Surfing, boogie boarding and building sand castles
If “Little Shop of Horrors” is one of your favorite movies, or if you are old enough to remember the TV show “WKRP in Cincinnati,” you have a basic, if not inaccurate and comedic, familiarity with the Venus flytrap.
If you’re a nerdy flower geek, like Rick Moranis’ character Seymour or if you just like soothing walks in the forest or along the beach, you will certainly enjoy a visit to Carolina Beach State Park on North Carolina’s southern coast, one of the few remaining places in the world where the Venus flytrap grows in the wild. Yes, the Venus flytrap is a real plant, but unlike Audrey II, it thrives on the sandy soil of North Carolina, not human blood.
The Venus Flytrap Trail indeed attracts people from around the world, but most visitors come to the Carolina coast for the beaches – more than 25 miles of beautiful sandy beaches and the surf of the Atlantic Ocean beyond.
Carolina Beach, Wrightsville Beach and Kure Beach represent the best in a summer vacation experience. There are endless opportunities for us Midwesterners to learn to surf, boogie board or fly a kite. Spend an afternoon fishing, kicking a soccer ball around, building a sand castle, or just reading in the sun. It’s a low-key vacation experience with days highlighted by ice cream and fudge shops, a bike ride or outings on a sailboat.
These are barrier islands, but are not to be confused with North Carolina’s Outerbanks several hundred miles north. If you want to experience the place where Orville and Wilbur Wright’s first achieved human flight, you won’t find that here. Nor will you find the wind that made human flight possible.
Less wind, equally fabulous beaches – that’s why you head south through the city of Wilmington on the Cape Fear peninsula.
Remember the 1991 movie “Cape Fear” with Nick Nolte, Robert De Niro and Jessica Lange? It was actually shot in Florida, but today Wilmington is known as Hollywood East for the number of production companies and movies shot here. Dawson’s Creek is one, as well as the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, Sleepy Hollow, the Secret Life of Bees, Super Mario Brothers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland, and on and on.
Today, the Cape Fear River is the permanent home of the Battleship North Carolina, a WWII ship that fought in the battles of Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima. Visiting it is a favorite activity for many who visit the Wilmington area, but note that the ship was not then, nor is it now, air-conditioned.
Downtown Wilmington is a history lesson in itself – 20 blocks of pre-Civil War era homes, shops and inns. Take a horse-drawn carriage ride to learn details of many of the homes and which have been used in movie settings. Or spend a leisurely afternoon with a platter of oysters and a nice bottle of wine on the patio of one of the many restaurants situated on the banks of the Cape Fear River.
From downtown Wilmington, you can reach three or four beautiful beaches within about 20 minutes, depending on traffic.
Two of the deciding yet lesser studied battles of the Civil War were fought here at what is now Fort Fisher State Historic Site. When it fell to the Union Army in January 1865, it cut the last supply line for the Confederate Army and the fate of the Confederacy was sealed.
It’s a nice history lesson and some good exercise to walk the grounds of the 1.5 mile earthen fortification. And the best part – like all North Carolina historic sites – it’s free to the public.
Lodging is affordable and very family-friendly in this part of the world. Many people choose to rent a beach house, but if a traditional hotel experience is your choice, consider the Blockade Runner on Wrightsville Beach. It’s family-owned and has been around for more than 50 years, although the décor is as modern as the Hunger Games “capitol” furniture in the lobby.
The Blockade Runner is also one of the few lodging options that offers a pool as well as miles of beach, just in case you like the option. And there’s a children’s program and babysitting for those who are traveling with all ages.
For more information on planning your Carolina Beaches getaway, visit WilmingtonandBeaches.com or call 877.406.2356.