A Film-Driven Tour of North Carolina

A Film-Driven Tour of North Carolina

Airlie Gardens, in Wilmington, has set the tone for romantic scenes in movies and television

North Carolina’s vast and varying landscapes mean visitors can find just about any setting they’re looking for when planning a vacation. Whether you’re in search of pristine beaches, majestic mountains, urban cities or charming towns, you’ll find it in our state. This variety is also what has led film studios to create hundreds of movies and television shows here – or we’ve inspired them.

Plan your film-driven tour of North Carolina, stopping in places that served as the backdrops for The Hunger Games, Iron Man 3, Safe Haven, Homeland and many others.

Sightseeing in Hollywood East

Wilmington Battleship North Carolina - flowers

Wilmington has been called “Hollywood East,” so it’s a natural starting point for a film-inspired trip across North Carolina.

Wilmington film tours, including Segway tours, Hollywood walking tours and boat cruises

Battleship North Carolina, where Sir Ben Kingsley took a private tour during filming of Iron Man 3, and which played a key role in the upcoming pilot episode of the TV show Six as well as on such series as Sleepy Hollow, One Tree Hill and Secrets and Lies

Airlie Gardens, 67 acres of historical gardens with colorful flowers, oak trees, tall pines, lakes and wildlife and site of a scene in The Choice at the Lebanon Chapel, as well as the on-screen wedding of two One Tree Hill stars

Fort Fisher State Recreation Area at Kure Beach, with nearly six miles of beach and trails, wildlife, boardwalks, a state aquarium, Civil War-era historic site and boating ramp, another backdrop for The Choice and featured in Safe Haven too, both inspired by Nicholas Sparks books

If you want to match palates with the Iron Man 3 stars, try Roko Italian Cuisine, an insider favorite where Sir Ben Kingsley and Gwyneth Paltrow had dinner. Robert Downey, Jr., Paltrow and Jon Favreau dined at Catch – Paltrow was impressed enough to request a private cooking lesson from chef Keith Rhodes of Top Chef: Texas fame and blog about the experience. Circa 1922 is a popular spot for actors in town and locals alike, and can be seen in the new series Good Behavior featuring Michelle Dockery. For a more casual but beautiful waterfront setting, Dockside was used frequently in Dawson’s Creek and is called by name for two different dinner scenes in The Choice.

Stay at one of the city’s distinctive bed and breakfasts, some of which have also been used for filming locations. The Graystone Inn was the site of the party in The Longest Ride, and was featured in A Cinderella Story.

Seeking Safe Haven

Safe Haven - Fort Fisher beach

The charming coastal town of Southport has been home to several productions, including I Know What You Did Last Summer, Under the Dome and most notably the Nicholas Sparks hit Safe Haven.

Adventure Kayak Company which guided Safe Haven cast and crew through cypress swamp and saltwater marsh

Peruse historic homes and neighborhoods throughout the area

Waterfront Park overlooking the Cape Fear River

Several Southport restaurants made their way into Safe Haven as well as hosted the cast and crew. Ports of Call is the location where actress Julianne Hough celebrated her 23rd birthday and where castmate Josh Duhamel learned to shuck an oyster. Visit Fishy Fishy Cafe and you’ll be in the exact location that served as the set for the Safe Haven General Store. Stop by for a drink on the dock and enjoy the view at Old American Fish Co., which was transformed into Ivan’s Fish Shack where Katie worked as a waitress in the film.

Check into the Wingate by Wyndham where Nicholas Sparks himself stayed, or check out the area’s charming vacation rentals.

Small Towns, Big Dome

Under the Dome - Season 2


From the coast, head west up I-40 with a stop in Burgaw – site of scenes from TV series Under the Dome and Revolution and the feature film Tammy. Close by is Rose Hill where key parts of Iron Man 3 were filmed.

The The Pender County Courthouse stands in for the Chester’s Mill town center in Under the Dome

Burgaw’s charming downtown shops, including Burgaw Antiqueplace, Harrell’s Department Store and more

The notable “Pink House” from Secret Life of Bees just outside Burgaw in Watha

Visit Duplin Winery, where Iron Man 3 crew members paid regular lunchtime visits. The Bistro pairs its seasonal soups, salads and sandwiches with wines made from North Carolina’s native muscadine grapes. This is the world’s largest muscadine winery, so a tour, tasting and souvenirs from the teeming gift shop are in order.

A Lovely Leading Lady

Ava Gardner Museum

From Burgaw, travel to I-95 north and head to Smithfield, home to one of old Hollywood’s most iconic stars.

Ava Gardner Museum, a tribute to the star born and raised in Johnston County with more than 20,000 pieces of memorabilia including costumes, movie posters, awards and mementos

Shop at Carolina Premium Outlets in Smithfield, with more than 80 stores full of clothing, accessories, pottery and more

Get your first taste of famous eastern North Carolina barbecue with a short trip to Goldsboro, home of Wilber’s Barbecue or check out local favorite and growing North Carolina chain Smithfield’s Chicken and Barbecue for a chopped pork sandwich with slaw and hush puppies.

The Land of Mayberry

Statue in front of Andy Griffith Museum

From Smithfield, it’s just a short drive to Raleigh – the capital and gateway to the center of the state known as the Piedmont, and home to an impressive arts and film culture.

Andy Griffith Statue at Pullen Park, paying tribute to the iconic early 1950s and 60s TV show and its North Carolina native star

North Carolina State Capitol Building and Grounds, home to striking architecture and used in famous series from Dawson’s Creek to Homeland

The The North Carolina Museum of Art, one of the premier visual arts museums in the Southeast with a world-class collection including more than 30 Rodin sculptures plus a 164-acre Museum Park

Relive the classic Bull Durham at Mitch’s Tavern on Hillsborough Street, and enjoy famed chef Ashley Christensen’s renowned restaurants Poole’s Diner (a Gwyneth Paltrow stop during Iron Man 3 production), Death & Taxes, Beasley’s Chicken + Honey and Fox Liquor Bar.

Treat yourself to a stay at the luxurious Umstead Hotel and Spa just outside Raleigh in Cary, and host to Paltrow, Don Cheadle and Guy Pearce during Iron Man 3. Situated on 12 acres of land beside a three-acre lake, the hotel features rooms with custom furnishings and an on-site spa for facials, massages and more.

A Natural Occurrence

Eno River camping

Venture further into the Triangle area of North Carolina to experience Durham and Chapel Hill – both thriving centers of arts, sports and of course, film.

Historic Durham Athletic Park, film location for the movie Bull Durham and now home to a Minor League Baseball training lab

Eno River State Park, only 10 minutes from downtown Durham, for canoeing, fishing, camping and hiking in beautiful, peaceful, natural surroundings, and also where Kiss the Girls filmed some scenes

University of North Carolina campus – featured in the Robin Williams film Patch Adams and home to its iconic destinations, including the Ackland Art Museum, Coker Arboretum, Carolina Basketball Museum and Morehead Planetarium & Science Center

The Durham Performing Arts Center, ranked one of the best theaters in America and frequent host to touring Broadway productions and celebrated musicians and comedians

Durham’s booming food scene includes Scratch with homemade biscuits and intriguing choices like a Chile-roasted sweet potato or fried duck egg sandwich, Piedmont Restaurant’s seasonal menu and regionally focused craft cocktails, and tapas and wine at acclaimed Mateo. Chapel Hill offers classic culinary experiences from Southern Season, a sprawling destination for specialty foods and products, to Topo Distillery, an ideal afternoon destination for a tour and tasting of the house-produced TOPO Vodka, Carolina Whiskey and Piedmont Gin.

Choose from new and contemporary at the arts-inspired 21c Museum Hotel or historical beauty and elegance at the Washington Duke Inn & Golf Club – both options that will surround you with distinctive luxury and amenities.

Art Imitating Life

Winston Salem Arts District

After your stay in the Triangle, continue west on I-40 toward the Triad and arts and film destinations in Winston-Salem, known as the City of the Arts.

On your way, stop at Replacements, Ltd., the world’s largest retailer of old and new china, crystal, sliver and collectibles with more than 12 million pieces of inventory – and a key location for Junebug, starring a young Amy Adams in her first lead role

Old Salem Museums and Gardens to experience early-American history brought to life through storytelling, original buildings, hands-on activities, music and events, including the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts (MESDA)

The Moving Image Archives at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, which houses one of the nation’s largest non-commercial collections of films

Head slightly north to Mount Airy, the town that inspired The Andy Griffith Show setting of Mayberry and home to the Andy Griffith Museum, where you can also enjoy hiking at Pilot Mountain and nearby Surry County wineries

Detour on your way in Greensboro and dine at the O’Henry Hotel’s Green Valley Grill, where Kate Beckinsale stayed during filming of The Disappointments Room.

Sleep in style at the Graylyn Estate, where stars of the feature film Leatherheads stayed during filming, or at the recently opened Kimpton Cardinal Hotel in the original R.J. Reynolds Tobacco headquarters building, the model for New York’s Empire State Building.

Playing The Hunger Games

Hunger Games - Henry River Mill Village

Continue west on I-40 toward Asheville for some of the best film – and travel – experiences western North Carolina has to offer.

Drive through the famed “District 12 houses” from The Hunger Games at Henry River (exit 119)

Biltmore with its estate home (America’s largest private residence), winery, rolling hills and the film costume exhibit that will run February 10 through July 4, 2017 featuring costumes from films based on classic works of literature. Biltmore’s grounds and buildings have been featured in dozens of feature films from The Last of the Mohicans to Richie Rich to Hannibal.

LaZoom Comedy Bus Tour where local comedians and actors hone their skills

Navitat Canopy Tour, a 3.5-hour zip line eco-adventure at the edge of Pisgah National Forest and playground for Josh Hutcherson and other Hunger Games cast and crew

Relaxing time away including sensory deprivation tank at Still Point Wellness and meditating in the Asheville Salt Cave, both of which Kristen Wiig visited during her time in Asheville filming Masterminds

Enjoy lunch at Lexington Avenue Brewery or the Laughing Seed Café, two of the places where The Hunger Games actors dined, after trying breakfast favorite Early Girl Eatery where Entertainment Weekly interviewed that film’s lead actor Josh Hutcherson. Asheville has no shortage of excellent dinner options from chef Katie Button’s Curate to The Admiral in West Asheville.

Check out the distinctive Hotel Indigo where The Hunger Games lead actors stayed, or stay closer to Biltmore at the DoubleTree by Hilton or the Inn on Biltmore Estate.

The Allure of Lake Lure

Lake Lure - Dirty Dancing

Venture south of Asheville to discover more of North Carolina’s rich film history, starting with Lake Lure – the site of production of the original blockbuster film Dirty Dancing starring Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey.

Lake Lure Tours narrated boat cruise, where you’ll see film locations for Dirty Dancing, hear the story of Snake Island and listen to the legend of the church said to be 70 feet below in the center of the lake

Chimney Rock State Park, site of the film The Last of the Mohicans, where you can catch breathtaking 75-mile views of the Blue Ridge Mountains

If you’re traveling in August, the Dirty Dancing Festival holds even more celebration of the movie – especially in 2017, its 30th anniversary

Venture into Chimney Rock Village, with restaurants and stores perched on the banks of the Rocky Broad River, tucked into the Hickory Nut Gorge.

Spend a night in the 1927 Lake Lure Inn & Spa or the newly restored, intimate Lodge on Lake Lure with 17 customized rooms, each with its own personalized take on tradition and décor.

Falling Waters and Splendid Forests

DuPont State Recreational Forest - Triple Falls

Tucked in the Blue Ridge Mountains close to Asheville and Lake Lure are two of North Carolina’s most charming mountain towns, Hendersonville and Brevard.

DuPont State Recreational Forest, a magnet for mountain bikers, hikers and nature lovers as well as a featured location for films The Hunger Games, The Last of the Mohicans and Max, including Triple Falls, Bridal Veil Falls and the covered bridge at High Falls

Brevard’s quaint downtown with irresistible shopping (O.P. Taylors, Theophilus, DD Bullwinkles) and galleries (Red Wolf Gallery, Number 7 Arts)

Flat Rock Playhouse, with roots dating back to the 1930s and now featuring the Vagabond Players in downtown Hendersonville as part of its blend of theatrical productions and cabaret performances

Downtown Brevard also boasts culinary treats (Brown Bean Coffee Roasters, Bracken Mountain Bakery, Rocky’s Grill and Soda Shop) and standout North Carolina beer, including Brevard Brewing and Oskar Blues Brevard less than three miles away. The Hob Nob Restaurant is a great choice for dinner, as is Mezzaluna in Hendersonville.

Book at the High Hampton Inn and Country Club in Cashiers, a resort estate showcased in the recent Dirty Dancing remake featuring Debra Messing.

Behold Great Mountains

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

There’s more charm to be found in the North Carolina mountains, so venture west from Brevard and Hendersonville to Jackson County for additional film-inspired adventure.

Great Smoky Mountain Railroad Tuckaseegee River Excursion, which boards from Bryson City in Swain County to take you through a relaxing countryside ride featuring the movie set of blockbuster film The Fugitive, starring Harrison Ford

Downtown Sylva with its storefronts and restaurants, featured in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Pick from one of nine luxury suites at The Everett Hotel in Bryson City, built in 1908 as the Bryson City Bank and now featuring a restaurant, bar and rooftop terrace in the heart of downtown.

You Belong to the City

Uptown Charlotte skyline - Romare Bearden Park

As you travel back down the mountains to return to the Piedmont, Charlotte welcomes you as North Carolina’s largest city – and home to standout places in film and television.

Charlotte Motor Speedway, site of multiple major NASCAR races each year and set for Days of Thunder starring Tom Cruise and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby starring Will Ferrell

Carolinas Aviation Museum, home to artifacts showcasing the history of flight and displaying the actual plane from the “Miracle on the Hudson,” chronicled in the Tom Hanks film Sully

Freedom Park, a welcoming respite in the midst of the city, recognizable from key scenes in Homeland and Shallow Hal

The Knight Theater which served as the auditorium in The Hunger Games, and where you could be fortunate to catch a show while you visit

Be ready to stand in line and bring cash to the local favorite Price’s Chicken Coop, also a top choice of Lenny Kravitz during production of The Hunger Games. Or if you’re more of a sweet tooth, check out Amelie’s French Bakery, which provided all the extravagant pastries seen on-screen in The Hunger Games, or grab a milkshake from Pike’s Old Fashioned Soda Shop just like Jack Black in Shallow Hal.

The Duke Mansion isn’t your standard in-town bed and breakfast; it was built in 1915 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places – and served as the Vice President’s house in Homeland.


There’s much to see and do in North Carolina, so read on.

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