Chapel Hill is home to award-winning restaurants and the only fully local and certified organic distillery in the South.

Favorite area eateries include the James Beard-winning Lantern and Crook’s Corner, and nominee Panciuto; plus the acclaimed ONE Restaurant, Neal’s Deli, ACME Food & Beverage Co., Allen & Sons, Talullas, Vimala’s and Sage. Check out our local producers, too. Stop by the famed Maple View Dairy—which includes a store and agricultural education center—or one of the local Farmers Markets in Carrboro (the oldest and largest), Chapel Hill and Hillsborough. Fuel up at a friendly coffee house, like Caffé Driade or The Open Eye, which is also home to Carrboro Coffee Roasters. Prefer a more potent potable? TOPO Organic Spirits distills local ingredients into gin, vodka and moonshine whiskey; and four breweries (Mystery Brewing Company, Steel String, Top of the Hill Restaurant & Brewery and Carolina Brewery) create tasty craft brews for every season and palate. Popular bars include The Baxter Bar & Arcade, The Crunkleton, Tru Deli + Wine Bar and Pecadillo.

Entertainment & The Arts: Orange County has a vibrant arts and entertainment scene spanning the fine and cultural arts to crafts, music and comedy. “When the Bolshoi came to America, they came to New York and Chapel Hill,” says Chapel Hill Town Council Member Lee Storrow. “And just this year Taylor Mac brought his show, 1910s – A 24 Decade History of Popular Music here. That says a lot about the general state of the arts in our community.”

There’s live music every night at our many clubs, including the famous Cat’s Cradle. Take in a performance at The ArtsCenter, Playmakers Repertory Company or Memorial Hall. DSI Comedy Theatre keeps us laughing five nights a week. The towns feature lots of public art, and there are myriad galleries. Visit the Ackland Museum or see artisans at work during the Orange County Open Studio Tour each November.

Recreation:   Hundreds of festivals are held annually and celebrate local crafts, poetry, film, local food and more. The nationally acclaimed Comedy Arts Festival comes to town each February, and the famous Carrboro Music Festival takes over the final weekend of September. For a full list of festivals, search for the Major Annual events list on www.visitchapelhill.org.  Other diversions include the Carolina Basketball Museum and the Morehead Planetarium & Science Center, which are especially fun for families. Looking for a more active pursuit? Hike Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area or the trails at the North Carolina Botanical Garden (including a huge collection of carnivorous plants).

Visit the New South

Whether you’re ambling along our scenic downtown streets or rambling through the wooded hills, you’ll find yourself in a unique Southern community. “It epitomizes ‘The New South’,” says Jen Jones, director of communications for EqualityNC. “It’s a place of the future that welcomes diversity, embraces inclusivity, and is a gateway for native Tar Heels, wayward travelers and new transplants alike. Chapel Hill and Carrboro, NC remain two of the most LGBT-friendly areas in North Carolina and across the South.”

The area has seen such an increase in demand for weddings that the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau has introduced a new campaign aimed at LGBT travelers.  The campaign will run in regional media from January through June 2015 and encourage couples to consider getting married in the Chapel Hill area.  “The Visitors Bureau is dedicated to rolling out the red carpet for ALL visitors and we’ve made it easier to navigate the weddings packages, from Register of Deeds to banquets facilities,” said Laurie Paolicelli, executive director of the Visitors Bureau.

For additional information about planning your visit to Chapel Hill & Orange County, call the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau toll free at 1-888-968-2060 or visit www.visitchapelhill.org.