Corolla, Kitty Hawk, Nags Head, Rodanthe, Hatteras, and Topsail…what do all of these places have in common? They are popular destinations along North Carolina’s coastline, which spans a vast 322 miles! Packed with history and beautiful beaches, the NC coast is a wonderful choice for a weekend getaway or a family vacation.
Starting at the most northern destination, Corolla is a quiet beach town on a peninsula which helps to form the barrier islands. It has some of the largest and grandest vacation rental options – very popular for family reunions and weddings. Many of the houses in this area also require a 4×4 vehicle because the only way to access them is to drive on the beach! A common activity when visiting the Outer Banks, is to see all of the different lighthouses. Corolla boasts the Currituck Beach Lighthouse which is the only unpainted lighthouse on the coast. Visitors can climb the 220 steps between Easter and Thanksgiving to get a birds-eye view of the Atlantic. There is also a museum and gift shop, as with all the other lighthouses too! Corolla is also famous for its wild horse population, they are known as Banker horses. Those lucky enough to catch a glimpse of these beauties are looking at the descendants of horses which survived Spanish shipwrecks in the 16th century.
Moving south, we find Kitty Hawk and Nags Head – two very busy vacation towns located on Bodie Island. Yes, it is pronounced “body”, and legend has it that it earned its name hundreds of years ago from bodies washing up on shore following shipwrecks (this area is known as The Graveyard of the Atlantic). Additionally, it is technically no longer an actual island, but a continuation of the aforementioned peninsula. As a child, I spent many summers visiting this area and I have seen it grow and become much more popular. What was once a favorite spot, is now far too touristy for my liking. However, if you are searching for an affordable area with lots of activities for the kids – this is it! Countless spots for putt-putt, shopping, bike rentals, kayak and jet-ski rentals, candy shops (with famous salt water taffy), and historical sites. Those who are up for a bit of a hike and some sand sledding should look into Jockeys Ridge State Park. History buffs and those who appreciate their ability to fly around the world, should check out the location of the very first successful flight which was achieved by the brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright! In 1903 there were hardly any man-made structures in the area, and sand flats surrounded by dunes with an average wind speed of 15-20mph made for the perfect flight experimentation location. Another activity, which was one of my favorites as a kid and even still as an adult, is the The Lost Colony – an outdoor theatrical production which tells the story of Virginia Dare and…you guessed it…the lost colony! Fans of American Horror Story got a taste of this bit of history from Season 6: Roanoke. The production does take place on Roanoke Island and while you’re there, another must-see are the Elizabethan Gardens. For those who enjoy fishing, Oregon Inlet is a favorite of my father. They offer half-day and full-day, near-shore and off-shore charters for a couple hundred dollars per person – you keep what you catch. One year we had an entire freezer full of tuna steaks, which made the price of the trip well worth it!
Continuing half an hour south and crossing a short sea bridge, you will arrive on Hatteras Island, the northern most town is that of Rodanthe. Anyone familiar with Nicholas Sparks’ novel-turned-movie Nights in Rodanthe, can walk past the famous abode which appeared in the movie. The Inn At Rodanthe is a 6 bedroom, 4.5 bathroom oceanfront property that rents for upwards of $2500 per week…but if you’re interested in this stay, you’ll have to plan FAR in advance as it is already reserved through the end of 2020! In this area you will find several protected nature preserves which make for a relaxing and scenic stroll. Hatteras Island is also home to another famous lighthouse, which has the unique option of Full Moon tours.
Leaving the Outer Banks and driving four hours south, between Jacksonville and Wilmington, you will find Topsail Island – my personal favorite beach destination in the United States. Though this is still a vacation town, it is much more laid back. You will be grocery shopping with locals when you stay here, and you won’t find nearly as many gift shops as you would in the Kitty Hawk area. If you’re just looking for white sand beaches and a chill getaway for a week, this is your spot. North Topsail does allow you to drive your 4×4 vehicle onto the beach for a fee of $20/day or $60/week – which would guarantee you an even more secluded beach day. If you want to head toward the city and explore, a one hour drive south will put you in Wilmington, which is chock full of history and charm! Start your day super early to pack in as much as possible. Mosey down the river-walk and grab an ice cream cone, explore a battleship from WW2, take a walking ghost tour at night to learn about allegedly haunted spots throughout the city, and stop for dinner at a hole-in-the-wall seafood restaurant. For that I would recommend Fish Bites, do not make the mistake of passing on the oyster or shrimp bombs! There is so much to do, see, and taste in Wilmington – to experience it all in one day would be quite the feat!
When visiting the North Carolina coastline please just keep a few things in mind:
- It is disappearing. With each hurricane, more of the coast gets washed away – including homes, businesses, and wildlife. We all need to do our part in not destroying the beauty that is left so…
- STAY OFF THE BEACH DUNES! They are meant to protect what is behind them. Climbing on the dunes harms their integrity and effectiveness. It also damages the plant and animal life which call them home.
- PICK UP YOUR TRASH! Nobody wants to step on a bottle cap or your dog’s doodoo. Nobody wants to pull a cigarette butt out of their toddler’s mouth. Nobody wants to see your candy wrappers or dirty diapers washing up with each wave. Take a trash bag to the beach and collect what trash you do see – leave it better than you found it!
- BE SAFE! Follow posted signs regarding jellyfish and riptides, local weather stations will broadcast these warnings as well. There are not always life guards on duty so keep track of everyone in your group when entering the water. Also, be aware of the changing tides if you decide to walk down the beach and leave your personal belongings – they can very easily be washed away!
There are so many things I didn’t touch on in this post, but I hope you learned a little bit about what North Carolina has to offer! If you have any questions or comments, feel free to reach out in the comment box below!