We arrived in downtown Forks on assignment for Brightest Young Things and were quickly huddled into a waiting van.
“Are you an Edward girl, or a Jacob girl?” asked the bleach-blonde guide from the passenger seat on our Dazzled By Twilight tour, her dark roots matching the color of her black sunglasses. My friend Emily didn’t know how to answer her question. None of us did. We were the first people – perhaps ever – to make a pilgrimage to the drizzly town of Forks, Washington to take the Twilight town tour without actually having read any of the books in the Twilight series.
“It’s really, really hard to choose,” Emily finally bluffed. “You understand.” A smile crept out from the tour guide’s face as she nodded Emily her approval. Turning away, Emily leaned over the arm of my tour bus seat to whisperingly ask “Who’s Edward?” I had no idea.
We didn’t know who Edward was, but everyone else in the little town of Forks can tell you every detail about his life. Edward is the vampire that nearly every twelve-year-old girl in America wants to take to their prom, and he’s the reason why thousands of them come to this town each year.
We first intended to come to Forks to spend a week relaxing in a friend’s cabin. We were there to drink, hike in the rain forest, and build bonfires on the nearby driftwood beaches. As most of us didn’t know the history of the town, our confusion as we first passed the sign around the bend from our cabin retreat reading “Treaty Line: No Vampires Beyond This Point” could be considered forgivable.
Forks: The Town Where It’s Always Twilight Every Hour of the Day
Forks is a small dot on the western end of the Olympic peninsula, a town circled by dark evergreen mountains and covered in a steady drizzle of wispy, grey-swirled rain. As the rainiest place in America (it’s almost always covered in a blanket of grey clouds), it prompted author Stephanie Meyers to set her teenage vampire love saga Twilight directly on top of this spot.
“I knew that if I’d never gone to Forks, I wouldn’t be facing death now.”
– Twilight, Page one.
We soon realized that everything in the town of Forks was about Twilight. It wasn’t obnoxious – you could stop for lunch in the town without ever realizing that it’s the setting of the series – and it’s too remote to be an overt tourist trap. However, the influence of the story seeps out the longer you are there. There’s the local florist peddling “Twilight Tulips,” the take-out joint serving “Bella Burgers,” the neighborhood motel promising to be the home of the “Twilight Heated Pool!” After three days, we finally broke down and bit.
For Brightest Young Things, we began our official Twilight town tour at the Dazzled by Twilight headquarters on Main Street. “Have you ever been to a Rainforest Cafe?” asked the sales associate behind the counter. “We’re really proud that we have been able to recreate that type of experience here in Forks, but for Twilight fans.” Indeed, the store is an experience in the undead itself. The fake trees, black lighting and mist weaving through cardboard cutouts of Twilight characters and racks of cheap merchandise (imagine shirts that read “I kissed a vampire, and I liked it!”) made us feel that we were, in fact, in Hell.
The Three-Hour Twilight Tour: Twice As Long As the Crappy Movie
The nearly-three hour tour is a delight for Twilight fans, but more of a hostage situation for those not familiar with the story. Although, a free snack is promised to any who survive. The tour itself brings enthusiastic fans to town locations actually featured in the book (the Forks High School and the Thriftway grocery story) as well as the stunningly gorgeous cliff-lined beaches of the Quileute Indian Reservation in the nearby tribal town of La Push. These are the cliffs where the heroine Bella attempts to jump to her death in the New Moon, the second chapter of the series.
“New Moon is just a distraction,” the tour guide tells us as we look out onto the moonrise about the Pacific Ocean. We had already been given her opinion of illegal immigration, state taxes and Canadians. Now, we would hear what a local thought of the Meyer’s second novel. “I always believed Bella would end up with Edward. I don’t know why she had to go on this wild goose chase with Jacob. I think the publishing company just wanted to sell an extra book.”
“Um, right, I guess she should have gone with Edward from the beginning,” muttered Emily. Despite our ignorance, we were still trying to blend in as super-fans
“Ah, I knew you were an Edward girl,” our tour guide exclaimed with laughter after hearing this. “I just knew it. You look like an Edward girl. I just knew it!” WIN.
Never Mind the Locals: Y’all Come Right On In
The Twilight tour itself is rather intrusive into local town life. Tourists aren’t just told about local residents, they are taken right inside their living rooms and work spaces.
“This is where Charlie works,” our guide tells us as we walk inside the Forks Police Department. She’s talking about Bella Swan’s father in the book, but to us she might as well have been talking about the Viet Cong.
Tourists not only get to hear about the daily life of Bella’s father, but they are also witness to any humiliated town residents who happen to have been arrested that day. Courts have yet to rule, but I’m sure that it could normally be construed as ‘cruel and unusual punishment’ for folks arrested in this town to be gawked at by Goth girls and middle-aged vampire saga enthusiasts.
Our tour continued at the Forks Airport (which also awesomely doubles as a racetrack), the local bowling alley and the now-defunct movie theater before our group was walked into the emergency room of Forks Community Hospital.
“This is where the vampire Carlisle Cullen saved Bella’s life after she was hit by a car in the high school parking lot,” our guide tells us.
A New Moon & A New Day: How Vampires Saved a Dying Town
“Wait…are we supposed to be here, inside the emergency room?” A friend who happens to be an emergency room nurse finally broke down and questioned the intrusive nature of our tourist activity. “I bet the people in this town royally despise tourists like us.”
Where most of the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State continues to suffer a dramatic economic slump, the town of Forks is booming. This is a town that loves Twilight, and all the fans that it brings to their city limits. “Look, we all have jobs,” boasted our tour guide. “So many businesses here were on the verge of closing, but now they are thriving. If you live in Forks and want to work, you can find a job. That hasn’t been the case until recently.” That says a lot, especially for a town like Forks which had been in a nearly twenty-year economic slump.
It’s easy to be snarky about the Twilight town tour if you are not a fan (“Hold on,” my friend Jonathan asked our tour guide. “Edward is a 120 year old vampire who uses the fact that he looks 17 to hit on a 16-year-old schoolgirl? That doesn’t seem a little Roman Polanski-esq to any of you?”). Its gothic, cheesily romantic, and perfect for tweens. We were actually hoping to hate the tour more than we did, but it was hard to not be moved by the stories told by residents about how the Twilight series has saved the town.
Forks is so appreciative of Twilight that the town recently created a new holiday – Stephanie Meyers Day – held every September to celebrate the Mormon mother from Arizona who many believe rescued their economy. While Forks drafted it as a tourist gimmick, the day quickly turned into a sincere display of appreciation for Meyers that includes a parade, a festival and a day off of school.
Vampires Suck: Humans Snack for Free
As twilight set over Forks and La Push, our tour van pulled into the final stop of our tour (a gas station/outrigger/restaurant that sits directly on top of the vampire treaty line that separates the two towns). We felt a bit self-conscious. “Go on inside and you’ll find your snacks on top of the black table,” our guide told us as she pulled out a cigarette to smoke while we were inside. This was a local joint, with locally-shot animals hanging on the wall, and we were being corralled to munch on milkshakes at a table that literally labeled us ‘tourists’. “Don’t be shy, go on in!”
We sheepishly headed in, expecting the families who actually lived to turn a cold eye towards their tourists. However, they warmly welcomed us – just as the gang of high school kids waved and smiled as we invaded their school parking lot earlier in the day. These were local residents thankful that we were in their town. “I really wanted to hate this tour,” I whispered to Emily as I sucked down a blackberry shake through my fake vampire teeth. “But, I really but I really do love this little town.”
Get-Away: How to Take Your Own “Twilight” Town Tour
Dazzled By Twilight operates four tours each day for Twilight fans. The cost is $39.00 for a three-hour tour and includes a free snack.
Location: Forks is approximately a four-hour drive from Seattle. This includes the time needed to cross Puget Sound by ferry (wait times may be longer in summer). Dazzled By Twilight also operates a satellite merchandise store in Port Angeles, Washigtong – the site of Bella and Edward’s first date.
Where to Stay: Local motels in town offer rates beginning at about $54.00/night off-season. Cabin rentals are also available. Expect accomodations to quickly sell out during the week surrounding Stephanie Meyers Day each September.
What to Do: There are no McDonalds, no chain restaurants, no big-names stores. There is plenty of mountain hiking, kayaking and local outlets serving Pacific salmon. Forks is surrounded by the Olympic National Park, which is home to the Hoh Rain Forest and the nation’s largest herd of elk. Rialto Beach is not to be missed at sunset, where on bright days the pastel colors of the sky and water mix with grey-toned fog and dark, evergreen forest. The Quileute Indian Reservation in La Push offers stunning, cliff-lined beaches and is the setting for much of Twilight: New Moon