On a recent trip to the Outer Banks NC, I got to experience the BEST of the North Carolina coast. At least the best in my humble opinion! You see, I have always wanted to visit the Outer Banks (OBX) region of the state. There is such a rich history associated with the OBX, and then, there was also that romantic movie, Nights in Rodanthe, with the lovely inn right on the beach! Ok, Richard Gere, get out of my head!
My point in telling you all about what I experienced is to help you plan your own successful trip to the Outer Banks NC. With a little guidance, you can plan your own trip and see the things and places that are most meaningful to you! So, I say Andiamo! Let’s go!
The Outer Banks NC
The hubs and I had a whirlwind of a trip through this part of North Carolina that had always intrigued me. After a wonderful time visiting family in Wake Forest for a few days, we headed out toward the beaches. When we arrived at the first bridge to the islands, I thought we were close. We weren’t. But the drive, out to the Outer Banks, across the Aligator River, through the marshlands, and over two more bridges was spectacular! There were boats and wildlife to look at as we made our way, leisurely, to the final destination, the very most outer, Outer Banks and the best of the North Carolina coast.
One of the first things we did when we arrived on the Outer Banks was head for the closest seafood restaurant we could find! I mean what could be better than fresh local seafood, right? We made our way down the short street toward Miller’s Waterfront Restaurant in Nag’s Head, where we had our fill of their scrumptious, lightly breaded fried OBX shrimp and real down south hushpuppies! OH. MY. GOODNESS! This meal made us “happy campers” and ready to explore!
Our hotel was up in Kitty Hawk toward the north, but we headed south down Hwy 12 to see the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. We just took our sweet time, drove with the windows down, and took deep breaths of that unmistakably wonderful, salty, sea air.
The Road to Cape Hatteras
We had been told that the drive south to Cape Hatteras wasn’t very memorable due to the road being in the middle of tall sand dunes on either side so that you can’t see those North Carolina beaches or ocean. The part about being unable to see over the dunes to the beach and ocean was true; however, you CAN see them if you park and walk on the designated paths to the beach and the vast Atlantic beyond. Now that does not mean tromping through all the federally protected sea oats! We DO want to be environmentally conscious, respectful travelers, don’t we? But we noticed there were paths where people parked and walked on the sand paths over to the beach. (While I can’t guarantee that what they were doing was legal, I’m just saying, we saw that!) And that aroma of the sea air was absolutely captivating.
Once we arrived in Buxton, at the south end of Hatteras Island, we went straight to the Cape Hatteras lighthouse, one of the best Outer Banks things to do! It was just as picturesque as the photos I grew up seeing in history books. (I know! I’m such a nerd!) There are numerous lighthouses up and down the eastern coast of the U.S., each with a different pattern of painting. These styles of painting were done so that the sea captains could distinguish which lighthouse they were seeing, and thereby, know where along the coast they were located. At night, each lighthouse had a specific light pattern for the same reason.
The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse was assigned its unique black and white stripe pattern in 1873. The base is made of red brick and granite. From the third Friday in April until Indigenous Peoples Day/Columbus Day, you can climb the 257 steps to the top of the lighthouse.
The views are absolutely stunning with a 360° view of Hatteras Island, even all the way to the actual cape (looking at a map, the cape is the furthest most point out in the ocean pointing away from the mainland). This lovely site is, without a doubt, one of the best places on the North Carolina coast.
I am a HUGE supporter of the National Park Service, which now maintains the lighthouses and other national monuments as well as our national parks and more. So once I had my fill of exploring the lighthouse and the keepers’ cottages on the grounds, I went inside the visitor center there and made a couple of purchases to support the NPS, including my traditional travel Christmas ornament of the year featuring the Cape Hatteras lighthouse! It’s SO cute!
If you want to read more about the lighthouse and plan your own trip there, the National Park Service has a wonderful website telling all about the history and specifics of the lighthouse itself, even how they actually MOVED the lighthouse in 1999! Check it out here.
On the drive back to the northern section of the OBX and our hotel in Kitty Hawk, we just happened to pass through the tiny, unincorporated village of Rodanthe! There really is such a place. And of course, being the consummate tour guide that I am, I had already located the famous “Inn” from the movie, Nights in Rodanthe. It has been moved back from the shore and the pounding surf to a safer place out of the Atlantic Ocean.
The property was an Outer Banks rental with 6 bedrooms and four bathrooms on four levels until this spring when it went on the market. The house still has a sign reading, “Inn at Rodanthe” and the characteristic blue shutters are still blue! I just checked and there is a sale pending on this iconic house currently. BUT… who knows, sales do fall through from time to time. There just might still be a chance for one of you movie lovers out there to snatch it up and live out your own romantic getaway in North Carolina.
I would have loved spending a week on the OBX in a lovely vacation rental, spending my days on the beach, soaking up the sun and that laid-back, peaceful beach ambiance. However, that was not possible on this flying trip.
Since Outer Banks rentals aren’t usually booked for 1-2 days during the summer, we chose to book a hotel. I am a BIG Hilton Brand fan and found a Hilton Hotel right on the beach in Kitty Hawk.
Unfortunately, while we were there, we couldn’t go in the water due to Tropical Storm Chris, far out to sea, and the winds, enormous waves, and dangerous rip currents it produced. BUT, we were able to sit out on the balcony of our oceanview room and listen to those constant, undulating, waves that induced a sense of peace while looking out over the beach into that vast ocean horizon.
And that is why I really come to the beach, after all, that feeling it produces within my inner self. That wave-induced, peace is a huge part of what I think is the best of the North Carolina beaches.
Kill Devil Hills
Kill Devil Hills is another area of the Outer Banks prominent in history books. Do you remember why it’s so famous? This is the very place that flight became more than a dream. It’s where the Wright Brothers first flew their early airplane. They chose Kill Devil Hills as the spot to launch their long-planned flight for two main reasons, the hugely tall sand dunes and the wind velocity at that site.
The sand dunes and strong winds are still there of course, but now, there is also a soaring monument to the Wright Brothers and their dream, their adventurous spirit, and of course, their history-changing flying invention.
My son-in-law is a pilot, and so this monument may have more meaning to me than to the average person. But… there is something about that place on Kill Devil Hills that can ignite dreams in all of us while experiencing the place where a BIG dream came true. A visit to this place of dreams is perhaps one of the BEST of all of the Outer Banks things to do.
Other sites on the North Carolina coast
Okay, I admit, that I didn’t see ALL of the places on the North Carolina coast. So how, you may be asking yourself, can I proclaim that what I saw was the best?
Simply put, in a short amount of time, I made the most of I wanted to see on the NC coast. There are other places I would love to go back to see someday, like the Corolla area, where wild horses roam the beaches. And then, there is the island of Ocracoke, where you have to take a ferry or plane to get on and off of the island, making it a little harder to reach, and thus a little less crowded. And finally, I hear Wrightsville Beach and Carolina Beach in the Wilmington area, are amazing and fun places to explore.
The BEST of the North Carolina coast
And so, the best of the North Carolina coast is whatever is most meaningful to each individual who travels there. Before the short time that I had to explore the NC coast, I made a concerted effort to read about what was there that I could NOT miss (places that would be meaningful to me) and to allow some time for spontaneity to discover other things and places that were not already on my radar. And finally, I made some time to relax while soaking it all in, to actually experience the salty air, the beaches, the wind, the waves, the sounds of the coast and all it has to offer.
You can create the trip of your dreams on your travels to the OBX. Just a little planning ahead can make all the difference in ensuring that what you see and experience is what is YOUR best of the North Carolina coast.
If you want to read more about places to see and travel planning just click on these links.
Have you been to the North Carolina coast? What are some of your favorite places and experiences? E-mail me and tell me what YOU think is the BEST of the North Carolina coast. Just click the envelope icon in the sidebar and tell me your thoughts.
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