We have never watched the oh-so-popular Netflix series “Outer Banks” but upon returning from our very first visit to the actual Outer Banks of North Carolina, we can confidently say that visiting this area is a must-do (Side note, the show isn’t actually filmed in the Outer Banks). We’ll break it down for you here. What to do, what to see, and what to eat. Note that we visited while the country remained on COVID-19 restrictions and the week before their tourist season began, so experiences may differ when you choose to explore. Let’s get to it:
1. Explore. So, what are the Outer Banks? These barrier islands separate the Atlantic Ocean from the coast of North Carolina and are full of fun beach towns all the way up and down the island. We stayed on the north portion of the island, in the city of Corolla, but took an afternoon drive and explore other parts. Each stop had its own unique style and island vibe. One of our favorite stops was in the city of Manteo, on Roanoke Island. We took a step back in history as we explored the Lost Colony of Roanoke and its surrounding grounds. We weren’t able to watch the outdoor symphonic drama due to COVID but we hear it’s a must-do. Located next door to The Lost Colony’s Waterside Theatre, we were able to visit The Elizabethan Gardens. These elaborate gardens were designed to entertain Queen Elizabeth I and are now a living memorial to the time when Sir Walter Raleigh’s lost colonies lived there over 400 years ago. The Gardens are well maintained, expansive, and even have a butterfly habitat in the middle of the gardens. Our favorite part of Manteo? Poor Richard’s Sandwich Shop. This unassuming waterfront sandwich shop is a must-do. We indulged in fresh fish wraps, burgers, and the best Italian Sub we’ve ever tasted.
2. The Eats. We’ve already mentioned Poor Richard’s Sandwich Shop in Manteo but here are a few other bites worth mentioning. This area is the home of Duck Donuts. These donuts are vanilla cake-based donuts that are fried, fresh to order, and then topped with glazes, icings, candies, and savory toppings that YOU create. Think of it as Subway for donuts. One of our favorites was the Maple Bacon. It’s a great experience to mix and match different flavor profiles to find the perfect combo. They are served warm and gooey. Be prepared for a delicious sugar rush.
Lighthouse Bagels & Deli in Corolla. This place is extremely busy and for good reason. This spot is locally famous for its freshly made, authentic New York/New Jersey kettle-cooked bagels and delectable donuts. They serve breakfast items all day as well as Deli sandwiches and salads at lunchtime. The bagel is the star, large and light, and comes in a variety of flavors. Paired with their cream cheese or breakfast fillings like sausage, egg, and cheese, these bagels are a home run. Again, this place is busy but they have experience handling large crowds and were very organized. So, don’t let the line scare you. It’s worth the wait.
We also had some amazing bites while traveling to OBX that are worth sharing. We were on a quest to find authentic North Carolina BBQ. We found it at Lexington BBQ in Lexington, NC. They have been cooking pork shoulder, every day, over oak and hickory wood since 1962. There’s no wonder why this is a nationally known and loved restaurant (and yes, there’s a line and yes, it’s worth standing in said line). The pork is so flavorful, you don’t even need sauce. The sides make a beautiful supporting cast and oh my, the hush puppies. Round it out with Cheerwine and their homemade chocolate pie and you’ll be in hog heaven. It’s weird to mention a restaurant so far away but it was easily the best thing we ate in North Carolina.
3. Walk around and discover. We had a fun-filled day of learning at the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina. This is the spot where Wilbur and Orville Wright made four flights from ground level near the base of the hill. You can walk along the actual routes of these four flights, with monuments that mark their beginnings and endings. They also have a replica of the hangar used by the brothers as well as models and tools the Wright brother’s used during their flight experiments. The monument is massive and the hill offers great views of the area.
We were lucky enough to be visiting the Wright Brothers National Memorial at the right time! The N.C. Department of Transportation happened to be testing the shuttle known as the Connected Autonomous Shuttle Supporting Innovation, or CASSI, for short. CASSI is the first electric, self-driving transit shuttle and we were able to take a ride and catch a glimpse of the future. So exciting!
Another must-do is a walk around Jockey’s Ridge State Park. This is the largest living sand dune on the Atlantic Coast and boy does it feel like it when you’re sinking in the sand with every step towards the top. However, once you reach the top, the struggle will be worth it. This is a premier location for hand gliding, kite flying, sunsets, and epic photoshoots. There is also a visitor’s center with a museum that explains the dune’s ecology. Once you make it to the massive dune field, it feels like you may have entered the set of Star Wars.
4. Explore the beaches and watch the wildlife. We are on an island, after all. The OBX beaches are some of the most beautiful beaches we’ve ever seen. The sand is soft but packs enough for an enjoyable walk. The seashells are large, colorful, and unique. The windswept sand dunes create a whimsical backdrop. Some of the beaches are even pet-friendly and it was enjoyable to watch the puppers enjoying the surf and sand. You can even drive on parts of the beach, but you’ll need a 4 Wheel Drive. This area is perfect for fishing, surfing, kayaking, skimboarding, lounging, and especially great for kitesurfing.
The wildlife is abundant on OBX. We did some ghost crab hunting and encountered deer, turtles (who were building their nests), osprey, and wild horses! Seeing the Wild Colonial Spanish Mustangs is a must-do when you’re in Corolla. There are many tours offered on the island that take you to see the Wild Mustangs. A tour is especially good to do because they can take you to refuge areas and sanctuary sites like the Wild Horse Estates conservation easement. The tour guides also have a good sense of where the mustangs are hanging out as well as giving you a bit of history along the way. We were thrilled to see several pods of wild mustangs walking, running, and rolling on the beach! This unique experience was a highlight of our trip and a definite must-do.