‘Stranger Things’ in real life: See the town that inspired Hawkins

The Monday after Netflix released the final episodes of stranger things season 4 (or what some might call, Independence Day), I took my iPhone’s advice and drove two hours northeast of Charlotte, North Carolina to the city of Durham. I wanted to see in person what I had recently seen on my TikTok “For You” page – the approximate location where main character Will Byers disappeared throughout Season 1, within a very doable distance of me.

I guess this is where I should introduce myself. Hello, my name is Meara, I’m 23 and I’ve seen it all stranger things. The third season of the series is my favorite. I spent more than a little money merchandising Stranger Things. I am, predictably, a Steve Harrington fan.

You may already know the duffer brothers – the twins who created Stranger Things and wrote, directed and produced episodes of the series. They grew up in Durham, a few podcast listens from the Stranger Things lover you’re reading right now.

The Duffers have sprinkled in references to real Durham locations throughout the show’s four seasons. Although the fictional town of Hawkins isn’t filmed in North Carolina — it’s actually filmed in the border state of Georgia — real bodies of water, streets and other locations in Durham have been named as landmarks in the city made up.

Stop sign, as well as road signs indicating the intersection of Kerley and W. Cornwallis

The intersection of Kerley and West Cornwallis in Durham. Absent from the photo: the demogorgon that took Will.


When I realized I could check out these spots in person, I gathered my iPhone camera and my passion for Stranger Things and hit the road. My visit to Durham would possibly include a slice of pineapple pizza (Argyle approved!) and very friendly pizza employees. But before that I had to stop at the famous napping spot, Kerley and Cornwallis.

The tour begins

So, to be clear, the intersection of Kerley and West Cornwallis roads in Durham is not where we actually see in the show. But the Duffer brothers use the name of this very real intersection.

Here’s when it happens: In the very first episode of Stranger Things, young friends Mike, Lucas and Dustin explain to Police Chief Hopper that before Will disappeared, he was traveling down a street they call “Mirkwood” , located “where Cornwallis and Kerley meet.” (If you’re having trouble imagining a road at the intersection of two roads, check out this cute fan-made map of Hawkins). The audience sees Will disappear not far from this location, in the Byers’ hangar.

The meeting with Will Byers took place in frightening conditions at night, but my visit took place in the late afternoon. The green road signs and the flow of traffic didn’t seem usual, but the towering trees that flanked the area could certainly have hidden a demogorgon or two. I felt a pang of embarrassment when I reached for my phone to take a selfie, but figured nearby residents were probably used to seeing fans hanging around that area. The things we do for Stranger Things.

References from @molexik#strangerthings in #northcarolina, part one! #strangerthings4#ncfilm#nccheck#durham#netflix♬ Stranger Things – Kyle Dixon & Michael Stein

Identical twins Matt and Ross Duffer, 38, grew up near this intersection in Durham. Their childhood in the 90s included bicycles, railroad expeditions and the fantasy card game Magic: The Gathering, according to an interview they gave to the Los Angeles Times. (Although they were born in the ’80s, when Stranger Things famously takes place, the Duffers are admittedly more ’90s kids). They made their first film in third grade with a gifted video camera and have since tackled projects as a duo.

The brothers acknowledged Durham’s credentials. In an interview with the Raleigh News and Observer in 2017, Matt Duffer said that in addition to removing “landmarks and street names” from the show, they nodded deeper to a neighbor adult and a close childhood friend. Speaking about the Durham Easter Eggs to local news station ABC 11, Matt said that “as much as Stranger Things is an ode to our childhood movies that we grew up with, it’s also an ode to our childhoods. That’s why we love to do those little cries, because really, more than anything, it’s just about us and our friends.”

Matt also told the News and Observer that Hawkins is a mix of several things, including Georgia and Durham. (“Fictional towns in Stephen King’s books” and “thrilling scenes in 1980s horror movies” are also in Hawkins’ DNA, he said.)

I contacted the Duffer Brothers for this story, but didn’t get a response right away.

Learn more about the tour

After my informal visit to the intersection began, I made my way to a nearby neighborhood, Lochn’ora. The destination appears in season 2 of the show, when Dustin, Lucas, Mike, and Will are doing tricks in their Ghostbusters costumes. We see a neighborhood sign, and the font looks exactly like a decorative sign that marks the real neighborhood. (“The series seemed to have the right font on our panel,” the president of the Lochn’ora Homeowners Association told the News and Observer in 2017)

A stone sign for the Lochn'ora district, surrounded by shrubbery


I created my Durham sightseeing list by reading summaries posted by local news sites and watching a series of TikToks created by a user named Matt. (He’s been to many places himself, if you fancy a video tour). Several places I have visited, including Lochn’ora, are less than 10 minutes from the Byers intersection.

I made a quick stop at Bullock’s, a Durham barbecue restaurant that has been in its current location since 1970. Bullock’s gets a call in season 3, with “Lake Jordan” – a flip of “Jordan Lake”, which is located south of Durham (and a bit outside of where I wanted to drive this afternoon).

Bullock's Bar-BQ restaurant, seen from the street


The “River Eno”, which runs through Durham, appears in the series as a landmark of Hawkins in season 2. Bob Newby mentions it when he realizes that a group of drawings made by Will is actually a map of Hawkins . And perhaps the ultimate nod to hometown comes in Season 4, when Murray works some computer magic to make “Durham, North Carolina” Joyce’s place to call when she contacts a mysterious writer of letters named Enzo.

@molexik#strangerthings references in #northcarolina part 4. #jordanlake#nccheck#durham#netflix#strangerthings4♬ Stranger Things – Kyle Dixon & Michael Stein

Enzo’s pizza

After the two-hour drive to Durham and the ensuing Easter egg hunt in the city, I had worked up an appetite. Fortunately, I had a place in mind.

Enzo’s – a fancy Italian restaurant in seasons 3 and 4 of the show – is also the name of a casual pizzeria in Durham. In season three, Joyce arranges a date with Hopper at Enzo’s, a romantic venue with mood lighting and violinists (we see him getting drunk on wine and taking sad bites out of a breadstick). In the Season 3 finale, Joyce asks her to do it again. But they’re out of luck when he seemingly evaporates in an explosion later in this episode.

Enzo's Pizza Company, between MediTerra Grill and Chipotle's


Enter Season 4, when Enzo is mentioned all over the place – in the Season 4 finale, Hopper (alive!) admits he had dreamed about the restaurant’s breadsticks and lasagna while stuck in a Russian prison camp and reminds Joyce that they have an appointment to attend.

The real Enzo’s is much more low-key than the one we see on the show, outfitted with booths, a soda fountain, and an extensive pizza menu. It opened in 2008, when the Duffers would have been around 24, so it’s unclear if they were still in town to grab a slice. But it’s only a short drive from the Byers Junction, and it’s the only establishment with that name in Durham, according to the general manager. That’s clearly enough for some Stranger Things fans.

A barbecue chicken pizza on a serving tray, next to a cup with

The barbecue chicken pizza at Enzo’s. Pineapple to perfection.


At Enzo, 17-year-old high school student Alex Salinas took my order of a 12-inch barbecue chicken pizza topped with chicken, bacon, onions, ranch, and pineapple and handed me a plastic cup. (I can actually agree with season 4 pizza delivery guy Argyle – pineapple is a game changer). When I spoke to Salinas on July 4, he had been working at the restaurant for less than a week and said customers had mentioned Stranger Things on about five different occasions. There had even been talk of making a Stranger Things-themed pizza to keep fans happy, he says.

Salinas told me he recently watched Stranger Things for the first time and ended up watching all four seasons in the span of a month. Of course, he had already seen the finale and says he was a little emotional when Eddie paid the ultimate price – death by demobats – for the good of the band.

“The way he passed made me cry,” Salinas said. “It’s a very good show.”

@molexik#strangerthings references in #northcarolina part 8! #strangerthings4#netflix#nccheck#durham#film#tv♬ Stranger Things – Kyle Dixon & Michael Stein

The idea of ​​the themed pizza is indeed being floated at Enzo’s, said the store’s general manager, Steve Howard, although the location of restaurants in other cities would have to be considered. He says he can’t confirm for sure if the Duffer brothers are talking about their Enzos — he hasn’t heard from the Duffers, after all — but they appreciate the positive influence the calls have had on their business.

Howard hasn’t seen Stranger Things, but he wants to see it. His three adult children love it, he says. “As soon as I can stop working 70 hours a week, I’ll probably sit down one day and watch all of this,” Howard said. “Or at least start with a season.”

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