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“There’s a lot of pirates in that area like historically” was my husband’s reaction to my announcement that we were taking a trip to the Outer Banks. “We should visit a pirate ship while we are there.”
While we didn’t find any pirates in North Carolina’s Outer Banks area, we did find beautiful beaches, delicious food, the Wright brothers memorial and so much more. I really liked that the Outer Banks are quieter than other beach areas I’ve visited, but there was still enough to do to fill our evenings with non-sand and water-related activities. We spent our days lounging on the beach and our evenings exploring the area, which is my idea of a perfect beach vacation. My husband spent a few nights hunting for ghosts, both ghosts of pirates and ghost crabs.
First a little lingo lesson: The Outer Banks refers to the islands off the coast of North Carolina. There are several towns located on those islands, including Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, Corolla, and Duck, just to name a few.
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The Outer Banks boasts a nice, sandy beach along the entire coastline. There are large dunes on the edges of the beach, and they take protecting those dunes very seriously. There are public walkways along the beach that you can use to go over the dunes. We always try to pack light for Outer Banks beach days, hauling a bunch of beach gear up the steps of the walkways is a real workout!
At night the beach has ghost crabs. If you are quick, you can catch one with a bucket, a shovel, and a flashlight. Don’t be afraid to take a night walk, the crabs aren’t big enough to hurt you and they just want to be left alone anyway.
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The Wright Brothers Memorial
The Wright Brothers traveled from my home state Ohio to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina to test out their airplanes because Kitty Hawk was windy and had sand dunes they could use to test the glider. Now there is a beautiful memorial to the first flight in Kitty Hawk, including markers to demonstrate where they took off and landed, a visitors center, replicas of their camp, the plane, and more.
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Corolla’s Wild Horses
Corolla is home to wild mustangs! They roam the beaches. You can actually drive on the beach, but don’t try to drive your minivan on the beach, you will certainly get stuck. There are numerous jeep tours you can take, or you can rent your own jeep and go solo.
Kitty Hawk Kites
Kitty Hawk Kites is one of our family’s favorite places to visit in all of the Outer Banks. It’s a huge store that carries everything from kites (duh) to clothes to toys to shoes. They also offer adventures like parasailing and surfing lessons. There isn’t much you can’t do or buy through them. We usually visit the location in Nags Head because it’s bigger than the other ones.
While we didn’t find any pirates in North Carolina’s Outer Banks area but we did find beautiful beaches, delicious food, the Wright Brothers’ memorial and so much more.
The KDH Co-Op is an artist’s space and gallery. They offer art classes for kids and adults in everything from jewelry making to painting to blacksmithing. They also sell art pieces by the members of the co-op on site. If you want a nice souvenir from your trip this is a great place to visit!
Where to Eat
If you only leave your beach house once, it should be for a duck donut. I’m obsessed. It’s like chipotle for donuts. You can pick anything you want on your donuts. Make sure you eat at least one warm. My favorite is called the Beach donut, it’s vanilla icing with cinnamon sugar on top.
The Outer Banks is home to a lot of great family activities, from pirates, to beaches, to hunting for crabs!
The Outer Banks Brewing Station
Don’t hear the word “brewing” and worry about taking kids here, our family has been taking kids to the Outer Banks Brewing Company for years and it’s definitely family-friendly, there’s even a giant pirate ship playset in the back. They brew their own beer on-site, I’m not a beer drinker but my cousins like the Lemongrass Wheat Ale.
When You Go
Where to Stay
The Outer Banks have a lot of rental homes, at most price points and with a variety of amenities to choose from. Most of the homes are only available for a full week during the summer. Our family has rented from Sun Realty before and we had a good experience. Renting a house with a pool is the perfect multi-generational vacation, and that’s what my family usually does when we go. If renting a house is not in your budget, or if you don’t have a full week, there are some hotels in Kitty Hawk.
There are several towns you can choose from. If you’re looking for a quieter vacation, without as many “touristy” spots, then I suggest Duck and Corolla. If you want to be closer to all the activities and restaurants, then Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills or Nags Head are the place for you!
You can use this spiffy interactive map to find both AirBnBs and hotels close to the area in which you want to stay.
The Outer Banks can be a bit challenging to access. The fact that the area where airplanes were invented doesn’t have easy access to an airport is crazy! You can fly into Norfolk International Airport and rent a car. From there, the northern parts of the Outer Banks are about an hour and half drive. Traffic on the bridge to the Outer Banks can be a real challenge, especially on Saturdays during the summer, so you should be prepared for it to take a bit to get on and off the island if you are traveling on weekends during the summer.
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