Our Top 5 Things to Do at the Outer Banks
This one’s a given. Miles of rolling blue Atlantic surf on one side, wild and natural Sound on the other. There’s surfing, dunes, kayaking, parasailing, fishing, horseback riding, 4-wheeling and every other water-related sport imaginable. And let’s not underestimate the simple pleasures of laying down a blanket under an umbrella to catch some rays, building sandcastles and watching the waves do their mesmerizing dance with the shoreline.
Now a confession: I don’t really care for the beach. For Tim and Larkin, a visit to the beach while at the Outer Banks is like a Christmas tree in December — life wouldn’t be natural without one. Me, though, I could do without. Blasphemy, I know. Luckily, there’s plenty on the island for land lubbers like me.
Getting there by: car – 5 min. bike – 6 min. foot – 21 min. Public beach access is a straight shot down First Street. You’ll love the fact that there’s a traffic light to cross the two main roads, which makes driving or bicycling a breeze in the traffic-dense summertime. [view map]
Anytime we visit a city with a zoo or aquarium, we’re there. We’ve been going to the NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island located in nearby Manteo since before we were parents. And though we’ve seen many, many aquariums through the years, this one has become “our” aquarium. It’s intimate size means you can explore all the nuances of the exhibits, plus take time for side trips to visit historic Roanoke Island.
Getting there by car: 30 min. The little ones (and the kids at heart like my husband) will love the biiiiig bridge over the Croatan Sound, AKA the Virginia Dare Memorial Bridge. [view map]
3. Eat (0 mi.)
I love to cook, especially while on vacation when I don’t feel the need to clean dishes after every meal. That’s why our first order of business when we purchased The Lark was to equip it with everything you need to make a gourmet meal at home, including brand new appliances and all the gadgets — including Corelle dishware, an ice cream maker and spices for cooking! Of course we immediately ran out of funds after that, so new cabinets and countertops are coming next year (I can’t wait!)
Sometimes, though, food tastes better when it’s served to you by someone else in a cool environment. The Outer Banks has those a-plenty. Some of our and our friends’ favorite places include:
- Chip’s Wine & Beer Market (1.6 mi.) – Located at MP 6, there’s nothing to eat here, but copious amounts of drink of the adult variety. The famous ‘Wall of Beer’ and wine vending stations are a must-visit.
- Awful Arthur’s (1.8 mi.) – The freshest of the fresh seafood overlooking the ocean. Need we say more?
- Duck Donuts (2.0 mi.) – First, the donuts are freshly mixed and cooked as you watch. Then, you choose from 10 different coatings like cinnamon sugar, maple and lemon icing, then top them with sprinkles, nuts or shredded coconut. Delish. The closest location is only 2 miles from the loft, but it’s worth the drive to the original location in Duck for piping hot donuts overlooking the Sound on the boardwalk.
- The Bad Bean Baja Grill (2.2 mi.) – Mexican inspired food, great margaritas and affordable prices. Their homemade salsa and tofu tacos are to die for, the food is made fresh to order and the servers are always friendly and accommodating.
- Trio (2.9 mi.) – As implied by their name, Trio has three specialties: beer, wine and cheese. And they do all three extremely well, with 250+ beers, 50 artisan cheeses and wines from NC and around the world. It’s also a live music venue popular with locals year-round.
- Outer Banks Taco Bar (3.1 mi.) – For a completely different taco experience, try Outer Banks Taco Bar. This is a local secret camouflaged by its location in a strip mall. Don’t be fooled by its nondescript appearance or you’ll miss out on no-frills, tasty food like cuban pressed sandwiches, hand pressed corn tortillas filled with grilled fish and yucca fries.
- Morning View Coffee House & Roastery (4.0 mi.) – We are passionate about coffee and have visited every roaster on the Outer Banks. Owner and roast master Ashley Barnes, equal parts surfer chick and coffee goddess, is the best. We recommend their signature Morning Woody blend and, if you’re feeling indulgent, the Jamaican Blue Mountain.
- Blue Moon Beach Grill (6.5 mi.) – We feel a special loyalty to this place as the co-owner, Melissa Shields, spent years managing landmark restaurants near our hometown in the Shenandoah Valley. It’s the consummate beach grill.
- Basnight’s Lone Cedar Cafe (10.6 mi.) – This seafront restaurant proudly serves seafood that is only caught in local waters, farm fresh and hormone-free meat and herbs grown on-site.
Getting there: The closest grocery store is Food Lion only 1 mi. away, and you can take the back roads — a huge plus in the summertime. We’ve left VIP cards at the condo for your use to both Food Lion and Harris Teeter (our favorite — free cookies and coffee and parking for families with young children). [view map]
The Outer Banks is a prime destination for outdoor living. Our favorite spots also happen to be 100 percent free. Nags Head Woods Preserve offers hundreds of acres of hiking past dunes and marshes and ponds. Our favorite is the Roanoke Trail, a short family-friendly hike passing through a salt marsh to a peaceful beach on the Sound. Jockey’s Ridge State Park also provides opportunities to kick off your shoes and explore the tallest natural sand dunes on the East Coast. Watch the hang gliders and kite pilots — or join in the fun! Finally, much has been said, mostly by us, about the multi-use path that runs past the Oyster Pointe complex that houses our condo. I really wish they’d chosen a more spectacular name when they were naming the place. It really is neat. It passes the Sound, the Wright Bros. Memorial Park and other scenic stops along the way, and is fully paved for runners, stroller pushers and prissy dogs like ours.
In the category of Things We Intend To Do But Haven’t Yet, there’s horseback riding on the beach, take a 4×4 ride to see the wild horses in Corolla, go on an off-road Segway safari, and take hang gliding lessons at Jockey’s Ridge. We expect these all to happen once the kid gets a few years older.
Getting there: Take the sidewalk outside our building and walk either direction to the road. The multi-use trail is right there.
We tend to do all our shopping in two places: online, and on vacation. Online because it’s way more convenient, and on vacation because it’s way more fun. And the Outer Banks surely has some fun options that make indulging in retail therapy.
- Toy Gallery (2.4 mi.) Pirates & Pixies (10.0 mi.) – I can’t emphasize enough how much we love these toy stores. Friendly owners can help you choose unique and interesting gifts for every age range of child, plus you know that they’ll be free of any potentially harmful materials.
- Tanger Outlets (9.5 mi.) – I grew up in the shopping mecca of Washington, DC., so I find this strip of 23-stores to be refreshingly manageable. It houses big name stores like Gap, Eddie Bauer and COACH — but at outlet prices.
- Scarborough Faire (11.1 mi.) – We have a love/hate relationship with this charming village of boutiques and cafes. The “hate” part comes from the fact that we always get Simon & Garfunkel stuck in our heads after a visit. Scarborough Faire also hosts events throughout the year like 5Ks, music festivals and weekly Faire Days Festival during the summer.
- Outer Barks (11.0 mi.) – Located in Scarborough Faire, Outer Barks is unique enough to deserve its own entry. Each week between Easter and Thanksgiving the dog gift store hosts a Yappy Hour for your furry friends with frozen doggie daiquiris, puppy pasta and cake, paw painting, baby pools and an agility course.
- Thrift Stores – I had to include this entry because my husband loves to thrift. He gets it from his grandma, who at 90 years old spends several hours driving herself to all the local thrift stores as soon as they open (that’s when you can find all the deals you know!) Take your pick in OBX — I’ve located all the main ones on a map for you.