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She Explores North Carolina's Cape Fear Coast

 

Evelyn Hannon

Lucky me. I recently had the pleasure of spending three days exploring North Carolina's Cape Fear Coast. It was a whirlwind introductory tour packed with a great many lovely experiences -- proof positive that I must definitely go back and linger. All the ingredients for a family road trip, a couples vacation or a girlfriends getaway were right there and ready to be discovered. I smiled to myself as I ticked each goody off -- pleasant weather, wonderful white sandy beaches, fishing piers and boardwalks, informal fine dining opportunities, historical sites, gorgeous gardens, nautical museums, pirate history and oodles of welcoming southern hospitality. Oh, and did I mention TV and film production? Fans of the 'big' and 'small' screen will revel in the strong filmmaking connection in North Carolina. We did, and loved it.

Our road trip started in North Carolina beginning as we crossed the South Carolina border and ended in historic Wilmington. In those three days my travelling pals and I discovered absolutely charming treasures and uncovered a great many delightful female-centered connections. What I didn't experience myself, the women in the area filled me in about. Here are our Journeywoman suggestions to get you started on your own Cape Fear explorations (preferably in a fabulous red convertible). Have fun, everybody!

 

Three connecting beach towns...

If you're a sun and sand kind of girl be sure to pack your bikini and lots of sun screen. North Carolina boasts 31 miles of island beaches -- Carolina Beach with its warm ocean water and fabulous Thursday evening fireworks, Kure Beach including historic Fort Fisher, and Wrightsville Beach that hosts a Castles & Scoops Sand Sculpting Contest every summer. All three sit on two barrier islands that are part of the Cape Fear Coast. Each has a different ambience, each offers activities and interests to suit the whole family. To plan your own route call 1.866.534.0848 for a free Visitors Guide of the area or consult their websites: www.gocapefearcoast.com, www.gocapefear.com.

Fun beach facts:

Don't despair if you don't get time to pick up a bathing suit before you leave home. Just pop into the Redix Department store in Wrightsville Beach. The locals tell me that they stock everything from fishing tackle to designer fashions and the best selection of beachwear around. Address: 120 Causeway Dr., Wrightsville Beach. Tel: 910. 256.2201. Website: http://www.wrightsville.com/redix.htm

Carolina Beach boasts the oldest donut shop in the area. Still at the same boardwalk location where it began business in 1939, Britt's Donut Shop turns out homemade glazed donuts by the dozens of dozens. They open only from April till October and they have no phone. Just follow the sweet smells to #11 Boardwalk, California Beach and enjoy.

The North Carolina Aquarium at Fisher Island with its children's touch tank and other innovative programs deserves special mention. Their aquarium gift shop is one of the best we've seen in a long time. Journeywoman found a delightful children's book called Sharks for the little guy in her life. He loved it. Finally, we'd be remiss if we didn't single out the Aquarium's giant resident sea turtle, a female that rules one of their largest fish tank with ease. You go girl!


 

A little bit of Hollywood...

According to the Film Junkie's Guide to Northern Carolina (Connie Nelson and Floyd Harris), 'For nearly two decades, North Carolina has ranked behind only California and New York in film production'. Dawson's Creek, Blue Velvet and the chick flick, Dirty Dancing were all shot in North Carolina. Movies like Betsy's Wedding contained scenes filmed in Carolina Beach State Park and Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood used Buckner Hill Plantation in Faison (an hour's drive from Wilmington) as one of their locations.

Interested in seeing the sets from Dawson's Creek? Want to learn how commercials are made? In Wilmington, from April to September, Frank Capra Jr.'s EUE/Screen Gems studios offers guided walking tours of their premises where over 300 productions have been shot. Enthusiastic film students lead these walks and do their best to answer any questions you might have. Website: http://www.screengemsstudios.com

Fun cinema facts:

The Visitor's Bureau offers free FAQ sheets with self-guided tours to locations used in 'Dawson's Creek' and 'One Tree Hill.' Call: 1.866.266.9690

Tours of Buckner Hill Plantation (Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood) are by appointment only. We suggest you watch the film prior to your visit. It will greatly enhance your experience. Website: http://www.carolinaplantation.com.

Keep your eyes and ears open when you're in Wilmington. One never knows when you'll spot a Hollywood hottie in and around town. When Journeywoman was there there was talk of Richard Gere coming to the area to work. Yum!

Not sure if you feel like having dinner or you'd rather catch a film? Now you can do both at Wilmington's Hollywood East Cinema Grill. (4402 Shipyard Blvd). Tickets are sold on a first-come basis with deals like Two Dollar Tuesdays or Three Dollar Saturday Matinees. Place your food order separately when you arrive. Choose from salads, wings, hamburgers, sandwiches. Meals are served once the lights are dimmed. What a fun and funky idea! Call: 910.793.1234.

 

Historic Wilmington...

It's a treat to explore historic Wilmington. Not far from Cape Fear's sandy beaches, this funky port city (population 95,000) is situated on a tapering peninsula between the Atlantic Ocean and the Cape Fear River. We had only one day to scout the city center with its brick and cobblestone streets but I could easily have used double that time. There is so much rich history in this area; one has the sense that each and every building has an interesting story to tell. Once the largest city in North Carolina, Wilmington began its economic decline in 1960 when they lost the headquarters of the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad company to Jacksonville, Florida. Today, many decades later Wilmington is a city in transition. Older historical homes and buildings taken for granted for so many years are being bought up and restored to their former southern stature. Yuppies need not apply for renovation permits in this town. Those in charge boast about their stringent guidelines and strict building codes. Only appropriate architectural styles, colors and add-ons are being approved and that's what makes exploring Wilmington's historical center such a pleasure.

P.S. Be sure to take note of the wonderful front verandas in the residential areas. Once the weather gets warmer they become the families' outdoor living rooms and a pleasant way for local families to connect with their neighbours.

 

Bed and breakfast heaven...

Many of these lovely Wilmington homes have been transformed into gracious bed and breakfast establishments boasting unique southern hospitality. Three in particular are owned by women and are located right in the heart of the historical district. (1) Janice Thomas, innkeeper of The French House with its 1850's kitchen has had the pleasure of hosting actors like Jeremy Irons and Michelle Williams when they worked in Wilmington, (2) The eco-friendly and restored Colonial Revival, Dragonfly Inn is run by Candy & Kathleen, and (3) The River Inn, a turreted Queen Anne home is owned by Jenny McKinnon Wright who is also an accomplished artist. Take your pick but you needn't worry about making a mistake. Each establishment has its own southern charm and grace.

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