Since I was a child growing up in New York, my family has summer vacationed on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. I’ve been thinking about it this week with Hurricane Florence headed in its direction. Our thoughts are with everyone in its path. It’s always been such a special place to me, and I’ve partnered with Alaska Airlines to tell you what makes it my favorite spot for family vacations…
Getting there. I have so many wonderful memories of summer vacations on the Outer Banks, the peninsula the runs almost the whole length of North Carolina. We’ve mostly stayed up very north, in Corolla or Corolla Lite. It’s a good drive from New York (8+ or so hours), which didn’t make it that convenient but always worth it. After we left the east coast, we would normally fly into Norfolk, Virgina. It’s 2 hours from Corolla which does mean changing planes from the west coast, as there aren’t direct flights to Norfolk. With young children, this connecting flight plan is rough. I’ve had several nightmare trips with Henry as a baby headed cross country there.
This past summer we tried something new. My sister and I were flying without our partners, and with 6 young children between the two of us. Instead of connecting flights, we flew direct from SFO to Washington D.C. on Alaska Airlines and then drove 5 hours from there. I really liked this plan. I’m much happier with kids screaming in a car than a connecting flight. Also, we could take some breaks along the way. The cross country flight went well. My sister and I packed little gifts and snacks along the way, and the little kids were really entertained and happy. I’m always impressed with the service and reliability of Alaska Air. Also, since acquiring Virgin America, the individual tv/movie offerings on those cross country flights are so great with little kids. I don’t think I could fly without them!
The travel is worth it though. Here’s why the Outer Banks is my favorite place for family vacations:
1. Beautiful beaches. Of course, this is high on my list of reasons why I love this place. The beaches are large and clean, the sand is soft, and the waters are warm and not fishy smelling (I’m looking at you Pacific beaches). There are dolphins almost every day. In the summer the water temperature is usually between 60 and 70+ degrees, which is perfect.
2. Kid friendly waves. I’ve been to a lot of beaches on the Pacific and have had a hard time finding one with waves that are as kid friendly, but also varied as the ones in OBX. Every day the tide changes and the waves range from small/almost flat to medium. Which means, every day is boogie boarding/wave jumping days and perfect for children and adults as well. Also in the afternoon when the tide comes in, the tide pools become the prefect spot for babies and toddlers to play. Every day we spend hours in the water. I can’t think of another place this perfect and enjoyable for everyone.
3. Multi-family homes. This is something unique to the Corolla neighborhood of the Outer Banks. Many homes are huge, I’m talking 8-14+bedrooms with a large kitchens, pool, bikes, hot tubs, etc. Family vacations are only better with other family and friends and I love the ease of having one huge house for everyone. Also, it cuts down on the cost significantly when you can divide it up between a few families. We’ve been coming here with my siblings and their children every other summer for years now. It’s a huge family reunion and so much fun!
4. Limited public beach parking. This makes the beaches less crowded. There are very few public parking lots, and you can’t park on the street which means that everyone at the beach is staying in the homes there. It really cuts down on crowds!
5. Availability + low cost groceries. This sounds small, but it’s a big deal on your pocketbook. The reality is that many beach vacations (like Hawaii or the Hamptons/Fire Island) are really expensive places to grocery shop for food. Fire Island only had one teeny tiny market that was insanely expensive. When you’re cooking for multiple families, grocery cost can really get high, and I always appreciate that the Outer Banks has great options for groceries, and decent prices.
6. The Sound. Another thing that makes the Outer Banks unique is that it’s a penninsula, with the sound being just a few blocks away from the beach. You can boat, fish, and water ski, and the sunsets are so pretty. Our favorite thing to do on the sound is go crabbing. It’s easy to do, and everyone is entertained. It’s also a great rainy day activity, or when people are feeling worn out from the sun exposure. We have a favorite little pier we love that’s got a covered gazebo to protect from the sun. We attach chicken thighs to string, and tie them off onto the pier. Then it’s a waiting game! When we feel tugs, we pull them up and use a long net to try to catch them. It’s really exciting when you do! The best part is the crab fest back at the house. Such a fun afternoon activity.
7. Other things to do (but not too much you forget about the beach). There seems to be just enough stuff to do in the afternoons, but not enough that you end up not going to the beach everyday (because that’s the whole point!). Our favorite non-beach activities are Wright Brothers Monument, biking to the Lighthouse, Whalehead and historic Corolla town, crabbing, biking to the library + ice cream, shopping (WINGS for all the beach stuff + toys), go karts and mini golf, karaoke, and the the little movie theatre if it’s raining.
8. Historic Currituck Beach Lighthouse and Whalehead. There’s a beautiful area just a mile or so from where we usually stay with historic buildings like the 1920s restored mansion, Whalehead, and the Currituck Lighthouse. It’s a beautiful area right on the sound to bike and walk around. Often there are events there too like outdoor concerts, and puppet shows mid week. Next to this area is a really interesting historic neighborhood to bike around as well and explore.
9. Biking. This might be my favorite non-beach activity. Most of the homes have bikes you can use, and you can also rent things like kid trailers and kid bikes around town. We love biking in the morning to the Corolla bakery, or a sunset ride after dinner to the Lighthouse and ice cream cones. It just makes me so happy to be out in the humid summer on a bike ride with the family.
10. Wild Horses. This area of North Carolina is known for their wild horses on the beach, specifically the wild Colonial Spanish Mustangs. There’s getting pushed further and further north, so you now you have to go on a 4 x 4 driving tour to see them, but I remember the days of them roaming more freely amongst the dunes. There’s even a Wild Horses Museum in the historic Corolla neighborhood (next to a great bbq place FYI).
11. BONUS: Easy routines, chill days. The best part of beach vacations are the simple routine of each day. Beach in the morning, pool, lunch. Quiet time with a movie or show during baby naps. An afternoon swim, dinner, beach walks/swimming at night. Most other vacations involve much more travel and complicated itineraries. This one feels like a true vacation.
Where’s your favorite spot to vacation? See our collection of best family vacation ideas right here.
Thanks to Alaska Airlines for sponsoring this post.
PS Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone affected by the hurricane in the beautiful Carolinas. Donate to Hurricane Florence relief right here
I live in North Carolina and I for one appreciate the timing of this article. We’re all waiting to hear more about the massive impact the Carolina coasts will/are/have suffered, and it’s nice that people are posting about WHY the coast is so important. Thank you for this article and the sunny pictures that will remind us of better days.
Thanks Stephanie. Thinking of your communities, hope you’re safe
I’m sure you scheduled this a while ago, but it’s a bit off seeing a post about North Carolina’s outer banks when the area’s currently evacuated because of hurricane Florence, and people are likely to lose their homes in the coming days. Maybe not the best time to publish this?
I’m not sure why it’s inappropriate to encourage tourism to one of my favorite spots. I did mention the hurricane and the link to donate to relief.
I appreciate seeing and reading this article! I’m in NC awaiting the damage to result from Florence and it’s nice to read about someone who has come a great distance to enjoy the beaches my family and I have been going to since my husband was a child and where we have been taking our kids to (oldest just turned 20). This natural disaster should not deter others reading about the beaches of NC!
Thanks, Jamie! Hope you’re safe over there
Seeing this post makes me wish summer wasn’t ending! Now I’ll have to wait a whole year before I hit the beaches!
Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog
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