When you think of college towns, you might think of bars, fraternity houses, and sleepy-eyed undergrads. You probably don’t think of Davidson, North Carolina. Thirty minutes north of Charlotte, the former railroad town is home to the preppy Davidson College, a private liberal arts school. But the town’s epicenter is Main Street, a quarter-mile strip of Greek Revival–style storefronts made folksy with old-fashioned signs that meet the city’s rigorous design standards. It’s here that merchants hand out candy to trick-or-treaters during the Halloween Parade; it’s also the place where more than 30,000 festivalgoers convene in November for Christmas in Davidson. Among Main Street’s hodgepodge of cafes and shops, you’ll find Davidson-isms like the Davidson Book Garden, an oak-shaded reading spot with towering sculptures of books. Sure, students camp out on benches and patios, but more often, it’s longtime residents who bring Main Street to life.
Summit Coffee Co.
At this coffee-beer collective, owner Brian Helfrich has perfected casual, community-driven comfort. By day, the java joint’s living-room atmosphere draws studious coeds and families. But by night, trivia contests, open-mic sets, live music, and housemade craft brews offer respite from academic pursuits. summitcoffee.com
Main Street Books
Book club advertisements canvas the windows of this Davidson institution, open since 1987. Housed in an old general store, the cozy shop stocks books by local authors as well as prominent novelists. Pick up a “blind date” read—wrapped in brown paper, its contents are hinted at by a hand-written descriptor. Or, drop by for special events such as author meet-and-greets and comedy nights. mainstreetbooksdavidson.com
With its turquoise brick storefront, this cheery diner has brightened Main Street since 1951. Black-and-white floors, cozy booths, and a bustling counter evoke a simpler era, but the menu is downright elaborate. Fries (standard, sweet potato, and cottage) come curly, straight, seasoned, or smothered. And a full page of “Unnecessary Necessities” lists forty-plus sundaes, floats, and milkshakes. davidsonsodashop.com
Spirited Cyclist Bike Shop
One of the best ways to explore Davidson is on two wheels, so reserve a bike at this local mainstay. Each rental includes a helmet and water-bottle holder. Explore nearby Davidson Greenway and Randall R. Kincaid Trail, or traverse the shaded Davidson College campus, a national arboretum since 1982. spiritedcyclist.com
Chef-sommelier duo Joe and Katy Kindred have wowed diners since opening their eponymous restaurant in 2015. Joe, a James Beard semifinalist last year, champions an ever-changing menu of diverse dishes (you could order, say, squid ink conchiglie for your entree, then follow it with a slice of chocolate birthday cake). The star of the show is the complimentary starter: milk bread, a slightly sweet, fluffy Japanese roll. kindreddavidson.com
The Rumor Mill Market
Plan to spend a while exploring this funky catchall. Located in the town’s oldest standing cotton mill, the 12,000-square-foot space just off Main Street houses goods from more than eighty local artists and vendors—everything from antique and refinished furniture to handmade jewelry, wall art, and vintage clothing. An in-house coffee bar keeps shoppers racing in search of a deal. rumormillmarket.com
Davidson Village Inn
Around the corner from Kindred, this eighteen-room bed-and-breakfast off Depot Street fills up during football weekends. Enjoy breakfast and afternoon tea featuring locally made coffee and pastries, or sweeten your stay with thoughtful add-ons: fresh-cut flowers, North Carolina wine, and chocolates from Davidson’s South Main Sweet Shop. Want a local to show you around Davidson? For ten bucks, a hotel staffer will take you by pedicab through the nearby campus and historic neighborhoods. davidsoninn.com