From Swansboro to Chocowinity and Beyond in Nicholas Sparks Country
It's easy to see why Nicholas Sparks loves living in--and writing about--southeastern North Carolina. It's hard to beat the settings in reality or in his best-selling novels, thanks to charming historic towns, quiet beaches, tidal rivers, and pretty marshes as far as the eye can see. That's certainly the case with the drive between historic Swansboro and the community of Chocowinity (and nearby Washington just across the Pamlico River). Time spent driving, stopping, and exploring can include history, small towns, beaches, rivers, marshes, and more.
Swansboro is a great place to start (or end) days of exploration. The "Friendly City by the Sea" sits at the confluence of the White Oak River and the Intracoastal Waterway (including a scenic walkway). Just a few blocks in size and featured in Sparks's The Guardian, Swansboro's historic district includes quaint shops, many historic houses and buildings (look for plaques with dates they were built), and popular restaurants.
With an Elvis statue at the entrance and a nostalgic 1950s interior, Yana's is the most popular place in town for breakfast and lunch-- including tasty hamburgers that the menu says will take 20 minutes to prepare correctly. There's often a wait, so locals also recommend nearby IceHouse Waterfront Restaurant for the seafood and the views.
Just southwest of Swansboro, Hammocks Beach State Park is a popular destination from spring to fall. Bear Island, the main attraction of the park, is only accessible by passenger ferry or private boat (there's also a popular launching dock for kayakers). Once there, quiet beachcombing, fishing, and even primitive camping (by reservation) await lucky visitors.
Heading back out of Swansboro in the other direction on US 24 toward the tiny communities of Cedar Point (pick up some fresh catch at Clyde Phillips Seafood), Cape Carteret, and Bogue, any map lures explorers across the bridge to Emerald Isle. The town of Emerald Isle is the first of several island beach communities right on the Atlantic Ocean, with the interesting drive along US 58 passing through Indian Beach, Salter Path, Pine Knoll Shores, and Atlantic Beach before heading back to the mainland.
Long a favorite family-oriented beach destination, Emerald Isle is popular for beach time, fishing (including famed Bogue Inlet Fishing Pier), and biking (there's a wide bike path). Seafood restaurants (like Jordan's House of Seafood) are also quite popular and prevalent.
Next, Pine Knoll Shores features more beachfront, more watersports opportunities, and the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores. Popular exhibits take visitors on a waterborne journey from the mountains to the sea, including shark-feeding scuba divers, sunken ships, and lots of colorful fish. There are also North Carolina Aquariums down near Wilmington at Kure Beach's Fort Fisher and up in the Outer Banks in Manteo (with additional Aquarium programs and activities at Jeannette's Pier in Nags Head).
Atlantic Beach is the home of historic Fort Macon State Park, which features a Civil War fort, cannons, exhibits, and programs. Atlantic Beach is also the home of several waterfront seafood restaurants, including The Crabs Claw near the Oceanana Fishing Pier and Channel Marker Restaurant near the Atlantic Beach Bridge leading back to the mainland's waterfront communities of Morehead City and Beaufort.
Featured in the April, 2009 cover story of TrailBlazer, the Crystal Coast towns of Morehead City and Beaufort remain as alluring as ever. Morehead City highlights of any visit have to include The History Place (lots of fascinating regional history) and seafood-driven fare at either sprawling historic Sanitary Fish Market and Restaurant (celebrating their 75th anniversary in 2013) or more intimate Bistro-by-the-Sea (look for menu items labeled "Carteret Catch" for the freshest local seafood creatively prepared).
Beaufort also has much to offer, including the North Carolina Maritime Museum (with the Watercraft Center across the street), Beaufort Historic Site (historic buildings and more), and outings to uninhabited Rachel Carson National Estuarine Research Reserve just across Taylors Creek and Cape Lookout National Seashore--home to wild horses and the 1859 Cape Lookout Lighthouse. These outings (and more) are easily arranged by Outer Banks Ferry Service right on the Beaufort waterfront. The town's don't-miss Beaufort Grocery Co. restaurant now has a second location in Morehead City--Beaufort Grocery Too.
Pronounced "Bo-furt," Beaufort was the setting for Sparks's A Walk to Remember and also The Choice. A Walk to Remember is one of the novelist's most personal books in that it was inspired by his sister, who died of cancer in 2000.
Heading northwest on US 70 out of Morehead City toward New Bern, Newport is famed for the Newport Pig Picking Contest every April. Much of the rest of the drive all the way to New Bern is through 160,000-acre Croatan National Forest. This is a land of pine forests, lakes, bogs, raised swamps, saltwater estuaries, and rivers. Possible outdoor options include hiking, boat launches, fishing, swimming, and primitive camping.
On the way, the town of Havelock marches to the beat of Marines stationed at adjacent Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point. With planes and a huge helicopter awaiting visitors, the Havelock Tourist & Event Center & Aviation Exhibit puts Newport's role in peace into perspective--as does the roar of jets often heard while in town. Five restored aircraft are on display, along with scaled models, historic photography, and other artifacts depicting the history of the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing at Cherry Point since its inception way back in 1942. Havelock is also home to June's Cherry Point Air Show and October's Havelock Chili Festival.
New Bern on the Neuse River is next and it's best to plan to stay awhile. Author Nicholas Sparks certainly did--having made North Carolina and New Bern his home for many years.
Staff at New Bern's friendly Convention & Visitors Center at is happy to share the self-guided "Walk to Remember" walking tour with fans of the writer's popular books and numerous resulting movies. The walk also provides a way to see many of the city's sights.
New Bern specifically plays a role in three Sparks novels: A Bend in the Road, The Wedding, and The Notebook. Highlights of the walking tour include Union Point Park and the docks behind the waterfront DoubleTree (both featured in A Bend in the Road), the Alfred Cunningham Bridge leading into town (in The Notebook), the Masonic Theater and Centenary Methodist Church (both in The Notebook), historic Cedar Grove Cemetery (mentioned as part of a funeral procession in A Bend in the Road). Sparks also featured two tasty New Bern restaurants in A Bend in the Road: Pollock Street Deli ("the best sandwiches in town") and Fred & Claire's (which now houses the creative cuisine of 247 Craven).
Other Heritage Walking Tours available from the Convention & Visitors Center include "Civil War Heritage," "Historic Homes," "Architectural," and "African-American History." They all provide a great way to see the town Sparks obviously loves.
Along with taking one of the walking tours, many visitors to New Bern start with Tryon Palace Historic Sites & Gardens. Tryon Palace served as the North Carolina government when New Bern was the state capital in the late-1700s and was mentioned in A Bend in the Road and The Wedding.
A visit to Tryon Palace proper and more starts at the adjacent North Carolina History Center, where the soaring Cannon Gateway provides orientation exhibits and the rest of the museum features rotating coverage and interactive historical activities--as well as Lawson's Landing, a tasty Riverwalk cafÃ© right on the Neuse. The Tryon Palace Museum Store (no admission required) features many items representative of North Carolina history, including decorative pieces for the home and garden, collectibles, porcelain, and many books.
A 1798 fire destroyed the original Palace building, but it was carefully reconstructed more than 150 years later on the original site. The Palace's impressive collection of fine art, antiques, silver, and ceramics is worth the price of admission on its own, but those who love to travel will also enjoy the map collection from some of the most important European map makers of the 17th and 18th centuries.
The Palace's 16 acres of gardens were designed by noted landscape architect Morley Jeffers Williams in the 1950s and represent the formal garden style of 18th century Britain. The Kitchen Garden is especially tasteful--though no picking allowed!
There are several historic houses nearby that are included in admission, the 1780s John Wright Stanly House (home of several successful Stanly men and their families), the George W. Dixon House (the home of a prominent New Bern Merchant), and the 19th century Robert Hay House. Though not part of the Tryon Palace complex, the circa 1790 Attmore-Oliver House is also well worth a visit.
The Regional History Museum is another highlight of the overall Tryon Palace experience. Here, visitors follow the "River of Light" to explore five centuries of the region's history themed exhibits exploring "Environment," "Community," and "Work."
Another interesting part of New Bern's history can be found just up Middle Street at the Birthplace of Pepsi. Here, at his pharmacy, Caleb Bradham invented "Brad's Drink," which he later patented as Pepsi-Cola. Today, thirsty visitors can enjoy a sample and buy souvenirs at the recreated soda fountain.
Nearby, the New Bern Firemen's Museum features the state's first chartered fire department. There are horse drawn steam engines and other original firefighting equipment and relics.
Throughout town, creatively painted bear sculptures are easy to spot. New Bern was named for Bern, Switzerland, and a bear serves as the town symbol and mascot.
Just northeast of New Bern, the town of Chocowinity was once a thriving hub of the Norfolk Southern Railway. It was incorporated in 1959 and recent growth can be attributed to the development of Cypress Landing on Chocowinity Bay.
Nearby, across the Pamlico River, historic Washington awaits. Often referred to as the "Original Washington," the town was the first municipality named for George Washington. The town was founded in 1776, when Washington was a general and well before he became the first president of the United States.
Today's still-quaint waterfront town has many historic and modern highlights. These include: the North Carolina Estuarium (exhibits explore the vast areas in the state where fresh and salt water meet), waterfront Festival Park, lots of colorfully painted blue crab sculptures, eclectic shopping, and varied outings on the schooner Jeanie B, a 72-foot gaff-rigged tall ship.
Main Street and Water Street feature several locally-owned and -operated restaurants: Down on Main Street (creative sandwiches and seafood); The Bank bistro & bar (located in a historic bank building); and On the Waterfront (steaks, oysters, other seafood, and views).
Who knows--maybe Nicholas Sparks will provide a taste of the "Original Washington" in his next novel!
Nicholas Sparks Also Shines the Spotlight on Southeastern North Carolina's Southport & Wilmington
The riverfront towns of Southport and Wilmington recently provided yet another North Carolina setting for a Nicholas Sparks novel and resulting film (the eighth Sparks book to hit the silver screen). Safe Haven--the romantic thriller starring Josh Duhamel and Julianne Hough--which debuted this past Valentine's Day, after being filmed exclusively in Southport and Wilmington.
In a popular pre-Safe Haven film called A Night With Nicholas Sparks. Safe Haven: Filmmakers, Author And Stars Bring The Book To Life, Sparks praised the southeastern North Carolina settings in fiction and film: "The sunsets, the coast--it's a good place. The closer you get to the coast, the smaller things get. The slow pace of life has an influence on me. I write stories where people have time to connect.
"It's easy to connect with both towns as seen in the film. The possibilities in and around Southport include: the ferry between Fort Fisher, across the Cape Fear River, and Southport; the old-timey city blocks where the dramatic Fourth of July scenes were filmed; Ports of Call restaurant, where a romantic dinner was shot and actor Josh Duhamel learned to shuck an oyster; and Old American Fish Co. restaurant, where the character Katie (Julianne Hough) worked as a waitress.
Across the Cape Fear at Fort Fisher State Recreation Area, the fictional couple enjoyed a romantic kiss on the wide and deserted beach. Over in Wilmington--often referred to as "Wilmywood" and "Hollywood of the East" because of all the film work done there--the characters strolled by the Wilmington Convention Center and the Carolina Apartments on Market Street during a visit.
Along with their fictional roles, the cast and crew also took advantage of other area offerings during filming, including Julianne Hough's 23rd birthday celebration at Ports of Call; popular Fishy Fishy Cafe, near where much of the film work was done and a favorite with Sparks and the cast and crew; a guided paddling trip with Adventure Kayak Company; and tee times, dining, and libations at Oak Island Golf Club.
Duhamel, often accompanied by girlfriend Fergie of The Blacked Eyed Peas fame, stayed on Oak Island and continues to publicly rave about his time on the island and in Southport--yet another southeastern North Carolina town now in the Nicholas Sparks spotlight. With the addition of Southport, Sparks has now featured southeastern North Carolina's Beaufort, Edenton, New Bern, Swansboro, and Wilmington (which was already highlighted in Dear John, Message in a Bottle, and The Last Song prior to Safe Haven).
AUTHOR NICHOLAS SPARKS
Loves His Home State of North Carolina
Quite simply, famed author Nicholas Sparks loves North Carolina. All of his novels have been based in the Tar Heel State, including both real and fictional settings in a variety of well-known North Carolina destinations, including New Bern (where Sparks lives), Beaufort, Swansboro, Edenton, Oriental, Rodanthe, the North Carolina mountains, Wilmington, and--most recently--Southport (for the bestselling novel and feature film, Safe Haven).
Sparks was born in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1965. As a child, he lived in Nebraska, Minnesota, and California, attending high school in Fair Oaks. He ran track at Notre Dame and wrote his first (never published) novel after his freshman year. He and his wife, Catherine, were married in 1989--moving to Sacramento. He also wrote his second novel that year (also never published). In 1990, Sparks co-authored a book (Wokini) with 1965 Olympic gold medalist Billy Mills, with sales topping 50,000 books the first year.
The couple moved to North Carolina in 1992 and, over a period of six months in 1994, Sparks wrote The Notebook (set in New Bern). Of that novel, Sparks recalls, "The Notebook was inspired by my wife's grandparents, two wonderful people who spent over 60 years together."
The Notebook was published in 1996, followed by Message in a Bottle (1998), A Walk to Remember (1999), The Rescue (2000), A Bend in the Road (2001), Nights in Rodanthe (2002), The Guardian (2003), The Wedding (also 2003), True Believer (2005), At First Sight (the 2005 sequel to True Believer), Dear John (2006), The Choice (2007), The Lucky One (2008), The Last Song (2009), Safe Haven (2010), and The Best of Me (2011). His books have been translated into more than 45 languages and have racked up more than $80 million in sales.
Sparks traveled well beyond North Carolina's borders for the 2004 non-fiction memoir, Three Weeks With My Brother, co-authored with his older brother, Micah. Though Sparks has hesitated pursing a traditional memoir at this point in his life, he says, "It turns out that my brother and I took a trip around the world, and the more we traveled and talked, the more we began to think we could write a story about brotherhood, all set around the trip we were taking." The result is a mixture of memoir and travelogue that makes for a great read on or off the road.
Back home in North Carolina, Sparks and Catherine launched the Nicholas Sparks foundation in 2011. It's a nonprofit foundation committed to improving cultural and international understanding through global education experiences for students of all ages. The foundation and personal gifts from the couple have meant more than $10 million to deserving charities, scholarship programs, and projects. Because they cover all operational costs, 100% of donations go to the programs.
In addition, in 2012, the couple and their five children hosted the inaugural Nicholas Sparks Celebrity Family Weekend and Golf Tournament in New Bern. With a range of celebrities from the worlds of sports, music, movies, and television, it's a weekend to raise awareness and funds for the Foundation-raising more than $500,000 in its first year.
The following questions and answers about North Carolina, writing, and more were culled from Sparks's website (www.nicholassparks.com), which provides great insight into his books and resulting movies.
Why are all of your novels set in North Carolina?
Because I live in North Carolina and am familiar with the area, because few other novelists write about the area, and because I want to create a sense of familiarity when readers buy each novel.
How many copies have your novels sold?
Worldwide, my books have sold an estimated 80 million copies to date.
Is it true that all of your novels are based on your own life?
My novels aren't so much based on my life as they are inspired by events in my own life. But even that degree of similarity doesn't apply to all of my books. For instance, Nights in Rodanthe, was entirely fictional.
How long does it take you to write a novel?
It can take as long as three months to conceive of a story, and during those periods, I simultaneously work on projects for television or film, outline possible ideas both mentally and on paper, go on book and film tours, work with foreign and domestic publishers, and handle the paperwork associated with being an author. Once I finalize a story concept and begin writing, my work schedule can vary depending on where I am in a particular novel, since some sections are easier to write than others. I generally work five or six days a week. My goal is to complete 2,000 words each day, and that can take anywhere from three to eight hours, usually averaging five hours. Generally, I start around 9:00 a.m. and try to finish by 2:00 p.m. I have, however, written at all hours of the day and night. I generally work at home, although I've also been known to write while touring. Sometimes I need quiet, other times it doesn't matter. Sometimes I listen to music, other times not. Sometimes I write with the television on (I like watching DVDs of old television shows), but other times I don't. In the end, it usually takes four or five months to complete a novel, not counting editing, which adds an additional month or so.
What do you want your readers to take away from your novels?
Generally speaking, I set out to write an easy-to-read, entertaining, original love story with a poignant ending, one that generates genuine emotion. That's what I'd like my readers to take away. In terms of style, I attempt to write with efficiency, conciseness, and originality in uncluttered, vigorous prose.
What is the first step you take in writing a new novel?
The first step is to come up with a general theme, one that influences the style in which it's written, the proper narrative voice, the appropriate characters and settings, and the length of the novel.
Do you write longhand or work on a computer?
I write on a computer.
Is it true you wrote two novels before The Notebook was published, and if so, will you ever publish them?
Yes, it's true, but no, they will never be seen. I regard the work on those novels as an apprenticeship of sorts, one that showed me that I not only enjoyed writing stories, but that I had the ability to finish a novel once I'd started. However, I don't feel they are well-written enough to be published.
Why do you write books?
enjoy, and have always enjoyed, reading, and my ability to write and interest in a writing career grew out of that. While I generally avoid cliches, the following is apt: I don't live to write, I write to live.
What do you read?
I usually read about 125 books a year, and I have been a voracious reader since I was young. I read commercial fiction, selected modern literary fiction, assorted Penguin Classics, history and biography.
Who are your favorite authors?
Due to the volume of books I read, it's impossible to choose a favorite. I have said publicly, however, that the only modern contemporary writer of fiction that I feel certain will be read 100 years from now is Stephen King, and I am a great admirer of Mr. King's work.
Which of your novels have been adapted for film?
The Notebook, Message in a Bottle, A Walk to Remember, Nights in Rodanthe, Dear John , The Last Song, The Lucky One, and Safe Haven.
Do you get a chance to meet the stars of your movies?
Yes. I usually visit the set of each film a couple of times and meet everyone involved.
What are your hobbies?
In addition to writing, reading, and spending time with my five children, I run 30 miles a week, lift weights four times per week, and practice Tae Kwon Do. As a black belt, I have competed at both the regional and national levels