GETTING THERE: Chapel Hill is about a 270-mile drive from Washington. If you forsake the road trip, the closest airport is Raleigh-Durham International. Several major carriers, including United and American, offer nonstop flights from the D.C. area airports, with round-trip fares beginning at $93.
WHERE TO STAY: The only hotel within walking distance to any of the Franklin Street venues is the Carolina Inn (211 Pittsboro St., 800-962-8519, www.carolinainn.com), a 184-room affair that's owned but not managed by the University of North Carolina. Located next to the campus, the inn has antique furniture, crystal chandeliers, a fine restaurant (Carolina CrossRoads) and a lobby that smells of fresh flowers. Doubles start at $154 a night.
If you want to spend a bit less, check out the Holiday Inn Express (6119 Farrington Rd., 888-465-4329, www.ichotelsgroup.com), a standard chain hotel with doubles from $89. A bit pricier is the Courtyard by Marriott Chapel Hill (100 Marriott Way, 800- 321-2211, www.marriott.com), which has the sparkle of a hotel that's only about a year old. Doubles from $109.
WHERE TO EAT: My favorite Chapel Hill restaurants are found where many of the music venues are: West Franklin Street and Carrboro, Chapel Hill's more Bohemian conjoined twin. For tasty pan-Asian food, head to Lantern (423 W. Franklin St, 919-969-8846), which has a dining area with vintage George Nelson bubble lamps (think paper lanterns) and an atmospheric bar in the back. Dinner entrees $13.75 to $26.
Nicer than your average diner but nothing too fancy, Elmo's Diner (200 N. Greensboro St., Carrboro, 919-929- 2909) is great for brunch and all-day breakfast. It's in the Carr Mill Mall; dishes start at $3.60.
MUSIC: Get show listings from the Independent (www.indyweek.com), a free weekly. Covers at most clubs run $3 to $8, although tickets for major acts at Cats Cradle generally cost $15 to $20. Venues include:
* The Cat's Cradle (300 E. Main St., Carrboro, 919-967-9053, www.catscradle.com), Chapel Hill's top venue, is actually in a strip shopping center in neighboring Carrboro. It brings in major indie acts from a variety of genres, as well as the biggest local bands. If you're buzz-worthy, you've probably played here -- or you will.
* The Cave (4521/2 W. Franklin St., 919-968-9308, www.caverntavern.com) claims to be "Chapel Hill's oldest tavern" and has walls and ceilings plastered like a natural cavern. The tiny venue features touring and/or local bands nearly every night.
* Local 506 (506 W. Franklin St., 919-942-5506, www.local506.com) is dark, dingy, fun place to see a rock show -- mainly indie and alternative rock bands, both local and touring. Shows most nights of the week.
* Wetlands Dance Hall (157 E. Rosemary St., 919-968-0828, www.wetlandschapelhill.com) is a former dance club converted into a live music venue. A block from East Franklin Street and the University of North Carolina campus, it brings in rock, hip-hop, deejays and assorted other acts.
* The Library (120 E. Franklin St., 919-968-6004, www.libraryrocks.com) has bands two or three nights a week. Indie Rock Tuesdays tend to feature local bands.
* Nightlight (4051/2 W. Rosemary St., 919-933-5550, nightlight.dyss.net) is the late-night incarnation of the Skylight Exchange, a cafe/record shop/bookstore. It books lots of experimental music and "smaller, weirder things that wouldn't have a venue otherwise," says co-owner Ryan Martin.
INFO: Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau, 888-968-2060, www.chocvb.org.
-- Ben Brazil