OBX – The Outer Banks, NC Where Summer is a Verb!

The Outer Banks was first introduced to me by a friend. It’s a chain of barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina, with a collection of beach communities.  The word summer as a verb, simply means you spend weeks away from your primary residence during the summer. For some, this means staying in their beach/lake house along the northeastern coastline or lakes in the north. For others it means renting a property in one of these locations. Ideally, you’re there for all of July and/or August. Being from the northeast all I knew was southern New Englanders summered on Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, Cape Cod and Block Island; New Yorkers summered on the Hamptons and Fire & Shelter Islands, and New Jerseyans summered on the Jersey Shore. These summer colonies are often in seasonal regions. The south is usually considered more of a winter resort area. Even though North Carolina is in the south, it’s not deep enough to be too hot in the summer on the coast, so North Carolinians actually “summer” on the Outer Banks. After my friend’s descriptive recap of her days and nights in NC during these months, I decided to check out OBX!

Each location on the Outer Banks is different, and offers a unique vacation, often catering to a particular lifestyle. Some places are quiet, and offer lots of privacy, which can be a nice backdrop for exclusive soirees, while others are in the middle of all the action where you can make a quick escape to go out for a beer and hear a live band, or challenge the  kids to some rounds of mini golf. The Outer Banks offer diversified activities, and it’s really worth the trip to experience this chain of barrier islands. From Carova Beach in the very north to Ocracoke in the south, there’s something for everyone. I’m going to focus more on the northern beaches, since I know them better.

Milepost 1 starts right after the Wright Memorial Bridge bringing you onto the barrier islands. The gateway to the Outer Banks is Kitty Hawk. It’s a mix of residential and commercial real estate. There are strip malls along the four-lane Hwy 158 offering chain stores and eateries, as well as individually owned shops and restaurants. The Monument to a Century in Flight can be found here. The Hilton Garden Inn is one of the few hotels are located on the islands. If you’re fortunate, you can witness a wedding held on the beach behind it. I love watching the skim boarders and surfers around the pier in Kitty Hawk. There are also many fishing on pier.

If you turn left onto NC 12 North and drive to the very end, you’ll discover a sign that reads only 4 wheel vehicles are allowed past that point. It definitely made me feel like a rebel to drive a 4 x 4 vehicle on the shore. As a matter of fact, that’s the only way to get to the cottages on Carova and Swan Beaches, because there are no paved roads on this northern most section of the Outer Banks. You will also not find supermarkets, gas stations, or shops of any kind in this area either. It’s just the beach, dunes, and houses here, so if renting, you’d better bring ALL necessities, and fill up the tank. The good thing is, you don’t have to completely rough it on these beaches. There are enough large rentals here to host family reunions in a manner to which you are accustomed, or at least to which you would like to be. You might be isolated, but you could have all the conveniences of a modern mansion. There are also smaller, and moderately-sized cottages here as well.

Driving along the shore can be like being on an obstacle course at times, due to the driftwood and gnarly uprooted dead trees lying about. Have no fear, because the beach is fairly wide here, and there is PLENTY of room to navigate. What I found most exciting though, was seeing wild Spanish mustangs roaming free on the beach! Score! If you don’t have a 4×4, you can take a tour that leads you over the dunes, and will search for the wild horses, which aren’t often on the beach. If you prefer, you can rent a Jeep, and have the pleasure of driving on the shore yourself.

Corolla is the next stop heading south. This location is known for its lighthouse. There are a few shopping centers offering tours, casual and fine dining, supermarkets, gift shops, etc. The historic Whalehead Club residence of Heritage Park is right next to the lighthouse. The Currituck Club provides the best golf course on OBX, which was created by Rees Jones. As a matter of fact, Golf Digest recognized it as one of the top 25 courses in the entire state of North Carolina in 1999!

As you continue to drive south, you’ll find the prestigious Pine Island community of Corolla. Here the homes are large and beautiful, offering many ammenties for discriminating tastes. These homes can even host several families or large groups for special gatherings, boasting 5 – 11 bedrooms, home theaters, arcade rooms, gourmet kitchens, swimming pools, and more to accommodate all guests, sometimes up to 28. However, this enclave is not exclusive to luxury properties. There is also The Sanderling resort hotel here, which offers suites, casual & fine dining, a spa & salon, and access to the Pine Island Racquet and Fitness Club. Weddings are also popular here.

Next up is Duck. I know, it’s an odd name for a town, but it’s actually my favorite based on its layout. Biking is very popular here due to the bike lanes on either side of the road. The largest two shopping centers (Scarborough Lane and Scarborough Faire) are designed like bi-level boardwalk, and the town offers a wide variety of shops, as well as, a large selection of restaurants including fine dining. Duck has a wonderful Americana beach town atmosphere.

Southern Shores is suburban until you get to Hwy 158. There’s a small shopping center on the two lane NC 12, and two more on Hwy 158. Otherwise, most of the town is very quiet. You can spot dolphins and surfers just after sunrise here, especially near the pier in Kitty Hawk.

Past Southern Shores, you’re back in Kitty Hawk, and then on to Kill Devil Hills and Nags Head. They are similar to Kitty Hawk, with Hwy 158 running through them. Sites at Kill Devil Hills include the Wright Brothers National Memorial, and the Nature Conservatory at Nags Head Preserve.

Nags Head is home to Jockey’s Ridge State Park, the largest natural sand dune on the east coast. This is an ideal place to fly a kite, or go hang gliding. Just south of Nags Head, you’ll find the Bodie Island Lighthouse, named after the northern island it calls home.

Roanoke Island is just west of the lighthouse over the Virginia-Dare Memorial Bridge. I’ve only been to Manteo, which is the northern end of this island. Here I visited the Lost Colony Waterside Theater, and the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse. There is also the Elizabethan Gardens and the North Carolina Aquarium in the area. Also, lots of water activities are offered here, including a jet boat tour, and dolphin watching.

Once you cross the bridge over the Oregon Inlet, you’re on Hatteras Island. You’ll pass the Pea Island Wildlife Refuge, then on to Rodanthe. For anyone who has seen the movie “Nights in Rodanthe”, you’ll recognize the house on the left as you pass through. It had been in disrepair for a while. The house is on stilts, and was literally over water at high tide. It was purchased by a couple who has set it further back due to beach erosion, and is restoring it back to its beauty of when it was in the movie. Further south on the island, is Cape Hatteras, which can boast of having the tallest lighthouse in the US.

Pamlico Sound is where you’ll find the best kiteboarding on OBX. Further down is the southern most island, Ocracoke. You have to take the Cape Hattereas-Ocracoke Ferry to get there. This is where the fourth lighthouse is located.

The ocean side properties get to wake up to beautiful sunrises, but the sound side cottages get the amazing sunsets. Most of the towns are narrow, and allow a short walk to witness both. Ocean front cottages get the most amazing views. There’s nothing in front of you except a small dune, and some towns don’t have that. There is also no boardwalk, so those hoping to stroll along the beach looking for ice cream and salt water taffy will be disappointed. Some sound front properties have their on dock, so if you own a boat, this is ideal! They too have a nice waterfront view, just without the waves.

If you ever have a chance to summer on the Outer Banks, you can choose to relax on the beach and just soak up the sun, take part in water sports, go fishing or sailing, tour various parts of the barrier islands, host fabulous parties, or all of the above. I’ve had the opportunity to see all of OBX from the northern most to southern most tips. There is more shopping, fine dining, spas, activites and water sports available on the northern beaches. So if you like to be pampered or crave excitement, Bodie Island is the place for you. The southern beaches are great for fishing, crabbing, and relaxing. This is where there is a more casual, laid back atmosphere, and also some remote homes like on Carova and Swan beaches. If this is your thing, consider Hatteras or Ocracoke Islands.

So, where will you summer this summer?

For more photos, visit my Flickr set http://bit.ly/cgKuef  For more OBX information, visit http://www.outerbanks.org


10 Responses to “OBX – The Outer Banks, NC Where Summer is a Verb!”

  1. Brings back memories! Went to a wedding in Duck last summer (your photo looks just as their wedding did!). Beautiful.

    • shutterbuggeek Says:

      Every time I see the photos, I can almost hear the surf, and smell the salty sea air! Summer is coming soon!

  2. Great post. Thanks for sharing that info…and those amazing pictures!

    The Outer Banks is the perfect beach vacation…a great combination of peaceful relaxation and fun local activities/attractions; gorgeous beaches, a wide variety of water sports, world-class fishing and surfing, great local art and shopping, delicious local food, history, nature, etc.

  3. This is an awesome overview of the Outer Banks. Hopefully you make it back soon so we can see more photos!

  4. Beautiful pictures, Robin! I’ve been looking for a place to go this summer, and OBX definitely made the list. Looks like a place to relax and enjoy being outside. I’m kind of over the whole party/nightlife scene!

    • shutterbuggeek Says:

      Thanks Georgia. It’s along drive, but it’s a nice location, with a remote feeling. If you’re lucky enough to rent an oceanfront house, you’ll have it made! I love watching the surf.

  5. We are eloping to the Outer Banks, Duck, NC. Need romantic restaurant.

    • shutterbuggeek Says:

      Congrats! In Duck there is a restaurant in Scarborough Faire named Elizabeth’s Cafe & Winery which is known for it’s food and wine pairing. It’s romantic, has great food & wine, and doesn’t usually have kids as guests. An excellent choice for food & wine, but no water view. elizabethscafe(dot)com

      The Left Bank at the Sanderling Resort also offers great food (the spa offers couples massages). It’s in northern Duck and is oceanfront. thesanderling(dot)com Under dining, scroll to The Left Bank.

      I believe the The Blue Point re-opened a couple of years ago with a new look. It has a soundfront view (GREAT for sunsets), and offers coastal cuisine. goodfoodgoodwine(dot)com

      Each has something nice to offer. I wish you all the best. Enjoy!

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