The Outer Banks

The Outer Banks

One of my cousins, who lives in North Carolina, posted an article from Only In Your State about the Outer Banks Scenic Byway a few months ago. I had never been here and thought it would be a great road trip. I booked extra time in Pensacola (not a problem, since I love that city) so it would be warmer when I visited. It wasn’t warm enough for enjoying the beach, of course, but I mostly had good weather to enjoy nature.

I had a full day drive from St. Augustine, Florida to Atlantic Beach, North Carolina and arrived at my hotel late Wednesday after 1700. I spent a few days here to see Beaufort and Fort Macon. It was raining all day Thursday. However, I wasn’t staying in the area long, so I got very wet visiting Fort Macon.

Fort Macon offers daily tours @1100. I took the tour with a very informative guide, then visited the exhibits in the casemates; different rooms for the building of the fort, enlisted soldiers quarters, officer quarters, a room with armaments, and its use during WWII. I read about the “third system” fort. I had seen that term previously but finally came back and looked that information up; I learned about the first and second systems forts, built during 1794-1798, and 1807, versus third system forts, built from 1820-1867.

The Coastal Visitor Center is nearby. I saw the short video here about the history of the fort and walked through their coastal exhibit about barrier islands and birds. I would have liked to do more of the trails on the site but my shoes were already squishing.

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Bird Shoal, Beaufort

Friday cleared off mid-morning, and I spent the day in Beaufort. I stopped at Historic Beaufort for a walking tour map. They also gave me a map of the Old Burial Grounds. I visited the cemetery first, following the audio tour with the app, Uniguide. There is also a Uniguide audio tour for Historic Beaufort so I followed the map to see the historic homes. I walked along the water front, and looked at the options for visiting the islands, Cape Lookout or Shackleford Banks. The NPS ferries weren’t running due to high winds but I bought a ticket with Island Ferry Adventures to the Rachel Carson Reserve, Bird Shoal. I had a great pimento cheese, bacon, and green tomato sandwich, the PBT, at Black Sheep before catching the ferry.

I spent about two hours on Bird Shoal, wandering looking for the wild horses. I missed them when on the island but saw them on the way to and from the island. Boo and I enjoyed a long walk around the reserve before catching the return ferry. That evening, after another walk along the water front, I stopped for a flight at Fishtowne Brew House before returning to Atlantic Beach. I picked up a great burrito from Dank Burrito and ate it at Crystal Coast Brewing while having another flight. I should have stayed in Beaufort, Fishtowne was better.

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I was surprised to see differences in what is included in the “Outer Banks” or OBX. Some sites and maps include Cape Lookout, most websites start with Ocracoke north to Corolla. The Outer Banks Visitor’s Bureau guide leaves out Ocracoke on their map and list of attractions, just showing Hatteras, Roanoke and the Northern Beaches. One of the visitor bureau employees told me the Outer Banks used to be Hatteras Island only.

I think Cape Lookout National Seashore would be beautiful but didn’t have time to take the NPS ferry to the island. There are no roads, just primate camping sites, some rentals and transportation through the NPS concessioner, Islands Express Ferry.

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Cedar Island to Ocracoke

I caught the ferry at Cedar Island to Ocracoke Saturday morning; I booked using the NCDOT site. I remember taking the Alaska “marine highway” when I was 9, from Victoria, British Columbia up to Ketchikan and Juneau. My sisters and I were so excited, being on the big car ferry, seeing the inner passage and visiting the small towns on the Alaskan peninsula. I am so grateful to my parents for our great family vacations, so lucky they took us kids everywhere instead of leaving us behind. They are responsible for my love of travel.

When I was stationed in West Germany, I took the ferry from Ostende, Belgium to Dover to visit London. I also took the ferry in New Zealand from Picton, on the South Island, to Wellington, on the North Island, across the Cook Strait during my visit in 2013. I still think car ferries are fun, for some reason.

Outer Banks-USEDFor just $15, this was a great value. It takes about 2 1/2 hours to cross. I didn’t realize when I booked the ferry to Ocracoke, but I also needed a ferry from Ocracoke to Hatteras. Those ferries are free and first come, first served. They run every hour and take an hour to cross the Hatteras Inlet. All residents of the Outer Banks, however, do get priority boarding. It took me about a week to notice all the local license plates start with OBX. Outer Banks-USED

After several stops on Ocracoke, I didn’t stop anywhere else on the way to my AirBNB in Salvo since I had two weeks to see everything. I thought Salvo, being fairly centrally located, would allow me to easily go north or south to visit all the attractions. However, there is little in this area and it was a lot of driving almost every day. If I could redo my booking, I would have several days in Hatteras Village or Buxton then some time in Manteo or Nag’s Head.


I arrived on the Cedar Island ferry at Ocracoke, around 1300. I visited the lighthouse, walked the Springer Trail, to see where Edward Teach, AKA Blackbeard, was killed, and stopped at the British Cemetery. I also stopped at the pony pen before continuing to the ferry terminal for Hatteras. I returned to the island about a week later to see more of it without rushing off to Hatteras. I wanted to spend a little more time in Ocracoke Village.


The Cape Hatteras Light Station is, unfortunately, closed for climbing due to restoration and removing the lead paint. But the NPS offers a great virtual tour with a park ranger that I took before visiting the site. The Museum of the Sea, located in the assistant lighthouse keeper’s house, is open with very interesting exhibits, including about the movement of the lighthouse in 1999. I returned to visit the Old Lighthouse Beach area, and I hiked the Buxton Woods Nature Trail several times. This is a beautiful trail through the dunes with signs on barrier islands, shifting shorelines, and the vegetation.

I enjoyed the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum, free entry, with a donation box right by the door. There is a short video about the huge number of wrecks on the coast, some pirate treasure, info on diving and more. This is one of three museums of the North Carolina Maritime Museums, the others in Southport and Beaufort. I wanted to visit the museum in Beaufort but didn’t give myself enough time after returning from Bird Shoal. We also stopped at the US Weather Bureau station in Buxton; on the National Historic Register, this restored station has exhibits about weather monitoring on the Outer Banks. The Hatteras Ocean Center has information on sea turtles, birds, environmental impacts on the ocean. It’s free and worth a half hour or an hour.

The Frisco Native American Museum is only open on the weekends at this time of year, so I went to Hatteras one Saturday for a visit. I enjoyed the museum, lots of interesting artifacts and art, and a nice nature trail. Because it’s all volunteer run, however, there aren’t lots of details on tribes or dates or timelines. I spoke with the woman at the front desk and she said they previously had tribes/nations and dates but would get Native Americans telling them they were wrong about details. She said it can be very difficult because their items are donations without any of the usual provenience of most archeology. Great baskets, weaving, pottery, some info on the code talkers, and more.

Marc Basnight Bridge

I tried visiting the Rodanthe Pier Place, but there is no parking on the street, just a $15 lot, plus an additional fee to access the pier. I thought I’d drive a bit further to the Rodanthe Beach access area, park and walk down to see the pier but there is a large NO PETS sign in the parking area. At least the Salvo Day Use Area, on the west side, is dog friendly. Boo and I visited there many times; it was just a mile down NC12 and several mornings we walked down.

I didn’t like staying in Salvo, as mentioned, but the drive north and south 12 is really beautiful. Crossing the Oregon Inlet to the Northern Beaches over the Marc Basnight Bridge is amazing. I stopped one night for a great sunset photo.


I visited Manteo several times, there is a lot to see here. I visited Fort Raleigh National Historic Site. There is a good visitor center, a marker for the Freedman’s Colony, which is part of the Underground Railroad, some nice trails, and a reconstructed earthen fort where they found artifacts from the early English expeditions.

Elizabethan Gardens

We also visited the beautiful Elizabethan Gardens. Dogs are welcome here for an additional $3 entry fee. There are beautiful paths, formal gardens, lots of sculptures, including that of Virginia Dare, first child known to be born to English parents in the present US. The audio tour, by phone, is very informative.

The North Carolina Aquarium at Roanoke was okay. I’ve been to better aquariums but if you’ve never been to one, it’s enjoyable. I did see some beautiful jelly fish and got to watch a horseshoe crab molt its shell, and it’s always fun watching otters!

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NC Aquarium @ Roanoke

Roanoke Island Festival Park is a fun activity. After visiting the aquarium, I went to the waterfront. I parked downtown and had lunch at Avenue Grill, then we walked over to the island. They had a special traveling exhibit NC Digs while I was there; this was a free exhibit displaying five types of archaeological sites in North Carolina—Native American, battlefield, plantation, trash pit, and industrial.

I watched the Legend of Two Path in the theater before visiting the other sites. It’s about the history of the island, told from the perspective of the Native Americans about the arrival of the English colonists. I walked the site, visiting Elizabeth II, the Native American village, then the English Colony.

The Bodie Lighthouse wasn’t open for climbing either, but I still wanted to stop. It’s just north of the Oregon Inlet, there is a nice boardwalk for views over the sound.

Alligator River NWR

The Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge is on the mainland, west of Roanoke. We had a great day, hiking the Sandy Ridge trail, driving the wildlife scenic route, then walking the Creef Cut Wildlife Trail. We actually saw an alligator, and hundreds of turtles. All gravel roads but very well maintained.

Northern Beaches

Jennette’s Pier in Nag’s Head is good for a short visit, $2 for entry. A nice walk, lots of fisherman, and good views. Between Nag’s Head and Kitty Hawk is the beautiful Jockey’s Ridge State Park. I would have taken a longer walk here but once out of sight of the buildings I was a bit worried about getting lost in the dunes, the tallest on the east coast. But one direction is Roanoke Sound, the other would have led to the road, so I wouldn’t have been lost that long.

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Wright Brothers National Memorial, first powered flight marker

I visited the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kitty Hawk. The site is much bigger than I expected. I parked by the visitor center, great exhibits and artifacts, then got Boo and we walked the grounds. We went up the hill to see where all their glider flights originated, down the back to the First Flight sculpture, then walked around past the airfield, and out to the site of the first powered flight and the markers. I also went to see the Monument to a Century of Flight; a simple monument with the 100 greatest achievements in aviation at the visitor center in Kitty Hawk.

We continued up NC12, stopping in Duck for lunch and to visit their beautiful boardwalk. We drove to the end of the road, visiting Whalehead Club in Corolla. The Knight House, now known as the Whalehead Club, was also used by Atlantic Research Corporation in the 60s for aerospace and rocket fuel research. The art nouveau house has been beautifully restored. The roof is copper shingles, there is some gorgeous woodwork and Tiffany glass.

I made a short visit to the Currituck Maritime Museum and walked through the Historic Corolla park to see the Currituck Lighthouse. The lighthouse is $12 for entry, so I didn’t climb. The museum deserved more time but it was already 1500 and both the museum and the Whalehead Club closed at 1600, it was one or the other.

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I stopped by the Lost Colony Brewery and Tavern while in Manteo. I had a good lamb burger and a blonde ale after visiting Fort Raleigh.

On the way down to Hatteras, I had lunch, a Carolina BBQ sandwich at Frisco Sandwich. It was great but surprisingly slow service. I remember having barbecue in South Carolina years ago when driving through Columbia en route to Hilton Head. It was mustard based BBQ, I didn’t really care for it. I assumed “Carolina BBQ” would be similar but after the sandwich at Frisco, I learned North Carolina is vinegar based vs the mustard based in South Carolina. I much prefer North Carolina. Delicious!

Blue Lagoon is next door to Frisco Sandwich. I saw their sign for “artisan chocolates” when having lunch so I stopped later that afternoon driving back to Salvo. The wrappers on the truffles indicate the candy is from Nancy’s Candy Company; they were delicious!

On another visit to Manteo, I had lunch at Avenue Grill, fish tacos and a side of roasted pear salad. Both were great, but it was quite expensive. I paid $24 for lunch, and that was with tap water. Boo was welcome on their patio.

After a visit to Nag’s Head and Kitty Hawk I stopped by Outer Banks Brewery for another very good NC BBQ sandwich and a flight.

On the way to Duck and Corolla, I stopped for a good caprese sandwich, fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, pesto, at Tullio’s Bakery. I also bought their lemon ricotta cookie for later. Huge and delicious. I made it last for a couple days.

There is a food truck, Snack Shack, close to the ferry. I walked over when visiting the Graveyard of the Atlantic and had some great blackened mahi tacos. I sat around back of the marina and enjoyed the views.

The last night before leaving, I had the refrigerator empty so went down to Bros Sandwich for a quick dinner. I ordered the BBQ Nachos but thought their Dress Blues and Freach Bro sounded great.

** All photos property of Lisa, not to be copied or reproduced **

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Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse

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