NC Outer Banks: More than Just a Vacation Beach Destination

Outer Banks Beauty

The beach is not the only place to enjoy on the Outer Banks, by a long shot, but it certainly is the star!
The beach is not the only place to enjoy on the Outer Banks, by a long shot, but it certainly is the star!

When planning a trip to the beach, vacationers think about the weather, ocean currents, swimming, fishing, sunbathing, boating--a long list of outdoor activities. But after the sunburn sets in, the most comfortable hotel room or beach house becomes a little like a jail cell in a day or two.

Travelers to the Outer Banks, however, won't run out of exciting things to do once they are tired of sand in their shoes and salt in their eyes. The site of man's first powered flight, North Carolina's first English colony, and the east coast's largest sand dune, the barrier islands off the Tarheel state coast offer an amazing variety of attractions--more than enough to keep visitors busy for many vacations to come.

Drivers who arrive in Dare County from NC 64 may not even make it to the beach if they stop in Manteo for sight-seeing first. Roanoke Island is home to the nation's first symphonic outdoor drama, The Lost Colony, written by Pulitzer prize-winning playwright, Paul Green. The play brings to stage the unexplained disappearance of 115 men, women and children who left England in 1587 to settle in the New World.

In addition to performances Sunday through Friday during the summer, The Lost Colony also hosts a backstage tour through the dressing rooms and costume shop. Demontrations of stage combat, special effects, and stage makeup are included in the tour. Call (252) 473-3414 for tickets to both the performance and the backstage tour.

Next door to The Lost Colony are The Elizabethan Gardens, a living memorial to the first Engish colonists. Created by the Garden Club of North Carolina in 1951, the garden boasts history, mystery and fantasy.

Open year round, the garden attracts a variety of visitors with its myriad plants, wildflowers, and indigenous shrubs and trees, period furniture and English portraits, and antique garden statuary and ornaments.

Also located on Roanoke Island is one of the three North Carolina Aquariums along the state's coast. The aquariums offer a close-up view of live animals found in the fresh and saltwater habitats of northeastern North Carolina.

Docked just off the downtown Manteo waterfront, the Elizabeth II is representative of a sailing vessel that brought England's first colonists to Roanoke Island. Part of the Roanoke Island Festival Park, the ship hosts living history interpreters during the summer months who portray mariners and colonists.


In addition to exhibits such as Coastal Fresh Water, Wetlands on the Edge, and Marine Communities, the Aquarium host a variety of programs and events year round.

Historical sites on Roanoke Island include Fort Raleigh and the Elizabeth II. Fort Raleigh was explored archaeologically and then restored in 1950. Summer guided tours are offered and the Lindsay Warren Visitor Center has exhibits of Native American artifacts, pictures, charts and books about the development of the area.


Moving on to the sand and surf, Jockey's Ridge State Park is home to the highest sand dunes on the east coast. Besides climbing the high dunes for the accomplishment itself, visitors can choose from hang gliding, fying kites, and picnicking at the park facilities.

Nestled between the dunes and the sound marshes lies a unique 1,092 acre maritime forest which provides hiking trails and bird watching. Maintained by The Nature Conservancy, Nags Head Woods Ecological Preserve is open daily from dawn to dusk.


Midway between Nags Head and Kitty Hawk, the Wright Monument Shaft, atop Kill Devil Hill, marks the site of glider experiments executed by Orville and Wilbur Wright.

Administered by the National Park Service, Wright Brothers National Memorial exhibits full-scale reproductions of the 1902 glider and the 1903 flying machine which preceded today's air travel.

On the North and South ends of the Outer Banks live the famous ponies believed to be descendants of Spanish horses. Operating under the Outer Banks Conservationists, Inc., the Corolla Wild Horse Fund worked with Currituck County, U.S. Fish & Wildlife, and the NC Estuarine Research Reserve to have 12,000 acres of the northern-most beaches defined as a horse sanctuary. A number of companies offer tours to view the wild horses.

The Ocracoke ponies are now contained by the Pony Pens on Highway 12 north of Ocracoke Village. Tourists can view the ponies from an observation platform overlooking a pony pen, or from a handicapped-accessible deck overlooking the pasture.

Of course the best part of the beach is still the beach, and the white sands on the Outer Banks make comfortable resting areas in between excursions.

Most businesses consider the official tourist season from Memorial Day to Labor Day, but the Outer Banks usually hosts a five month summer, and at just 12 miles offshore, the Gulf Stream keeps water temperature at swimming level for most of that duration.

Fishing and cruising opportunities are endless on the Outer Banks, and more than half of the state's saltware sportfishing records have been made there. Tuna, Blue and White Marlin, Sailfish, Billfish, Red Drum, King Mackrel, Bluefish, Flounder, Sea Trout and Wahoo are just of few of the names on the long list of possible catches at the Outer Banks.

Obviously the Outer Banks will make true beach lovers happy with plenty of water sports and sunshine activities. But the true appeal of a vacation of the barrier islands of North Carolina is the sheer variety of fun, in and out of the sun, for the whole family. A trip to the Outer Banks isn't just a trip to the beach. It's a dream vacation just as interesting and creative as your imagination will allow

Copyright Dineane Whitaker 2008 - Please do not copy and paste this article, but feel free to post a link using this url:

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Comments 15 comments

Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 8 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

I am a beach freak. I've never been to the Outer Banks; my haunt is the Jersey shore. Brigantine is my favorite because of its wide and white beaches, its small town flavor, and its nature preserve at the north end of the island.

Your description of the Outer Banks fascinates me. I knew of its beaches, but I never really thought of its history. How could I not want to visit after reading your hub?

Thanks for a delightful tour.

dineane profile image

dineane 8 years ago from North Carolina Author

Thanks, Sally! Be sure to let me know when you plan your Outer Banks trip and maybe we can meet in real life :-)

crranches 8 years ago

Great Post. I lived in NC for 2 years and never made it to the Outer Banks. I lived mainly in the Hickory area. Some day I will make it there.

dineane profile image

dineane 8 years ago from North Carolina Author

I'm always amazed at how many Tarheels have never made it to the Outer Banks--you are not alone! It really is a great destination.

Deborah 8 years ago

You should do another Hub just on the night life at the Outer Banks. And Breakfast, depending on how good the night was! Bloody Maries at Jolly Rogers! That and fishing on the beach are the first things I miss when I think of the OBX.

dineane profile image

dineane 8 years ago from North Carolina Author

We're headed down at the end of July and I'll try to take a notebook and do just that--nightlife at the OBX. I know you like breakfast at Jolly Rogers--I like karoke there :-) Too bad so many of our old stomping grounds are gone, though.

NYLady profile image

NYLady 8 years ago from White Plains, NY

Dineane: The Outer Banks is my favorite place in the whole world, and I'm a New Yorker. We've been going to Nags Head for years every summer, and my kids' favorite memories involve fishing off the piers, taking the ferry to Ocrakoke, shopping in Corolla, and just boogie boarding the waves. We even got evacuated one summer during Hurricane Bonnie! Loved your piece and would also recommend an article about breakfast in the Outer Banks. My favorite is Sam & Omie's.

dineane profile image

dineane 8 years ago from North Carolina Author

Thanks, NYLady! I'm headed down to fish Wed with Deborah and my other sister, Julia, so maybe they will help me work on the breakfast article.

DonnaCSmith profile image

DonnaCSmith 7 years ago from Central North Carolina

I've gone out on the dolphin research boat twice. That boat ride is a relaxing way to spend a few hours and watching the dolphins was interesting. But, don't listen to the lady in the office - you DO need a zoom lense to get good photos. next time I'll know!

Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 7 years ago from California Gold Country

Dineane, or Donna-- why are North Carolinians "Tarheels"? Can't they just watch where they step?

dineane profile image

dineane 7 years ago from North Carolina Author

it's related to tar from pine trees - still one-handed or I'd answer you with a hub :-) instead I'll post a link:

Dan Spaventa 7 years ago

Dineane - You are right about the Outer Banks being so much more than just beaches. That is what makes it so unique. Its history, its spectacular scenery and wildlife, its museums. There is always something to do.

dineane profile image

dineane 7 years ago from North Carolina Author

Thanks, Dan - you sound like a regular visitor :-)

David Alan Carter profile image

David Alan Carter 6 years ago

Appreciate the great travel piece. I can't make it past a year without a visit to the Outer Banks. I alternate between Southern Shores and the Buxton/Frisco/Hatteras area. Most recently it was this past September, a little cottage on the Frisco soundfront. Tried to get up on a windsurfer. Not a pretty sight.

Thanks for bringing it all back into focus. --David

dineane profile image

dineane 6 years ago from North Carolina Author

LOL, David, I am not about to even try windsurfing! But I'm sure you had fun :-)

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