Having grown up on the Outer Banks (OBX), I've just about seen and done it all. And, because the OBX is such a popular destination, I'm always getting emails and comments from people who are heading our way for a vacation. So I figured I'd write a post to offer some of my suggestions concerning my beautiful home. Note that most of the following is based on what you'll find during the summer...
Mama Kwans - The Pork Plate is one of the best meals ever. Tricia loves the Jawaiian Spiced Chicken. Great family atmosphere, although ask to sit away from the bar if you don't like smoke. Dinner and lunch are the same, except lunch is smaller and cheaper.
Grits Grill - Best breakfast and friendliest staff on the beach. Fun diner atmosphere (which you don't find very often down south). Not open after mid-afternoon. Tell Patrick I said "hi".
Basnight's Lone Cedar Cafe - Best southern cooking and great seafood. Call ahead as they're not open some days for lunch. You'll leave full. Best club sandwich ever, and the mashed potatoes are excellent. Tricia loves the sweet potato crunch) Great view of the sound...ask for a seat with a view.
John's - The local favorite. Best milkshakes in the world (peanutbutter chocolate is our fav), and located right on the beach. Try the dolphin (mahi mahi) boat for a local taste. Only open in the summer, never open on Wednesdays. (they open this weekend for the first time since last fall!!!)
Kill Devil's - Great frozen custard (a yankee import)...try the coffee flavor if it's available. If you like food from the Jersey boardwalk, this is the place to go.
Rita's - Gilati are the ONLY thing I get here...not because nothing else is good, but because they are the best. Unless, of course, the Bahama Mama Mysto is available... *drool*
Orange Blossom Bakery - The BEST Apple Uglies you'll ever eat in your life...I've been eating them since I was young. If you're ever down near Hatteras (in Buxton), stop by for breakfast or brunch.
You can't go wrong if you pick a local restaurant that's been around for more than a few years (and there are plenty of options). Try the NC BBQ at least once (one of my favorite things to eat, ever), and stay away from all-you-can-eat seafood places (unless you enjoy waiting in line for an hour to eat in a loud, messy, cramped environment). The weekends are the busiest time for local restaurants in the summer, so I highly recommend you plan on eating out during the middle of the week.
And, if you're planning on bringing your own food so that you can save some money by not eating out every meal, don't wait until you arrive on Saturday or Sunday afternoon to go to the grocery store. Especially if you're arriving on the weekend, it's probably cheaper and guaranteed to be a lot less stressful if you bring your groceries with you instead of joining every other tourist waiting in line at Food Lion.
Although none of our beaches are incredibly crowded, the further south you go, the fewer people you'll see. Nags Head beaches are our favorites because of this. Kill Devil Hills are typically the most crowded and smallest. For a full day at the beach, a drive north to Corolla (don't attempt this on the weekends) or a drive south to Coquina Beach or Hatteras are the best...very few people and lots of big open spaces.
The great thing about beaches here is you'll never have to pay for parking, never have to pay to be on the beach, never have to deal with people telling you where exactly to swim (unless the red flag is up), never have to deal with a lot of trash. Parking can be hard to find at times, but you'll find it eventually, and it will probably never be more than 50 yards from the sand. The beach is the busiest between 11am and 3pm, so go early or late if you want to easily find parking and avoid the biggest crowds.
If you're looking for the good surf spots, ask around in the local surf shops (although, we'll never tell you where the best spots are). Because our surf is dictated by the ever-shifting sandbars and other factors, good surfing can literally change from one week to the next.
The Outer Banks is full of great history and unique attractions, including several national parks. Here are a few of my favorites.
Wright Brothers National Memorial - If you're into history, you can easily spend the better part of a day in the museum and walking around the park. (hint - wear shoes and socks to make the short hike up the monument hill easier and to avoid getting pricked by the dense cactus that cover most of the lawn)
Jockey's Ridge - The tallest, natural sand dune system on the East Coast. One of my favorite places in the world. (hint - park in the national park parking lot to visit the museum, park at Kitty Hawk Kites to visit the kite store, or visit the park in the morning or evening so that the sand is cool)
Fort Raleigh / The Lost Colony - The first English colony in the New World. A large national park as well as a great live show. (hint - bring a few extra bucks and schedule a few extra hours to walk through the adjacent Elizabethan Gardens)
The Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum - If you're into shipwrecks (the coast of NC has thousands of shipwrecks), ghost stories and pirates, check it out!
Chicamacomico Life Saving Station - One of the old lifesaving stations set up along the coast to rescue victims of shipwrecks...one of the coolest reenactments you'll ever see. (hint - check the website for daily/weekly schedule of events)
Lighthouses - NC is famous for it's lighthouses, and there are no less than four within driving distance. The Hatteras Lighthouse is the most famous and interesting. (hint - plan for a full day if you're going to try and see more than one lighthouse)
Downtown Manteo - This is Tricia's favorite spot to get away and walk and shop. A small, "quaint" little area directly on the water, with bookstores, art galleries and coffee shops and more. (hint - park near the water and make the short walk over to the Roanoke Island Festival Park for some history, and eat at Poor Richard's for lunch)
There is so much more to see and do, especially if you love history and the outdoors, so make sure you do your research and find out all that the OBX has to offer.
A Few Other Things
> Lodging - No, I can't tell you what hotel or condo or beach house is the best and cheapest place to stay...I live here, which means I don't pay attention to those kinds of things... If you can read this blog, you can also do a quick search on the internet to determine your options...and there are plenty of options, but not so much if you wait until you arrive to book a room.
> Please, always swim near a lifeguard, ask about red flags and rip currents, and respect the ocean. My dad is the chaplain for Nags Head, which means he hears about any emergency situation that takes place up and down the beach. Nearly every day, people (almost always tourists) are seriously injured or killed here because they don't respect the power of the ocean. The ocean is always dangerous, but risks can be reduced if you know what you're doing and heed the advice of those who know. (and, don't try skimboarding if you're old and overweight...I promise it won't end well)
> Please, don't leave your trash on our beaches. If you really must litter, take it home with you and throw it in YOUR lawn. Enough said.
> Please, know where you're going and how to get there before you get in your car... The number one cause of the daily traffic accidents here are tourists who get confused and do something stupid out on the roads. There are FREE local maps available in just about every shop and restaurant. I'm tempted to say a lot more here, but I'll be nice.