November is always a special month for us. It’s the month of our anniversary, the month of Thanksgiving, and the month of Jason’s birthday.
So we were thinking to combine all of these occasions for some outing out of Florida. The temperatures in our Florida town were still in the upper 80’s, so we wanted to go a little north up the coast.
The Georgia and Carolina shores always beckon us for their beautiful coastlines, so we decided to spend a week in the Outer Banks, followed by a week in the Blue Ridge Mountains for Thanksgiving with Jason’s parents, then rounding up with a few days on Jekyll Island, in Georgia.
The Outer Banks are barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina, separating the Atlantic Ocean from the mainland. Their 100 mile long open-sea beaches, state parks, collection of small towns, and shipwreck diving sites make them a popular holiday destination.
What makes the Outer Banks so special? No boardwalks, no loud theme parks, and no high rise hotels blocking the views of the ocean. No flashy nightlife, no neon lights, or main street tourist traps.
You are only left with the natural beauty of these fragile islands with pristine beaches. They say the Outer Banks are constantly evolving and shifting as the coast moves. The shore erodes from one place and builds elsewhere, and it’s quite challenging to adapt to the ever shifting movement of these sandbars.
If you’re looking for the UNIQUE experience of living on sand dunes and sand bars, head to the Outer Banks.
The population of year round residents is just about 36,000, although 200,000+ visitors visit these charming islands every year, making it a premiere beach front destination in the United States. It can get pretty crazy during the peak tourist season from mid-June through late-August.
We rented a beautiful beach cottage in the small village of Rodanthe, which is the northernmost town on Hatteras Island.
The small beach town got a little reckoning due to the novel and film, “Nights in Rodanthe”. The story is set on the Outer Banks, and they filmed the movie there with the beach and cedar clad houses of Rodanthe as the backdrop for a love story. It featured the charming beach house pictured below.
There are popular, busier areas like Nags Head and Kitty Hawk, where there are more options for condos and rentals. Things get fancier further north, with towns like Southern Shores, Duck and Corolla.
But we chose to go further south, to the more secluded area of the islands, to the tri-towns of Rodanthe, Waves and Salvo. It’s perfect if you’re looking for quieter beach side dwellings.
Further south, you go through the towns of Avon, Buxton and Frisco, and you start seeing more locals.
We highly recommend only taking 4 wheel drive vehicles if your beach house is right at the edge of the beach, as roads can get covered heavily with sand and sand dunes.
Local Sights & Popular Activities in the Outer Banks
1. Rodanthe Pier
Every town in the Outer Banks seems to have their own pier, where locals hang out for fishing and enjoying the breeze.
Our beach house was walking distance to Rodanthe Pier, making it easy for us to stroll to the pier, looking for shells or checking the local surfers.
It’s a great spot to hang out with beer at the pier… 🙂
Most of the piers charge a few dollars entry fee.
2. Cape Hatteras Light House
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, with its black and white candy-cane stripes, stands tall and pretty on Hatteras Island in the town of Buxton, one of the southern towns on the island.
Protecting one of the most treacherous stretches of the Outer Banks with a beam of light that spans 20 miles into the ocean, the lighthouse is also the world’s tallest brick lighthouse, at a staggering 208 feet tall.
What makes it even more special is, it was moved from its original position to save it from going into the ocean.
In 1999, after years of careful planning, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and the surrounding outbuildings, including the principal keepers’ quarters and double keepers’ quarters, was moved 2,900 feet inland to a safer location.
The actual move itself took just 23 days, with lots of planning, set-up, and maintenance before and after the operation. In the end, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse ended up being the tallest brick structure in history to ever be moved.
Adjacent to the Cape Hatteras Light is the Hatteras Island Visitor Center and Museum of the Sea, operated by the National Park Service, which is located in the historic Cape Hatteras Lighthouse Double Keepers’ Quarters.
Exhibits include the history, maritime heritage and natural history of the Outer Banks and the lighthouse. The visitor center offers information about the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, ranger programs and a bookstore.
3. Jennette’s Pier @ Nags Head
Jennette’s Pier is located at Nags Head. It is a much larger concrete 1,000-foot-long ocean pier, and can be very popular with tourists during summer time.
Surrounded by beautiful beach, it’s a popular spot for sun bathing, fishing and all sorts of water sports. Even if you’re not into fishing, it’s a great spot to hang out, walk in the fresh sea breeze, and take in the beauty of the Outer Banks.
The pier is also home to a small aquarium.
4. Wright Brothers National Memorial and Museum @ Kitty Hawk
Well, this is where they taught the world how to fly! Wind, sand, and a dream of flight brought Wilbur and Orville Wright to Kitty Hawk. It’s where, after four years of scientific experimentation, they achieved the first successful airplane flights on December 17, 1903. And that changed the world forever.
The Wrights made four flights from the base of the hill on December 17, 1903, in the Wright Flyer, following three years of gliding experiments from atop this and other nearby sand dunes.
It’s a nice walk along the actual routes of the four flights, with small monuments marking their starts and finishes.
The Visitor Center is home to a museum featuring models and actual tools and machines used by the Wright brothers during their flight experiments, along with a replica of the Wright Flyer, and lots of other flying memorabilia.
You can easily spend an hour or two going through one of the most fascinating events of the modern world. This was Noah’s favorite day activity on the Outer Banks.
5. Roanoke Island
To go to Outer banks from the mainland United States, you need to first cross over this very famous and historic, yet very tiny island… Mysterious Roanoke Island.
About 8 mi (13 km) long and 2 mi (3.2 km) wide, the island lies between the mainland and the barrier islands near Nags Head.
Roanoke is infamously famous for being the site of the first English colony in New World, which disappeared with unknown circumstances.
The settlers, who arrived in 1587, disappeared in 1590, leaving behind only two clues: the words “Croatoan” carved into a fort’s gatepost, and “Cro” etched into a tree. Theories about the disappearance have ranged from an annihilating disease to a violent rampage by local Native American tribes.
Fort Raleigh National Historic Site tells the story of the 16th-century Roanoke Island colonists.
North Carolina Aquarium, Elizabethan Gardens, and The Lost Colony are some of the things to do when venturing to this mysterious island.
6. Take a Ferry to Ocracoke
Ocracoke is an isolated island south of Hatteras, which is not connected by bridges to the rest of the chain.
It features a small village with less than 1000 residents, and miles and miles of pristine beaches. If you really want to get away from it all, Ocracoke is the place!
You can take a free car ferry from Hatteras Island, it takes about an hour. It is served on a first come first serve basis and runs hourly throughout the day.
There is also the Swan Quarter Ferry from the west and Cedar Island Ferry from the south. These are both tolled and require a reservation.
7. Water Sports/ Surfing/ Fishing
Why do people go to the outer banks? Of course for sun, sea and sand, and lots of water sports.
Think of anything on the water, and you get to try that plenty in the sunny summer time. Boating, fishing, surfing, swimming, kiteboarding, sunbathing… you name it, that’s why they go there.
Most visitors tend to come to the Outer Banks during the peak Summer season, June through August. The Spring season is home to some of the best weather, smaller crowds, and great activities for the whole family to enjoy!
Though many locals will tell you Fall is the best time to visit. Outer Banks weather is mild until the end of December, and the crowds have lessened. The fishing is great this time of year, and the winds pick up, making the Outer Banks popular for wind surfing and kiteboarding.
Keep in mind that the Outer Banks is mostly closed for business as winter sets in, and many of its restaurants and shops close for the off season. Even in November, most of the restaurants were only open for dinners, giving us less lunch options.
8. Great Seafood and Local Food
What to eat in the Outer Banks? Of course, seafood. The best of the best crabs, shrimp, calamari and fish. We enjoyed some of the biggest, tastiest and best seafood platters all over.
Blue crabs were out of season, but we had no complaints laying our hands on great Kings crab legs and Dungeness crab legs.
Fried shrimp were cooked and seasoned to perfection everywhere, and local specialties like shrimp and grits, crab cakes, she crab soup and Hatteras clam chowder were superb.
Noah’s favorite was a local donut bakery called “Duck Donuts”. Please make a stop for made to order donuts, which are fried in front of you, customizable, and the yummiest, melt in your mouth fresh donuts. Super yum. They have quite a few locations all over the islands.
We absolutely loved the Outer Banks, and would definitely keep on visiting this unique topography. It won our heart with its isolated lifestyle (at least that’s how we felt in the southern part of the islands in the off season), and proximity to nature.
We hope this inspires you to plan a visit to these amazing islands, which lie offshore of North Carolina. Try OBX for yourself. Avoid tourist time, and the touristy places on the island, and enjoy a small piece of paradise right here in our beautiful world.
Check out these other travel guides!
Things to do in Charleston, SC
Things to do in England and Wales
Things to do in London
Things to do in New Orleans, LA
Things to do in Puerto Rico
Things to do in Manali, India
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