The series of barrier islands that make up North Carolina’s Outer Banks—Bodie, Roanoke, Collington, Hatteras and Ocracoke—bend some hundred miles south from the Virginia state line, and they’re all rich with colonial history, natural beauty, twee fishing villages, and rugged Atlantic beaches. Not to mention recreation (from golf to kitesurfing). And the legacy of the Wright Brothers. And seafood—lots of it, pulled straight from the waters. Need more proof? People have been coming to OBX since, umm, about 1585.
The cheerful, yellow Inn on Pamlico Sound is what some people call barefoot chic: it’s laid-back and luxurious all at the same time, and flip-flops are practically a uniform. The best part? Pretty much everything—kayaks, bikes, beach chairs, a movie library with 1,800 DVDs, and the snack baskets and candy dishes all over the property—that come free with your room. The three-course breakfast (also included, naturally) is one of the best on the islands.
Right on the dunes in Nags Head, Tortuga’s Lie consistently wins polls for the best seafood in the state—conch fritters, steamed clams, crabcake sandwiches—and has a beach volleyball court out back. In the quaint town of Duck and overlooking Currituck Sound, OBX favorite Blue Point has seafood, of course (oyster stew, Carolina catfish), plus short ribs and Jack-and-Coke floats. Five minutes south of Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, Gingerbread House Bakery squeezes its own OJ and sells hand-cut cake donuts and (of course) gingerbread cake. And you don’t even have to get out of the car to buy beer around here: Brew Thru has five locations on OBX and over a hundred bottles to choose from.
The first thing on most checklists: Climbing the 248 spiral iron stairs of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, the tallest on the East Coast. The view of the black-and-white-striped tower from afar isn’t bad, either. Stop by Kill Devil Hills to pay tribute to the Wright Brothers. If you want to head out to the sea and try landing the big one, there are dozens of boats to charter at Oregon Inlet. And Jockey’s Ridge is the largest sand dune on the East Coast, and its state park has miles of hiking trails—perfect for watching hang gliders launching off the dune’s high point. Golf courses here traverse wetlands, giant oak forests, and wild grasses. Don’t miss the beaches—the best are along Beach Road.
After watching the kites fly on OBX oceanfront, you’ll want one for yourself—hit Kitty Hawk Kites for hundreds of ’em in wildly different colors. Duck Road has a half-mile long stretch of boutiques, galleries, and knick-knack stores selling decoys, shell art, chimes, and flags. If you forget your bikini, Birthday Suits is the best place to buy beach threads. And Duck’s Cottage has tons of books and caffeine in a super-cute house. Hatteras Island Boardsports, in Avon, sells and rents surfboards, skimboards, t-shirts, and hoodies.
Dates to Remember
Things really crank up after Memorial Day, but May still has plenty going on—and it’s a lot less crowded. Listen to OBX lore at the Hatteras Storytelling Festival, where locals spin yarns and play banjo. And the Hang Gliding Spectacular is the largest competition of its kind in the world.
Tips & Tricks
Once a month in summer, the lighthouse has a full moon tour—check the Cape Hatteras National Seashore website the week before for details. They’ll also have info about whether any beaches are closed due to wildlife nesting.
The closest airport is Norfolk International, 90 miles to the north. And while you can catch ferries to the islands, the easiest way to cross is by bridge: From the north, take US 158 to Bodie Island, then turn left for Duck and Corolla, right for Nags Head and Kill Devil Hills. From the south, take US 64 onto Roanoke Island.
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