North Carolina is a state of beauty with winding roads through friendly mountain towns, breathtaking views, national forests, and historic sites... and it's a must-visit destination during the fall color season. It's the birthplace of Pepsi, a state where college basketball runs shades of blue, BBQ is on the line, moon pies are mainstream, and the dreamy coastal scenery is the setting for some of the most popular romance novels, written by Nicholas Sparks.
I grew up in the beautiful Blue Ridge region of Madison County, in Western North Carolina. The majestic backdrop of Pisgah National Forest seems to rush to meet the French Broad, the world's third oldest river. Here the rural abundance highlights the colors of fall. It's a county of agricultural heritage-- in the mid-1900s was the largest producer of tobacco in the state. The story seems now narrated by rustic barns and their unique architecture a reminder of the hard-working people who live here.
The colors along the French Broad seem to set the mountains on fire. On the Marshall Bypass we loved the Bigger Better Burgers at Longnecks Tavern, just 27 miles to Asheville where the road to Panem, of Hunger Games (also known as Henry River Mill Villiage) begins.
As you continue East, the rolling mountain hills become ironed-out paths of flat lands, the trees migrate to evergreens and the signature terra-cotta soil becomes white grains of sand. The children's tummies were grumbling and our eyes were weary! With the light of dusk we sought rest and relaxation at the Holiday Inn in Wrightsville, near the beach.
As we stepped through the doorway of our Holiday Inn Suite, my son exclaimed, "Whoa! This is where the PRESIDENT stays." We brought in our bags and Li'l Man stretched out on the couch. The kids smelled the ocean air and their speech became a rapid recall of their first time here to see the Atlantic Ocean.
This journey from here to Wilmington was one of family time, of enjoying the scenery of fall fading from mountain ranges to coastal calm. The humidity kissed the window as sleep brought on dreams of the journey ahead.
Morning light called for an inspiring place to start, like the state's most accessible shore, Wrightsville Beach. Here the air was filled with salt water mist and the sun sparkled in golden specks as the waves broke along the shore. We walked the four-mile stretch of beach, finding seashells and getting the courage to meet the ocean.
As the sun climbed higher and higher in the sky, our day became more relaxing as we put our toes in the sand. The weather perfect for curling up with one of my favorite authors, Nicholas Sparks, who happens to be from North Carolina. Our trip was about to go from cozy reading to coastal setting as we headed down to Southport.
We crossed the Cape Fear River, aptly named for the terror of pirates and treacherous shoals that extend 30 miles out to sea.
Beyond the dense pine trees, the shore opened up to the town of colorful pastels and inspiration for the real-life settings that inspired some of Nicholas Sparks’s best-selling novels, as well as the filming location for movie adaptations of Safe Haven and A Walk to Remember. It’s a charming historic town, with tidal rivers and murky marshes.
I was set on getting a fix for my love of Safe Haven. If you've seen the film, Katie (Julianne Hough) winds up on the Carolina coast after fleeing a dangerous Boston police officer and falls for local shop owner Alex (Josh Duhamel). With a few exceptions, everything depicted in Safe Haven exists here in Southport!
We started romancing our way through the story with lunch at Fishy Fishy Cafe. Here is the exact location of the General Store in Safe Haven.
Fun Fact: Fishy Fishy Cafe was disguised as "Porter's Stowaway Tavern" on the pilot episode of ABC's "Revenge”. It took place in and outside the café. For the shoot, Fishy’s interior got a complete makeover. After shooting was done, it was repainted, returned it to its original, colorful look. Fishy Fishy is a bright place, right on the shore. It's a great place with good food; I suggest the fish (what else?!?) with sweet potato fries.
Following dinner I visited a few key sets from Safe Haven. Alex lives at 410 West Brunswick Street, and spends a lot of slow southern days where Katie works at the Old American Fish Company, deemed Ivan's Fish Shack in Sparks’ world. It was a special feeling to translate the words I’d read into the coastal scenery that inspired it all--where pelican perch on poles just off the beach.
A short drive later and we were in front of Ports of Call restaurant where the romantic dinner scene was filmed before heading to the town of Caswell Beach to watch the sky reflect Fall’s colors.
In just a weekend, my family and I experienced the multitudes of North Carolina’s fall. From the fiery hues and smoky clouds at the northern border to the nostalgic seasides at Southport. It’s no wonder this beach town-- brimming with Antebellum architecture, 200-year-old oak trees and salubrious breezes -- is the backdrop for some of the most romantic books ever written! We left feeling thankful for the people around us and the four seasons.
Want more winter fun to enjoy with your friends? Check out these other adventures!
By: Julee Morrison