I’m a beach girl, but not in the traditional sense. I didn’t lay eyes on the ocean until I was 18, but once I did, I craved sand and surf for the next several decades. Every year, I’d journey to at least one beach, island, or coast, slowly learning to differentiate what set one apart from another.


That’s why I was thrilled to settle into the Outer Banks, a chain of islands so unique and with such a wide variety of activities, moods, and foods, that visiting this paradise is like living in a Choose Your Own Adventure book.



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The Lay of the Land

The Outer Banks are close enough to get to but far enough to get away from it all, so much so that there are spots where you’ll lose cell phone reception and won’t care a bit. It speaks to the feeling you get as you arrive in this quiet hamlet – it’s charming, reminds you of the way your favorite beach “used to be,” and makes you want to forget about technology and just breathe in the sea air.


It's easy to make that happen. Just fly into Norfolk International Airport, rent a car, and traverse bridges and scenic highways that float above the azure water and beckon you to explore. From north to south, you might visit Duck, and Nags Head, then cross the Jug Handle Bridge to Rodanthe and Cape Hatteras. In between, you’ll discover smaller, lesser-known towns that will delight you with adorable shops, mom & pop restaurants, and quiet, peaceful shorelines.



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The Variety of Activities

Having all these islands at your disposal is what makes coming to OBX a feast for the senses. Where else can you be as busy as you want to be, adrenaline kicked in, and an hour later, totally off the grid enjoying an afternoon nap to the sounds of the surf?


Hopping around the Outer Banks, I did all of that and more. In Frisco, I joined the folks at Equine Adventures on a glorious ride that had me winding through a tropical forest and laughing in delight as my horse sloshed through water. We emerged on a wide-open shore and kicked up sand as we picked up the pace. The opportunity to ride on the beach, water lapping at hooves and beauty all around, is one you don’t want to pass up. Take the whole family with the confidence that horses are matched to ability. Your guide will even snap photos to capture the memory.


In Kitty Hawk, famous for Orville and Wilbur Wright’s first flight in 1893, I wedged myself into a cherry red biplane cockpit through OBX Airplanes, buckled up, and flew high over the barrier islands, my pilot banking left and right to showcase the views. I spotted pods of 10 or more dolphins; a solo, slowly moving shark; and ghostly shipwrecks, plentiful here in the Graveyard of the Atlantic. Of course we flew over the Wright Brothers Monument, then circled the Bodie Island Lighthouse and the swell of sand that forms the hang glider’s paradise of Jockey’s Ridge.


Traveling north, I was drawn to Manteo, a town so cute and welcoming that I didn’t want to leave. I joined other visitors on the Manteo Historic Walking Tour, so ripe with the history of this area that you’ll come away knowing more than the locals. One of my favorite afternoons in Manteo was spent on a bar stool at Kill Devil Rum, a distillery that cares about its craft and mixes a mean cocktail.


The options are endless – fly kites on the breezy beach, charter a boat for a day of fruitful fishing, visit the wild horses in Corolla, zoom across calm waters on an airboat tour, collect seashells on Cape Hatteras National Seashore, hang glide off the dunes, or take the kids to the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island.



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The Food That Honors OBX History

While every beach town serves seafood, OBX takes it to the next level. With over 200 miles of shoreline, the Outer Banks are home to everything from bass and drum to tuna and marlin. The temperatures, currents, and terrain make it an ideal climate for crab and oyster harvesting, a notable part of OBX history. You can delve into the culture by spending a day on the water learning about seasonal catches and, with any luck, landing the big one. You’ll find fishing charters on just about every island, along with hook and cook restaurants, like Sugar Creek Seafood Restaurant in Nags Head, that will turn your bounty into a fresh-catch dinner.


Or, have the most interesting science lesson of your life at Endurance Seafood, just outside of Manteo. Here, you can tour the crab tanks and learn about the fascinating trapping and growth process that produces the coveted softshell crabs this area is famous for.


That taste of OBX, the history behind these barrier islands, and the plethora and variety of activities make the Outer Banks a beach destination unlike any other. In the words of Oleta Adams, I don’t care how you get here, just get here if you can.