A favorite getaway for city slickers yearning for respite of a different tempo, the laid-back, easy pace of the Outer Banks is a world unto itself. Running along the North Carolina’s coastline, these barrier islands offer history, charm and a natural beauty that truly has something for everyone, whether eight years of age or eighty!
1. The Thrill of Flight
Strapped to the brightly colored wings of a hang-glider, and soaring over the expansive dunes at Jockey’s Ridge State Park, is as close as any human being will ever get to feeling like a bird. Inspired by the Wright Brothers, who gave us the gift of flight here in 1903, Kitrty Hawk Kites is the world’s largest hang-gliding school. Here, a crash landing means only a mouthful of sand.
2. The Lost Colony
Written by Pulitzer Prize winning author Paul Green, the show is billed as a symphonic summer drama, but this story about the disappearing colonists of 1587 is a hybrid of much more. Elizabethan music, impressive costumes and Native Indian dance. Andy Griffith got his start here playing Sir Walter Raleigh (Griffith is the Outer Banks resident celebrity) and if you venture backstage, you’ll witness an odd segregation. Actors playing the Native Indians are so doused with fake tan, they’re forced to sit away from other cast members in case lest they sweat off any excess color onto the elaborate costumes. If you miss the show, Roanoke Island Festival Park also traces Outer Banks’ history with costumed interpreters, a working Elizabethan sailing ship and much more.
The gaudy pink and purple shack ain’t much to look at from the outside, and inside is a throwback to the fifties when vinyl was such a hot commodity. But the pancakes are legendary – light, fluffy and purchased by the stack any way you want ‘em.
4. The Sanderling
Upscale doesn’t begin to describe this dining experience at this upscale resort. It’s the only place on the Outer Banks that requires a tie but if you’re a member of the heavy wallet brigade, it’s dining with panache. Every dish is a work of art, and the taste treats in between such as a caviar appetizer or the plum Reisling sorbet are to die for.
5. Family Reunions
About 50,000 permanent residents host over 7 million visitors each year, many of them coming together in one of the many clapboard, shoreside cottages. Family reunions are such big business in this part of the world that the ‘cottage’ description is somewhat of a misnomer. Some boast up to a dozen bedrooms, ale to accommodate everyone from grandma o great grandchild.
6. Elizabethan Gardens
An absolute treasure of a place, designed as a living memorial to the first settlers, The English Colonists of 1587. The Great Lawn is lined with live oaks, hollies, camellias and magnolia trees and is, perhaps, the most genteel place for a picnic lunch or a stroll. A refreshing change from the windswept beaches.
7. Weeping Radish Taproom
As unlikely as it may seem, Outer Banks is home to an absolutely authentic Bavarian styled brewery and restaurant. Beers are make according to the German Teinheitsgebot (Purity Law) of 1516 which is still in effect today, and which requires only four natural ingredients to be used. Even the spindles in the staircase are made up of beer glasses …. And they’re full!
8. Pioneer Theater
This tiny theater has shown flicks since 1934 (although the building dates to 1918) and is the nation’s oldest, family-run movie house. The $5 admission price can’t be beat and even the just-buttered popcorn, sodas and candy are a great deal. All shows are first run and family-oriented, changing weekly. Movie buffs will appreciate the 1947 carbon-arc projector, a rare-find which was used until 1997.
9. Christmas Shop
Owned by a former New York City actor, this 34-room house of a store knows how to put on a show. The cast includes 60,000 items from 500 companies and cottage industries. Need we say more?
10. Cape Hattaras Lighthouse
Standing 208-feet, this is the tallest brick lighthouse in the United States and stands on more than 28,000 acres of preserved shoreline. The black-and-white, barber-shop-striped lighthouse was originally built in 1870 and during its recent renovations, was actually moved 2,900 feet inland for protection from the encroaching seas
The views from the top are well worth the climb of 257 steps. In contrast, you might want to visit Ocracoke Lighthouse; it’s one of the oldest and shortest lighthouses in the country!