Chad Michael Murray Says Wilmington, NC, Still Feels ‘Like Home’ 10 Years After One Tree Hill
The new Hotels.com spokesperson also gave his best suggestions for places to go if you're visiting the city — especially if you're a One Tree Hill fan!
One Tree Hills fans know "there's only one Tree Hill, and it's your home," and for the show's star, Chad Michael Murray, that sentiment couldn't be more true.
The actor, 39, who played high school basketball star Lucas Scott on the cult-favorite teen show, recently spoke to PEOPLE about work, family, and life as an actor on the road — and admitted that if there's one place he will always travel back to in a heartbeat, it's Wilmington, North Carolina, the town where he shot One Tree Hill.
"There's just something magical about it," the Buffalo, New York, native and spokesperson for Hotels.com (check out his hilariously dramatic new commercial!) says of the Southern city, where he lived while filming the show between 2003 and 2011. "I'll always have an affinity for North Carolina. I just love it."
While he says he first fell for the city because it has "a bit of everything for anyone," the father of two says he still feels a strong connection: "It's just kind of like home."
"It was one of those places where everybody knows your name. I felt like it was Cheers," he jokes. You go to your Starbucks, you know everybody. You go to the grocery store, you know all the grocers. I had my local spots, my restaurants, my everything."
The actor, who's currently in Puerto Rico filming The Fortress alongside Jesse Metcalfe and Bruce Willis, frequently visits Wilmington, he says, because it's where he and his One Tree Hill cast mates — like Hilarie Burton, James Lafferty, Sophia Bush, Bethany Joy Lenz and Jana Kramer — meet up for reunions, typically every two years.
"Everybody keeps in touch with everybody," he says of his former costars. "I like to believe that everyone that was a part of that show, we share something in common. We have that kindred spirit between each other, that connection that'll last forever. So I think it's pretty cool."
He adds: "That show changed and affected us in such a really beautiful way."
Now, when he goes back, he's reminded of all the good times he and the cast have had there, both during and after the show ended. And he has a list of things he suggests travelers do if they're ever in the area, starting with visiting the beaches.
"Go to the beach, enjoy the water, enjoy the waves, just take the day. Just take it in. Go out by the ocean, the pier and just enjoy yourself," he says, adding that downtown is equally beautiful.
"I always feel nostalgic walking on the Riverwalk downtown, and on Water Street," he says, both of which serve as backdrops in the show. "There are historic buildings that you can go in and out of. You can do the old ghost tour. There's just so much to do by walking."
And when you get hungry after a day of exploring? "My favorite restaurant there is called Circa 1922, which is downtown. So I always like to do that," Murray says, recommending a "pork pastry" dish and their cheese plates. "It's a great place to have a glass of wine or whiskey and just take it in and enjoy yourself," he says.
If you're looking for a quick bite, head to Flaming Amy's Burrito Barn, he says, and make sure you try some of their "crazy salsas."
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These days, Murray admits that travel — and working away from home — is a little different, thanks in part to the two kids he shares with wife Sarah Roemer. His daughter is four and his son is five, and he and Roemer have chosen not to share their names publicly.
"I'm blessed because I have the kids with me," Murray says, explaining that he took the entire family to Puerto Rico with him for filming, and that they often come along on projects — homeschooling the kids in the process.
"We keep our family together and they're on the road all the time," he says. "But they're learning more about the world than most adults as far as how to travel, how to get around."
And Puerto Rico certainly isn't the worst place to be going to school: "I know that when I go to work, the kids are happy playing on the beach," Murray says. "We're lucky. We're really blessed and we know how blessed we are."