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Outer Banks Attractions

Nature envelops every aspect of an Outer Banks visit.


Look around and you’ll also see lighthouses, several of which you can climb (the Currituck and Hatteras lights) and the restored quarters that housed the keepers of the lights and their families—see Corolla Attractions and Hatteras Attractions. Other Outer Banks attractions include historic homes, hunt clubs and lifesaving stations that provide an amazing glimpse into the past lifestyle of Outer Banks locals and visitors. Monuments tell the story of flight with the Wright brothers (see Nags Head Attractions), of the Freedmen’s Colony that was located here after the Civil War (go to Roanoke Island Attractions), of battles offshore that lit up the night sky during World War II. Outdoor theater performances of The Lost Colony enchant patrons with the story of the first attempt of colonization in the New World or provide a venue for evenings with the NC School of the Arts Performance Festival. Native Americans, colonists, inventors and beach collectors broaden our idea of Outer Banks life in local museums. Aquariums and gardens add dimension to our Outer Banks attractions. Ponies (look at Ocracoke Attractions), bears, wolves, alligators and birds bring a wild side to Outer Banks attractions. You’re on islands, after all, surrounded by ocean, sound and endless sky. You’re in an environment with maritime forests containing some of the widest variety of flora and fauna found anywhere; wildlife refuges that shelter wolves, birds and bears; wild horses that roam in Corolla and Ocracoke; Jockey’s Ridge, the largest sand dune on the East Coast; and mile after mile of undeveloped seashore. So, when you review the many options for Outer Banks attractions, it makes perfect sense that you’ll be outside for most of them.

With so much to see, to experience and to learn, you’re likely to need more than one visit to take in all the extraordinary attractions the Outer Banks has to offer. Check out our Attractions List for more details. Enjoy!

Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge

Milltail Road, off U.S. Highway 64
(252) 473-1131

Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge is a 154,000-acre refuge on the mainland portion of Dare and Hyde counties. It was established in 1984 to preserve and protect a unique wetland habitat type, the pocosin, and its associated wildlife species. Pocosin is a Native American word meaning ‘‘swamp-on-a-hill’’ and is characterized by poorly drained soils high in organic material. The Refuge's diversity of habitat types includes high and low pocosin, bogs, fresh and brackish water marshes, hardwood swamps and Atlantic white cedar swamps. Plant species include pitcher plants and sun dews, low bush cranberries, bays, Atlantic white cedar, pond pine, gums, red maple and a wide variety of herbaceous and shrub species common to the East Coast.

The Refuge is one of the last remaining strongholds for black bear on the Eastern Seaboard, and it is the only place in the world where endangered red wolves exist in the wild. It is home to concentrations of ducks, geese and swans, and its wildlife diversity also includes wading birds, shorebirds, American woodcock, raptors, American alligators, white-tailed deer, raccoons, rabbits, quail, river otters, red-cockaded woodpeckers and neotropical migrant song birds.

Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge has great paddling trails, a wildlife drive, two wildlife trails and all types of wildlife and habitat for you to explore. The staff offers several programs throughout the year, including Tram Tours, Canoe Tours, Red Wolf Howling Safaris and the Bear Necessities program about black bears.

The refuge is open year round during daylight hours.

To learn more about Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Wildlife Refuges Visitor Center. The center’s exhibits offer information about Alligator River and 10 other refuges in northeastern North Carolina and southeast Virginia. This Visitor Center is located on the north end of Roanoke Island, about a quarter-mile past the entrance to Fort Raleigh National Historic Site. The staff that manages Alligator River Refuge also manages Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge on Hatteras Island; see our Hatteras site’s Recreation chapter for more information.

Avon

South of the Tri-Villages of Rodanthe, Waves and Salvo, past a sizeable stretch of undeveloped Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Avon is considered the largest and busiest of the Hatteras Island towns (but remember that’s relative to Hatteras Island, not where you come from). Avon has the only two stoplights on the island and the only chain grocery store. It also has a wealth of accommodations, shops, restaurants, watersports outfitters and a well-loved fishing pier over the ocean. If you’re here to kiteboard, paddleboard or windsurf, Avon can hook you up. South of Avon is one of the island’s most popular kiteboarding and windsurfing spots; it’s known as The Haulover or Canadian Hole.

Back Beach Wild Horse Tours

1159-H Austin Street
Corolla
(252) 453-6141

This is Wild squared! Join Bob in one of his three monster trucks or his open-air safari-style trucks for a wild ride to see Corolla’s wild horses. Up to 14 people can join the fun—including Grandmom and the baby, because while it’s wild, it’s also perfectly safe—for a view of Corolla’s horses, wildlife and landscape like no other. Your tour guide will regale you with stories of history and fun facts. These tours run five times a day, March through November (weather permitting), from 9 a.m. until sunset. Don’t miss out on this unfiltered fun!

Back Country Wild Horse Safari

107-C
Corolla Light Town Center
Corolla
(252) 453-0877

Scott Trabue’s Wild Horse Safari is an off-road eco-adventure that will deliver you and your family directly to the wild Spanish Mustangs that have thrived on the northern Outer Banks for nearly 500 years. Your naturalist guide will carry you in custom open-air Safari Cruisers through 30 miles of beaches, dune and back country sand lanes to discover the Outer Banks’ unique wildlife. Shore life including pelicans, dolphins and osprey are almost always present. You will hear stories about the Ghost Fleet and Outer Banks maritime history and learn about the mysterious petrified forest. Back Country Outfitters has exclusive access to the Spanish Mustang Preserve, where sightings of these regal wild horses is guaranteed, while your tour guide explains their Spanish Colonial heritage and the local preservation efforts. Reservations are required.

Bob’s Wild Horse Tours

1066 Ocean Trail, Inn at Corolla Light
Highway 12
Corolla
(252) 453-8602

Bob White is a legend among the horse-sighting enthusiasts, and his trained staff has been offering tours since 1996 with a great reputation for being entertaining and informative. Bob’s tours last two hours and incorporate quite a bit of local history to complement the sightseeing. At the beginning, your guide will take you past Whalehead and the lighthouse and through Corolla Village, showering you with some interesting lore. Then it’s up to the four-wheel-drive area, where you’ll see the horses grazing in their natural habitat. Bob’s tours are given in their open-top vehicles — one of a kind experience! — and in their new “Monster” vans, and they can accommodate large groups. Call for details and reservations. All tours have a money back guarantee if you don’t see the horses.

Buxton and Frisco

Buxton and Frisco are two distinct villages but they border one another (without any parklands in between) so they kind of blend together. Both of these villages are set among the Buxton Woods Maritime Forest, lending a different feel from the villages to the north, and Buxton is situated at the island’s widest point.

Buxton is the home of the world-famous Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, which you can climb for a view of the island. It’s also home to Cape Point, the magnificent point of land that juts farthest into the ocean. Visiting Cape Point (as long as it’s not closed during bird-nesting season) is an essential Outer Banks experience, and the National Park Service has a campground close by. Buxton offers several accommodations, shops, restaurants and outfitters along with many county services, ballfields, the islands’ schools and the community center known as the Fessenden Center. Frisco is much quieter and predominantly residential, but there are a couple of galleries, a coffee shop and a few other businesses and campgrounds. There’s also an airstrip here. It’s perfect for that feeling of getting away from it all.

Corolla Outback Adventures

1150 Ocean Trail
Corolla
(252) 453-4484

Established in 1962, Corolla Outback Adventures was the first to offer guide service and off-road beach tours on the Currituck Outer Banks. Benderʼs Beach Service began guiding beach tours to Corolla and beyond 50 years ago, well before a paved road existed north of Duck. That same tradition continues today, featuring their unique tour into Corollaʼs “outback,” where wild herds still roam freely. The 20-mile round trip along the beach strand includes exclusive access into the wild horse habitat on land the Bender family donated to protect future herds. Seasoned guides share their experience and knowledge along with history and colorful folklore. Corolla Outback also offers off-road transportation for special events, wedding parties, family reunions, school groups or business meetings.

Corolla Wild Horse Museum

1129 Corolla Village Road
Corolla
(252) 453-8002

Housed within a historic home in Corolla Village, the free Corolla Wild Horse Fund museum shares the wonderful history and legacy of the Colonial Spanish Mustangs. Descendants of Spanish Mustangs brought to our island nearly 500 years ago, they are a hardy and majestic breed that is teetering on the brink of extinction. At the museum the whole family can learn more from our knowledgeable staff, photography and historical information. Donations are accepted and encouraged.

Here are some special events for the summer:
Paint your own wild Colonial Spanish Mustang! The Corolla Wild Horse Fund sponsors horse painting for kids every Tuesday and Thursday, from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Hours are 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Paint, brushes and smocks are provided, and kids of all ages can join in the fun. Artists can choose from large wooden horses attached to posts that stay up all week for visitors to admire or smaller wooden horse cut-outs to go and paint later. All proceeds benefit the wild horses.

On Fridays, weather permitting, a gentled Colonial Spanish Mustang is ready to meet and greet your family at the Wild Horse Museum from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Corolla Wild Horse Fund staff and trained volunteers provide fascinating information about the history of wild horses and how YOU can help save this heritage breed. Petting is encouraged!

Take the Trip of a Lifetime to see the wild horses, riding with the experts in charge of the actual management and care of the wild herd. All funds raised go right back into the care and protection of the wild horses. Prices are $20 for children and $45 for adults. Please call for reservations or book your trip at www.corollawildhorses.com

On Wednesdays, at their second location at Scarborough Faire Shopping Village in Duck, ride a gentled Colonial Spanish Mustang around the ring while raising awareness and funds to help this critically endangered breed. Rides are offered from 2 to 5 p.m. in conjunction with other Faire Days festivities including live music and kids crafts.

While a lot of the fun programming happens during the summer, the Corolla Wild Horse Fund is open all year, so please stop by to visit and become a member.

Corolla Wild Horse Tours

1210 Ocean Trail
Corolla
(252) 207-0511

Corolla Wild Horse Tours has been guiding tours to Corolla’s horse country — the four-wheel-drive-only beaches north of Corolla — since 1996. With these experienced and knowledgeable guides, you can sit back and enjoy a comfortable, family-oriented tour. This company uses 15-passenger open-air safari-style trucks that are safe for any age, including kids in car seats. Along the trip, your guide will tell you about the history of Corolla and the horses as well as point out all the wonders of nature. The guides have been certified by the Corolla Wild Horse Fund and have a reputation of being quite entertaining. The two-hour tours, which cover about 25 miles of off-road area, run all day long until sunset.

Currituck Beach Lighthouse

1101 Corolla Village Road
Corolla
(252) 453-4939

The red-brick Currituck Beach Lighthouse towers above the northern Outer Banks landscape in the Historic Corolla village. Visitors can climb the winding staircase, 214 steps in all, to the top of the lighthouse for a panoramic view of Currituck Sound, the Atlantic Ocean and the Currituck Outer Banks. Inside the lighthouse, at the base and on the first two landings, there are museum-quality lighthouse exhibits. On the way up or down, stop to learn about the history of coastal lighthouses, the Fresnel lens, shipwrecks and the lighthouse keepers.

The 162-foot lighthouse was first lit on December 1, 1875. Onsite keepers, who lived in homes at the base of the lighthouse, operated the lighthouse until it was automated in 1937. With automation, the lighthouse no longer required a regular keeper. The lighthouse and its outbuildings fell into disrepair for decades until a nonprofit group called Outer Banks Conservationists (OBC) stepped in to save the lighthouse in the 1980s. OBC renovated the keepers’ buildings to re-create their past glories and restored the lighthouse to make it safe to climb. In July 2003, The U.S. Department of the Interior awarded OBC ownership of the lighthouse.

It costs only $7 to climb the lighthouse (cash or check, please), and children ages 7 and younger climb for free with an adult. The lighthouse is open daily from before Easter through Thanksgiving. Climbing hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and until 8 p.m. on Wednesdays and Thursdays in the summer. During extreme weather, the lighthouse is closed to climbing.

The nearby Double Keepers’ House is not open to the public, but it makes for great photographs. You can go inside the small Keeper’s House, which was transformed into the Museum Shop and stocks everything lighthouse-related you could ever imagine. T-shirts, hats, books, postcards, blankets, taffy, ornaments, jewelry, magnets, figurines and more fill this former keeper’s residence.

Currituck Outer Banks Visitors Center

500 Hunt Club Drive
Corolla
(252) 453-9612

The Currituck Outer Banks Visitors Center offers restrooms plus all the visitor information and assistance you'll need for a trip to Corolla and its surrounding areas. You'll find it on the west side of N.C. Highway 12 on the south end of the Currituck Club; if heading north, start looking for it on the left after you pass the Hampton Inn.

Currituck County also operates the Currituck County Welcome Center on the NC/VA state line next to the Border Station convenience store. It offers restrooms, free WiFi and coffee and tons of information and assistance for visitors. Passengers, go ahead and pick up the local publications here because you still have an hour's ride from here to Corolla. 

Elizabethan Gardens

1411 National Park Drive (off U.S. Highway 64) next to Fort Raleigh National Historic Site
Manteo
(252) 473-3234

Designed by two of America’s foremost landscape architects to pay tribute to America’s first English colonists, The Elizabethan Gardens is a rare treasure on the Outer Banks. It’s a haven of verdant, flourishing growth and natural prosperity. The gardens are in bloom year round with azaleas, dogwoods, roses, camellias, daphne, a variety of annuals and herbs and much more. Adding exquisite touches are ancient stone fountains, garden ornaments, a waterfront gazebo, benches, statues, an expansive lawn and some of the most amazing live oaks you’ll ever see. The large shade canopy overhead provides a cool oasis even on the sunniest summer day. The Garden Gift Shoppe sells books, gifts, herbs and plants. This is a trusted plant source for many locals, as the garden staff nurtures their plants with such care.

Elizabethan Gardens offers outstanding workshops, classes and day camps almost all year round. The Gardens' art classes, plant sales, gardening workshops, kids' outdoor-oriented classes and summer programs are listed on the Gardens' website as well as www.outerbanksthisweek.com. The Gardens' Easter Eggstravaganza, Virginia Dare's Birthday, Harvest Hayday (near Halloween) and WinterLights festivities are great fun.

The Gardens open at 9 a.m. seven days a week throughout most of the year and at 10 a.m. December through February. Closing time varies according to the season. Admission is $9 for adults, $6 for youth ages 6 to 17 and $2 for children age 5 and younger — plus tax. Admission for groups of 20 or more is at a reduced rate of $8 per person with advance notice.

The Gardens make a beautiful setting for bridal luncheons, weddings and receptions. Choose from a variety of backdrops for an unforgettable day. The Gardens are also perfect for organizational retreats or group meetings. An on-site Reception Hall, tent and Rose Garden accommodate parties large and small. Call for more information.

First Friday

Downtown Manteo
Manteo

First Friday is a family-oriented downtown festival held in the evening from 6 to 8 p.m. on the first Friday of every month from April through December. Downtown Manteo’s sidewalks come alive with a wide variety of musical performances and festive activities for all ages. Individual shops and restaurants frequently do their own celebratory activity such as live music, special sales, refreshments and hors d’oeuvres. The Dare County Arts Council Gallery always hosts an opening reception during First Friday. Costumed interpreters walk the streets, clowns perform magic tricks and Kitty Hawk Kites sometimes brings its climbing wall for the fit and daring to test themselves. It’s a great time to explore all that downtown Manteo has to offer.

 

Hatteras Island Ocean Center

57204 N.C. Highway 12
Hatteras Village
(252) 564-9575

The Hatteras Island Ocean Center provides a wide variety of recreational and educational activities for people of all ages. There are two indoor exhibit areas: Ocean Center Hall and Beacon Place. Ocean Center Hall features HD video and traditional exhibits that help you explore the ecology and history of Hatteras Island and its surroundings. Many of the exhibits are displayed on interactive touchscreens. Beacon Place houses visitor information and exhibits covering history, nature and recreation. The suggested donation of $3 for adults and $2 for children (2 – 12) covers entry to both areas and helps support the Ocean Center educational endeavors. 

At the Ocean Center’s Ecology Park you can learn about and experience nature outside. You never know what kind of critters you’ll see in the water, on land, hiding in the trees and grasses or flying by. There’s an elevated walkway coming this spring with a gorgeous view. You can put your kayak, SUP or other non-motorized watercraft in at Ecology  Park and you’ll only be a short paddle away from Sandy Bay and The Slash. There are two nature trails through coastal wetlands and forest; they’re short, easy walks but they pack a lot of action. You can go crabbing at Ecology Park too.

A vast array of recreational and educational programs covering everything from kayaking to standup paddleboarding to photography to understanding the wetlands and its wildlife is offered at the Ocean Center. The programs go from age 5 and up, and cost is between $10 and $20 dollars. Check out their schedules on the Center’s website; program space is very limited, so be sure to reserve online.

Hatteras Island Ocean Center owns 1.5 oceanfront acres that are open to the public. By this summer, they hope to provide a dune walkover. You’re welcome to park at the Center and cross Highway 12 to access the beach at this location.

The Ocean Center’s longer-term goal is to build a world-class fishing pier, pier house, bathhouse, beach volleyball courts and more. You can learn more about their plans on their website, including how to purchase a pier pass -- www.hioceancenter.org. 

Hatteras Village

On the southern end of Hatteras Island, Hatteras, or as the locals call it, Hatteras Village, is known for its ties to offshore fishing. The village borders Hatteras Inlet, giving recreational and commercial fishing boats an easy route to the Gulf Stream and the inshore fishing grounds. Hatteras has several marinas where commercial and recreational boats dock, making this a great place from which to book an offshore charter. Several Hatteras Island motels, plenty of vacation rental homes and restaurants support the fishing and vacation industries. Hatteras also offers quite a bit of shopping, from art galleries to jewelry shops to clothing boutiques. For a fascinating look at the island’s storied maritime history, check out the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum. The ferry to Ocracoke Island leaves from Hatteras Village.

Humvee Adventure Tours

610 Clubhouse Drive
Shoppes at Currituck Club
Corolla
(252) 489-4878

See the wild horses of the Outer Banks and whip through beach, dune and forest trails with Humvee Adventure Tours. The 13-passenger, open-air Humvee has been upgraded and customized to offer the safest and most comfortable ride possible. With the recent purchase of land in 2014, Humvee Adventure Tours can now venture into three distinct ecosystems that are teeming with an abundance of wildlife, providing an exciting ride through a maritime forest and high sand and dune trails with views of the protected marshlands. Inaccessible by most off-road vehicles, the Humvee can take you where no other vehicle can. You’ll see wild horses (money back guarantee!), and you will also explore some of the most beautiful, wild beach environments on the East Coast.

Island Farm

1140 N. US Highway 64
Manteo
(252) 473-6500

A living history site, Island Farm interprets daily life on Roanoke Island in the mid-1800s. Visitors feel as if they’ve stepped back more than 150 years as they explore the farm and see interpreters dressed in period attire carrying out the daily activities of the time – tending animals, blacksmithing, hoeing corn, doing laundry, making corn cakes. Hands-on activities and demonstrations may include woodworking, textile work, cooking demonstrations, ox-drawn wagon rides, 19th-century toys and games and farm and garden work. Visitors take self-guided tours of the Etheridge House and Farm, interacting with interpreters along the way. Activities vary daily and by season and are weather dependent. Special events are held in the Spring and Fall. Standard admission costs $6 per person with children 5 and younger admitted for free. After opening day for the season, which was April 2, 2014, hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday, until closing day on November 30. Note that they're closed on Thanksgiving Day. 

Kill Devil Hills

Kill Devil Hills
Town Hall
(252) 449-5300

At the geographic center of the Outer Banks, Kill Devil Hills (KDH as it’s known) is perfectly situated for those who want to see both the northern and southern ends of the Banks in one vacation. Kill Devil Hills is the largest town on the Outer Banks in terms of year-round population, and it offers a wealth of services, fast-food restaurants and necessity businesses. But don’t overlook Kill Devil Hills as a vacation destination in its own right. The town’s 6 miles of beachfront feature hotels, motels and rental accommodations to suit every taste and budget. The town is also full of shopping and dining opportunities. Beach access points with parking are plentiful in Kill Devil Hills. There’s also a library, recreational parks and soundside accesses.

At the heart of Kill Devil Hills is the National Park Service’s Wright Brothers National Memorial. This is the place where the Wright brothers conducted the first flight in 1903, and the monument to the brothers towers over the town atop Big Kill Devil Hill.

Colington Island, though not officially part of the Town of Kill Devil Hills, is accessed through the town and is a part of the Outer Banks that most vacationers never see. Down Colington Road, you’ll find a few restaurants and campgrounds, a few homes for rent and a peek into the lives of the local residents. There are several places along the way to go fishing and crabbing near the bridges.

Kitty Hawk

Kitty Hawk
Town Hall
(252) 261-3552

Kitty Hawk is known the world over for its association with the Wright brothers and flight. The Wright brothers didn’t actually fly their airplane here, but they did arrive and depart the Outer Banks at Kitty Hawk, and they found accommodations in the rural soundside community for some of their visits in the early 1900s.

More than a century later, Kitty Hawk has shifted its focus from the soundside to the ocean. The beach draws thousands upon thousands of vacationers every year to Kitty Hawk, where a variety of accommodations await. Kitty Hawk is known for its old-school beachfront cottages, along with mom-and-pop motels and one of the nicest hotels on the beach.

Kitty Hawk is small, but it offers plenty for a nice vacation, including shops, superstores, restaurants and a golf course.

Lost Colony

Waterside Theatre, 1409 National Park Drive, Waterside Theatre, off U.S. Highway 64
Manteo
(252) 473-6000

More than 400 years ago, 117 men, women and children sailed from Plymouth, England, in an attempt to settle on Roanoke Island. They vanished just two years later. The only clue left behind was the word “CROATOAN” carved in a tree. <i>The Lost Colony</i> is their story. This outdoor drama is the Outer Banks' most long-standing attraction, celebrating its 77th season in 2014!

Written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paul Green, <i>The Lost Colony</i> is performed summer nights by a company of more than 100 actors, dancers, singers and technicians in the historic outdoor Waterside Theatre. Come see epic battles and Indian dances. Experience the sorrow and heartbreak of tragedy and loss. Witness the pageantry of the queen and her court, and celebrate the birth of Virginia Dare. There is music, laughter, romance and dance, and Outer Banks locals and visitors have loved it for 77 years.

Manteo

General Information
Manteo
(252) 473-2133

Manteo, the only incorporated town on Roanoke Island and the Dare County seat, is a small island town complete with a picturesque waterfront, a safe harbor, welcoming docks and a charming downtown historic area. 

Manteo’s waterfront downtown is an attraction in itself, with shops, art galleries, eateries, a lighthouse, a waterfront boardwalk, a park and children's playground and boats sitting in the harbor of Shallowbag Bay. It’s also the home of Roanoke Island Festival Park, one of the Outer Banks’ most popular attractions.

The Manteo historic district is full of restored homes and bed and breakfast inns that make for great sightseeing or overnight stays. It is perfect for exploring on foot or by bicycle. Park the car and walk around; the town is quite pedestrian friendly. 

The main corridor of Manteo is U.S. Highway 64. This road is lined with shops, galleries, restaurants, service businesses and places to stay. A bicycle/multi-use path runs parallel to U.S. Highway 64 for the northern half of this picturesque island. If you have a bicycle handy, we highly recommend using this path to explore Roanoke Island. The path ends at a beautiful soundfront park. Also on the island are the attractions of Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, The Lost Colony’s Waterside Theatre, The Elizabethan Gardens, the North Carolina Aquarium, Island Farm and the fishing village of Wanchese.

Manteo Self-Guided Walking Tour Book

Manteo
(252) 473-1111

Manteo is much more than a modern vacation resort. It’s a place with an interesting past. In the downtown and waterfront area, you can see remnants of days gone by — and a great way to experience this history is with One Boat Guides’ <i>Manteo Walking Tour</i>. The book features an easy-to-follow map and format that guides you through Manteo, showing historic photographs, pointing out historical details and landmarks and relating anecdotes along the way.

OneBoat Outer Banks also features walking and driving tours to Corolla, Nags Head, Hatteras Island and Ocracoke Village. The books are available on the Outer Banks in bookstores, gift shops, grocery stores, attractions and specialty shops. Or you can call (252) 473-1111 to order a copy in advance of your visit and have it shipped to you. Look for their distinctive covers with historic photographs. Have fun exploring the history of the Outer Banks!

Molasses Creek's Deepwater Theater and Music Hall

82 School Road
Ocracoke
(252) 928-3411

Molasses Creek’s Deepwater Theater and Music Hall is the home venue of Molasses Creek, Ocracoke Island’s hometown band that’s built an international following with its blend of soulful singing and songwriting, blazing instrumentals and occasionally wacky sense of humor. From June through September, Molasses Creek plays here on Thursday evenings. There’s also a weekly show on Wednesday night, Ocrafolk Opry, featuring a panoply of island musicians and storytellers. Detailed schedules and information about other special events are posted online, at the entrance to the theater and around the village. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. and shows begin at 8. Ticket prices are around $15 for adults and $7 for children. Credit cards are accepted; some advance ticket sales are available online.

Nags Head

Nags Head
Town Hall
(252) 441-5508

The first resort area on the Outer Banks beaches, Nags Head is still drawing vacationers more than 150 years later. Nags Head is one of the largest towns on the Outer Banks, and it’s filled with everything anyone needs to enjoy a great vacation by the sea.

Nags Head offers a mix of vacation accommodations, from small cottages to luxurious homes, from mom-and-pop cottage court efficiencies to upscale hotel rooms. For waterfront dining, Nags Head has more restaurants with a water view than any other Outer Banks town. For shopping, Nags Head offers a Tanger Outlet Center, the Outer Banks Mall, several strip shopping centers with a variety of stores and a wealth of souvenir/beach shops.

Outdoor recreation rules in Nags Head. The town is home to the northern Outer Banks’ largest concentration of watersports outfitters, miniature golf courses and go-cart tracks. It also has the greatest number of public beach accesses. The main recreational feature of Nags Head, besides the Atlantic Ocean, is Jockey’s Ridge State Park, the largest sand dune on the East Coast. The town is home to three fishing piers—the classic Nags Head Fishing Pier and Outer Banks Fishing Pier, as well as the North Carolina Aquariums’ impressive Jennette’s Pier, which opened in May 2011.

Nags Head Walking Tour

Nags Head Beach Cottage Historic District
The Beach Road
Nags Head
(252) 473-1111

Explore the history of Nags Head with the Nags Head Walking Tour and Guidebook. Pick up your own copy at a local book or specialty store or order online from this site, and then learn about Nags Head by following the Walking Tour. The tour guides you along approximately a mile and a half of the Beach Road in Nags Head that is commonly known as Cottage Row. It typically takes about an hour to complete the tour. Viewing the structures, you’ll get a feel for vacationing in Nags Head as it was in the 19th century. Seven of the original 13 cottages still stand and are some of the earliest examples of Nags Head architecture. You’ll see the style carried on in the accompanying structures that have been built beside them. Approximately 40 oceanfront cottages make up Cottage Row and are covered in the book. Enjoy getting to know the history behind the grand Nags Head Cottage Row with the Nags Head Walking Tour as your guide.

North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island

374 Airport Road
Manteo
(252) 475-2320
Toll Free
(800) 832-3474 x4

The North Carolina Aquarium is one of the most popular attractions on the Outer Banks. Yes, it's perfect for a rainy day, but you will also appreciate the cool, quiet enviroment when you've had enough of the sun. Explore the “Waters of the Outer Banks” through aquariums and interactive exhibits. Watch fishes in the "Graveyard of the Atlantic" exhibit. This 285,000 aquarium also features a one-third scale replica of the civil war ironclad USS <i>Monitor</i>. Explore aquatic habitats from grass flats to Gulf Stream waters. Gently stroke a stingray or touch a hermit crab in their “Close Encounters” Gallery. See daily dive shows, alligators, otters, turtles, Operation: Sea Turtle Rescue and their new Sea Turtle Assistance and Rehabilitation (STAR) Center. Enjoy some of the best views on the island as you stroll down their Soundside Pier and learn about the area's history and environment. Dive with sharks in their Aquarium Shark Dive program -- open to certified divers only. Make your family’s island experience truly “fin-tastic” by participating in one of their special activities or programs, where fun and learning meet! Pre-registration is required.

The Aquarium is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day except Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. Admission is $10.95 for ages 13 to 61; $9.95 for ages 62 and older; $9.95 for members of the military; $8.95 for children ages 3 to 12; and free for children 2 and younger, pre-registered North Carolina school groups and North Carolina Aquarium Society members. For information on renting the Aquarium for special events such as weddings or receptions, purchasing tickets and registering for programs online, visit www.ncaquariums.com. The North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island is a Member Site of the Historic Albemarle Tour.  

Ocracoke Preservation Society and Museum

49 Water Plant Road
Ocracoke
(252) 928-7375

For a peek into Ocracoke’s past, visit Ocracoke Preservation Society’s Museum. The nonprofit organization is dedicated to preserving the island’s history and cultural heritage and to protecting its environment. Housed in the turn-of-the-century home of Coast Guard Capt. David Williams (see the Walking Tour section of the Ocracoke Island Walking Tour & Guidebook), the museum lets visitors glimpse island life in the early to mid-1900s. Many of the architectural elements are intact, and a bedroom, living room and kitchen are decorated with period furnishings donated by island families. The museum has photographs, artifacts and exhibits that pertain to island life and culture. A favorite is a video on the Ocracoke brogue. The museum also houses special rotating exhibits and a pleasant gift shop. Upstairs is a small research library that can be used by appointment. In the yard of the museum you can find outdoor exhibits including an old-style cistern and the traditional fishing boat, Blanche, circa 1934. During the summer, OPS hosts free porch talks that feature a variety of islanders sharing their knowledge of Ocracoke Island stories and history. Stop at the OPS gift shop for a schedule of these events.

 

Roanoke Island Festival Park

1 Festival Park, Across from the Manteo Waterfront
Manteo
(252) 475-1500

Did you know that the first Roanoke Island settlements predate the Jamestown settlement of 1607? The Roanoke Island settlements took place 20 years earlier, between 1585 and 1587. Though the Roanoke Island colonies didn’t prove successful as far as longevity, they were the foundations of English-speaking life in America and provided much-needed information about the New World that helped the later colonies succeed. Roanoke Island Festival Park is one place to learn about these first English settlements and the impact they had on the Native Americans who were already residing here in the 16th century. The state-run park and cultural center is just across the bridge from the downtown Manteo waterfront on its own 25-acre island. Be prepared for a day of fun, as there is a lot to do and see here.

<i>Elizabeth II</i> -- The centerpiece of the park is the 69-foot <i>Elizabeth II</i>, a 16th-century sailing ship. It’s a representation of a particular 16th-century English merchant ship, <i>Elizabeth</i>, one of seven in Sir Walter Raleigh’s 1585 expedition to establish England’s first New World colony. Costumed interpreters speaking Old English greet visitors to the ship with sea tales, legends and historical facts and answer questions about 16th-century seafaring. Kids love walking around on the decks and crawling down below to see what life was like on the ship. The <i>Elizabeth II</i>’s tender, <i>Silver Chalice</i>, is 24 feet long and carries up to 15 crew members.

Settlement Site – The Settlement Site is where guests get to interact with costumed interpreters portraying the colonist men and women as they settled into life in the New World. Visitors can try their hand at blacksmithing, woodworking, 16th-century games and more. See how the first English settlers lived when they arrived in the New World. Try on some of their armor, learn some 16th-century warfare techniques and some of the arts and crafts needed to make life tolerable on Roanoke Island more than 400 years ago.

American Indian Town  – Explore coastal Algonquian culture and history in the American Indian Town. The town represents an American Indian community similar to what the English explorers investigated and surveyed during their voyages to Roanoke Island and the surrounding area in the late 16th century. Visitors follow paths that wind through the park. Homes, agricultural areas and work shelters line the paths. Two longhouses represent the historical homes of American Indians from the region. One of the longhouses stretches more than 30 feet long and interprets the home of a leader from the community. A smaller and partially completed longhouse includes an interactive component that invites visitors to help complete the structure. Both areas contain interactive exhibits that focus on the developing relationship between the American Indian and English people during the late 16th century. The ceremonial dance circle is also located here. The exhibit has a planting and harvesting area where visitors can learn the advanced nuances of American Indian farming techniques. Three work shelters include activities like cordage (rope) making, mat and basket weaving, net mending, food preparation, tanning hides, fishing, boat building and gathering.

Fossil Search — Find ancient treasures, including shark’s teeth and coral, from a time long before the colonists arrived.

The Adventure Museum —The newly renovated Adventure Museum features highly interactive, multi-sensory, hands-on exhibits fun for the entire family. Try your hand at pulling cargo on and off a 16th-century ship using your strength to go up and down with the ropes! Find the costume trunk and be part of Colonial Life. Bring the camera! Learn how 16th-century sea captains made the most of wind and water currents as they sailed to the New World. See the routes they took to Roanoke Island. Visit the touch screens and read theories of what happened to the 1587 Roanoke Island Colony — and then decide what <i>you</i> think happened! Revisit the legend of Blackbeard and dress up like a pirate. Live the life of a soldier in their Civil War exhibit, and discover the Roanoke Island Freedmen’s Colony.

Pavilion — The Outdoor Pavilion and surrounding grounds offer a perfect place to enjoy a picnic and concert. Events are scheduled year round. It is also rented as a wedding venue.

Film Theater — The film <i>The Legend of Two-Path</i> is shown several times a day in the 242-seat Film Theater. It tells the Native Americans’ perspective of how the arrival of the colonists changed their lives. Special performances are also held here year round.

Boardwalks & Grounds — Enjoy wildlife in a natural setting while walking the Boardwalk that runs throughout the park. Along the landscaped walks, native shrubs and flowers thrive in the sound and marsh. The Boardwalk joins the Roanoke Voyages Trail, which bisects Roanoke Island. 

Outer Banks History Center — The Outer Banks History Center, (252) 473-2655, is a public research facility with a friendly staff that is willing to help you find historic photographs and documents, research information and more. Their gallery features a history-related show each year, and their reading room offers scores of up-to-date periodicals. See the separate listing for the center for details.

The cost for admission to Roanoke Island Festival Park, which includes all venues, is $10 for adults and $7 for ages 6 to 17. Children 5 and younger get in free. Tickets are good for two consecutive days. 

Special events are ongoing at Festival Park all year. See www.outerbanksthisweek.com for details.

Rodanthe, Waves and Salvo

Known as the Tri-Villages, the communities of Rodanthe, Waves and Salvo border one another on the north end of Hatteras Island (just south of Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge). The locals know where the villages begin and end, and while the distinction may not really be important to the visitor, it is very important to someone who grew up here. All three villages are small but filled with vacation rentals, campgrounds, small motels, restaurants, shops and watersports outfitters.

Rodanthe is home to the Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station Historic Site, one of the nation’s most complete life-saving sites. Visiting the restored station offers a great history lesson about the service that preceded the U.S. Coast Guard. There’s also an oceanside fishing pier in Rodanthe. Waves is home to two of the Outer Banks’ largest kiteboarding centers and their attendant amenities like restaurants, accommodations and shops. Salvo is the quietest of the three villages, predominantly residential and perfect for a quiet vacation.

Whalehead

1100 Club Road
Historic Corolla
Corolla
(252) 453-9040

Whalehead is a historic house museum on the northern Outer Banks. The grand residence, dressed in bold yellow and striking copper, stands on a vast green lawn bordering the Currituck Sound. At first sight of the more than 21,000-square-foot Art Nouveau home, so out of place in the Outer Banks landscape, it’s immediately apparent that it has an intriguing past and a fascinating story to tell.

Once you’ve had time to gaze over the lush green live oaks and take in the beauty of the home’s exterior, step inside and take a jaunt back in time to an era reminiscent of prohibition and fights for women’s rights. Shortly after being wed, the original owners, Edward Collings Knight Jr. and Marie-Louise LeBel Knight, purchased a four-mile tract of land running from ocean to sound. While taking residence in the Lighthouse Hunt Club, they embarked on a building project that would take three years to complete. Just as visitors to our area today take pleasure in the opportunity to get away from it all, so did the Knights. While they kept a grand permanent residence near Newport, Rhode Island, the “cottage” at Corolla Island was their winter retreat. After a chilly day spent in the blinds hunting waterfowl, they could relax in the library by a roaring fire while partaking in a game, reading, listening to music or simply enjoying the gorgeous views from the room’s window-lined walls. Peeking into the library and spying the custom-made 1903 Steinway piano, you can just imagine Mrs. Knight sitting down to play a few melodies for her guests. Later, they would be treated to a marvelous duck dinner prepared for them by their beloved cook, Miss Rose, who was one of about a dozen servants who traveled to and from Corolla Island each year with the Knights.

Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, Whalehead sat empty and abandoned for nearly 25 years until Currituck County bought the building with the intent of restoring it. Since 1999, the county has painstakingly restored the house to its original 1925 grandeur. The multi-million-dollar restoration began with the replacement of the copper roof. The exterior of the house and boathouse are again the original paint colors as are the interior walls. The interior has been completely restored, from the coffered ceilings down to the cork floors. Many of the original fixtures and details remain: The water lily motif carvings again stand out near the dining room ceiling, the duck head door handles are back in place, the Tiffany glass light fixtures shine again, the mahogany trim and woodwork has been refinished.

A team of researchers ensured restoration accuracy, and recent efforts have focused on filling the home with original and period pieces. Mrs. Knight’s Steinway piano, Mr. Knight’s iron safe and portrait, portraits, Perkinhammer china, Louis Majorelle furniture are just a few of the pieces that now grace Whalehead.

In 2008, the kitchen was furnished back to the 1920s, including the original Frigidaire refrigerator. Visitors can stand in the room and see the old tools used to prepare meals for the large household and guests entertained by the Knights. It offers a real appreciation for the stark differences between performing routine kitchen tasks then and now. There is a Hoosier cabinet in the corner, and the original kitchen table is once again in the center of the room under a pot rack.

Whalehead is open and offers tours year round Monday through Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Legacy tours are self-guided and available any time during regular hours. If you’ve already taken an audio tour, try one of the many specialty tours offered weekdays with advanced reservations. Moonlight Ghost Tour, Tippling at Twilight, Nuts & Bolts, Boat-ology and Behind the Velvet Ropes are just a few of the specialty tours they offer.
Got kids? Whalehead offers children’s activities too — Mystery of the Old House, a guided search and find or Let’s Talk Tiffany where they make their own stained glass and learn about Louis Comfort Tiffany. The Magic of Light teaches them to make a kaleidoscope and about reflection and other properties of light. Winnie the Pooh and Whalehead are the same age, so come celebrate and listen to a tale of that silly old bear!

Be sure to visit the Museum Gallery at Whalehead. It’s stocked with 1920s-inspired gifts and Whalehead souvenirs such as jewelry and ornaments made from the original copper roof plus books, postcards, memorabilia and educational toys and games for kids.

Whalehead sits on 39 acres of pristine soundfront property providing bike paths, a public boat ramp and areas for picnicking, fishing and crabbing and is located in Historic Corolla along with the Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education and next to the Currituck Beach Lighthouse. The grounds of Whalehead are perfect for a relaxing afternoon outdoors away from the beach and are available to rent for ceremonies and receptions as well as for corporate events and family reunions