North Carolina’s Outer Banks: A Destination Any Time of Year
by Sara Kendall
images courtesy Sara Kendall and Outer Banks Visitors Bureau
Spanning over 200 miles in a string of narrow barrier islands, the Outer Banks is an ocean haven anytime of the year. The locals refer to them as OBX, and millions of people make these islands their vacation destination. Looking to book a winter retreat or plan next summer’s getaway? The Outer Banks is a fabulous choice no matter the time of year you decide to venture to the ocean breezes.
Steady winds and tall sand dunes brought Wilbur and Orville Wright to the Outer Banks, helping them achieve their dream of flight. Stop by the Outer Banks’ most popular attraction, the Wright Brothers National Memorial, to explore a small museum, walk the grounds, and stand where these famous brothers took their first flight.
Step into the visitor’s center to see how the Wright Brothers dramatically changed our world. Examine replicas of their flyers and see actual tools and machines used by the brothers. On the grounds, kids can climb onto a life-sized sculpture of the first flight, which provides a great photo opportunity.
Feel the spirit of the Wright Brothers by taking flight in a hang glider over Jockey’s Ridge State Park, which encompasses 426 acres with the tallest and largest natural sand dune on the East Coast. Go fly a kite, hike around on two self-guided trails, and picnic to refuel from your day’s activities. A 360-foot boardwalk provides guests a shorter walk without getting all sandy.
Built in 1870 using North Carolina bricks and granite, Hatteras Lighthouse, with its characteristic black and white swirls, has remained an iconic symbol of the Outer Banks and the State of North Carolina. As the tallest brick lighthouse in North America, it will take you 257 steps, the equivalent of a 12-story building, to reach the top. You’ll need to pace yourself and take breaks on the landings, but visiting this piece of North Carolina history coupled with the view is well worth it.
In 1999, for fear of losing it to the encroaching rise of the ocean, the lighthouse was moved from its original location. Now, it stands 1,500 feet from the waves, which is the original distance it stood when opened back in 1870. Once you reach the top, you’ll have a bird’s eye view of the path of this historic move. Consider a full moon night climb during the summer season. It’s the same ticket price as a regular climb, just be sure to sign up sooner than later.
Have you always wanted to learn how to sail? Then you’ve come to the right place. Stop by and talk to Jon Britt, owner of Nor’ Banks Sailing & Watersports. They focus more on sailing than other outfits in the Outer Banks, and you can sign up for a personalized private
lesson with one of their pros. Experienced sailors can even take one of their sailing vessels out for a day on the water.
For vacationers looking for some high-octane fun, then jump on a jet ski, soar in the sky with a parasail, or hit the waves on water skis. An excellent way to give the whole family a fun time on the water is tubing—hop in an inner tube, with handles of course, and hand on while a boat pulls you through the water at top speed for an exciting ride.
Never tried kiteboarding or unsure what this sport is all about? Kiteboarders use the power of the wind with a kite to propel them across the water on a kiteboard, which is similar to a wakeboard or surfboard. As Christopher Nygard, Wind & Waves Concierge at Waves Village Watersports Resort says, “Right here are the best kiteboarding conditions in the world due to the consistent winds and shallow sounds.” The shallow waters extend a quarter mile out, so Rodanthe is the perfect opportunity to try this sport.
Is riding a horse on the beach on your bucket list? If it is, this is the place to check this particular adventure off your list. Take a ride to the beach with Equine Adventures; your ride will even start with an hour jaunt through the only Maritime Forest in the Outer Banks. You’ll then pass over a series of sand dunes to reach the most desired location, the beach.
As your horse makes its way to the sandy shores, your destination will beckon you with a cool ocean breeze. Once there, you’ll have an unforgettable experience that will likely become a favorite memory of your Outer Banks vacation.
If you’ve gotten too much sun or a rainy day has you down, then head over to Studio 12 for some creative fun. Paint pottery, create a mosaic, or make a glass fusion wave sun catcher—one of the most popular items to make. Just look in one of the jewelry display cases and decide which piece you would like to make. The friendly staff will assist you in any of your creative endeavors.
Tucked into the Roanoke Sound, Bodie Lighthouse is the black and white candy striped lighthouse that stands alongside the lighthouse keeper’s quarters. Built in 1872 with bricks leftover from the Hatteras Lighthouse construction, this lighthouse still uses it’s original Fresnel lens from Paris.
After 219 steps and eight landings, you’ll reach the observation platform at the top. Catch your breath as you gaze over coastal landscapes. Only 12 people are allowed up every 15 minutes, so be mindful of your time.
Stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Currituck Sound, the Sanderling Resort in Duck offers oceanfront luxury, first-class amenities, and stunning seascapes. Most guests stay in one of their 120 beautiful guest rooms and suites. But, for more space, choose from their five vacation homes, the largest with six bedrooms.
The resort’s beach is a stunning attraction, but don’t miss these other activities. Surfing, kayaking, or standup paddle boarding can be found at the Kitty Hawk Kites kiosk, located beachside at the resort. Off-site activities like seeing wild horses in the Corolla Outback or taking to the sky by parasail can be arranged through the resort’s concierge.
An experience everyone should have is an underwater photography shoot in one of the Sanderling pools by Brooke Mayo Photographers. You and your loved ones will have stunning photographs sure to become amazing family keepsakes.
Hatteras Island’s Waves Village Resort’s cheerful, pastel-colored condos are perfectly situated on the Pamlico Sound. An ideal location for vacationers, the resort offers the best wind and watersports available on the Outer Banks, stunning sound front views, kiteboarding action by day, and beautiful sunsets by night.
Settle into one of the newly-built three-bedroom, three-bath condos. Each one has 1,600 square feet of living space, plenty of room to accommodate your family for a vacation. Gourmet kitchens, broad private balconies, and bubbling hot tubs are nice perks in each unit, with WiFi available throughout the community.
For a more intimate lodging experience, try The Inn on Pamlico Sound in Buxton. With just 12 rooms, this boutique hotel may be small, but its reputation is huge and growing. Steve Nelson, the owner says, “I haven’t spent a dime on marketing and 60 percent of my business comes from repeat guests and word of mouth.” His philosophy is, if you don’t like it, you don’t have to pay. He listens to his customers and makes changes accordingly. His business philosophy has obviously worked for him as his reservations are strong and steady.
There are three different choices of rooms, from premium sound views to intimate garden views. Each room has a private bath, high speed Internet, and televisions with DVD players. Children are welcomed, but they must be well-behaved children 8-years-old and up.
Your day starts with a complimentary, three-course gourmet breakfast. For the rest of your day, go kayaking, standup paddle boarding, or grab a bike for a ride. These amenities are all provided free of charge! Or, you can spend your time relaxing by their beautiful pool. When hunger strikes, fuel up on baked goods, stocked beverage refrigerators, and snack baskets located throughout the inn. Make sure to save some room to indulge in a gourmet dinner at their fine dining restaurant, located onsite.
Follow the Locals for Fine Fare
‘Follow the locals’ is good advice. In Kitty Hawk, you’ll find the locals hanging out at Trio, where the specialties are wine, beer, and cheese. When you walk in the door, don’t be confused by the half bistro and half retail store, just head towards the right to find the bistro.
Owner Kenny Hyman says, “We wanted to create a unique experience in a very social setting with knowledgeable staff.” I believe their vision has created a comfortable place where you’ll find the staff taking care of you and not rushing you out the door—a refreshing way to be treated in a restaurant setting.
Start off your experience here with a trip to the wine station, where you can try one or more of their 24 chilled wines by taste, half, or full glass. It’s a great way to sample a few before enjoying a full glass of your favorite. If craft beer is more your speed, then choose one from their 24 rotating taps. Order a specialty cheese appetizer, antipasti plate, or a yummy panini.
On the soundside of Sanderling Resort, Kimball’s Kitchen is an exquisite dining experience, but jackets are not required. It’s an elegant coastal establishment serving first class entrées made from the best local and organic ingredients. Kimball’s Kitchen is a premier restaurant featuring Kobe steak, oysters, and the freshest seafood around.
The restaurant is open Tuesday through Saturday, and they bring you the same great team every night, by design. Since the staff works every meal, you can have your favorite server anytime you decide to dine here. They’re open from May to October.
Located at The Inn on Pamlico Sound, Café Pamlico is a casual fine dining restaurant serving expertly prepared gourmet cuisine. This restaurant has received numerous top accolades, so make your reservations well in advance. Committed to local sources, the menu is constantly changing based on the availability of fish, meat, and produce. Café Pamlico grows up to 55 organic herbs, fruits, and vegetables onsite, doing their part to keep it local. This concept pairs the best ingredients with a skilled culinary staff, bringing what could arguably be one of the finest meals during your stay on the Outer Banks.
Don’t miss a meal at Red Sky Café in Duck, a place where diners get creative healthy meals sure to please everyone. Chef Wes Stepp has created a new concept of ‘Tastefully Fit,’ where he takes classic recipes, takes out the fat, and incorporates healthy ingredients to make meals healthier and tastier.
Many travelers have created a tradition by making a stop at Duck Donuts while on their vacation. Follow in their delicious footsteps with made-to-order donuts. Choose from a variety of icings like orange or chocolate, and then add chopped peanuts, coconut, rainbow sprinkles, and more! A popular favorite is a maple-coated donut topped with bacon. Have a cup of their freshly-brewed coffee to go along with your warm donuts, and don’t forget to take a couple with you for a sweet treat later in the day!