Having traveled to the Outer Banks recently, during the shoulder season, we landed during a nor'easter and had blustery weather most of the trip. We knew this was possible even probable and worked our patience into our schedule. With 15 towns and villages, there are plenty of new places to try.
The first thing to remember? When it's suddenly sunny …. Get outside!
1. Visit the Wright Brother's National Memorial When it's raining, you can spend your time indoors exploring the exhibits and learning about the brothers' early life, their creative mother, and their older brothers. You'll follow the story of their inventions and find the glider cum plane they used within the displays.
When the sun peaks out, run past the barns that held their equipment each summer, and take the walk along the pathway that marks the distance of each of the four flights, each one longer than the last.
Take the car to drive around to Kill Devil Hill and park on the sculpture garden side. Run up the stairs and explore the enormous gray granite monument to the brothers, in the shape of a wing.
Then get photographs at the sculpture garden, up close and personal with Orville or over the shoulder of the cameraman or reporters there to record the momentous occasion.
The indoor / outdoor possibilities make it a great place to stop.
2. Visit wonderful restaurants While we visited, we ate at seven different restaurants and had a great meal each time. If you have a beach view, you can watch the tumultuous waves challenge the shore then retreat. If you're interested in specifics, let me know and I'll tell you more about the ones we visited and the ones I'm looking forward to visiting upon my return.
3. Go shelling
Don't let the inclement weather stop you. Dress appropriately and take a long walk along the beach. You can collect shells, freshly dropped along the shore, and work off some of those calories from all those wonderful restaurant meals.
4. Sample local Kill Devil Rum
For those 21 and over, stop in Manteo at the Kill Devil Rum Outer Banks Distillery. We had the opportunity to meet one of the owner-founders and enjoyed the tour. There's a shop and a bar as well as the ability to watch the still in action. The staff is wonderful and the drinkers in the group tell me their Pecan blend is the best they've ever had.
5. Visit the Aquarium
Located on Roanoke Island, this indoor event is a wonderful exhibit for all ages. Children will enjoy seeing the fish and creatures, there's even a petting tank for small stingrays and horseshoe crab and jellyfish and a movie and a ginormous tank where scuba divers swim with the sharks. Perhaps you'll most enjoy the sea turtle rescue area, where you can view the current visitors recuperating in individual tanks or proceed to the interactive experience in the next room where you can adopt a turtle (stuffed, not live) and take it through the diagnostic process until it's healed and safe to release to return to the wild.
If the sun breaks out, dash out to the pier or along the grounds. It's a beautiful view of Black Hall Bay.
6. Read a novel
There are plenty of things to do within your hotel, condo, or housing unit. You can award extra points if it's about the Outer Banks or by a local author. Message in A Bottle by Nicolas Sparks is an obvious choice. You can rent movies, too, or get them online – if you choose this movie (SPOILER ALERT), stop the film during the scene where Theresa returns after Garret has died … you'll see the law enforcement agents have Maine patches on their shirts. The movie was filmed in Maine, not North Carolina.
7. Watch a movie
As above, you can read the book and then watch the movie. Another Nicholas Sparks book set in the area, Nights in Rodanthe, see the movie and rent the house for your group for the week. The house has been relocated, having the Atlantic Ocean about to swallow you whole will do that to a house, and the new owners renovated the home to look as it does in the movie.
8. Visit the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum
Part of our Hatteras Island day, our visit to this museum renewed an interest in shipwrecks in the area. The gentleman manning the ship that day even told us about the most recent shipwreck, unearthed by this nor-easter, so we had to go there next.
Within the Museum, you'll find the history of scuba, the story of Bluebeard, and various treats specific to this part of the world.
9. Go Shopping in Duck
We were delayed returning to things delayed by rain so only got to see Duck after dark. The boardwalk is impressive, perhaps, especially at night. While it must be great for a long walk on a lovely day when your point is to get inside quickly, park wisely.
They have shops and restaurants and painted horses and many fun things to see and do in Duck, one of the youngest towns in the Outer Banks incorporated on May 1, 2002.
10. Get pampered
While you may not take the time at home to go to a spa for a facial or body massage, check what's available in your area. Several hotels have masseuse connections and can arrange for them to come to you. Many of the condos are near excellent spas or massage locations. Swedish, stone, and general massage available … you just have to ask.
Also true for nails. Indulge in a mani-pedi. Try dipping your nails, perhaps for the first time.
11. Visit a Library
I love a good library. Sit and read in Manteo, Kill Devil Hills, or Hatteras.
Each of the Dare County Branches features wonderful art, librarian suggestions for great books, and cozy areas to curl up with your little to while away an hour or so with great children's books.
12. Attend a local event, artist showcase, or movie festival
Check out the free papers outside the grocery store or drug stores. They have the latest info on things to do.
13. Attend a religious service.
The Catholic Churches in OBX make search engine lists of places to see so I had to go. Holy Redeemer Church is a lovely contemporary church, built to hold a large congregation.
There are many Christian churches and a Jewish Community Center. The nearest mosque appears to be in Norfolk.
Outer Banks Welcomes You!
14. Visit one of the four Welcome Centers
When you first drive onto the island, arriving from the Norfolk Airport, you'll find on the west side of the road, a rest stop and the Aycock Brown Welcome Center (bypass at Milepost 1 in Kitty Hawk). We returned when it was open and met two very helpful women who provided stories and information and details that helped us plan our trip.
The Aycock Brown Welcome Center contains exhibits, pamphlets, maps, and treasures. The painted horse isn't located there any longer, but it's still worth the visit. Open 363 days a year, it's closed for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
The Sarah Owens Welcome Center in Manteo, at the foot of the Virginia Dare Bridge, the longest bridge in NC at 5.3 miles, is a Civil War Trail Site. If you make the time to stop in, you'll find the administrative offices, enjoy the architecture, and maybe find something to love at the gift shop.
The Whalebone Welcome Center, at the start of the Outer Banks Scenic Byway into the Cape Hatteras National Seashore (Hwy 64 / Hwy 12) also offers picnic areas and restrooms. Do you have a National Park Service passport book? You can get a stamp here.
The Hatteras Welcome Center and U.S. Weather Bureau Station is the Station building in the village of Hatteras which also partners with the National Park Service. Decommissioned in 1946, the Weather Station has survived some of the worst storms of the 20th century and our guide had stories about many of them, having grown up in the area after her grandmother was lured from NY to the region. She also had tales to tell about the celebrity sightings of Richard Gere and Diane Ladd when they filmed a piece of Nights at Rodanthe on the ferry to Ocracoke.
In addition to the information available on attractions and events, the house has night gazing events and special offerings available.
15. Visit One of the Five Area Lighthouses
While I hope the sun shines at some point during this time, we went to the Bodie Island Light Station, the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse, and the Cape Hatteras Light Station on rainy days.
Despite the rain, the light was lovely for some photographs. We couldn't climb either tower (Bodie or Cape Hatteras) but hope to do so in the future. Different weather creates different light, after all.
The others are the Ocracoke Island Lighthouse, which requires an hour-long ferry ride each way, and the Currituck Beach Lighthouse which we would have liked to visit in Corolla with a wild horse trip. It's good to leave something to look forward to for our next visit.