By Katherine Tandy Brown
Coastal destinations in North and South Carolina welcome groups to share their sunshine, surf and sea life.
North and South Carolina sport miles and miles of long, luscious coastline with Atlantic breakers washing over pearly sand that entices travel groups to come and play. Coastal activities in the Carolinas are almost endless. Visitors can select from a wide menu of options such as deep-sea and surf fishing, shrimping and crabbing, sailing and surfing, and beachcombing and hiking maritime trails. Inland, attractions include live theaters and aquariums, as well as plenty of opportunities to shop for take-home treasures and feast on seafood straight from the water.
So many movies have been filmed in Wilmington and its beaches — Carolina Beach, Kure Beach and Wrightsville Beach — that it now goes by “Wilmywood” and “Hollywood East.” Film, food and fun on the water provide a base for numerous attractions.
“On a movie location walk, you may round a corner and come face-to-face with a film crew or catch a glimpse of your favorite star,” said Connie Nelson, communications and public relations director for the Wilmington and Beaches Convention and Visitors Bureau.
In July 2012, the Theatre Network of Wilmington (TheatreNOW) opened as Wilmington’s first dinner theater and arts complex complete with a Sunday jazz-gospel brunch and movie events.
“TheaterNOW can customize an interactive group experience,” Nelson said. “Independent filmmakers can even use talent from the group to make a minicommercial.”
Along with Wilmington’s popular horse-drawn carriage tours and narrated trolley tours of its 100-block Historic District, three types of food tours are led by local writers: tours of downtown restaurants to prepare a dish with the chefs and sample a special item; tours of farmers markets to shop for produce with a local chef, then cook and eat those fresh purchases; and Friday evening drinks tours of several downtown bars for signature drinks and food pairings.
North Carolina Eco-Odysseys pairs food with outdoor adventure, such as kayaking with sides of food, wine and craft beer. Sailing, surfing and stand-up paddle-boarding lessons get fit, fun-seeking folks out on the water. For a more leisurely experience, groups can take a dreamy moonlight cruise over dinner on the riverboat Henrietta III as it glides along the Cape Fear River.
Beaufort and Hilton Head,
Personifying South Carolina’s welcoming spirit, Beaufort and Hilton Head Island are all spanish moss on live oaks, intriguing history, genteel locals and watery pastimes.
In the 1950s, 12-mile-long Hilton Head was developed as a green destination with planned resorts, bike paths, boutique and outlet shopping, and high-caliber tennis and golf.
On legendary Sea Pines Resort, Pete Dye-designed Harbour Town Golf Links wend along picturesque Calibogue Sound in the shadow of a red-and-white lighthouse.
“The Hilton Head and Bluffton areas have more than 40 golf courses with price points for absolutely every group,” said Jack Reed, director of sales for the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce and Convention and Visitors Bureau.
For an egret’s-eye view of the Lowcountry, Zipline Hilton Head is a new ecotourism island addition.
Chartered in 1711, Beaufort greets visitors with characteristic Southern hospitality. Carriage, van and walking tours of its waterfront historic district show off Beaufort’s historical and architectural charms.
“Visitors get caught up in our Lowcountry culture and get lost in our little downtown shops, art galleries and local restaurants, then get lost on a dolphin excursion on the Prince of Tides, on a kayak tour of the historic district, or on a fishing charter, where it’s just you and a fly rod,” said Rob Wells, tourism division executive for the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Groups can get saluted on Parris Island, where Marines are made, and discover military history at the base’s museum; cross the “Go, Forrest, go!” bridge where “Forrest Gump” was filmed; and climb the ultimate StairMaster, the Hunting Island Lighthouse, for a view of the wide Atlantic.