Situated on a treasure trove of East Coast barrier islands and twelve beaches are the beloved Outer Banks of North Carolina. Uncommercialized beaches, rich history, abundant nature, and a family-friendly atmosphere will capture your heart and senses. Families who vacation in the Outer Banks, or OBX as it is commonly called, return annually and sing the praises. Here are things you can do at the Outer Banks.
The crown jewel of the Outer Banks is the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, “America’s Lighthouse.” It is the tallest (210 feet) in North America and has the highest brick beacon. The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse was moved half of a mile in 1999 to save it from the encroaching sea. From mid-April to Columbus Day, you can climb the 257 steps to the top (8 resting platforms) and enjoy the killer views. Be sure to visit Hatteras Lighthouse’s well-appointed gift shop and send a few postcards to your friends.
Another thing you can do at the Outer Banks is go to the Wright Brothers National Memorial, which commemorates Wilbur and Orville Wright’s phenomenal 1903 accomplishment. It was there that the brothers’ Wright Flyer skimmed over the sand, from a track built above the sand. Though it only lasted for 12-seconds before returning to the ground, it became the first recorded flight in history.
The Wright Brothers Memorial is a sophisticated attraction with detailed signage that allows for a remarkable self-guided tour. Take time to watch the movies and read the plaques, which do a great job depicting this incredible feat. I almost felt like I was there on the Flight Line, watching them soar into the wind. The Wright Brothers Memorial has a well-stocked gift shop and staff eager to help in any way. Don’t miss your selfie in front of the December 17, 1903 Sculpture.
OBX Food and Drink
You will have some of the best food of any vacation you’ve taken when you sink your teeth into the Outer Banks local restaurant cuisine. For breakfast, consider the enormous, billowy biscuits and gravy from The Dunes Restaurant or a scrumptious Seafood Omelet with grits or classic French Toast from Pier House Restaurant. Mmm, mmm, good. Lunch is spectacular from Diamond Shoals, where I recommend the steamed peel & eat shrimp or a spicy tuna salad (yellowfin with jalapeños) wrap.
Savor a casual Mexican dinner from Ortega’z Southwestern Grill, featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, where the soft shell crab and Mojo Pork Nachos are off the hook. Or, visit The Sanderling’s Lifesaving Station restaurant for delicious dishes (Buttermilk Fried Chicken and Seared Sea Scallops, to name a couple) served in a nautical-themed two-story oceanfront dining room.
Serving the Outer Banks since 1946, Owens’ Restaurant is my top pick for dining. From the homey feel to the impeccable service, every part of my dining experience was top-notch. While the dinners are incredible, the selection of appetizers at Owens’ is hard to narrow down. I recommend trying a bunch: Escargot, Sea Scallops Rumaki, Fish Bites, and the Crab Stack (with layers of avocado, mango, and tomato with a key lime vinaigrette).
The Duck Town Park features 11 acres of dog-friendly, natural beauty with a one-mile long boardwalk on the Currituck Sounds banks. It’s a great place to stroll around and walk off some calories from the couple of Duck Donuts you’ve custom created in the Village of Duck. The park also holds an amphitheater, a playground, kayak and canoe launch, picnic shelter, and walking trails.
Be sure to drop by Outer Banks Distilling for a sample of Kill Devil Rum. This tasting room is a popular spot for millennials and those who love trying local alcoholic beverages. Make sure to sample the Kill Devil Pecan Rum; it’s delicious!
Special Offering: The Lost Colony
The Lost Colony, a rich musical drama featuring 12 actors and musicians, has delighted OBX residents and visitors for over 80 years. The age-old story, shared through 70+ performances each season, depicts how the Roanoke Colony vanished from Roanoke Island in 1587. It is America’s longest-running mystery and commemorates the original colonists in a famous 1500-seat outdoor amphitheater. The beautiful and creative props, sets, and costumes are all made on site.
The Lost Colony musical has won Tony Awards for excellence in theater. Veteran actor Andy Griffith got his start on this stage.
Unique Outer Banks Lodging
The Outer Banks of North Carolina is loaded with amazing rental houses that you can rent for multiple people. Many of the larger homes can comfortably sleep 20 to 30 people.
Dani’s Place (with Seaside Vacations in Nags Head) is a three-story house with seven bedrooms and six (and a half) bathrooms. The well-appointed kitchen is enormous and the living room has comfortable couches and plenty of places for relaxing. A wrap porch allows partial ocean views, and the private deck, hot tub, and swimming pool completed the perfect accommodations. A bonus was a basement arcade with life-size video games, including Ms. Pac-Man.
For those wanting more traditional accommodations, the Sanderling Resort is a charming upscale choice. It sits on the beachfront in Duck, North Carolina. The Sanderling offers a spa, tranquility, indoor, and resort pools, water activities (standup paddleboarding, surfing, tubing, fishing, kiteboarding, sailing, jet skis), and land activities (golf, yoga, bike riding, horseback riding). Along with these and the Sanderling’s attractive signature splashes of orange and stylish, welcoming decor, you won’t want to leave.
The Inn on Pamlico Sound is another charming place to stay in the Outer Banks that should not be overlooked. This darling boutique hotel has budget-friendly through luxury rooms, a private beach, swimming pool, herb gardens, complimentary kayaks and bicycles, and gourmet breakfast. There is live music several nights a week, and a casual, fine-dining restaurant onsite that also offers room service.
The Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum is a maritime museum that explores the shipwrecks and life along North Carolina’s Outer Banks. Located in Hatteras Village since 2002, the museum has great educational displays and exhibits to explain maritime history in this unique part of the state. Programming at the museum offers talk and lectures, cooking classes, scavenger hunts, crafts, and much more.
Pre-Coast Guard, the Chicamacomico Life Saving Station was a station (1874 to 1954) for saving those in danger from the sea. A total of 29 life-saving stations were built six to seven miles apart along the Carolina shoreline. Chicamacomico is one of only two original stations remaining in the country that are open to the public. It was decommissioned in 1954 and is now a museum, commemorating the 178,741 saved lives from the sea. It is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Your kids will most likely be thrilled at the chance to see and visit a Martian House. Outer Banks’ flying saucer house is one of the few left in America. The super cheesy 1960s portable Futuro home can be spotted on NC’s scenic Highway 16. Stop and take a peek inside and enjoy the over-the-top outdoor decorations. A Martian might be waiting in the wings for you. Be sure to leave a tip to help support the owner’s endeavors.
Kids and adults alike will enjoy Jockey’s Ridge State Park, undoubtedly the highest dunes you’ve ever seen in the USA. Not only will you think you are in the midst of an Arabian Desert, but the energy it will take you to climb the deep sand dunes is a workout in itself. It is worth it to glimpse the fantastic views from the top. Jockey’s Ridge has 420 acres and is the largest natural dune system in the East. Hang-gliding and flying kites are all the rage here.
Did you know that the Outer Banks is full of pirate history? During the piracy era, famous names like Calico Jack, Black Bellamy, and Captain Kidd roamed the waters off these North Carolina shores. The most famous, Edward Teach (better known as Blackbeard) was killed in Ocracoke on November 22, 1718, during a battle with Virginia troops. Today, a pirate specialty shop is at the exact location and has a great exhibit about Blackbeard there.
Kids will marvel over the pirate history and fun, such as Manteo’s pirate ship adventure (Sea Gypsy IV) where guests will learn to read a map, search for treasure, and engage in pirate lore. They can also play mini-golf at Mutiny Bay Adventure Golf, designed with pirates in mind and informative displays so kids will be learning while having fun.
Drop by Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge (a measly 6,000 acres) to see migratory birds, plants, fish, and turtles in this 12-mile stretch along NC Highway 12. The property features salt marshes, ponds, tidal creeks, and barrier dunes, making it a birder’s paradise. Nearly 400 different bird species can be viewed here throughout the year.
Bald eagles often stop by, and loggerhead sea turtles lay their eggs at Pea Island. This is an excellent spot for a nature hike, viewing raptors and waterfowl, or taking incredible photos. Hint: Wear plenty of bug spray.
The boardwalk at Manteo has the most picturesque setting in the Outer Banks. I noticed a faint smell of jasmine in the air while strolling the boardwalk. Manteo is located in Dare County on Roanoke Island and runs by Shallowbag Bay (no beaches here). It is a great place to enjoy picturesque views and the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse.
Beaches, of course, are a top attraction in the Outer Banks. You can enjoy the sun and surf free of charge while enjoying the misty ocean breezes, stellar views, and relaxation. The Cape Hatteras National Seashore stretches from Bodie Island to Ocracoke Island and is part of the National Park Service. You’ll find the best of East Coast fishing and surfing here.
Kites are a big draw in the Outer Banks, where the winds are favorable for this beach activity that is reminiscent of classic New England beach vacations. You can find the best selection of kites at Kitty Hawk Kites, with several locations around the Outer Banks. Besides shopping, it also offers rentals and lessons for kiteboarding, kayaking, surfboarding, and even have condos for rent. FYI: March through June bring about perfect conditions for the best water sports opportunities.
Attractions along Manteo’s waterfront include kayaking, paddle boarding, and taking a pirate boat tour. It has world-class restaurants in town, featuring comfort food, American eats, international delights, and fresh seafood. There are also boutique shops and art galleries for browsing with impressive ladies’ apparel, jewelry, and crafts. I found the shopkeepers to be very hospitable and the quality of products offered superior.
Another thing you can do in the Outer Banks is to step back in time as you visit Nags Head’s Ben Franklin store. You’ll find everything from arts and crafts to souvenirs, fishing equipment to rafts, beachwear to crabbing gear, and nearly everything you can think of.
Scarborough Lane Shoppes is another popular place to check out 60 stores connected by covered porches featuring women’s apparel and accessories, art, olive oil, lavish linens, fudge shop, Christmas Mouse, and flip-flop shop.
The Outer Banks: You’re Going To Love it Here
There are so many things that you can do in the Outer Banks, and not be on top of each other like so many other popular vacation destinations. From world-class eateries to outdoor activities, stellar accommodations, and fun attractions, Outer Banks is a place you’re going to love.
Some of these meals and attractions were paid for by the Outer Banks CVB during a writers conference press trip. As always, opinions and reviews are 100% mine and unbiased.
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