Sunday, March 10, 2013

Fun In Every Season

It's hard to find a travel destination that has something different for every season.  Usually, locations are fun for summer swimming  or fun for winter snow or fun for fall colors, but rarely is a locale beautiful and enjoyable in every season.

The Outer Banks, North Carolina, or OBX, is one such location.  In the summer months, it is a premier destination for beach fun and all the best of summer memories.  Yet, just a few months later, the entire Banks transforms itself into a frosty winter wonderland and while you can't ski the slopes there, the majesty of the dunes will make you forget all about ski boots and trail runs.  When people ask me about my favorite location ever or the most beautiful location ever, the Outer Banks is alwasy in my top ten.

To be fair, I haven't been there in the fall or spring, but I imagine the beauty of the region still has much to offer for any tourist of any age.  Truly, the Outer Banks seems to have it all.  If you love water sports and sunny beaches, they have it.  If you love history and culture, they have it.  If you love forests and natural beauty, they have it.  Shopping?  Yup.  Honestly, I'd be hard-pressed to think of something the Banks doesn't have.

No matter when you go, the following establishments and events are must-do's:

  • Hit the slopes.  No, not the ski slopes, the sand dunes!  While you can't snow ski in OBX, you can sandboard!   Jockey's Ridge State Park is the tallest natural sand dune in the United States and one of the most beautiful sites I've ever seen.  When you walk into the dunes, it feels as if you are on a desert as large and long as the Sahara.  The undulating dunes seem to stretch for miles and that's after walking down almost 400 feet of boardwalk!  The flora and fauna are abundant and just cruising the dunes is pure fun.  Our daughters played hide and seek with us and loved just running up and down.  However, there is plenty to do at the park, should you wish to be more scheduled.  They have many nature walks and talks but the most amazing thing seemed to be the kite races that were underway.  If you're really adventuresome, grab a kite.  Or, maybe a really big kite and go hang-gliding.  So breathtaking to see!  For more information, visit Jockey's Ridge State Park.
  • Hit the air.  Everyone has heard of Orville and Wilbur Wright but did you know that brothers made their historic first flight at Jockey's Ridge State Park (which was just a big pile of sand back then)?  The Wright Brothers National Memorial will tell you everything you ever wanted to know about this momentous time in history.  You can hike to the actual launchpoint of that first successful flight and spend many hours in the Visitor's Center reading and experiencing all the failed ones.  The Center has many interactive displays and is really more of a musuem of the history of flight with an actual replica of the plane the brothers flew.  For more information, visit The Wright Brothers National Memorial.
  • Hit the trail.  North Carolina is one of very few states with a native population of wild horses.  When I say 'native', I just mean they were here before the US was a thought.  The horses are descendents of Spanish mustangs and roam free over a protected area of OBX.  Don't miss seeing these beauties in action.  And, by action, I mean standing around and grazing but it's still a sight not to be missed.  There are various tours you can take and most of them are open SUV which heightens the thrill.  On this trip, you will leave paved roads behind and wander sand streets until you spot one or two or a whole herd.   They are majestic and beautiful and worth the trip.  The small village of Currituck has a museum and takes donations to protect these state and national treasures.  For more information, visit.The Outer Banks of North Carolina:  Wild Horses.
  • Hit the lights.  You could spend several days driving the back roads of OBX and 'lighthousing' and I highly recommend you do just that.  For the history lover, there is nothing more majestic and peaceful than visiting these museums and imagining how a lighthouse keeper kept the fires burning for ships. (This area isn't called 'The Graveyard of the Atlantic' for nothing!). For the scenery-lover, the back roads are mile after mile of unspoiled wildnerness and the scenes where the lighthouses are set are truly breath-taking.  There are five in all and the encompass both the oldest in the country and the tallest in the country, including the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse which is known as 'America's Lighthouse'.  If you're picturing one in your head, it's probably this one.  They are very spread apart so plan for a full day.  You won't be sorry.  For more information, visit The Outer Banks of North Carolina:  The Lighthouses.
And, the food cannot be beat.  Be sure to try these places:

  • Try ducking donuts at Duck Donuts.  This place must be visited for two reasons:  #1  The donuts are truly incredible.  #2 The process to make the donut is a show in inself. I don't know what I was expecting when I walked in the door.  Perhaps a huge bakery with rows of donuts waiting for me in class cases?  What I got was a delicious donut hot off the press.  Every single donut is made while you wait.  So, get there really early or expect to wait in line a long time.  The choices are amazing....strawberry, coconut, maple, sprinkles, peanut butter--I could go on and on.  They have every topping and flavor you could imagine and some you couldn't.  We bought several dozen to feed a large family gathering.....and had to go back for more.  They also offer drinks and fun merchandise.  You will not find a better breakfast in the Banks.  Be sure to watch your donuts being made--I think it made them taste better.  For more information, visit Duck Donuts.
  • For an authentic Banks meal, not place can top The Black Pelican Oceanfront Restaurant. The restaurant is named after a legend of a ghost--the ghost of a black pelican!  The building was constructed in 1874 and is an old lifegaurding station and supposedly the Wright Brothers sent a famous telegraph from there announcing their first successful flight.  As if that history weren't amazing enough, when you eat here you can say you have eaten at a haunted restaurant.  There are many stories in the area of a black pelican that appears right before times of a great disaster, such as a hurricane.  The sighting of the pelican is meant to serve as a warning to the living.  While we, fortunately, did not see a black pelican, we did experience one of the best seafood meals I've ever had.  The fish is about as fresh as they come and is a true delight.  For more information, visit The Black Pelican Oceanfront Cafe.
  • Why come to an ocean location if you can't have at least one meal looking at the water?  In this case, the water isn't the Atlantic but the equally beautiful 'sound' side of the Banks.  Sunset Grille and Bar certainly lives up to its name so make sure to spend one evening watching the sun go down.  You will not be disappointed by the view or the food.  Sit outside, if possible.  The decking and long boardwalk are so gorgeous and really puts you in the mood.  The restaurant features most seafood and Carribbean fare and all of it was divine.  Everyone at the table got something different and, after trying them all, I couldn't decide what was better.  (Although I am still a little partial to the coconut shrimp.)  For more information, visit the Sunset Grille and Raw Bar.