When I was young (really young – about 3 or 4 years old), my mom’s whole side of the family held a family reunion at the Outer Banks in North Carolina. We were all scattered around the country and decided on a beautiful beach location for our reunion. It was fantastic, I’m sure… but I was so young that I have just a few memories of it. Then a few years later, my family ended up moving to North Carolina, but I never made it back to the Outer Banks.
Rob grew up in a suburb of Raleigh, but had never been to the Outer Banks, either! We decided we simply had to add the destination to our Travel Bucket List shortly after we were married. After all, tourists venture from all corners of the country to see the famous lighthouses, sand dunes, and beaches of the Outer Banks.
Over the summer, I did some researching and realized that the Outer Banks were only four hours away from our home in Charlottesville, VA. Knowing that Rob’s 27th birthday was sneaking up on us, I decided to plan a surprise birthday getaway for him (also marking off one of my 30 before 30 goals!).
We went to the Outer Banks over the last weekend in September. It wasn’t quite off-season rates, but it felt like off-season tourism. The beaches were quiet and we never felt over-crowded when we ventured out. It wasn’t too warm or too cold, either. I highly recommend NC beaches in September/October!
It turned out to be one of the most incredible trips we’ve taken, and we’re so thankful that we could make it a road trip while we live in Charlottesville. If you ever have the chance to visit the Outer Banks, go!
Below I’ve listed out some details and excursions from our trip that might be useful if you visit. We fit everything below into a Friday afternoon to Sunday afternoon time-frame. And, of course, I had to include some photos because it is just an extraordinarily beautiful place.
Hotel: Surf Side Hotel, Nags Head, NC
Excellent location, friendly staff, spacious room, close to many restaurants and the pier, and right on the beach (private access). Splurge for an ocean-front room if you can! The stunning views and the lull of the waves crashing as you fall asleep are worth every penny.
Dinner: Owen’s, Nags Head, NC
An old, family-owned restaurant a short walk away from our hotel. Owen’s had friendly staff and a large menu with lots of seafood and non-seafood options. It was the first thing our hotel staff recommended! By the way, asking locals for recommendations is a great travel tip :).
Dinner: Blue Moon Beach Grill, Nags Head, NC
This restaurant was located in a strip mall, but inside the vibe was lively and fun. It had excellent Yelp reviews, so we gave it a shot. After a bit of a wait, we were seated and had a delicious dinner: fish tacos for Rob and a Philly Cheese steak for me.
Lunch: Atlantic Coast Cafe, Rodanthe, NC
As we were driving from the Nags Head area down to Cape Hatteras, we stopped in Rodanthe for lunch and dined at this little beach shack. Inexpensive, quick food with a variety of options.
Lunch: Miller’s Waterfront Restaurant, Nags Head, NC
We ate here for lunch on our final day (after a quick stop at the Tanger Outlets located right next door). The outdoor, waterfront seating was fantastic and beautiful. The food was also great! I’d highly recommend, even if only for a drink on the waterfront.
Rob and I loaded our bicycles on our car so that we could ride them at the beach. We rode from our hotel to the pier, about 1 mile of easy riding. At the pier, we could lock up our bikes and pay the $2 fee to enter the pier. We got to see lots of people fishing, and the wildlife signs gave us so much information about the NC coast. Beautiful views and a true beach experience.
Bodie Island Lighthouse
This was the closest lighthouse to our hotel in Nags Head, about a 10 minute drive away and our first lighthouse visit. We got an excellent guided tour with great history about the lighthouse and stunning views from the top. Oh, and you can pretend to be a local… it’s pronounced like “body.”
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
One of the most recognizable lighthouses in North Carolina, this was our second stop after driving about an hour south along the Outer Banks to Cape Hatteras National Seashore. A self-guided climb to the top and a stop in the museum were fantastic. In 1999, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse was successfully relocated 2,900 feet from the spot on which it had stood since 1870. The process by which this was accomplished is incredible. We also visited the original site of the lighthouse and dipped our toes in the water.
Currituck Beach Lighthouse
The northern-most lighthouse is tucked away in woods in Corolla, NC, but the setting is peaceful and quiet. We didn’t climb this one, but loved getting to see the lighthouse that one of Rob’s elementary school projects was based off of :).
Roanoke Island/Lost Colony
Every elementary/middle school student of North Carolina learns all about the Lost Colony and the settlers that came from England in 1584 to establish the first (but not successful) settlement in the New World. The final group of colonists disappeared during the Anglo-Spanish War, three years after the last shipment of supplies from England. It was fascinating to go to the site that remains a mystery to this day.
Wright Brothers Monument and Museum (First Flight Airport)
Perhaps one of the most famous North Carolina landmarks, this site is where the iconic first flight of the Wright Brothers took place in 1903. It was incredible to picture their first attempts and also to think about how quickly flight technology progressed after their successes.
Jockey’s Ridge State Park
This is the largest natural sand dune on the East Coast. To be honest, pictures and words can’t do it justice, and I was blown away when we first entered the State Park. You can even take hang-gliding lessons or fly kites on the top of the huge dune hills. A must-see, for sure.
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