Vacation at the Outer Banks

Wow–what a wonderful week we had at the Outer Banks!  This was our fourth time spending a week there and I think it was one of the most fun!  I thought I’d share some about our trip but also give some tips for vacationing in the OBX.  (Like I mentioned earlier, I grew up close to the coast so that area is like home to me!  I love it and would never tire of living there!)  If you have never been, well shame on you!  You need to plan a trip there ASAP!

In case you don’t know, the Outer Banks is a line of islands along the coast of North Carolina.  The uppermost area is Corolla (go up through Corolla and you can access a four-wheel drive only area that extends up into Virginia), south of that you have Duck, Southern Shores, Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, Nags Head, then south of Nags Head is Rodanthe, Avon, Buxton and Hatteras.  From Hatteras you can catch a ferry ride over to the island of Ocracoke (the only access is by boat of ferry, or I suppose swimming!).  The strip of islands is approximately 70 miles from Corolla to Hatteras.  The uppermost and southernmost areas tend to be more secluded and off the beaten path while the inner part of the island (Kitty Hawk down to Nags Head) is the more touristy (i.e. busy) area.

 It takes us about 5 hours to get to the Outer Banks.  To pass the time this year, I planned a few travel games to play along the way.  The first involved velcro, a matchbox car and a peice of tape! I took some tape and wrote on it cities that we would be traveling through and attached it to the roof of the van. Then I took a lightweight matchbox car and attached a small peice of velcro to it using a hot glue gun.

As we passed through the cities, Anngrace moved the car along the tape ‘road’ and at each city they got a treat.  It was a lot of fun and gave Annagrace a visual of how far we had driven and how far we had to go!

 Another game we played was with a black and white map of the United States. We looked for license plates and Annagrace colored in the states that we saw. The most elusive state was Kentucky! But then once we saw one, we saw twenty more! We got all but 18 of the 50 states including Oregon, California and Vermont. (We were a little surprised to find those!).  Try it on your next road trip–it’s addictive even for adults!

I also put together a scavenger hunt but Anngrace chose not to do that one although Aaron and I did!  Some of the things on our scavenger hunt were:

  • a van just like ours
  • a billboard with a child’s picture on it
  • a sign with the name of someone in our family on it
  • a person talking on a phone
  • a dog riding in a car
  • a McDonald’s billboard (we never did find that one!)
  • a Walmart

Anngrace wasn’t into the scavenger hunt so much but she loved the license plate game!

So after seven long hours of travel that included:

  • dropping Buddy off at the kennel
  • breakfast at Hardee’s
  • lunch in Richmond at Red Robin (with my friend Jenny, her grandma and her girls)
  • one stop by a nice Camden, NC patrolmen (he gave Aaron a warning for speeding)

we arrived at our destination, Duck, NC!

We always rent a home when we travel to the OBX.  There are over 11,000 home for rent there and only 3000 hotel rooms!  Crazy, huh?  I can only think of two major hotels in the area so those numbers don’t surprise me.  If you plan to spend more than a few nights, you definitely need to think about renting a home.  You can find a nice small home near the beach for less than $1000 but if you want oceanfront you’re looking at closer to $2000 a week.  We have used Stan White Realty and Southern Shores Realty and have been pleased with both.  Both websites have search engines so you can customize it to find your perfect home away from home!  This year, my mom found a one story home with no steps (perfect for her and her bad knees!) that was a very short walk to the beach.  It was spacious and had a nice yard out back–complete with a family of foxes that visited us several times daily!  (The home is called A Beach House 2 and is number 065 through Southern Shores Realty if you are interested in checking it out!)

We tend to stay in the northern area of the beach.  One year it was in Corolla, and the last 3 times it has been either in Duck or Southern Shores.  I will warn you–if you come in or out on a weekend be prepared for a long delay in traffic.  One year we arrived 3 hours later than planned due to the back up in traffic.  Traffic is a nightmare!!!  We lucked out and found a Friday to Friday rental this year and that is the way to go!  There are two roads that run the entire length of the island from Kitty Hawk to Nags Head–the Beach Road (or “Highway 12”) and the Bypass.  The bypass is 55 mph and is crazy busy.  I don’t even attempt to pull out onto that road unless I am at a light.  The beach road runs right beside the beach (go figure!) and is only 35 mph the entire stretch.  It is a slower pace but depending on the time of year and time of day, you can sometimes get where you are going quicker by taking the Beach Road.  Just to give you an idea about the traffic, this photo is from a traffic cam on the Wright Brothers Bridge, the main bridge onto the island at Kitty Hawk, that was taken on a Saturday. 

There are big plans to put in another bridge that will connect Currituck to Corolla that will save tons of time for folks heading to the northern beaches and will really lighten up the traffic on the weekends.  I read that it is suppose to be complete by 2012–they have been planning this bridge since before I was born (and that was 31 years ago!). 

In Duck you will find all kinds of locally owned shops and stores.  The only ‘big name’ places there are the True Value Hardware store and a Burger King that is located in a gas station.  My favorite place to go is Scarborough Faire and Scarborough Lane.  It is a quaint shopping area with some really fun shops.  We always go to the Outer Banks Bear Factory and let the kids make a new stuffed friend.  Ordinarily I would not pay over $20 for a stuffed animal but it has become a tradition and something the kids really look forward to.  This year, Annagrace made a wolf and Madalyn made a cat complete with a Superman Costume.  We named him Clark.

Some other can’t miss stores there are Beach Braids and Temporary Tattoos (my mom even got a tattoo this year!), Christmas mouse (we always get a new ornament for our tree there), Fresca Italian Ice and Ice Cream (we actually missed this place this year–but they have really good Italian Ice!), and Flashback (really cute vintage stuff).

Annagrace showing off her braid wrap:

 

So how about I talk about eating?  We usually bring lots of food (too much, really) but we still like to eat out while we are there.  This year we ate at Awful Arthur’s–great seafood and at lunchtime it’s pretty cheap.  The Outer Banks Brewing Station–awesome place!  They have a great atmosphere, lots of home brewed beer (Aaron missed out on the root beer though–they were all out), cool bands (we missed Jimmie’s Chicken Shack by one day!), and really great service.  Ask for Alyssa if you go there.  She’s the very nice waitress with the Plankton tattoo!  We also ate at the The Dolphin Den in Avon.  They were advertised as having the best key lime pie in North Carolina.  And oh boy–do they ever!  The crust has coconut in it and was fabulous!  I would travel to Avon again just for a slice of this pie.  It is the bomb!   They don’t have a webpage for me to link to but you will find them at Milepost 55.   

ETA:  I totally forgot that we ate Basnight’s Lone Cedar Restaurant our last day there on the way off the island.  It is located between Nags Head and Manteo (on what’s called the Causeway).  It is owned by NC State Senator Mark Basnight.  My mom is a big fan of his and big fan of his restaurant!  She and her friend Barbara eat there every time they go to the Outer Banks.  You will get tons of food here.  In fact, Mom, Aaron and I split the Seafood Special and it was enough for all of us.  The onion straws are out of this world as well.  Next time I might just get the onion straws and dessert!  (The onion straws are a HUGE pile of very thinly sliced, breaded and deep fried onions). 

Some of our activities included a trip to the Wildlife Center in Corolla–they have multiple kids programs throughout the day.  We also visited three of the four lighthouses that are at the Outer Banks and took the girls to ride bumper boats.  There is a bumper boat place near the Outlet Mall in Nags Head at Kitty Hawk WaterSports.  It costs $8 per boat for a 10 minute ride.  That doesn’t sound like long, but trust me.  10 minutes is plenty of time to get completely soaked!  The girls loved it!  Madalyn is still talking about ‘wetting daddy’ on the bumper boats!  It was a blast!

ETA:  I also forgot to mention that on our way home we stopped in Manteo and went to the Roanoke Island Festival Park.  There they have a museum, the Elizabeth II ship (replica of a colonial times ship), a colonial times village and a gift shop.  We wanted to take Madalyn on a pirate ship–and there IS one in Manteo that takes kids out for rides.  The website for that is HERE.  But we ended up on the Elizabeth II instead and she was just as happy.  (We saw the pirate ship and heard the pirates singing and she was all about that!).  Maybe next time we’ll go on the pirate ship for real.  The museum had a pirate exhibit and she got to dress up and then she got her own pirate hat and sword in the gift shop.  I’ll have to post pics later.  I also have a story to tell about pirates–it seems that I have pirate blood in my family!  (That must be where she gets this love of pirates from!).   

Here is the Bodie Island Lighthouse: 

 

the Currituck Beach Lighthouse:

and the Hatteras Lighthouse:

Annagrace begged me to climb the Hatteras Island Lighthouse with her but it was so hot and humid that day and I was wearing flip flops!  So we passed.  Maybe next year! 

Our other time was spent hanging out on the beach, looking for ghost crabs at night, shell hunting (Aaron found a huge conch shell this year–it is proudly displayed on our mantle!), and taking photos.  We got a nice family photo on the beach this year!  I wasn’t sure we’d get even one because Madalyn was in a MOOD.  But we got this so I am happy:

And there ya have it!  Wow–my longest post ever!  Have I inspired you to take a vacation to the Outer Banks?!?!?!  I can’t wait to go back.  I’m already counting down the months until we can go again!  (We might be visiting again for a few days in October!).

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4 Responses to “Vacation at the Outer Banks”


  1. 1 Heather July 22, 2008 at 5:00 pm

    Yo, I love the Christmas Mouse. I was surprised at myself because usually I am not all decorator-y but I love that place. Also awesome was FatBoyz burgers and ice cream. You mentioned the busy-ness of it and the prices…we went to NagsHead in May which is kindof a crapshoot for the weather but we (by we I mean my awesome in-laws) got a monstrous house w/ pool table and hot tub for less than $1500. NO TRAFFIC and even on the nice days the beach wasn’t crowded. I can’t stand a crowded beach. We also went on our honeymoon to Atlantic Beach in May and that was my FAVORITE!! Awesome shell-hunting, everything is open, it was warm enough to swim, and also not crowded! I know that with kids/school it’s better in the summer, plus there’s something to be said for it being hot as crap at the beach, but you know me…I’m cheap no matter what : )

    Cool games with your kids in the car. We used to play the license plate game on the way to my g-parents’ in Pittsburgh.

    Glad you had such an awesome vacation. Vacations are the best : )

  2. 2 lsaufley July 23, 2008 at 7:40 am

    I love Atlantic Beach and the Emerald Isle area too! In fact, we actually went there more than the Outer Banks when I was younger. The water tends to be calmer there and they have a really nice beach area down towards Fort Macon–they have a large bath house with lots and lots of warm showers! It definitely isn’t as crowded in Atlantic Beach. For anyone going there, I’d recommend eating at the Sanitary Fish Market. It is on the other side of the bridge from the beach right down on the waterfront in Beaufort. We always stopped there for seafood! And I don’t know if JungleLand is still open (haven’t been to that area in about 4 years) but they have bumper boats and a game room and kiddied rides. Atlantic Beach also has (or used to have at least) several large waterslides–something the Outer Banks hasn’t had in 10 years! (We were actually talking about going there this year in October instead of the Outer Banks.)

  3. 3 melissaeparks July 23, 2008 at 9:34 am

    Sounds like you guys had an awesome vacation! Love the new family photo…it turned out great 🙂

    My family just left from a trip in to visit me…I am tired and emotional, but mostly tired. I already miss them and the noise 🙂 We had fun…went to the zoo and children’s museum here.

    Hope all is well 🙂

  4. 4 Jillian June 2, 2010 at 5:22 pm

    Thanks so much for your informative post! It was so much fun to read and gave my husband and I lots of great ideas for our trip to OBX this summer. 🙂


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