Film, Food and Small-Town Finds: Guy Gaster’s Guide to Nostalgic Stops in NC

Whether I'm exploring solo, with friends, with my niece and nephew, or as part of my job finding the next great location to use for filming, here are some places that have stood out during my travels in my home state.

Park & Stroll

I’m a “get in the car and go” kind of person. Where do I stop? Sometimes I don’t even know. But these are a few of the places I’ve found recently that take me back to easier times as soon as I park downtown.

Local Gems

Woman walking on sidewalk window shopping in charming downtown
Downtown New Bern

Food & Flavors

I’m game for trying any restaurant, but the ones that preserve an old look or feel – exposed brick, wood beams, comfortable furniture, that kind of thing – tend to be the ones I'm drawn to most. And because I’m from North Carolina, barbecue is always my starting point (just don’t make me choose between Eastern style and Lexington style). I've already mentioned Trolley Stop, so here are a few more favorites:

Go-To Meals

  • Bar-B-Q Center in Lexington: a chopped plate with fries, hush puppies and red slaw. Pro tip: Order extra dip to dunk your hush puppies in. But the banana split here is the real star of the show. It’s a work of art! A gigantic work of art. 
  • The Biscuit Stop in Smithfield: I love a good biscuit, and the ones here – which are almost as big as your head – are some of my favorite. While the chicken biscuit is a solid choice, my go-to order is a smoked sausage and cheese.
  • Ronni's Wings in Clemmons: This is my stop for wings and pizza, and it has a combo special so I can enjoy both.
  • Bojangles: Even my fast food choice was born in NC! I’m a big sports fan, and one of my favorite fall activities is to tailgate at college football games and local high school games with friends, and if I'm not cooking, a Bo Box is usually my contribution.

Film & TV

Though I don’t consider myself a film buff, when I start to think about it, I do watch more movies and TV shows than I realize. More than 1,000 TV shows and movies have been filmed in North Carolina, and here are a few fun ways to check out the sites.

On Location

Sunrise over ocean on empty beach with pier jutting into water to the left
Wrightsville Beach, one of Wilmington's three beaches
  • Burgaw, Southport and Wilmington: The majority of filming in NC takes place in these Southeastern towns. You can spot the beaches and coastal charm in productions such as Dawson's Creek, One Tree Hill, Safe Haven, The Summer I Turned Pretty, Welcome to Flatch and countless others.
  • Sylva: This small mountain town was transformed into Ebbing, Missouri, for the Oscar-winning film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Go for a stroll downtown and see the buildings that stood in for the police department, the newspaper office and more.
  • Lake Lure and Chimney Rock: The beautiful landscapes of these Western NC destinations are on full display for classics Dirty Dancing and The Last of the Mohicans.

Places Cast & Crew Loved

  • Amelie’s in Charlotte: Woody Harrelson joined regulars here for games of chess while filming The Hunger Games
  • Poole’s Diner in Raleigh: Gwyneth Paltrow Tweeted how “AMAZING!” her meal at Poole’s Diner was while she was in town filming Iron Man 3
  • Capt’n Bill’s Backyard Grill in Wilmington: Cast members from The Summer I Turned Pretty can be found playing some sand volleyball here during their free time. 
  • All Souls Pizza in Asheville: Jason Sudeikis and Owen Wilson couldn’t resist the wood-fired pizzas while filming Masterminds in the area. 

For more insider tips, see how Visit NC Director of Tourism Marketing Scott Peacock spends his summer months and what Visit NC Partner Relations Manager Andre Nabors' summer soundtrack is. Plus, start planning your spring break trips now with Visit NC insiders Dana Grimstead and Veda Gilbert.

Updated July 6, 2023
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