Five Must-Visit NC Outer Banks Family Attractions

The Outer Banks of North Carolina attract visitors from all over the United States every year, and not only for the great beaches, fishing, and sight-seeing, but for the varied educational and historical attractions disquised as fun. Here are five of my favorite destinations for the young and young at heart.

We visit The NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island over and over. The highlight for us happens when divers join sharks and about 200 other fish in the 285,000 gallon "Graveyard of the Atlantic" tank for daily programs. Exhibits include Coastal Freshwaters, Wetlands on the Edge, Hurricanes and Northeasters, Marine Commuities and the Open Ocean. In addition to the sharks and lots of magnificent fish, the 68,000 square foot facility is home to alligators, river otters, and bizarre, colorful and poisoness amphibians, reptiles and insects. The learning is definitely fun-filled, with the opporutnity to hold live star fish and sea urchins and touch the velvety wings of skates swimming in the petting tank.

At Jockey's Ridge, the tallest natural sand dune system in the Eastern United States, kids won't notice they are learning while they climb, play in the sand, picnic and fly kites. The adventuresome can try handgliding to with courses by Kitty Hawk Kites. Be sure everyone wears shoes though - the sand will be 25 to 30 degrees hotter than the air temperature. Free programs such as Dune Hike, a low-intensity walk through the dunes that expores the formation of the dunes, are offered and vary every season.

What kid wouldn't be fascinated with man's first fight? Learn about Wilbur and Orville Wright's experiments with gliders and powered, controlled-flights at the Wright Brothers National Memorial. A large granite boulder commemorates the take-off point, and four smaller stone markers chart the path of the flights. The Visitors Center features various exhibits on the Wright brothers' background as well as a replica of the 1903 flyer. "Kite Flight" is a favorite kids program hosted at the Memorial where kids can see a kite building demonstration and fly their own homemade kites.

Take your pick for my next favorite destination, depending on what part of the Outer Banks you visit: a Lighthouse! North Carolina boasts seven coastal lighthouses, and three are convenient Outer Banks destinations. Currituck Beach Light Station is near the northern point of the Outer Banks; Bodie Island Light Station is just south of Nags Head in the Cape Hatteras National Seashore; and Cape Hatteras Light Station is located in the Village of Buxton. A bit more driving and ferry rides will take you to Ocracoke Light Station in the Village of Ocracoke and Cape Lookout Light Station on Harkers Island. And even farther south you can visit Bald Head Lighthouse and Oak Island Light house. Many great resources share the history of each light house - do your homework to see which lighthouse appeals to you the most.

Finally, what familly would be happy with a beach vacation if you didn't actually go to The Beach?

Free access points are plentiful up and down HWY 12, but I recommend a visit to Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. The peace and solitude of the less-crowded beaches are worth the drive and the possibly longer trek from your car over dunes to the ocean. Located on the north end of Hatteras Island, the park refuge is approximately 13 miles long and ranges from a quarter mile to a mile wide. After crossing the Oregon Inlet bridge, stop in at the Visitor's Center about 4 miles south on the right. In addition to swimming, shelling and strolling along the beach, the refuge offers fresh and brackish water ponds, salt flats and salt marsh, and two wildlife trails. Away from the hustle and bustle of the more crowded beaches, Pea Island is an ocean front oasis.

Growing up near the Outer Banks and returning many times a year as an adult, I never tire of these Outer Banks destinations. Plan your next family vacation and see what all of the fun (and learning) are about!

Nine of Thirty

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