While my family was vacationing in Ocean Isle, North Carolina, we decided to take a break from an afternoon of sand and sun and head up to Wilmington, North Carolina to go on a self-guided One Tree Hill filming locations tour.
Nearly all of the show was filmed there as it’s the third most popular place to film in the United States behind Los Angeles and New York. Not to mention it was well suited to be shot as small town North Carolina. I’ve been hooked on the show since the late 2000s, and my cousins, sisters, and I had been talking about making this trip together since 2009. Five years later, we were in close enough proximity—about 45 minutes down the coast—to make an afternoon of it.
Since our trip was impromptu, we didn’t spend time optimizing what order we saw each location in. We simply wrote down the addresses of the places we wanted to try and see after checking out this website and this website for ideas, and then began plugging them into the GPS as we went. We even serendipitously drove by Tree Hill Way while journeying to Peyton’s House, which is where the large studio where the interior shots of the show were filmed is. There’s lots of Tree Hill sites left on our list for future trips—most notably TRIC and Tree Hill High—but this tour was no doubt a highlight of our vacation (and it made our nightly showing that much more fun).
Intro Credits Bridge // 6th Street Bridge on North 6th Street and Hanover Street
Our first stop on the tour was the bridge that Lucas is dribbling across during the opening credits. We later learned it’s in a somewhat rough neighborhood and we should just have driven by, but we walked across a few times. We were unable to see it from the angle the camera captured it as the field below was hard to reach due to overgrown shrubbery.
After the bridge, we headed to downtown Wilmington where we found Karen’s Cafe (which was turned into Clothes Over Bros for a bit there, of course). Outside, we met a tour guide who was just wrapping up his afternoon walking tour that we just missed, but was kind enough to spend some time with us. He told us that during filming, the crew put up a fake door to Karen’s Cafe under the fourth awning from the left, and then filmed the interior shots at the studio. Haley and Lucas’ mini-golf course—and where they kept their time capsule—was actually a few buildings over since this building did not have a large enough rooftop.
We walked with our tour guide down Front Street en route to the record store where Peyton frequented. On the way he pointed out the bar where Nathan was pushed through a window in the first episode of season five, and was subsequently told he could never play basketball again. Without the tour guide, we would have walked right by this without thinking twice. And as an added bonus the writers didn’t even plan for, Nathan’s number is located on the window of the building.
Although the inside of the Tree Hill Record Shop is now a gift store primarily devoted to One Tree Hill and Dawson’s Creek paraphernalia, it was very cool to explore the place where Peyton first met Chris Keller, who would later wreck havoc on Nathan and Haley’s marriage. Our tour guide dropped us off here and gave us directions to the Naley Bench, which we were all geeking out about the entire walk with him.
Perhaps the most hyped stop on our self-guided tour, the families nearby us looked at us a little weird when we rolled up and started shrieking over a bench. The tour guide told us it was the last one in a row of about five, and I am glad he did as there was no plaque on it like there should be ;). Across the river just out of the picture is the USS Carolina Battleship, which, of course, is where the River Court used to stand.
Once we were done exploring the downtown area, we decided to find some of the character’s houses. Our first stop was Lucas and Karen’s house. My sister, Jennifer, was our chauffeur for the day and when we arrived, she pulled right into the driveway like we owned the place. The driveway was located right next to Lucas’ bedroom door. Even though we could see furniture inside the house as we walked to the front of the house (another sign we probably shouldn’t have parked in the driveway!), we took the risk of swinging on the porch swing, just like Lucas and Karen, and I have no regrets.
When we drove up through this swanky neighborhood, we were immediately reminded why we are #TeamBrooke as her house was the bomb. We were happy to find the door is still red and the white brick looked exactly like it did on the show.
We loved seeing Peyton’s house since one of the few episodes we watched at the beach was “Prom Night at Hater High,” where Brooke eggs Peyton’s house the afternoon before crazy Derek shows up to take Peyton captive. (Aka, we were really familiar with it even though our memories were a tad dusty about some of the other locations.) Her house is located in a very nice neighborhood, and there is a cemetery right across the street that looks like a miniature Arlington National Cemetery since all the headstones are the same and orderly.
Located just to the left of Peyton’s House is the James House where Haley lived with her parents before she married Nathan. Even though her family life was rarely shown on the show, we figured we might as well walk the 20 steps to see it since we were right there.
Perhaps the most awesome/transcendental/cool/saved the best for last stop on the tour was going to the site where the River Court used to be. For us, this was such a fun moment since so many scenes took place here, and it is the most iconic set on the show. Unfortunately, they tore it down after the series ended, but now there’s a large mulch field where it used to be so it’s very easy to find. The only way we could have topped this stop? If we saw the River Court at night.