Archive for the ‘Family travel’ Category

A new resource for cycling routes and services

May 22, 2015

One of my favorite things is spreading the word in high-profile publications about people, services, and destinations I think contribute something positive to the world. Here’s one of them, about Bikabout, a wonderful cycling-centric service for travelers founded by cycling enthusiast and tireless advocate Megan Ramey. A small article ran in the New York Times May 17. Here’s my original version, which includes a few more details. Happy pedaling! 

By Diane Daniel

Bikabout founder Megan Ramey with daughter Annika Ramey on Plum Island, Mass. [photo Kyle Ramey]

Bikabout founder Megan Ramey with daughter Annika Ramey on Plum Island, Mass. [photo Kyle Ramey]

Megan Ramey’s first bike-related vacation with her husband and their daughter, now 5, partly inspired her to start Bikabout, an online travel resource for everything bicycling, with information on bike-friendly lodging, traveling with bikes, renting them, and where to ride them around town along with tips on culture, etiquette and safety.

“When our daughter was nine months we took our Burley trailer on the Chinatown bus from Boston and had the most amazing five days biking around with her in Brooklyn,” said Ramey, who lives in Cambridge, Mass., and volunteers with several bicycle advocacy groups. “Our next trip was to the Netherlands, where one out of every two people bike, which was totally eye-opening. If I can help get the US halfway to where the Netherlands is, then I will have accomplished a great thing.”

The site, which launched last year, is this spring rolling out new guides on Washington and New York City, soon to be followed by Atlanta, Milwaukee, San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, adding to the 13 cities already available.

Bikabout founder Megan Ramey with daughter Annika in Madison, Wisc. [photo Kyle Ramey]

Bikabout founder Megan Ramey with daughter Annika in Madison, Wisc. [photo Kyle Ramey]

The downloadable homegrown local rides, provided by Bikabout “ambassadors,” have proven to be the most popular part of the service, she said.

“You can of course go on MapMyRide and find rides there, but most of those are for people going 60 miles a day. Ours are for everyone and are less than 20 miles. They’re designed to have people really see and support the real city, to get off the beaten path and into the nooks and crannies.”

For example, the 7-mile East Van Brewery Tour in Vancouver visits six craft breweries and a few food stops, while the 13-mile Charleston (S.C.) Coastal See Food Tour includes key dining spots and expansive water views. Ramey also has partnered with several Kimpton Hotels, including those in D.C., and will supply them with themed routes starting from each location to give guests.

“Someday I’d like Bikabout to represent every major city in the U.S. that can accommodate bike tourism,” she said. “I don’t have the goal of making tons of money on this. I’m doing this more as a change agent. I want there to be a direct correlation between the amount of money that cities realize in bike tourism and how much they invest in bike infrastructure and safety.”

The dish on visiting Replacements in NC

May 24, 2014

I’d always wanted to do a story on Replacements, but had no idea it would be sooooo much fun! Here’s my article, which originally ran in the Washington Post on April 27, 2014, and has since been reprinted in several other newspapers. Details for visiting are below the story. The kicker: I was cleaning out the basement after this ran and discovered yet another box of inherited crystal, worth enough money to warrant a return visit. This time I’m making a point of meeting owner Bob Page. Can’t wait!

By Diane Daniel

Replacements’ 12,000-square-foot retail store and museum near Greensboro, N.C., is open to the public, with free guided tours through the warehouse

Replacements’ 12,000-square-foot retail store and museum near Greensboro, N.C., is open to the public, with free guided tours through the warehouse

When Laurie Oliver, running the sellers’ counter at Replacements, Ltd., said that it might take 90 minutes to process my six plastic tubs of china, silver and crystal, my first thought was, I’m pretty sure I’ll need more time than that.

For years, I’d driven past the gigantic showroom and warehouse (“the size of eight football fields!” according to the Web site), visible along Interstate 85 just east of Greensboro, N.C., thinking that I wanted to drop in. Not because I like to shop (I don’t), but because the scale and mission of the place fascinate me. The aptly named company maintains the world’s largest inventory of old and new china, crystal, silver and collectibles – some 12 million pieces representing more than 400,000 patterns. Broke your Margarete Bridal Rose salad plate? Look no further. Want some cash for your Spiegelau Aida water goblet? Step right up.

The bulk of the company’s dealings, both buying and selling, occur online, on the phone, and through parcel delivery. But for more than 55,000 annual visitors, Replacements transforms into much more than a center of commerce. I experienced it as a dog park, a gay rights center, an inventory-handling machine, a tableware museum and a place of worship – or at least profound appreciation – for benevolent leader Bob Page.

The rainbow flag flies under the Replacements logo. Owner and founder Bob Page is known as a gay rights leader locally and statewide.

The rainbow flag flies under the Replacements logo. Owner and founder Bob Page is known as a gay rights leader locally and statewide.

I started my unofficial tour in the back parking lot (non-selling visitors typically use the front door). I’d dutifully made the recommended sellers’ appointment and had identified my inherited china patterns. But I’d also brought a hodgepodge of indeterminate crystal and items that I hoped were actually silver. (Prices are based on supply and demand.)

The first thing I noticed was the tall pole holding two flapping flags – one stamped with the Replacements logo and the other covered in rainbow stripes, the universal gay symbol. Owner Page, once closeted, is now known as a gay rights leader locally and statewide, a bold proclamation for a mainstream business owner in these parts.

As I was unloading my boxes onto a cart, two employees passed by, one walking a black Lab and the other a Pomeranian, lending truth to the sign on the door that reads, “Well-behaved pets welcome.” Staffers told me that though dogs rule, visitors have also brought cats on leashes and even a pot-bellied pig.

After Oliver explained the drill, she cut me loose to play. I followed the yellow tape on the floor down a long corridor in a warehouse toward the retail showroom, passing row after row of floor-to-ceiling shelves filled with china, crystal and some collectibles. (Hummels, anyone?)

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Paradise found at Florida park

February 2, 2014

I wrote this article, which ran on Feb. 2 in the Boston Globe, after a summer visit to St. Joseph Peninsula State Park in Florida’s Panhandle. It’s a super-special place and while it’s not really a secret, it kind of still is because it’s out-of-the-way location keeps the number of visitors down. Read on…

By Diane Daniel

The State Park includes 10 miles of untamed coast and 35-foot-high sand dunes

The state park includes 10 miles of untamed coast and 35-foot-high sand dunes

CAPE SAN BLAS, Fla. — Initially, Youngra Hardwick appeared eager to share her wisdom. She had succeeded where I’d failed by snagging a waterfront cabin at T. H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, and I wanted in on the secret.

“There are some tricks to it. Every day different spots come open. So you have to get up really early in the morning.” Just as she was advising me about opening several internet browsers, she stopped.

“Wait! I don’t even want to talk to you about it,” she said. She was laughing, but she meant it.

View of St. Joseph Bay from the Maritime Hammock Trail

View of St. Joseph Bay from the Maritime Hammock Trail

Hardwick, who traveled here from Columbus, Ohio, with her husband and two daughters, first stumbled upon the park, in Florida’s Panhandle and about 105 miles southwest of Tallahassee, while searching online for budget-friendly coastal stays.

“I look for places that are remote and isolated, and this sounded like paradise,” she said. “I was right.”

Many visitors, it seems, treat their time at St. Joseph as if it involved password-protected admission. During my three-day stay, several people asked how I had discovered the park. Check online travel forums and you can find users jokingly trying to dissuade others from visiting.

The real treats are the eight furnished cabins with a view of St. Joseph Bay

The real treats are the eight furnished cabins with a view of St. Joseph Bay

It’s not surprising that folks want to keep this spot along Florida’s “Forgotten Coast” to themselves. St. Joseph’s natural amenities include an unheard of (at least in Florida) 10 miles of untamed coast and 35-foot-high sand dunes, along with maritime forests and wildlife. The park’s 119 tent and RV camping sites are fairly standard, but the beach is just a short walk away over the dunes. The real treats are the eight furnished “cabins,” which look more like resort condominiums minus the television. And who needs TV when your back yard looks out onto the wide expanse of St. Joseph Bay?

Luckily for the non cabin-dwellers, water views are everywhere in this 2,716-acre playground. It sits at the tip of narrow Cape San Blas and is flanked by the Gulf of Mexico and the bay, giving visitors the opportunity to see sunrises and sunsets — only a few yards apart in some spots. Although the park has been anointed a “best of” by “Dr. Beach” and is frequently mentioned in national publications, its out-of-the-way location keeps traffic relatively low.

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‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’ heats Atlanta

November 15, 2013
Guests on the Hunger Games Unofficial Fan Tours visit Atlanta film locations, including The Swan House, staged at Presidents Snow’s Mansion. Photo credit: Courtesy Atlanta History Center

The Swan House served as Presidents Snow’s Mansion. Photo courtesy Atlanta History Center

All eyes are back on Katniss and Peeta as the sequel “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” comes out on Nov 22. A week later, Hunger Games Unofficial Fan Tours launches Catching Fire Tours in Atlanta, where the sequel was filmed. The same group led outstanding theme trips and tours in North Carolina, where the first “Hunger Games” was filmed. This time they’re partnering with Atlanta Movie Tours to present immersive fan tours highlighting locations used in Catching Fire.

Learn archery while touring Hunger Games sites in Atlanta, such as The Swan House, staged at Presidents Snow’s Mansion.  Photo credit: Hunger GamesTM Unofficial Fan Tours

Learn archery while touring Hunger Games sites. Photo credit: Hunger GamesTM Unofficial Fan Tours

The one-day tour costs $94 and includes location tour, transportation, lunch, and hands-on activities. Locations include: Presidents Snow’s Mansion (The Swan House at the Atlanta History Center), District 12, The Victory Tour, and the beginning of the Games – tick tock! A series of weekend experiences is planning as well. Those, costing $549, include lodging, meals, transportation to filming locations, tour guides and mentors, and hands-on activities like archery, food that your favorite characters would have experienced, and a Gala Banquet. You’ll use your newly learned survival skills to compete in your own games simulation.

To make reservations, go to www.hungergamesunofficialfantours.com or call 855-668-4332.

Anarctic cruise line adds polar snorkeling

October 3, 2013
Polar snorkeling with a seal (photo Goran Ehlme - Waterproof Expeditions)

Polar snorkeling with a seal (photo Goran Ehlme – Waterproof Expeditions)

Arctic lovers, here’s the next big thing. Australian-based Antarctic cruise operator Aurora Expeditions has added another ice-breaking adventure to its lineup of polar pursuits – snorkeling – and they say they’re the first cruise operator to offer it. Passengers who take the frigid plunge will have the chance to go on daily dips in sheltered bays, around offshore islands and near secluded ship wrecks. Along with experiencing the beauty of sculpted icebergs below the surface, snorkelers might witness penguins entering and exiting from the ice and swim near seals and other marine mammals. Can you imagine?

The polar snorkeling option joins an activity lineup including scuba diving, sea kayaking, and camping, and is operated onboard by Dutch outfitters Waterproof Expeditions, which uses dry suits, gloves, hood, fins, and masks specially designed for the 28-degree Fahrenheit water temperature. Personally, I’m sticking to Caribbean snorkeling, though maybe I’d change my mind once in Antarctica. No plans this year. It’s a pricey trip!

Taking a break while polar snorkeling (photo Roger Munns - Waterproof Expeditions)

Taking a break while polar snorkeling (photo Roger Munns – Waterproof Expeditions)

Aurora Expeditions voyages aboard the 54-passenger, ice-strengthened Polar Pioneer depart from the far southern ports of South America. Prices start at $7,200 a person. The snorkeling option adds $975 and is available on these trips: Across the Antarctic Circle, Feb. 10 to 19, Feb. 19 to 28, 2014, and Feb. 19 to 28, 2015; and Weddell Sea and Antarctic Peninsula, Feb. 28 to March 11, 2014 and Feb. 28 to March 9, 2015.

Paperhand puts ‘Invisible Earth’ on the map

August 14, 2013
Darwin narrates evolution

Darwin narrates evolution

The current production of the amazing Paperhand Puppet Intervention is one of our favorites among the nine and counting we’ve seen. “Invisible Earth” features a Charles Darwin character fast-forwarding through evolution with a message of peace, love, and stewardship — the usual lofty Paperhand themes. As always, Paperhand’s visuals amaze both children and adults. This year’s include dancing amoebas, barnyard animals, funky monkeys, a huge elegiac mask with outstretched arms, and a humanoid assembled with Japanese lanterns. Several times throughout the 90-minute show, cast members glided the stage waving huge strips of fluttering fabric hanging from bamboo poles, sometimes sending the caressing cloth out over the audience. Truly poetry in motion. Another highlight this year: gorgeous, searing music composed by Ari Picker (Lost in the Trees) and, as always, performed live by the Paperhand Band. Below are a few of our favorite images. But please, go see for yourself! Paperhand will be at its annual summer home, the historic outdoor Forest Theatre on the UNC Chapel Hill campus, through Sept. 8, and then at the NC Museum of Art amphitheater Sept. 13-15.

Stiltwalkers portray jelly fish

This year’s creations include jellyfish on stilts

Pigs walk through the audience to join the animal orchestra

Pigs walk through the audience to join the animal orchestra

The animal orchestra in action

The animal orchestra in action

Scene of the Visions of Earth

Giant masks are a Paperhand signature

The Great Unfolding

Outstretched arms signal a lantern surprise (top secret!)

Manatees in Florida: a magical day

July 21, 2013

Until this month, I’d seen manatees at state parks, in research facilities, and in the wild at places they’re known to congregate. My favorite time with Florida’s “sea cows” was a few years ago, when Lina and I went kayaking in Crystal River, where manatees like to spend their winter near always-warm springs. We were on a tour with Save the Manatee Club, a fantastic nonprofit organization. It opposes “swim-with” manatee programs (as do I in general) and discourages humans from touching manatees unless the manatee initiates it. Manatees came near our kayaks, but we kept our hands inside.

My paddling pal and manatee whisperer

My paddling pal and manatee whisperer

I finally had my first fully wild and random manatee encounter recently, and it was a memorable one! And I have to admit that I chose to compromise the “no touch” philosophy. Here’s how it unfolded.

My pal Kelly (left), who rents one of our condo units at Indian Rocks Beach, offered to join me on a little kayak outing on the Intracoastal Waterway. I was glad she did, because later she told me she’s a manatee magnet. Wow, was she ever right!

We were paddling around enjoying the Sunday afternoon when I saw a gray blob. At first I thought it was a dolphin, but it just floated there and Kelly suggested it was a manatee. I’m used to seeing them later in the year, but I’ve since discovered they’re definitely around the Intracoastal in the summer.

Manatees got close to Lina and me in Crystal River in 2008

Manatees got close to Lina and me in Crystal River in 2008

We paddled in the direction of the blob, and sure enough, it was a manatee, plus two more. We heard them before we saw them, as they surfaced for air and exhaled above the water’s surface. They continued to come near us, or we’d follow them, and finally one came close enough that I touched its snout with my finger. I screamed with joy! And then it came back, swimming right alongside my kayak. I stroked its entire back, all slimy and rough, and then I screamed some more. I yelled out a few too many times “I pet a manatee!!!!!!!” Kelly of course wanted to do the same, so we kept looking for them, but after 10 minutes of not coming close to another one we finally gave up and headed to a nearby bird sanctuary island.

A minute later I heard Kelly scream with excitement. “Oh my God, oh my God!” A manatee was headed her way, and then it SURFACED under her kayak and she was AIRBORNE. Sorry for all the CAPS but I’m getting excited again thinking about it. I was about 25 feet away and it was like watching a movie. No way could this be happening! Her kayak wobbled as it rolled over the manatee’s back, then the friendly beast took off with a huge splash in Kelly’s direction. We were screaming and laughing with joy! “Dude, you rode a manatee!” I yelled. “Dude, I rode a manatee!” she replied. “Legally!” I added, in case anyone was listening. How big was it? I have no idea, but I do know that the average Florida manatee is about 10 feet long and weighs close to 1,200 pounds. Whoa!

Manatee swims near kayaker holding a camera underwater (photo Steve Sapienza)

Manatee swims near kayaker holding a camera underwater (photo Steve Sapienza)

A just-released report by the Mote Marine Laboratory (visit its aquarium in Sarasota) says manatees can feel water movements thousands of times smaller than the width of a human hair — an ability that makes them one of the most touch-sensitive mammals on earth. So clearly that little escapade was no accident. That manatee knew what it was doing — playing around with one of its fans. While I can’t say I want to be airborne atop a manatee, and Kelly agreed that once is enough, it was a magical manatee moment we will never forget. Here’s hoping you get yours!

Bicycle rides around the country, and the world

June 18, 2013

Here in North Carolina, our summer days are often too dang hot for bike riding, unless you get up at the crack o’ dawn (which we occasionally do). But in many parts of the country and certainly in northern Europe, where one of us hails from, this is the ultimate cycling season. To that end, some trips to inspire you.

201306_01_placestobikeFirst, check out the book “Fifty Places to Bike Before You Die,” by Chris Santella (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $24.95). Santella is more editor than author — he enlists advice from a hosts of cyclists, from advocates to tour guides to writers. It’s a great read, and for cyclists like us, it’s like reading a dessert menu that spans the globe.

For those of us sticking closer to home, I wrote a list of cross-state bike rides for the Boston Globe that I’m reprinting here. As avid cyclists know, nearly every state these days offers some kind of multiple-day ride. Many are staged by volunteers or advocacy groups and are quite affordable, though, yeah, you’re not staying at the Four Seasons. For you luxury-minded riders, I suggest a trip with a commercial tour company, of which there are zillions. For the rest of us, check these out or Google your way to rides in your favorite states.

Participants of the Ride the Rockies

Participants of the Ride the Rockies

RIDE THE ROCKIES

One of the most rugged cross-state tours, this year’s sold-out Colorado version (right), from Telluride to Colorado Springs, features three scenic mountain passes and 20,400 feet of climbing over 513 miles. June 8-15, http://www.ridetherockies.com (Some friends are about to embark on an awesome Colorado tour. I had to pass because of my work schedule. So sad.)

BIKEMAINE

Inaugural weeklong event kicks off Sept. 7 with a challenging 400-mile loop starting in Orono and including stops in Belfast, Castine, Bar Harbor, and Bangor, with a cumulative elevation gain of 24,000 feet. Routes will change yearly. http://ride.bikemaine.org/

201306_03_RAGBRAI

RAGBRAI

The Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, an annual seven-day, 470-mile ride in July, is the oldest (since 1972), largest, and longest bicycle touring event in the world. Day passes available. July 21-27, http://www.ragbrai.com (I did this in 2005.  What a blast!!!!!!!! Make sure you train for it!)

RIDE ACROSS WASHINGTON

This year’s tour, themed “Pines to Vines,” takes 250 riders from near the Canadian border north of Spokane south to the Hood River with about 21,000 feet of climbing and spectacular scenery. Aug. 3-10, http://www.cascade.org

Logo of the 2013 Bike Florida tour

Logo of the 2013 Bike Florida tour

BIKE FLORIDA

The 20th anniversary ride, in early spring 2014, will showcase northeast Florida’s back roads, trails, and beaches. Dates and stops to be determined. http://www.bikeflorida.org

Fans of family entertainment flock to Branson

May 20, 2013

I was surprised by how many of my East Coast friends had never heard of Branson, Missouri, one of the country’s top tourism draws. I described it to them as “G-rated Vegas without the gambling,” but now that I’ve been, I need to amend that add “with a generous scoop of Christianity and patriotism.”

Photo ExploreBranson.com

A walkway runs along Lake Taneycomo in Branson [Photo ExploreBranson.com]

If you like family-friendly variety shows and if you don’t need a drink during said show, and if you are Christian and patriotic, you’ll love Branson. I was there for a travel writers’ conference last weekend and toured around a bit. Truthfully, I felt a bit like a donkey out of water, so to speak. But that’s OK. I appreciated Branson for what it offered its fans, of which there are many. (The fairly remote Ozark Mountains town of just 10,500 hosts more than 7.5 million tourists a year and generates nearly $3 billion in annual tourism revenue. Wow.) And I admired its resilience after a tornado destroyed many buildings just last year, including the Hilton Branson Convention Center Hotel, where I stayed. There was nary a sign of distress at the Hilton, one of the nicest I’ve stayed in.

Branson Airport

Branson Airport

The two-room Branson Airport, serviced by Southwest, is totally cute, with hillbilly décor befitting its locale. Tourists visit two areas – “the strip,” Highway 76, where the show theaters are, and downtown. In town, Main and Commercial streets are home to several “flea market” type shops and the famous Dick’s 5 and 10 (loved the linoleum and the merchandise). A block away on the waterfront is the newish Branson Landing development, an outdoor mall anchored by Bass Pro Shops White River Outpost. A walkway runs along Lake Taneycomo (which connects to Table Rock Lake), and the view is lovely. The main fountain area is a favorite gathering place for visitors. I also recommend Waxy O’Shea’s, where I had a most delicious Mother’s IPA, brewed up the road in Springfield, Mo.

Mother’s IPA is brewed up the road in Springfield, Mo.

Mother’s IPA is brewed up the road in Springfield, Mo.

The tourism folks took my group on a few side trips, including to Silver Dollar City, a longtime amusement park now boasting a giant wooden roller coaster called Outlaw Run. Also wild is the Powder Keg coaster, which launches passengers from zero to 53 miles-per-hour in 2.8 seconds. I had no idea that was its “thing,” and when I watched it from standing still to screaming speed, my jaw dropped.

We writers broke up into groups and toured different spots. I checked out Dogwood Canyon Nature Park, developed by the Bass Pro folks. This is nature lite, and quite manufactured at that, but it’s well done and I’m guessing introduces people to the great outdoors who might not otherwise venture out. Visitors can explore the 6-mile paved loop by foot, bike or guided tram, and only the tram will take you to the Elk and Bison pasture. I cycled, and it was quite pleasant. The chapel was particularly nice – I’m sure many people get married there.

Cycling at Dogwood Canyon Nature Park

Cycling at Dogwood Canyon Nature Park

Some of my writer friends on that trip went on to the Branson Zipline, which they described as soft adventure, but any zipline is too much for me, so I passed. Others went fishing with the Bass Pro folks. That sounded cool, but, again, not my thing. I wish I’d had time to kayak. Folks at Kayak Branson told me they were considering a kayak station right from Branson Landing, which would be wonderfully convenient. Another writer friend loved her tour of Christian-focused College of the Ozarks, aka “Hard Work U.,” where students work instead of pay tuition. They make their own everything, including clothing, furniture, and butter, and even run a hotel. Interesting! I wish I’d had the chance to see it. All the writers toured the Titanic Museum Attraction, fascinating in that inside the half-scale replica you feel you’re on the Titanic.

After my visit, I’m now very curious to see “We Always Lie to Strangers,” a new documentary billed as “a story of family, community, music and tradition set against the backdrop of Branson.” The film also explores how conservative Branson will change (or not) as the country becomes more socially liberal. Interesting points to ponder about this  intriguing place to visit.

Southport: A ‘Safe Haven’ for ‘Under the Dome’

May 12, 2013

One of the loveliest waterfront towns on the entire East Coast is Southport, North  Carolina. It’s also a popular place for shooting films. One, “Safe Haven,” just came out on DVD. Another, the TV series “Under the Dome,” debuts this summer. Here’s a story I wrote about Southport, which ran May 12 in “The Boston Globe.” 

By Diane Daniel

The Southport Yacht Basin, where the Cape Fear River meets the Atlantic Ocean, is home to several seafood restaurants

The Southport Yacht Basin is home to several seafood restaurants

With maps in hand, Nina Walsh and Mary Koehler gazed up at Moore Street Market, a popular cafe housed in a historic wood-frame building in picture-perfect Southport, N.C., on the mouth of the Cape Fear River.

“When we saw the movie, there it was, and I thought, hey, I ate lunch at that store!” Koehler said. The friends, both living in nearby Leland, with Walsh a recent transplant from Swampscott, Mass., had made a return trip to Southport after seeing the romantic thriller “Safe Haven,” based on the book of the same name by syrupy scribe Nicholas Sparks.

“They told us about this tour in the Visitor’s Center,” said Walsh, waving a “Safe Haven Filming Locations” pamphlet. “Everyone walking in the door was asking about the movie.”

The river pilots' tower has been redone to look like Station WYBS for the filming of "Under the Dome"

The river pilots’ tower is “Station WYBS” for the filming of “Under the Dome”

Because nearby Wilmington houses the largest film production facility east of Los Angeles, Hollywood is old hat in these parts. Southport’s credits include the 1986 film “Crimes of the Heart,” the TV series “Matlock,” and the just-out HBO movie “Mary and Martha.” The highest-profile show to be filmed here is still in production — the Stephen King science-fiction series “Under the Dome,” set to premiere on CBS June 24.

Waterfront Park, overlooking the Cape Fear River, is a popular spot for relaxing

Waterfront Park, overlooking the Cape Fear River, is a popular spot for relaxing

But “Safe Haven,” released May 7 on DVD, stands out as the one anointed for red-carpet treatment because the town itself plays a leading role. If you’ve seen the sentimental film, in which “Katie” (Julianne Hough) winds up on the Carolina coast after fleeing a dangerous Boston cop and then falls for local shop owner “Alex” (Josh Duhamel), you’ll likely agree that Southport steals the show. With a few exceptions, everything depicted in “Safe Haven” exists — a picturesque harbor, small retail shops dotting a lively downtown, streets lined with Victorian homes, stately oaks draped with Spanish moss, and bustling waterfront seafood restaurants. And, yes, the town of 2,900 residents really does host an exuberant July 4th parade — officially the North Carolina Fourth of July Festival — which attracts upwards of 50,000 visitors. Last year’s parade was even reenacted a month later for the filming, using townspeople as extras.

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