(photo: Murray Close)
A ballpark, a zoo, an amusement park--any of them can attract new visitors to small town or city. But these days, having some zombies, resident vampires or the occasional pirate around town can provide an immediate boost to tourism.
Take Senoia, Georgia, for instance: as the home of many locations from the wildly popular AMC zombie apocalypse series "Walking Dead," the town of 3,300 has welcomed so many undead-loving visitors that there is talk of building a five-star hotel.
Certainly, plenty of famous TV shows and movies have filmed in established destinations, too--such as "Gossip Girl," one of many series to film around NYC. But to add a unique flash to your next family vacation--and help kids better connect with a destination--consider exploring the locations from one of their favorite movies or TV shows. Here are five spots with rich Hollywood connections that kids and teens will love:
"The Hunger Games": North Carolina
To walk in the shoes of the warriors in "The Hunger Games," you'll have to do a little hiking in the lushly treed area between Asheville and Charlotte. At the 10,400-acre Dupont State Forest, you can see where Katniss gets thwarted by a forest fire, and where the wounded Peeta is discovered at Triple Falls. You can also check out the site where the survival games happened--along edge of the North Fork Reservoir--if you hike the Craggy Pinnacle Trail, beginning at the Craggy Gardens Visitor Center off the Blue Ridge Parkway.
"Walking Dead": Atlanta environs
(photo: Enjoy Senoia)
You can't tour the studio where much of the series films, but a number of Georgia towns are making the most of their undead connections. About 35 miles south of Atlanta, the town of Senoia doubles as the town of Woodbury, while Haralson (which also has its share of Civil War history), five miles further south, features the local Cotton Gin Complex that stands in as the Esco Feed Mill on the show. Meanwhile, 24 miles west of Senoia, in Grantville--site of the "Clear" episode, where Rick, Carl and Michonne prepare for battle with the Governor --there's a zombie-phile gift shop, and the mayor of the town gives free walking tours on weekends. You can also take a larger tour ($45 per person) that showcases other films with history here, including "Gone with the Wind," "Driving Miss Daisy," and "Blindside."
The "Twilight" series: Forks, WA
This Olympic Peninsula town, 140 miles west of Seattle, boasts of being the rainiest place in America--and perhaps that's what makes it an ideal spot for solar-phobic vampires to thrive. The hometown of the "Twilight" books and movies makes it easy for fans to explore by detailing locations on the local tourism website: you can check out Bella and Edward's alma mater, Forks High School, the City Hall where Bella's dad works and Forks Memorial Hospital, where the vampire Dr. Cullen even has his own parking sign. Lodgings include the Miller Tree Inn, nicknamed the Cullen House for its similarity to the vampire home in the books.
"The Amazing Race," "Pirates of the Caribbean": Kauai
(photo: Film Kauai)
Hollywood meets paradise in Kauai, and the Hawaiian tourist board website proudly lists all of its TV and movie connections: The National Tropical Botanical Garden where part of "Jurassic Park" was filmed; the Napali Coast claims scenes of "Pirates of the Caribbean"; and Wailua Falls has been the site for "The Amazing Race," "Tropic Thunder" and--way back when-- "Fantasy Island." Tour company Roberts Hawaii will take you on a day-long tour ($89 per adult, $45 per child ages 4-11) through a dozen of such locations, and intersperse video clips from the movies and TV shows.
"Gossip Girl": New York City
Plenty of backdrops used in this young-socialite series are spots that families might want to check out anyway, from the Empire State Building to Dylan's Candy Bar in Times Square. Yet one tour by On Location ($42 per person) takes you on a close-up look of the Van de Woodsens' stomping grounds on the Upper East Side, including the Nightingale-Bamford School, the alma mater of "Gossip Girl" author Cecily von Ziegesar and inspiration for the fictional The Constance Billard School for Girls.