Why I Always Find Peace in Wilmington, North Carolina
For as long as I can remember, I had the undeniable feeling that I wasn’t going to live in my New Jersey hometown for the rest of my life. Once I got into high school, I knew I would soon be old enough to venture out on my own, but to where?
Around the same time I was making grand plans to move, a new show called One Tree Hill was airing, and it quickly became a fast favorite. Part of the reason I loved it so much was because of the town they filmed it in. Upon further research, I learned it wasn’t just a fake set on some Los Angeles studio lot, but it was actually taped in Wilmington, NC.
After my discovery, my heart was set on living there. After 5 years of hopeful dreaming, I finally had a chance to visit.
What To Explore
Since I grew up in a small beach town on the Jersey shore, Wilmington seemed huge to me. It’s funny to think about that now that I’ve lived and ventured elsewhere but, regardless, it still means a lot to me even though I’ve outgrown it. Although I’ve visited Wilmington several times over the years, there are a few key things that pull on my heart-strings.
The Riverwalk is simple, but has always been perfect to me. I’m a naturally tense person, always thinking about other things rather than being present in the moment. Somehow, the Riverwalk always brings me back to the here and now. Sitting there, you'll hear the noises of downtown, the sounds of dining patrons, water lapping against the docks, and boats cruising by. It’s special, and I could honestly sit there all day without stressing about wasting time. The Riverwalk represents peace to me, and other than Wrightsville in the winter, I haven’t found a place to top it yet.
Being a beach kid, I can be a bit of a snob when it comes to good beaches. However, Wrightsville is exactly that no matter what the season. In the summer, I get swept away by the translucent blue water I thought could only be found in tropical places.
Even in the winter, it’s gorgeous. Last January, I stopped by before heading back home, and
just laid on one of the benches. Not a single person was there, so the sound of the ocean crashing on the shore was undisrupted. Despite being a cold January day, the sun streamed down on me and created warmth that was so perfect, I could have comfortably fallen asleep. If a sleep machine could capture that day, it would make millions.
Although this isn’t something that necessarily resonates with me like the other things I’ve mentioned, this is a perfect place to stop if you want to be touristy. One Tree Hill was taped in Wilmington for all nine seasons. Additionally, several movies have been taped there (I’m talking to you,
Nicholas Sparks fans).
I visited during the time when the One Tree Hill set was still up, and since this was the first time I had ever been in a studio, it was amazing to see the sets from the show I had watched for more than half a decade. It’s so crazy to see how fake the sets looked in real life, and yet it was so well done, that it looked real on TV. I’m not sure what's being filmed at the studios these days, but it was definitely a great tour.
Where to Eat
Once you’ve taken in the sights and sounds, there are plenty of places you can stop to eat or grab a drink. The last time I was in Wilmington, I decided to stop in a little wine bar called La Catalan and enjoyed the view of the setting sun. It was a great French café, and I appreciated the different wines and appetizers available. If you are a wine lover, I’d suggest stopping in there.
Every time I’m in Wilmington, I make a stop here even if it’s for one drink. I’ll admit, I wasn’t too sure about this place the first time I visited, but I was delightfully surprised. If you're lucky enough, the elevator will work that day, otherwise you’ll be climbing the stairs through the residential apartments on your way to the roof. Once you finally get to the nondescript door to the bar, you’ll make your way through the foyer, go passed the inside bar, and out to the outside deck where you’ll see the panoramic views of downtown. The bridge to downtown, the naval ship museum, the Riverwalk—it’s all there for you to enjoy while you relax on the rooftop.
Wilmington will always have a special place in my heart. For years, it was my hope for a new start, and even though I didn’t end up there when I finally did move out, it’s my go-to place when I need an escape. It’s quiet, peaceful, and represents a significant part of my life.
If you’re looking for a vacation that gives you a break from life, I suggest stopping by Wilmington for a few nights.
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