2011 Guide to the Outer Banks

Wright Brothers Memorial, KDH

Wright Brothers Memorial, KDH

So you want to head to the Outer Banks of North Carolina for a weekend getaway or a week away from it all? There are a variety of things to see and do, lots of great food to eat, and the beaches are some of the best in the US.

Whether it’s your first time or your twentieth, this post can help get you started to an awesome vacation. You’ll want to go back again and again. Let’s get started.

I usually stay in Kill Devil Hills, so this post will focus on KDH as the basecamp, but I’ll highlight some of the best things to see and do while you’re on the OBX.

Things to do on the Outer Banks

  • Wright Brothers National Memorial – see where first flight happened and get a great view of Kill Devil Hills.
  • Nags Head Woods – a hidden gem if you want a great nature hike to get away from the sand and the shopping.
  • Cape Hatteras lighthouse

    Cape Hatteras lighthouse

    Go to the beach – enjoy the sun, surf, and sand at any of the beaches in KDH or Nags Head. There are numerous beach accesses if you need them, and the parking is usually plenitful if you get there earlier. You won’t need the beach accesses if you’re at a hotel or house rental on the oceanfront or within walking distance. The beach accesses in Kitty Hawk are few and far between and the parking isn’t that great.

  • Festival Park in Manteo – check out the Elizabeth II and much more.
  • See the wild horses in Corolla. You’ll need a 4×4 vehicle and some patience. Drive with caution and go early in the morning for the best chance to see the Spanish Mustangs.
  • See the lighthouses. The Outer Banks has four lighthouses to visit from Corolla to Cape Hatteras. If you are up for driving and start early enough, you might be able to do them all in one day. I recommend visiting them while you are doing other things around the OBX.
    • Ocracoke Lighthouse

      Ocracoke Lighthouse

      Currituck Beach Lighthouse is about an hour to the North from KDH. It’s a brick lighthouse and there is a fee to climb it.

    • Bodie Island Lighthouse is a 30 minute drive to the South from KDH, it’s easy to access and for now, you can’t climb it. There is a restoration project that has scaffolding around the lighthouse that should be wrapping up soon.
    • Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is just over an hour to the South from KDH on Hatteras Island. Probably the most famous icon on the Outer Banks, it’s the tallest lighthouse on the East Coast and there is a fee to to climb it–and it’s worth it.
    • Ocracoke Light Station is a 90 minute drive and a 45 minute ferry ride. You should plan a day trip to Ocracoke Island. You won’t be able to climb it and access is limited because it’s on private property. But while you’re there, check out all the other things on the island: Howard’s Pub, Teach’s Hole (pirate shop), the British Cemetery, pony pasture, the beaches, and much more.
  • Visit the NC Aquariums on Roanoke Island and newly opened Jeanette’s Pier.
  • Jockey’s Ridge state park (largest sand dune on the east coast).
  • Pea Island on Hatteras island, just pull over somewhere and go to the beach, do some fishing, bird watching, or just enjoy the scene.
  • OBX pirate adventures

    OBX pirate adventures

    OBX pirate adventures in Manteo–the kids will like this, go early.

  • Chicamacomico lifeguard station in Rodanthe, mostly history, not very exciting, but kind of neat.
  • Watch a sunset along the sound somewhere
  • Jog or walk on the beach road. Be carfeul of the traffic.
  • Go to the beach at night and look for crabs, seashells, and other fun stuff. Bring a flashlight.
  • Tanger Outlets in Nags head for shopping

Places to eat on the Outer Banks

For breakfast

For lunch / dinner

Summer surf in KDH

Summer surf in KDH

Quick grabs

Shopping

  • Food: Food Lions in Nags Head, KDH, and Kitty Hawk | Harris Teeter in KDH, Kitty Hawk, and Corolla
  • Stuff: Kmart in KDH, Wal-mart and Home Depot in Kitty Hawk
  • Beach gear: K-mart, Wings, Stop n Shop, other places around the beach

Tips while on the OBX

  • Offshore fishing

    Offshore fishing

    Get a sunny day magazine for coupons and restaurant menus (free).

  • Grab a “Coast” weekly newspaper for weekly happenings (free).
  • Need a bottle of wine or beer? Check out Chip’s Wine and Beer @ Mile post 6.  They have an awesome, well-stocked beer wall and a snob free zone.
  • Looking for liquor? All liquor in NC is sold in ABC stores. The closest ones are in Kitty Hawk and Nags Head.
  • If the wind has been blowing south west for a few days, that ocean might be cold and the flies might be annoying.
  • Put on sunscreen 20 minutes before you go outside. Re-apply as-needed. Don’t be the red, sun-burned tourist.

Have fun and add some comments if you have questions. Enjoy the Outer Banks!

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About Shibby

I'm a project manager at Red Hat and the lead administrator for opensource.com and I've been with Red Hat since 2003. I am the author of The foundation for an open source city, a book that outlines how to implement the open source city brand through open government. I graduated from NC State University and live in Raleigh, NC. I've been applying open source principles in neighborhood organizations in Raleigh for several years, highlighting the importance of transparency, collaboration, and community building. In my spare time, I enjoy surfing, gardening, watching football, participating in my local government, blogging for South West Raleigh @ southwestraleigh.com, and training my Border Collies to be frisbee and agility dogs. I head to the beaches of North Carolina during hurricane season to ride the waves. You can follow me on Twitter: @jhibbets
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