— Beware of mileage estimates — As the crow flies or the main highway goes, the so-called coastal route is approximately 300 miles. But this route curves inland when the coast fragments into barrier islands. To truly hug the Atlantic means taking ferries to cross water when mainland roads end. This makes the journey longer by 100 miles or more, but it also makes it more exciting, more beautiful and more authentically coastal.

— When to go — Shoulder seasons almost always offer the best weather, fewest visitors and lowest prices, but even then there’s a difference. Many attractions are flooded with school children in spring; seniors may find shorter lines and a calmer atmosphere in the fall. Summers are great for families, but accommodations are pricy. A prime room that goes for $150 in March may well be $450 in July.

In short: Winter: iffy weather, low prices; Spring: fewer tourists but school children on field trips make attractions crowded; Summer: lots of tourists, high prices. Fall: fewer families, more seniors



The Sanderling — One of the only resorts that fronts on both the sound and ocean, the Sanderling offers luxury accommodations along with a Do-it-Yourself S’mores bag with all the fixings packed in a drawstring burlap bag.


— Follow the Stars

 Hatteras Island Here’s a dream come true for fans of Nicholas Sparks. The old house featured in his best-selling book and film, Inn at Rodanthe, has been turned into a vacation rental. The property had been declared dangerously close to the shoreline, so the new owners moved it to a nearby location, got permission from the studio to adorn the exterior with blue shutters as in the movie and even fixed up some of the interior rooms to evoke memories of the film. Reserve early; Nicholas Sparks has a lot of fans. Six bedrooms, 4½ bathrooms with ocean view. www.sunrealtync.comNC-PICTSRodanthe-WP

 Manteo — Located on the Manteo waterfront and visible from Roanoke Island Festival Park, the Tranquil House Inn is where Richard Gere and Diane Lane stayed here in 2007 while filming Nights in Rodanthe.

— Soar above the dunes — Kitty Hawk Kites lays claim to being the largest hang gliding school in the world, with locations all along the east coast. But it’s at the namesake location in Kitty Hawk where you can soar above the same dunes that Wilbur and Orville Wright saw when they launched the world’s first successful “flying machine.” The owners say you can fly if you’re between the ages of four and 94, so you’ve no excuse not to give it a try.



Plaza Mexico Bar and Grill in Beaufort — This modest Mexican restaurant isn’t memorable in the sense of a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but it’s the kind of place you can enjoy again and again. The menu features a wide variety of dishes, the plates are heaping full, the food is fresh, served piping hot and reasonably priced. What’s more, Plaza Mexico is open seven days a week, while many of the other restaurants close Monday or Tuesday. 521 Front Street, Beaufort.

— Blue Moon Bistro — White tablecloths, innovative menu, good wine… It’s no wonder this is a local favorite. Entrees include beef, chicken, fish, pork and vegetarian. What they have in common is fresh. Tip: Blue Moon is small and busy. You’d be wise to make a reservation. 252-728-5800. 119 Queen Street, Beaufort.

— Beaufort Grocery — Owner and head chef Charles Park, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, knows how to create a first class restaurant. Lunch is casual — soup, salad and sandwiches. Dinner is sophisticated — seared tuna, rack of lamb and fine wine. Both win rave reviews and garner repeat visits. 117 Queen Street, Beaufort. 252-728-3899.


Go back to the eighteenth century — As the third oldest city in North Carolina, almost all of Beaufort qualifies as historic, and approximately 150 homes bear a plaque that designates them as officially historic. In the center of this larger historic district a 12-block area — The Beaufort Historic Site — is filled with specially restored buildings that are open to the public. Docents in period dress provide fact-filled tours that take visitors back to eighteenth- century coastal Carolina. NC.NN-6 Lookout

— Ferry to see wild horses and an historic lighthouse The wild horses of Shackleford Banks are, well, wild, which means you can’t get near them. They live on a barrier island which can only be reached by ferry and which has virtually no amenities for humans. You can glimpse the horses on a drive-by from a regularly scheduled passenger ferry, or you can arrange to be dropped off and picked up a few hours — or a few days — later. The same ferry stops at Cape Lookout, where visitors can disembark to visit one of the coast’s most interesting lighthouse.

.Alternatively, several private tour companies offer narrated ferry trips to see both the horses and the lighthouse. Compare offerings by several companies, and schedule in advance.

— Follow the Stars — Nicolas Sparks’ most recent film, The Choice, which was released February 2016, is set in Beaufort although, except for one scene in the Old Burying Grounds, it was actually filmed in Wilmington. Nevertheless, if you’ve seen the film, you may be able to stroll around town and absorb the ambience.



— Sensation Farmhouse Restaurant — A stop at the this family owned restaurant, midway between Raleigh and Wilmington, just may be is the best few dollars you’ll ever spend. Approximately halfway between Raleigh and Wilmington, in the small town of Wallace, Sensation Farmhouse Restaurant, which just opened October 2016, dishes up a top-notch all-you can-eat buffet of down-home Southern fare.

The buffet covers four food islands, plus iced tea (sweet or plain) and ice cream brought by the waitstaff. One island is devoted to salad–nothing fancy but fresh, chilled lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, etc. Two are devoted to hot Southern staples: chicken (baked or fried), BBQ ribs, stew meat, pig tails, okra, cabbage, collards and, of course, mashed potatoes. The fourth, if you still have room, has cakes and brownies.

Directions: Wallace, NC. 5631 NC-41, off Interstate 40 approximately half way between Raleigh and Wilmington. The restaurant is approximately 1.5 miles from the I-40 exit. Don’t worry that those 1.5 miles are mostly rural. The town does indeed appear! Sensation is on the left hand side of the road as you enter the town.

— Bluewater Waterfront Grill — Located in Wrightsville Beach, only ten miles from downtown Wilmington, The Bluewater Waterfront Grill features fresh seafood, outdoor seating, wonderful views and — especially on summer Sundays — live music and long lines. Tip: To avoid the wait, plan on an early dinner.

— Britt’s Donut Shop — Britt’s Donut Shop, located on the Boardwalk in Carolina Beach, serves up what one local calls “little bits of sugared air.” Actually, the yeast-raised glazed donuts aren’t little, but they are sweet and oh my, they are popular!

— Wake and Bake Donuts — a Wake-and-Bake donuts are completely different than Britt’s but equally popular. Located in a multitude of flavors, from Chocolate Couch Potato to Espresso High and Butterfinger Bash. Allow time not only to stand in line but also to make up your mind.

— Freddie’s — Freddie’s is small, unpretentious and absolutely delicious. Located in Kure Beach, the restaurant features seafood and chicken but is best known for pork chops, which come in seven varieties. The flame-grilled and rum-runner varieties are good, but to my mind the peach-pecan is even better.

 — Michael’s Seafood Restaurant — The bad news is that if you missed trying Michael’s chowder when you were in Carolina Beach, you missed a real treat. The good news is that the award-winning soup can be ordered online. It’ll be the tastiest “souvenir” you’ll ever find.

— Pilot House — Housed in an historic building in a funky part of Wilmington’s historic district, The Pilot House claims to be the state’s oldest restaurant. Since the ownership of the restaurant as well as the location of the building have changed over the years, the claim is problematic, but no worries. The restaurant sits above the Riverwalk, the view is glorious and the food superb. Dinner entrees hover around $25.


— Pinpoint Restaurant — An upscale restaurant with reasonable prices, Pinpoint serves what owner Jeff Duckworth calls “contemporary American cuisine influenced by local produce and fish.” Chef Dean Neff, a true culinary genius, whips up entrees that run from a vegetable plate with roasted spaghetti squash, eggplant caponata, seared Swiss chard, barrel-aged feta, fennel-preserved lemon farro salad, shaved local radish and pumpkin seed pesto to Porcini Crusted Painted Hills Flat Iron with potatoes pommes anna, mirepoix gratin, mushroom slaw and hunter’s butter. My favorite? Whatever I have in my mouth.

 — Jerry’s Food Wine Spirits — Somewhat pricey, somewhat hard to find, but worth it for a special occasion. The wine list is extensive and as for the food, in the words of a local who’s tasted it all, “The flounder is good. So is the salmon. Really, it’s all good.”

 — Sweet n Savory Cafe — Go easy on the steaks and stews, not because they’re not good (they are), but because you want to leave plenty of room for the pies. Key lime and chocolate are fan favorites.

 — The Basics — Blueberry oatmeal pancakes for breakfast, salad or burgers for lunch, meatloaf or steak for dinner…. The Basics offers much more than a “basic” menu. The ambiance is casual (old brick walls), the location ideal (in the historic Cotton Exchange, which means it’s surrounded by interesting shops), the food fresh and the portions reasonably large.


— Kilwins — Even on days when nearby ice cream and candy shops are half empty, there’s a line to get into Kilwins. As of now, this small chain only has stores east of the Mississippi (with the exception of Colorado), but it’s bound to expand. Both the product and service are down-home good, and the servings are huge.

 — Peppered Cupcake — Tabitha Meready creates the most unusual cupcakes in a store that’s quickly becoming a Wilmington institution. Tabitha introduces at least one new flavor a week. Think vanilla cake filled with green pepper jelly and a hint of horseradish, finished with vanilla bean buttercream topped with fresh cracked peppercorns. Or how about fresh roasted pumpkin and spices with a cream cheese/buttercream frosting crusted with ginger crumbs and toasted pumpkin seeds? “It’s all I can do not to try a different cupcake every day,” says the man standing in front of us, as he takes a big bite of a cupcake that smells of blueberry and citrus.


— Coastline Inn — If big rooms and fancy decor are your thing, Best Western’s Plus Coast Line Inn is not for you. But if you want a perfectly fine room with an absolutely superb view of Cape Fear River, this is the place. A nice touch: In addition to a standard hotel breakfast buffet, there’s a lovely bowl of fresh fruit on each table. www.coastlineinn.comNC.NN-2French House-WP

— The French House B&B — Built in 1850, The French House is on a reasonably quiet street in the heart of Wilmington’s historic district but within an easy walk of the bustling main street. The ambiance is downhome friendly, so relaxed and comfortable that many in the film industry use it as home-away-from-home. (See below.)


— Celebrate Easter — As dawn breaks on Easter Sunday, more than 1,000 residents and visitors gather at Wrightsville Beach, using lawn chairs and towels instead of pews as they honor their faith. The interdenominational service has been going for more than 30 years. Check the local newspapers for details.

— Take a Walk & Talk History Tour — Filled with facts and stories that make the old houses come alive, the Walk & Talk History Tour is a great way to see — and understand — Wilmington’s main historic district. Here, two tips will make the tour even better:

Tip #1. Make sure the tour leader is Travis Gilbert. This young man knows so much (and presents it in such an organized manner) that he amazed even the four long-time Wilmington residents who were along to accompany their out-of-town guests. To be fair, Travis says that all the guides present much the same information, but he’s the one who developed the syllabus.

Tip #2. Parking near the Latimer House, where the tour begins, is metered, so bring quarters and be prepared to refill the meter if the talk, which is scheduled to run 90 minutes, runs overtime, as did ours. Another option: If you’re willing to walk three or four blocks, street parking is free and unlimited time-wise.

— Peruse Old Books — Cram-jammed with a purported two miles of books (both old and new), handmade greeting cards, a piano that customers are welcome to play, and an old Royal typewriter that makes customers of a certain age envision earnest authors pecking out their manuscripts, Old Books is a store where book-lovers can easily spend a day, or two! 249 N. Front Street, Wilmington.

— Enjoy a Wrightsville Beach Scenic Cruise — Wilmington is, above all, defined by its proximity to the water, and there’s no better way to understand that relationship than to take a scenic tour led by owner Joe Abbate. Of course, while the scenery is magnificent, the focus isn’t about the vistas but about history, ecology, birds, marine life, development and even yachts. Abbate, who calls himself the “Cape Fear Naturalist,” is both knowledgeable and entertaining. Bring binoculars and quarters for metered parking.

— Follow the Stars

• Hollywood Location Walk — So many films have been shot in Wilmington that the town has earned the nickname Wilmywood. It’s possible to tour the spots yourself, but to combine film lore with film sites, take the Hollywood Location Walk, a face-paced, 90-minute tour led by guide “Spiel Stevenberg.”

• Self Guided TourThe Choice, based on Nicholas Spark’s book of the same name, was released to theaters early 2016. Film locations included The Dockside Restaurant and Bar in Wrightsville Beach, Brasseire du Soleil in Wilmington, and Fort Fisher State Recreation Area in Kure Beach. If you want to recreate for yourself one of the scenes in the movie, you can lease a kayak or paddleboard from Wrightsville Kayak Company, which will also give you tips on where to paddle to see the movie location.
     Good Behavior is another production that has Wilmington abuzz, most notable because the upcoming TNT television series stars Michelle Dockery, best known as Mary Crawley of Downton Abbey fame. At least some of the interior scenes were filmed at Graystone Inn in Wilmington. The show is scheduled to premiere November 15. The internet is filled with lists of Wilmington film sites. Indeed, there are so many that it’s fairly hard to find a place that hasn’t been filmed.NC.NN-4Graystone-WP

Stay where the Stars Stayed — Wilmington’s in the midst of a hotel-building boom, but as of now, many of the stars who come to town rent homes on the beaches around Ocean Island. Others — such as AlanAlda, Tom Cruise and Jay Leno — stay in the Graystone Inn, an historic and imposing 1906 mansion where “elegant” is an understatement.

Lesser lights, as well as production crews, often choose The French House for the friendly atmosphere as well as down-home conversation. Innkeeper Janice Thomas has three thick scrapbooks filled with photos of and articles about those who have stayed in her home.



— Locals — Here’s a place where comfort food reigns supreme, hearty dinners cost less than $12, and waitresses dispense appreciative hugs if you compliment the food or service. It understandably and regularly wins kudos for being Southport’s best place for breakfast and tops for families as well.

Mr. P’s Bistro — Some of the recipes date back three generations, but the ingredients rarely date back more than a few hours. Mr. P’s specializes in low country cuisine made with fresh produce and local fish. Dinners run approximately $25.

 — Baked with Love — The name says it all. Sandwiches and quiche, accompanied with salad and soup, make this fresh food eatery a favorite with locals. 910-454-0044

— Eric’s Grill — Located on the outskirts of town near Walmart, this is a local favorite known for no frills, good food and quick service. 1671 N Howe Street; 910-457-9024

— Ports of Call — This waterside restaurant has three things going for it: it can be seen on the big screen in the Nicholas Sparks’ film Safe Haven; it’s the place chosen as the site of her 23rd birthday celebration, by Safe Haven screen star Julianne Hough, who plays Katie in the movie; and it has good food. Dinner entrees such as blackened tuna and Moroccan chicken hover between $20 and $30. Tip: If you’re a film groupie, call in advance to reserve the Safe Haven table.

— Fishy Fishy Cafe — Here’s a local fave with good views, casual atmosphere, easy prices. The menu is heavy on — surprise — on fish, but there are plenty of alternatives for landlubbers.

— Yacht Basin Provision Company — Here’s a place where you order from a chalkboard, help yourself to a drink while you enjoy the views and gorge on to-die-for crabcakes or peel-and-eat shrimp. Lines are often long, with good reason.


— Wingate by Wyndham — A night at Southport’s four-star Wingate just might get you a glimpse of author Nicholas Sparks. This is usually his hotel of choice when he’s in Southport.

— Robert Ruark Inn — A charming old Victorian that appears briefly in the HBO movie Mary and Martha, this four-bedroom inn is as elegant as it is comfortable.

 — Ocean Isle Beach — Located near the North Carolina/South Carolina border, one section of this beach town, informally known as Millionaires’ Row, has vacation rentals that are popular with movie stars who want to have their family nearby while they’re shooting films in Southport. Less pricey vacation rentals are also available on the island.


— Ride the Ferry to Wilmington — Take the water route from Southport to Fort Fisher, which is about half an hour from Wilmington. It may not be a lot faster than driving the asphalt highway, but it’s a lot more fun. Note: Bring stale bread so you can feed the birds during the ride. Just be sure to toss the crumbs from the back of the boat!
Cost: $5 includes a car and all those who can conceivably fit within it — undoubtedly one of the best deals in town.

— Celebrate the Fourth of July Southport has the state’s largest Fourth of July Party. This makes it a perfect time to visit if you like festivals or a perfect time to be elsewhere if you abhor crowds and inflated prices.

Take an historic tour — Rick Pukenas, owner of Southport Tours, has a degree in history, a Masters in education and a gift of gab that makes his tours as entertaining as they are informative. Highly recommended as the best way to see a town that will steal your heart.

— Go Antiquing — The local newspaper lists more than 20 antique shops in Southport, which works out to about one per 150 people, including newborns. This means that it’s possible for almost everyone, be he or she a knowledgeable collector or a hopefully-lucky browser, can find a Southport treasure. The shops are situated in thrift stores and consignment shops as well as in classy boutiques and antique malls that have multiple dealers.

— Shop for Art

• ArtShak — Allow plenty of time to visit the studio and gallery of sculptor Thom Seaman and Linda Platt. Their own work is outstanding, and the gallery showcases the work of a host of other talented artists. Also take note of the building, which Thom and Linda built themselves. 822 N. Howe Street’ 910-457-1757

•  Lantana’s Gallery — Within a relatively small space, Lantana houses a large and eclectic assortment of fine crafts, everthing from pottery to jewelry, wall art to furniture.

•  Franklin Square Gallery — Set in an historic building, Franklin Square Gallery is a non-profit cooperative charged with fostering art in the community. They sponsor a variety of special shows and offer a wild selection of classes — enough to make aspiring crafters want to move to Southport just so they can take some!

•  The Painted Mermaid ­— Fun, funky and completely original, the Painted Mermaid is a consignment store for found and handmade items—think vintage signs, refashioned windows, pottery, keychains, in short, everything you don’t need but must have. 208 North Howe Street

— Visit a Lighthouse

•  Oak Island Lighthouse — The Oak Island Lighthouse, completed in 1958, is both North Carolina’s newest lighthouse and the one closest to the South Carolina border. It’s just a few miles from Caswell Beach and well worth a visit. A 131-step climb to the top is free, but reservations are required, and climbers must be at least 9 years old. On certain days less hardy folks, and those younger than 9, can climb 12 steps to an outlook on the lower level.

•  Bald Head Island Lighthouse — First built in 1795 and rebuilt in 1817 after problems caused by eroding soil, Bald Headead Island Lighthouse is the oldest lighthouse still standing in North Carolina. A twenty-minute ferry ride over the Cape Fear River takes folks to a small island with a pristine beach, nature preserve, charming village and no — that’s right, no — cars. It’s all hiking, biking and golf carting. A climb up the lighthouse’s 108 steps provides an outstanding view. Rental cottages are available.

— Follow the Stars

•  Crimes of the Heart house — Diane Keaton, Jessica Lange and Sissy Spacek starred in the 1986 film Crimes of the Heart, one of the first movies filmed in these parts that made it big. It’s setting, the colorful Victorian home in Southport, has been painted as it was in the movie and is a must-see for any film-lover. 229 N. Caswell AvenueNC.NN-5Crimesof HeartHseWP

•  Matlock’s House The two-story, pillared house at 106 Lord Street in Southport was used during the filming of Matlock, the ABC television series starring Andy Griffith. The owner of the house refused to let the star or crew inside, so the house was only used for exterior shots.

• Safe Haven location spots — Southport has become widely known as the town featured in the Nicholas Sparks film Safe Haven. Stop by the Southport Museum and Visitor’s Center for a map that points out the main location spots. 203 E. Bay Street




— Baker’s Kitchen Restaurant & Bakery Do as the locals do: order the Dutch potatoes that aren’t regular hashbrowns but are instead more of a casserole, several thick slices of bacon that are neither limp nor burned but nicely in between, and a big stack of pancakes. Then — most important — slather the pancakes with the restaurant’s famous butter syrup. (Note: The woman who waits on our table insists that the butter syrup, the recipe for which is a closely guarded secret, is made with condensed milk. How does she know? Her mother spent several days experimenting.)

— Cow Cafe — Here’s the place for “Moonlicious” ice creams that are made in the store. Think Malted Moo, Cowpucinno Fudge, Death by Chocowlate, Mint and Chocowlate Chip.

Wilber’s Barbecue — There’s at least one thing Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton could agree on, and that’s the fact that Wilber’s serves up some of the best Eastern-style barbecue in a state known for good barbecue. The sauce is vinegar-based rather than tomato-based, but the meat is so moist that even though the sauce is spicy good, there’s little need to use much of it. Pork is the choice of most folks, but chicken is available. Located about an hour’s drive west on US-70, Wilber’s is a must-stop for folks driving from New Bern to Raleigh.


— Take a scenic tour — New Bern was the capital of Colonial North Carolina, and after the colony became a state, for a short time it was the state capital. During a scenic trolley ride an extremely well-informed woman dressed in 18th century garb pointed out key sites.

 — Swig some Pepsi — The site where Caleb Bradham opened his pharmacy in the late 1800s is now a store honoring his most famous medicinal mix, Pepsi-Cola. It’s actually a gift shop/souvenir store more than a museum, but still, it’s fun to remember the time when “Pepsi-Cola hit the spot.” And for a price, they’ll give you a taste. 256 Middle Street.



— Brookstown Inn — A charming inn not far from Winston’Salem’s Visitor’s Center and within walking distance of the area’s main attraction, Old Salem, Brookstown Inn is, in a word, delightful. It’s in an 1837 building replete with high ceilings, exposed beams and, in many places, brick walls. The amenities are upscale and ambiance is relaxed.


— Mary’s Gourmet Diner — Mary Haglund has some of the best help in town: her two daughters, several of her grandkids and, on occasion, even her husband. This eclectic restaurant in the Downtown Arts District covers its walls with art produced by local artists and serves food that, as much as possible, is made from locally-sourced organic ingredients. The biscuits are three inches high, the corncake (note: not cornbread) is incredible and the perfectly-spiced eggs are to die for. The only problem is what to order Hours are generally 8 a.m. to 2 pm.


— Visit Mrs. Hanes’ Moravian Cookies — Aah, Moravian cookies, those incredibly thin, superbly delicate treats that many of us associate with Christmas but that are delicious year-round. Here, at a small factory founded by Evva and Travis Hanes, folks can watch how the cookies are made, sample the six flavors and guess which one is preferred by Oprah Winfrey. Best of all, if you’re lucky, Travis, now in his mid-eighties, will step out and give you a tour. His story of how the business grew is a testament to the family’s good brains but even kinder hearts. (By the way, if you absolutely can’t make it to Winston-Salem and visit the factory itself, you can order the goodies online.) www.hanescookies.comNC.NN-7SalemWP

Spend as much time as possible in Old Salem — Old Salem is a living history town that depicts life in a Moravian community from 1766 to 1840. Excellent guides explain the beliefs of the Protestant denomination while skilled craftsmen and women demonstrate the various trades. This is, hands-down, one of the best among the many such living history villages we’ve visited. Expect a more thorough review at a later date.



— Coming soon —



























































Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *