Take an adventurous vacation in Outer Banks, North Carolina

The broad, dune-limited beaches, part of North Carolina’s Outer Banks, proved to be just what we needed—even if we didn’t plan to be there. Every day we walked with our fingers through the ocean, keeping the rhythm of the breaking waves. We collected shells, built sand castles, flew kites and jumped through the waves with the grandchildren. Plus, we discovered the best donuts we’ve ever eaten. Sweet carbs and the consolation of the sea removed our disappointment when we rediscovered Duck, a private beach town.

We came to the Outer Banks on the bounce. Two days before we left on a multi-family trip to Barbados, my son Kyle contracted COVID-19. Fortunately, it was a mild case. Not wanting to disappoint their kids or wasting vacation days in the city, my daughter Ann and her husband Michael, unwilling to find an Airbnb rental. We packed the car and drove 275 miles from Washington, D.C. to Duck.

North Carolina’s Outer Banks, a strip of narrow, isolated islands off the state’s coast, stretches 125 miles from Corolla – home of wild horses – to Ocracoke, known for its exceptional shelling. To the east, the waves of the Atlantic break ashore; To the west, the waters of the sound flow into calm bays and salt marshes.

In the Duck, lower than the screeching sound, there is no sand edging trail. With souvenir and pizzeria shops pushed onto Main Street a few blocks from the water, the beach turns into a strip of white sand among grass-clad sand dunes and surfers. The narrow plot of land is three-quarters of a mile long and meanders along the volume.

Unlike many other mid-Atlantic beach towns with high-rise apartments and hotels, most Duck residences consist of four- to six-bedroom homes with many sleeping windows and balconies. One rainy afternoon, we sat on the screened veranda of our rented house, reading stories to our 3-year-old granddaughter Charlotte and 5-year-old grandson, James.

There is good food in ducks. Several times in the morning he took us to Duck Donuts, where we had to play Donut Master, concocting our own morsels on demand. We chose between powdered sugar, cinnamon, chocolate or another coating, plus toppings like chopped peanuts, shredded coconut, crumbled bacon (surprisingly delicious) and Oreo chunks. Then we added a little hot fudge, berries, salted caramel, and more. Tip: Pre-order these popular bites the day before to avoid long waiting times in line.

After warm, sweet cakes, we loaded our rental cart with buckets, shovels, water, snacks, and chairs and rolled onto the beach, past the gorgeous homes whose gardens bloomed with splashes of purple verbena and red Indian blanket flowers on the beach.

Outer Banks horses, paragliding, and history add to the area’s interest. As animal lovers, we wanted to see nearly 100 wild horses roaming the beaches of Corolla. It has been proven that strong short horses are rare colonial Spanish marees descended from horses brought to the New World by Spanish explorers as early as 1521. To us, there was just something magical about watching these horses roam free on the beach. Animals live primarily on sea oats, herbs, walnuts and persimmons. Although we tried to book a 4×4 safari over the sand for the mighty flock, all tours were full. This gives us one more reason to go back to the duck.

Trying to fly is another thing. Not far from where the Wright brothers first boarded the flight, Outfitters teach paragliding at Jockey’s Ridge State Park, Nags Head. On a previous visit we hooked up with a glider, ready to run down a humble hill accompanied by a jog coach to catch six seconds of exhilarating air. We watched four others in our group fly through the air. But just before our turn, it rained, spoiling our takeoff. We toured the National Monument near Wright Bros. and the visitor center, which houses a replica of the Wrights’ heavier-than-air powered machine, and a spruce-oak-framed flyer covered in cotton gauze. Because of the wind, Jockey’s Ridge is a great place for kite flying.

A couple learning to jump in Outer Banks, North Carolina. (Image credits to Adventurepro.)

Although we tried to dine at several of the good Duck restaurants – Aqua, Blue Point, Paper Canoe and Kimball’s Kitchen at the Sanderling Resort – some lacked outdoor seating and others suggested we arrive at 4:30pm for an outside table. With Charlotte still unvaccinated, we didn’t want to go home to eat.

As a result, we bought fresh shrimp, mahi mahi, tuna, oysters, and swordfish from Dockside N’ Duck, which sells quality seafood at prices about a third less than Washington, DC.

A visit to the Outer Banks was not our initial plan. However, our beach vacation turned out to be a fun time for all of us.

The sun sets at Duck, North Carolina in the Outer Banks.
The sun sets at Duck, North Carolina in the Outer Banks. (Photo courtesy of Outer Banks Tourism.)

when you go

Offshore Bank Tourism: www.outerbanks.org
Duck Donuts has many websites, including Duck: www.duckdonuts.com
Kittyhawk Kites: www.kittyhawk.com
Dockside ‘N Duck: www.docksideenduckseafood.com

Sanderling Resort, Duck, North Carolina, is the only full-service resort in the Outer Banks: www.sanderling-resort.com.

Candyce H. Stapen, www.greatfamilyvacations.com, is an award-winning travel writer, editor, and author. Follow her on Instagram @CandyceStapen and on Twitter and FacebookFamilyitrips. Discover www.HennysKids.org, the Stapen nonprofit that provides solar-powered computers and training to rural schools in Africa. To read features from writers and other cartoonists in the Creators Guild, visit the Creators Guild website at www.creators.com.

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