Four narrow barrier islands skimming more than 100 miles of stunning coastline separate the North Carolina mainland from the Atlantic Ocean, and make up the region of the Outer Banks. Bodie, Roanoke, Hatteras, and Ocracoke Islands are linked together by bridges and ferries. Each island has its own distinctive personality.
There are charming beach towns, gorgeous protected seashore, and popular tourist activities. With such a diversity of adventure, fresh seafood, relaxation and culture, the Outer Banks is the perfect spot for a girls’ getaway.
Our merry little band of “Boomers” left no stone unturned in our quest for fun! Here are some of the highlights…
Its beaches are perhaps the Outer Banks’ biggest draw, with good reason. Dr. Beach named two of the Outer Banks beaches on his list of the Top 10 Beaches for 2018.
The beaches around the famous Cape Hatteras lighthouse were named No. 6 of the Top Ten. Even though it was a hot day, brisk ocean breezes kept us cool. Clear, aquamarine waves are perfect for surfing and body-boarding, and the long beach is relatively uncrowded and a great place to chill.
It takes a lot to get me out before my morning coffee, but Nags Head Beach was a great way to start the morning. The beaches at this end of the Outer Banks have a more energetic vibe and are close to restaurants and shops.
We loved Ashley Dickerson, the animated young ranger at the Wright Brothers National Memorial! As we strolled through the national park, she regaled us with stories of how the brothers became famous in their quest to be the first to fly. The Wright Brothers sought a location that offered wind (for lift), sand (for landing), and isolation (for privacy in conducting their experiments). The Outer Banks was the perfect location. After the tour, we climbed Big Kill Devil Hill to get a closer look at the memorial and see the height from which the first flight became airborne, and investigated the replica of the famous flight machine.
Jockey’s Ridge State Park boasts the tallest living sand dune on the Atlantic coast. Sandboarding, kite-flying, and hang-gliding are popular activities on the dunes.
I have to confess, I fell in love with the postcard-perfect seaside town of Manteo on Roanoke Island. If you’re looking for the most (buzzword alert) “Instagrammable” spot on the Outer Banks, this is it.
We spent some time strolling around and taking in the tiny lighthouse and harbor front, and the charming eateries, shops, and galleries in the historic downtown. A day in Manteo is one of the best things to do in the Outer Banks.
What do you get when you find four and charismatic and entrepreneurial young men with a passion for good beer and rum in a seaside location with a vibrant “kill the devil” reputation? You get a rum distillery bursting with personality and unique flavor! The tour at Outer Banks Distillery was a blast and the craft rum made with pecans and honey were a huge hit – even at 10 a.m.!
Bodie (pronounced “body”) Lighthouse sits amidst a mixture of marshlands, forest and saltwater ponds. Its proximity to the Pea Island Wildlife Refuge makes it popular with nature lovers and bird watchers.
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is the tallest brick lighthouse in America and an iconic landmark along the protected Cape Hatteras National Seashore. It’s the third rendition of this lighthouse, originally built in 1803 with renovations in 1854 and 1870.
We climbed thousands 257 vertical spiral steps to reach the top. I was the first one of our group to the top. Just sayin’.
What a view once we got there! I could have remained in my windy perch gazing at the panorama for hours!
The Outer Banks is known for its delicious seafood, especially blue crabs. Crabbing is popular on North Carolina beaches, from May through July.
We were scheduled for an outing with OBX Crabbing, but alas, Captain Marc’s boat experienced mechanical difficulties and it had to be canceled. We did go to his dock where he showed us his operation and explained the crabbing business in the Outer Banks. Next time, for sure!
From there, we went to the O’Neal fishery to see first-hand how the blue crabs are processed.
Oden’s Dock is another area of frenetic activity. It’s a constant flurry of fishermen off-loading their catch of the day from their boats. You never know what you’ll see, and it’s a great photo op.
We were extended a very rare invitation to meet award-winning goldsmith Pem Bryant at his home studio. Pem is world renowned for his fine jewelry made from sea glass gathered from the shores of the Outer Banks as well as other global coasts. His work is just gorgeous, and Pem is one of the nicest people you’ll meet in the Outer Banks.
KDH Co-op holds many of Pem’s pieces, along with exquisite paintings, sculpture, jewelry and other crafts from a selection of juried artists in the area.
Seaside Art Gallery was our sleeper find! Don’t let the small, unassuming storefront fool you. The gallery is actually quite large and the paintings were astonishing, in number, style/theme diversity, and talent from local and global artists. Our visit was timely, as an exhibition of miniatures – tiny, but incredibly detailed paintings – were on display.
First of all, I’m biased. Donuts are my favorite thing to eat, especially maple frosted. As luck would have it, we were in the Outer Banks on National Donut Day, so I made a beeline over to Duck Donuts. Oh, the joy! It took an effort, but in the end, I did share.
For a larger breakfast, the quirky Jolly Roger is a must-do. The unique theme of pirate-Italian-disco fusion is just too much fun! And they have scrapple…if you must. For a more upscale and quiet breakfast, Café Lachine has some delicious selections, like eggs benedict on fried green tomatoes. Breakfast with a view? Look no further than the Pier House overlooking the beach and Nags Head Pier.
My lunch favorites were prosecco with gourmet grilled cheese at Trio, the seriously yummy conch fritters, spicy Bajan burger and tasty, crispy fries at Tortugas Lie, and Caesar salad with grilled shrimp at Pangea Tavern at the Avon Pier.
We tried to sample different kinds of nighttime dining during our visit to the Outer Banks. For an upscale meal, the Lifesaving Station restaurant has the most delicious fried oysters I’ve ever eaten; the casual elegant Café Pamlico offers al fresco dining with a stunning sunset over the sound; the casual Kill Devil Grill is a converted diner that maintains a retro fun vibe and serves an addictive Mai Tai made with Kill Devil Rum which pairs perfectly with the spicy finger-licking chicken wing appetizers.
There are several resorts to consider for your stay, depending on which part of the Outer Banks you prefer. Sanderling Resort on the oceanfront in Duck is upscale yet still captures the coveted beach vibe. Koru Village Beach Club in the heart of Avon offers casual condo-type villas and a festive pool and bar area. The Inn on Pamlico Sound is a casually elegant boutique hotel in the midst of the natural beauty of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
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Looking for more adventure in the Outer Banks? How about hang gliding one mile high over the Outer Banks coast?
Disclosure: The author was honored to be the guest of VisitOBX during her stay in the Outer Banks, but as always, the opinions, reviews, and experiences are her own.