A peek into my recent road trip to The Outer Banks of North Carolina! Use this post as a travel guide for your next trip to the OBX.
Disclosure: Thank you to The Outer Banks of North Carolina for inviting me on this amazing trip. All opinions written are 100% my own. I’m so grateful for opportunities like this. I only work with brands I know and love, and I thank you for supporting them!
Two weeks ago, I crossed a major item off my bucket list: Visit The Outer Banks of North Carolina. Growing up in North Carolina, my family often planned road trips to the mountains and to other cities in the Piedmont region.
But never the Outer Banks, which are the barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina. From Charlotte, the beaches of South Carolina are a lot closer, so we frequented those instead.
(I don’t blame my parents one bit — 3 hours in a car with three kids is a lot more appealing than 7 hours in a car with three kids.)
I’ve heard about the Outer Banks my entire life. (Or the OBX as locals call it!)
From 4th grade lessons on the colonists and Blackbeard the pirate to the ‘First in Flight’ phrase on our cars’ license tags — a nod to the Wright Brothers — I’ve long wanted to witness in person the history and beauty of this region of my home state.
It has always shocked other North Carolinians when I’ve them I’d never been to the Outer Banks! I’ve seen pretty much every other region of North Carolina, though, I think!
When I was invited to visit the Outer Banks with a group of other bloggers, I was so pumped to see this corner of the state for the first time.
(Actually, my college newspaper staff took a whirlwind retreat to Manteo, N.C. one year. We stopped by Jockey’s Ridge State Park and walked around downtown Manteo before heading back to school, but I’m pretty sure those are the only times we left our retreat house. I don’t think that trip really ‘counts!’)
The folks at the visitors’ bureau planned a jam-packed trip for us full of historic sites, artsy activities and so much delicious food.
Oh, and the cocktails! We came the week after a tropical storm, so the weather was lovely except for just one day of rains. I was joined by Meg Biram, Shelby from Pretty in the Pines, Monica from Lavin Label and Carla from Spicy Candy DC — I really enjoyed getting to know these ladies!
Here’s how we broke down our road trip to The Outer Banks!
Day 1 — Nags Head & Manteo
We spent our first few nights in this amazing house provided by Carolina Designs Realty. Right on the beach, we walked on the sand and dipped our toes in the Atlantic Ocean every chance we got. Our beach house was a close walk to Jennette’s Pier, which was built in 1939 and still standing!
For dinner, we feasted on seafood at 1587 Restaurant in Manteo. The gorgeous sound was the perfect backdrop for mingling with the group. I drank a Cuba Libre cocktail made with a stunning house-made cola syrup and local rum from Outer Banks Distilling. You can bet I will be recreating this beauty to share with you soon!
Day 2 — Nags Head, Kitty Hawk & Manteo
We started the day with a hearty breakfast at the oceanfront Nags Head Pier Restaurant. We walked off our calories along the bustling pier — so many people fishing and hanging out here! Beautiful views and great people-watching.
Post-breakfast, we drove north to Kitty Hawk to see the Wright Brothers National Memorial. My inner history & travel nerd was so happy to see this spot I have always heard about! And it was cool to imagine these two guys flying a plane off the dunes. How far we’ve come in 113 years! (Fun fact: The grass was planted later to keep the dunes from moving in the wind and help preserve this spot.)
After our Wright Brothers Monument tour, we drove back to downtown Manteo for more exploring and shopping. We grabbed coffee and walked around, stopping to peruse cute shops and take in the sights of this little town.
We met up again for a tour of Outer Banks Distilling and tasted their Kill Devil Rum. I love that I can buy North Carolina-made spirits at my local liquor store in Charlotte. It was really awesome to see behind the scenes of a rum distillery. I loved all the steampunk-esque machinery they commissioned to make their rum. Thing I did not know: The term ‘kill-devil’ is a nickname for rum. There’s a town in the Outer Banks called Kill Devil Hills that likely got its name from a great shipwreck that left barrels of rum in its wreckage. (There are other theories, of course, but that one’s my favorite.)
Lunch was a feast of tacos and cocktails at Avenue Grille. I sipped a ginger mojito made with rum from Outer Banks Distilling we had just tasted!
That night, we put up with some rain while we toured the backstage of The Lost Colony play, which is America’s longest-running outdoor symphonic drama. I loved getting to see this! Held in a waterfront outdoor theater, it was first staged in 1937 and tells the story of Sir Walter Raleigh and his attempt to establish a permanent colony on Roanoke Island, N.C. (which was, back then, a part of the colony of Virginia). The Lost Colony runs every summer and it has many notable theater alumni like Andy Griffith and Lynn Redgrave. Even President Franklin D. Roosevelt came to see it!
The Lost Colony won a Tony Honor For Excellence In The Theatre in 2013. In high school, I wanted to be a costume designer before I wanted to become a graphic designer. Tony Award-winning costume designer William Ivey Long has helped to revamp the costumes in the last decade, and they are truly incredible. I definitely want to come back and see the whole play so I can take in those costumes! The little bit we saw was fantastic, though.
After the play, we went to dinner at Basnight’s Lone Cedar Café in Nags Head. So much seafood! The she-crab soup came highly recommended and did not disappoint. A great way to end the day.
Day 3 — Kill Devil Hills & Duck & Southern Shores
Rain threw a kink in our plans this day, which was supposed to include fishing and surfing at Koru Village in Avon, N.C. and climbing the famous Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. Instead, we started the day slowly with coffee and a giant doughnut breakfast from Duck Donuts. There are quite a few of these doughnut shops around the Outer Banks. I’m so glad I can enjoy them at a location in Charlotte now, too! But this was the OG Duck Donuts.
We also perused Seaside Art Gallery in Nags Head. They have original works from hundreds of local and internationally-known artists. I discovered a whole wall of John James Audubon bird paintings — my favorite!
The sun came out just before lunch, so we took some time to walk along the Duck Soundside Boardwalk. I saw some huge turtles swimming in the sound and lots of fanastic birdlife. For lunch, we were treated to a fish feast at Red Sky Café. Every bite was amazing.
After lunch, we walked around the Bodie Island Lighthouse, so stunning with its stark stripes against the cerulean sky. I wish the weather had allowed us to see more of the famous OBX lighthouses.
Following our walk around the lighthouse, our tour guide took us on a drive along the beach in his truck. You have to have a permit to do this, but it was awesome to get to drive right on the sand! (I’m so spoiled now — I never want to carry a cooler down the beach ever again!)
We also got to check out Jockey’s Ridge State Park. These dunes are huge and hard to describe. They’re like huge hills of sand and I totally felt like I was in the desert. Seeing this and experiencing the wind made it easier to understand how the Wright Brothers settled on this area to take their first flight.
Dinner was at Coastal Provisions Market. We had oysters and mussels and local wine. The menu was so full of things I wanted to try. I would definitely come back here, too!
Day 4 — Kitty Hawk & Duck
We started our day packing up from our gorgeous beach house and fitting in one last Nags Head beach walk with leftover Duck Donuts in hand. Then we drove up to Duck, N.C. for the last night of our trip.
We stopped in Kitty Hawk to check out Trio, an upscale market with a plethora of charcuterie, local cheeses, gifts, beer and wine. The owners loved chatting with us about beer and wine while we munched on the world’s largest cheese plate made with North Carolina cheeses. Around the store are a bunch of wine vending machines, which let you swipe a charge card to auto-pour your choice of wines. You can get a taste or a half- or full-pour. So much fun! I could definitely get used to drinking wine that way!
We then joined Meghan from Local Color OBX for an hour of wine-drinking and painting. I’ve never done one of these classes before, but it was fun to relax and hold a paintbrush again. It had been a while!
After our class, we drove further north to the lovely Sanderling Resort. I felt like a total queen in this place! They had luscious pools, amazing ocean views and some really neat restaurant concepts. I got to meet with the food & beverage director to sample some of the food and drinks on the menu at the Sandbar and Kimball’s Kitchen. I will be writing more about this soon!
For dinner, we feasted on more seafood and stunning cocktails at Paper Canoe, which is right across the street from the resort. For dessert, we made s’mores over a campfire on the beach — The Sanderling leaves guests a s’mores kit in every room! How amazing, right? Such a thoughtful touch. And so fun to do with new friends!
Day 5 — Duck
For our last morning, we ate breakfast together at the Lifesaving Station Restaurant at The Sanderling Resort before hitting the road. I loved the history of this restaurant because it was an original station for the folks that ultimately became the U.S. Coast Guard. The historic structure was really cool and filled with coastal artifacts. I really want to come back to The Sanderling to get drinks at the bar upstairs, called No. 5.
On my way south down the islands to the highway, I captured a few photos of things I had wanted to see one more time.
I fell in love with these old, shingled homes that have withstood decades of love and weather. According to our guide, these homes were there before the Outer Banks had highways and roads — just ferries — so people had to really want to vacation there. So much wind and rain and hurricanes hit these islands every year! Kind of amazing they are still there. (If you’ve ever seen the chick flick Nights in Rodanthe, you know what I’m talking about.)
Somehow, we didn’t even cover all of the Outer Banks in five days! There is so much more to see on my next visit (which is in October, for my friend’s wedding!) I’d love to see Ocracoke Island to the south and the towns of Corolla and Rodanthe to the north. The wild horses in Corolla are something I’ve always heard about! And of course I want to see the rest of the lighthouses. I could come back 1,000 times and never see it all. Guess I need to start working on that! // susannah
Video by Chris Henry Co.