Why the Outer Banks?
We were trying to decide whether to spend Mike’s week of spring break (perk of his new job, woo!) alternating work times like we do in the summer (one person works morning, the other afternoons, swapping child care) or travel somewhere for a vacation.
Some plans to head to Florida fell through, so I figured we’d be sensible and stay home. Get a bunch of work done. Save the money.
Until a travel deal email with a cheap hotel in Nags Head, NC popped up one morning when I was checking my email in bed.
I quickly looked to see how far Nags Head was from us. 9.5 hours. (Really more like 12) Okay, doable. I looked up the weather for the following week. Nice. Sunny.
I shot an email off to Mike:
Which is how an idea went from “maybe we should” to “we’re at the beach!” in less than a week. (We had already saved the money…which is how I justified it even though it’s a Buy Nothing month. Experiences not stuff, right?)
I was able to get the same amount of work done I normally do in a week (I work part-time – about 15-20 hours) AND got to spend the rest of the time adventuring and eating!
Where we went:
I looked for places along the ocean up and down the Outer Banks – but we ended up with a VRBO beach house in Nags Head that was highly rated and only $121 a night! Recently remodeled with awesome appliances, super clean, three bedrooms, and an amazing deck. It was in walking distance to a ton of stuff (playground, general/grocery store, the pier, restaurants, Wings, and even an outlet mall).
There are a TON of National Parks in the area, which meant a TON of free stuff to do! Lots of history and learning – it was like a field trip every day!
Jockey’s Ridge State Park – nice visitor center for the kids, huge sand dunes to climb. I felt like I was in a movie. Where you get a ton of sand in your shoes.
National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center – a really great visitor center with a scavenger hunt for Gabe and a million animals for Theo to get excited about. And on Friday mornings they have a free preschool with a story, craft, and nature walk with a ranger. They loved the bugs and magnifying glasses.
Fort Raleigh – The kids liked the visitor center, though it wasn’t super hands-on. Colonists lived there that disappeared – which was the focus of the indoor exhibits. It was also where Virginia Dare was born and was part of the underground railroad. There was a short nature trail perfect for the kids. Free.
Jeanette’s Pier – sponsored by the aquarium, which means there was a giant aquarium inside and some interactive educational exhibits, as well as signs along the pier talking about sea life and such. They even got to see a sting ray in the wild! It was $2 for adults and $1 for kids over 2.
Wright Brothers National Memorial – the visitor center was the least exciting of the four we visited – but it was neat to see the history outside – markers of the first flight distances, sculptures recreating the scene of the first motor-powered flight, etc. $7/adult which gives you access for a week should you want to come back
Roanoke Island/Manteo – A really neat little island with a cute downtown along the water. We found a playground and a sandwich shop overlooking the water – it was quaint and adorable. There’s also a living history museum we didn’t get a chance to check out.
Bodie’s Island Lighthouse – Super picturesque – the old keepers house is now the gift shop and there’s a long board walk overlooking the sound. Free, though you have to pay if you climb the stairs (only open April-October and Theo wasn’t allowed to anyway)
During the school year, the population of Nags Head is 3,000. During the summer? 60,000. Which means it was quiet and calm and there were seldom crowds. We had the beach to ourselves, the pier to ourselves, and we never had to wait for a table at restaurants, which Yelp told me was a usually a problem during the summer.
A few places were closed, but for the most part, the island functions year round, just quieter during the school year. It was awesome. Great for toting a toddler along, but toddlers are generally not so good with the patience and waiting.
Since it’s on the coast, there is a focus on fresh seafood at many of the restaurants. We’re vegetarians, so we didn’t partake in that – but happily found many delicious options!
Front Porch Cafe – Great coffee roasted there, decaf is swiss water process, and they have delicious muffins and acai-type bowls. Perfect for breakfast! There are several locations on the Outer Banks.
Waveriders Coffee & Deli – Really tasty wraps and sandwiches, tons of vegetarian options, good smoothies, and more great coffee! Good for breakfast or lunch. (The wrap with egg, cream cheese, avocado, and balsamic drizzle was amaaaazing)
Stack ’em High Pancakes – Pretty typical breakfast diner food – we got pancakes, grits, biscuits, French toast, cheesy hash browns, and a greek omelet. All were tasty, but not remarkable. The fruit cup was surprisingly good, though. It’s cafeteria style ordering – you grab a tray and go through a line. Memories!
Outer Bean Cafe – Tons of healthy, vegetarian and vegan offerings. It was a nice change of pace from the usual fried fare offered most places. Really tasty! We got the cheese and olive appetizer and two sandwiches -all really delicious.
Outer Banks Brewing Station – There’s a pub sandwich menu with lots of tasty options as well as a dinner menu – we both opted for sandwiches (me portobello, Mike chipotle veggie burger). There’s a huge yard out back with cornhole and a playground for kids! You can order and eat out there, though we opted to stay indoors for toddler-wrangling purposes. The pecan tart with homemade salted caramel ice cream for dessert was DIVINE. Lunch or dinner. Mike’s brown ale was good, too.
Surfin’ Spoon – a self-serve frozen yogurt place with possibly more toppings than I’ve ever seen in my life at one of these. It’s locally owned by a young family, too, which is nice (and more interesting than chains!). The decor is fun, the fro yo is tasty, and there’s money in the ceiling that goes to an awesome cause. Really cool place.
Duck Donuts – everyone raves about these warm, fresh donuts! You choose the frosting flavor and topping for each one – my favorite combo was maple and peanuts or maple and coconut. Their iced coffee was tasty, too. There are a bunch of locations.
There were several highly recommended places we didn’t get to – like Tortuga’s Lie! Next time.