An Outer Banks 2017 Vacay: What We Did
This is part 1 of a 3 part series on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, focusing specifically on my experiences from vacation 2017! I will link the other posts here when available! [coming soon]
Ah, vacation. One of my very favorite words in the English language!
I have what could clinically be described as an unhealthy attachment to vacation and the escapism that it provides. On the outside, it may not seem like the word escape would really be something I would identify with. I'm pretty calm and collective on the regular. But believe me, it's not only something I identify with, it's something that I constantly crave, plan for, and look forward to!
In my first ever Outer Banks post, I explained how my heart feels an undeniable tug towards that tiny strip of beautiful, wild land off the coast of North Carolina. I can't adequately explain how I feel when I'm there, except to use the word home. And since I can't really call it my home - I do not live there, nor do I have an establishment there - I will call it the other word I mentioned: escape. Sweet, sweet escape!
My entire family and I just spent our 9th vacation on Hatteras Island just a couple weeks ago. We had to go before Memorial Day, as there are a lot of things planned for this summer. It was the earliest in the year that we had ever visited. Except for a few establishments holding different opening hours, it was just as magical, beautiful, warm and friendly as it is in the summer or early fall.
Life moves at a slower pace on Hatteras Island. The farther down south I travel on Hwy 12, the more relaxed I feel. We rented a vacation home at the very end of the village Frisco, just a couple miles from Hatteras village, an area we had stayed in before. Our house was very nice, and right on the Pamlico Sound. We could not have asked for a better place to stay, really. And since we weren't even near peak season, it was not especially expensive for a 5-bedroom property, which was great!
I know that vacation is not supposed to involve hardcore plans, but there was so much we wanted to do and visit that we had to have a little foresight. Reflecting back on it now, for the many times we have been there and all the many Outer Banks attractions and landscape we have visited, I am so happy that we chose to spend our vacation doing the things that we did. Every day was a great mix of relaxation, exploration and new experiences for us all.
Here were the highlight of places we went and "big" things that we did!
We visited the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum.
Even though some of us had visited this large, boat shaped museum last year, we still had to take those who had not yet been. My family are history buffs, so learning about the many historical maritime accounts, pirate history, and the role that Hatteras played during past wars was right up our alley. The history and exhibits are very thorough, and the artifacts are numerous. It is definitely worth visiting at least once for everyone. It has a family atmosphere [they offered a scavenger hunt for the kids] and is suitable for all ages! I think we were only there about 30-40 minutes, and explored the whole place.
We took a windy walk out on Janette's Pier.
When Travis and I visited the Outer Banks by ourselves a couple years ago, we went to Janette's Pier for the first time. Piers that stretch out into the ocean, to me, had always seemed so scary. I love the ocean, but I'm moderately fearful of it's power and I get totes anxious when thinking about the prospects of falling in it, etc [anxiety sucks!]. But I was pleasantly surprised and very much enjoyed the experience!
The pier is basically brand spankin new [rebuilt totally in 2009], and is very large, wide, and built with all sorts of concrete reinforcements. It is owned and operated by the North Carolina Aquarium System [there is an actual equally-nice aquarium on Roanoke Island, just a few miles away]. It costs $2 per person to walk out onto the pier. You can also rent fishing equipment and pay to fish, which is still relatively inexpensive, as you do not have to purchase a fishing license [the pier maintains a blanket license from the state for all visitors; photo id required].
The most impressive features of the pier are its inclusion of wind power by wind turbines built along the walkway [they are tall and loud!], and also it's many fishing perks [like fish cleaning stations, 40+ benches, etc.]. Since it's ran by the Aquarium, it also has some great interactive environmental and oceanic education in the main "visitor center" area.
The family loved it as much as Travis and I did. It was a unique thing that most had never done before, walking out on a pier into the Atlantic ocean. The only set back was that the day we visited, it was so windy that it would almost knock you over! The farther out we ventured, the more windy it became. I know this was not necessarily the norm, as the first time Travis and I visited, there was only a slight breeze. So, while this is highly suggested for families or a stroll around for lovebirds, check the wind gusts first!
We spent a lot of time at the beach.
Our vacations at the Outer Banks usually have us hopping all the time. Travis and I are the worst about this - we think if we aren't moving, then vacation is not worth it. But we flipped things this time. We spent at least half of our time at the beach. We were only about 3 miles from Ramp 49 on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, so that became our entry point. Since we were driving on the beach [read about that here], with the ramp very close, it was so easy to throw on a suit and drive out at the drop of a hat. Can't ask for more than that!
The beaches on the Outer Banks are amazing, especially at the National Seashore. They are picturesque, normally pristine, not usually crowded, and often completely clear of visitors. The grade of the shoreline at Ramp 49 is gradual, making access to the water super comfortable. The only thing that you have to watch out for along Cape Hatteras is the frequent appearance of very dangerous rip tides. There are no lifeguard facilities on Hatteras Island, so swimming, boogie boarding, etc. are all the discretion of the visitors.
I read magazines, waded in the water, and played beach cornhole. I didn't really get a sunburn [I think we went through 3 bottles of sunscreen!],but got a nice tan. It was very relaxing, and as usual, enjoying the beach and watching the waves was the highlight of the trip for me.
We drove out to Cape Point in Buxton.
Not only did we chill a lot at the beach, we did a lot of beach driving. We accessed the end of Hatteras Island and drove around a few miles, and also took the "inside road" - a sand road behind the dunes - between beach entry ramps 44 and 49 [read about the beach entry ramps at the Cape Hatteras National Shoreline here]. One of the most exciting, new things that we did was drive out to the "bend" of the island, called Cape Point.
The distinct bend in the terrain of the island is very unique. This is the easternmost point of the Outer Banks. The small sandbar of shoreline is world renowned for its amazing fishing, and I also read that the shells are abundant, even though I didn't see as many there as I believed I would. When we went, it was a weekday morning, and the area was not crowded. Apparently, however, when the cape is open to traffic [it's sometimes closed for bird and turtle habitat restrictions], it can get very populated with fishermen and beach goers alike.
It was breathtakingly beautiful and unique. It's hard to realize what you're looking at, what terrain you are standing on, when you can't see the point from above. It is definitely an area I would visit again, and it is worth finding it if you are into beach driving. It is located off ramp 44, at the end of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse road.
We visited the Dancing Turtle Coffee Shop everyday.
Like vacation itself, The Dancing Turtle Coffee Shop is seriously another unhealthy obsession that I possess! It's already been mentioned in a couple of blog posts I've written [here and here]. We were staying less than 10 minutes from that wonderful establishment, and I don't one bit regret dragging myself out every morning to grab a large coffee and a turtle biscotti. It was one of the highlights of my trip!
If you go, be sure to get the Coconut Crunch coffee [if it's the daily brew], or try an iced Almond Joy Mocha. SO GOOD!
We attended the famous Lost Colony Play.
This is a popular tourist season attraction on the Outer Banks, and was one of those things that we had always wanted to do, but never had taken the time before. The play is located on the grounds of the Ft Raleigh National Historic Site, in Manteo, NC. The Lost Colony play tells the harrowing, historical based story of the first English settlement in America [Roanoke colony], and the mystery surrounding the settlement's disappearance from Roanoke Island. If it sounds creepy, it's because it is!
The history of the play is extensive - it began as a large production in 1937 and was attended by President Franklin Roosevelt that same year. Andy Griffith played Sir Walter Raleigh in the play from 1947 - 1953. It has been continuously produced at the beautiful Waterside Theater, right next to the Ft Raleigh historical site, since it's opening.
We got in on the 2017 preview, which is the night before the season premier of the play, like the cast's first public run through. I'm so glad that we decided to go on this night, because it was $15 cheaper than a regular season ticket, but I would imagine the play was just as good. We sat about 4 rows up on the right side, so we had an excellent view - but I would say there is not a bad seat in the entire theater.
I was in awe at this production. The costumes were really the most impressive to me - all the period costumes were detailed and ornate, especially the dress of Queen Elizabeth. The acting was great, the choreography flawless, there was not a sub-par actor or dancer in the entire play. I noticed no flaws, even with it being premier night, save for a couple of microphone issues, which did not detract from the experience.
If you love history, and even tolerate the arts, it is worth checking out. Travis is not really interested in dramatic plays, but even he said it was worth going to for everyone, at least once. Just make sure you check the weather. It was a coolest night that we had that week, and everyone was absolutely freezing by the time we left out of the theater at about 10 pm!
We rented kayaks.
Our family had actually done this in the past, but this time was special because more of us [including myself] wanted to participate! We rented from AS Austin Rentals in Hatteras, and they were friendly, easy to work with, and affordable. They delivered the kayaks and picked them up at our rental home, making things super easy for us. They are highly recommended!
I'm not a sports person, and everyone who knows me, knows this. So while I do love to look at water, I'm not much on playing in it. It took a lot of nerve for my anxiety-ridden self to scrounge up the courage to try this. I knew the Pamlico Sound was not deep close to shore [about 3 feet], so the risk list was very short. Once I plopped myself in the kayak, and got out there in the water with my paddle, it was absolutely amazing and I had very little fear. It was hard work, especially when paddling against the current back towards our vacay house, and my arms were sore the next day [yes, I’m a weakling]. But it was so worth it! This will definitely be something we do again in the future.
We explored Manteo.
As I talked about in my unique things to do in the Outer Banks post, I have fallen head over heels in love with the town of Manteo! It has everything that I would look for in an ideal place to live: small community, scenic views, rich history, southern style, nice folks and just a skip away from the oceanfront. I want to move there SO BAD, but since I know that is not even an option, I try to enjoy all the pictures regularly, and often gush to everyone about how much I adore it!
We parked at the Manteo waterfront, visited the replica of the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse, and walked around the marina area and into the quaint businesses downtown. Although it was not set up at the time, there is a farmer’s market area that I want to visit sometime when it's open. There are a few restaurants, a beautifully quaint inn and a bunch of small shops. We really wanted to explore more thoroughly than just walking down a couple streets, but it began to rain, and most of the stores were closing because it was so late, so we headed back to the car to get to the Lost Colony play.
The next time I am able to visit, I really want to take the time to thoroughly enjoy Manteo like I desire. And maybe find a realty book :)
Travis and my sister Lindsey had never been in there before, and they enjoyed the charm of this small establishment. If you have any affinity for books, you have to stop here if you journey to Buxton!
Nags Head has a Tanger Outlets, including a Coach factory outlet [a thousand times yes!]. We never stop to shop, because we just feel like you can go shopping anywhere, you know? We have went to the Tanger Outlets often in Sevierville, TN. It's not really a Outer Banks unique experience.
But the tug could not be denied, especially by my young teenage sister, so away we went! Tanger area usually have all "factory outlets", which are discounted stores of popular establishments like Gap, Banana Republic, Nine West, etc. As aforementioned, they have a Coach factory outlet, and I love Coach purses! They were having an amazing sale for Memorial Day, and I had just received a bonus at work, so this happened....
We enjoyed so much local food!
Travis and I are foodies at heart, so dining out on vacation means a lot to us! You won't find food anywhere that is much better than at the Outer Banks. We didn't get to go to our favorite place, The Black Pelican in Kitty Hawk [insert sad face here!], but we did find a couple of new restaurants that were very good! I am not going to get into specifics, because part 2 of my Outer Banks 2017 series will feature all the places we ate, my thoughts, and ratings! Look for that blog post soon!
We enjoyed our trip this year, and it's hard to believe that the fun has come and gone so quickly! I don't regret one single thing that we took the time to do and would re-live it again in a heart beat.
Have you ever been to the Outer Banks? What fun things do you like to do on a beach vacation? Share your beach-related love in the comments!