At Wrightsville Beach
On your way to the beach from downtown, you have to give in and let your kids play at Jungle Rapids (5320 Oleander Dr.; 910/791-0666; www.junglerapids.com). It has mini-golf, laser tag, go-karts and a fantastic water park.
Wrightsville Beach itself is a barrier island; the Intracoastal Waterway runs between it and the mainland. The beach is all public, with perfect sand for volleyball, and great waves. Whatever the season, temperature, or forecast, you can always find a surfer in the water. The Intracoastal Waterway is where everyone kayaks, canoes, and goes tubing, waterskiing, and knee boarding, which is like waterskiing but on a short board (I just tried it for the first time-very fun). Salt Marsh Kayak Co. (222 Old Causeway Dr.; 910/509-2989; www.saltmarshkayak.com) rents kayaks and Hobie Cats and gives lessons.
My favorite place to swim is right around the Blockade Runner, a nice hotel where lots of locals and out of towners go. I like to look at all the people who somehow end up here.
For lunch, surfers get their sandwiches-and their surf reports-at Robert's Market (32 N. Lumina Ave.; 910/ 256-2641); the Trolley Stop (1 S. Lumina Ave.; 910/256-3421) has the best hot dogs around. (It got its name from the old streetcar that once made its way from downtown to the beach, before a lot of people had cars.) Another great place to go is Jackson's Big Oak Barbeque (920 S. Kerr Ave.; 910/799-1581; lunch for four $10), halfway between downtown and the beach. I've heard that North Carolina barbecue is different from any other because of all the vinegar, but I've never tried "imported barbecue," and that's really okay with me.
Three More Must-Sees
Airlie Gardens People mainly come for the plants and lakes. I have to say the azalea bushes are gorgeous, but the most amazing attraction is the new bottle house, made entirely out of-you guessed it! The house was built as a memorial to Minnie Evans, a self-taught artist who was the gatekeeper at Airlie for many years. In the summer, my mom plays jazz concerts here as part of the First Friday Jazz Series. 300 Airlie Rd.; 910/798-7700; www.airliegardens.org.
Greenfield Park My friend Meredith and I come to Greenfield to canoe or ride paddleboats on the lake. It also has a playground, picnic shelters, a skate park, and tennis courts that are free. 1702 Burnett Blvd.; 910/341-7852.
Screen Gems This place is the biggest movie studio east of Hollywood. Firestarter, Blue Velvet, and Hackers were all shot here. You can take a back-lot tour, but it's not exactly like Universal's. Screen Gems is a real working studio, and you get to see movie, TV, and music video sets. They have Dawson's bedroom preserved. Can you believe it takes eight 12-hour days to shoot a single episode of Surface, one of the new television shows filmed here?As you tour, be sure to keep your eyes open-chances are you'll see a famous face or two. 1233 N. 23rd St.; 910/ 343-3500; www.euescreengems.com; tours $12 adults, $5 children.