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Five ways to experience North Carolina's Outer Banks


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Photo by Erin Klema. Beach-goers sunbathe, body board and play in the surf June 2 at a public-access beach in Nags Head, N.C.

Photo by Erin Klema. Beach-goers sunbathe, body board and play in the surf June 2 at a public-access beach in Nags Head, N.C.

Published on: Wednesday, July 31, 2013

By Erin Klema

Sun and surf attract summertime beach-goers to North Carolina’s Outer Banks. But, this Atlantic coastline also offers visitors thrilling adventures, seaside sights and insights into America’s maritime and aviation history.

Catch some waves and rays

Build a sandcastle, watch for dolphins or sunbathe on more than 100 miles of shoreline. The Outer Banks beach experience can vary, depending on whether you set up your towel and umbrella on a public-access beach with a paved parking lot off the beach road or drive an off-road vehicle to a natural, undeveloped waterfront in the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

Thrill-seeking beach-goers will find lessons, guided excursions and rentals for kiteboarding, surfing, kayaking, wake boarding, jet skiing, parasailing and stand-up paddle boarding, particularly in Kill Devil Hills and Kitty Hawk.

Beef up on the history of flight

See a full-scale replica of the Wright brothers’ 1902 glider, visit the spot where the first flight went airborne and climb Kill Devil Hill for expansive views of the Outer Banks — from the ocean to the sound — and a close-up look at the memorial erected in honor of Wilbur and Orville Wright at the Wright Brothers National Memorial. The national park is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

  • Plan your visit

  • Test your angling skills

    Seasoned anglers and first-time fishermen will find a variety of opportunities to bait and hook flounder, snapper, blue and white marlins, yellowfin tuna, oysters and king mackerels.

    The surf and pier fishing season begins in March and peaks in May and November. Oceanside fishing piers dot the Outer Banks’ shoreline from Kill Devil Hills south to Cape Hatteras.

    Jennette’s Pier in Nags Head offers a day fishing pass — $12 for adults and $6 for children. The pier, run by North Carolina Aquariums, also includes an educational center and a gift shop. If you are not fishing, walk onto the pier for oceanfront views for a $2 donation. Jennette’s Pier is open from 5 a.m. to midnight during the summer months.

    Anglers looking for a break will find shade and snacks for sale inside the pier’s educational center, but your best bet for a meal is to walk across the street to Sam & Omie’s, a casual eatery that has served the Outer Banks’ fishermen since 1937.

    Chow down on Carolina barbecue

    North Carolina’s regional cuisine — smoked pork with a vinegar-based barbecue sauce — is unlike any other barbecue cuisine. Find dry rubbed ribs at restaurants like Pigman’s Bar-B-Que in Kill Devil Hills.

    Look out from lighthouses

    The Outer Banks’ picturesque lighthouses are among the tallest in the United States. The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse with its diagonal black-and-white stripes is an iconic symbol associated with the Carolina coast. It stands 208 feet above the Cape Hatteras National Seashore as the tallest beacon in the country.

    Cape Hatteras, Bodie Island Lighthouse and Currituck Beach Lighthouse were constructed in the 1800s, but the oldest lighthouse in North Carolina is Ocracoke Lighthouse, built in 1798. It is not open to the public, but visitors can take a free ferry to Ocracoke Island for a closer view. The Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse, accessible from the Manteo waterfront, is a screwpile-style lighthouse. Inside the lighthouse are exhibits about Roanoke Island’s maritime history.

    Follow managing editor Erin Klema's travels on her blog.

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