NC Road Trips · Uncategorized

Against the Grain – A Fall Vacation to the Outer Banks

I know Fall is the perfect season for spectacular mountain views of trees at the peak of color. It’s also a wonderful time to visit the Outer Banks along the North Carolina coast to take in the colorful vistas of cool blues and warm sands.

I’m prone to go against the grain, and tend to plan my visits to the beach during the Fall (and early Spring), saving the cooler NC mountains for a break from the heat of Summer. It’s a fairly short and scenic three and a half hour drive from RTP to Nags Head. Plus, the affordable off-season rental rates make an extended stay at the beach even more enticing. There are many appealing locations and activities along the Outer Banks, and I find centrally located Nags Head has become my OBX activity hub.

Each morning I walked my dog along the beach, planning the day’s agenda which typically started with a visit to Morning View Coffee House & Roastery. Fair Trade and organic coffee beans are roasted on site in the surf-themed and dog-friendly shop. I knew I had wandered into a perfect coffee spot when I overheard one local tell a visitor that Morning View Coffee served the best coffee on the island, in his opinion.

Our first day included a visit to the NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island (a great activity for the kids) and Full Moon Brewery & Cafe in Manteo (a fun activity for the grown ups). Manteo is a lovely city on adjacent Roanoke Island and just a short drive over the bridge from Nags Head. Attractions in and around Manteo include a pedestrian-friendly waterfront shopping area, dining, and art galleries, as well as Festival Park featuring the replica ship Elizabeth II. On other parts of Roanoke Island visitors can enjoy the living history Island Farm, the impeccably manicured Elizabethan Gardens & historic Fort Raleigh.

The next day’s activities included a northward drive on Highway 12 to Duck and Corolla, beginning with breakfast at Duck Donuts. The donuts are made fresh, to order for each customer. You can watch the warm donuts drop out of the fryer, then follow their sweet journey as they are sprinkled with sugar, or glazed, or iced and topped with sprinkles. I tried the cinnamon sugar (my favorite, hands down), a maple iced and a decadent dark chocolate iced Duck Donut.

Feeling the need to work off that donut indulgence, my next visit of the day was the original Stair Master workout at Currituck Beach Lighthouse in Corolla. 214 spiraling steps up to a fantastic view of the sound, ocean and village below. No visit to the town of Duck would be complete (in my opinion) without dining at The Blue Point, a favorite restaurant situated on the sound, the perfect location to dine with a sunset view. I had the Carolina shrimp & Tillamook cheddar grits with country ham and red eye gravy and I did not think to take a picture before I cleaned my bowl. You’ll just have to try them for yourself.

The following day, we kept it “local” and explored Nags Head, paying a visit to Jennette’s Pier, a popular spot for fishing. The pier was rebuilt in 2011 and now includes three wind turbines that help with the facility’s electric needs. Additional “green” energy features of the pier include photo-voltaic cells that aid in powering the pier lights at night, and a rainwater cistern to help with water conservation. A walk down the pier is free (though a $2.00 donation will be accepted) and provides an excellent view of the beach and the deep blue ocean, as far as the eye can see. If the close proximity to fish leaves you hankering for a seafood lunch, I can recommend a visit (and the fish tacos) to Tortugas Lie, just five miles up the beach road from the pier.

Walking was a popular activity during our vacation, especially in the direction of Surfin’ Spoon Frozen Yogurt Bar, just a short walk on the “beach road” from our rental house in Nags Head. The decor at Surfin’ Spoon reflects the passion for many things “beach” of local owners, Jesse & Whitney Hines. The yogurt bar is self-serve and features several flavors and topping options. You may choose to dine at the bar, or take a seat on a bench in front of the TV and chill out watching surf movies.

Of course, dogs like treats too and we hit the dog treat mother lode during our visit to Salty Paws Biscuits in Nags Head, a shop that specializes in homemade biscuits in a variety of flavors, for dogs of any size.

As the week wound down, I decided to head towards the Currituck County mainland, making a quick 30 minute drive along Highway 158 to The Cotton Gin and Sanctuary Vineyards in Jarvisburg. The Cotton Gin is a large yet cozy-feeling shop, selling clothing and accessories, as well as kitchen and gift items. I had fun browsing the Christmas displays on the upper level, then made my way to the lower level cellar for a free tasting of Sanctuary Vineyards wines. The Wright family owns both the store and the vineyards one can see from the parking areas at the Cotton Gin. Grape varieties grown at the vineyard include the native Muscadine as well as Syrah, Tempranillo, Viognier and Norton. A little something for everyone’s tastes.

Just a half mile from the vineyard is Weeping Radish Brewery and since it was lunch time, a visit for some brats and local brews seemed in order. Though not an IPA fan, the server recommended I try Weeping Radish’s IPA 25, made with NC grown hops, and I’m glad I took her recommendation. I ordered a selection of brats (my favorite being the Beer Brat), that came with house made sauerkraut fermented in red wine barrels from neighboring Sanctuary Vineyard, giving the kraut a deep brown color. Weeping Radish is North Carolina’s oldest micro brewery and is well known for their farm to fork practices, as evidenced by the friendly goat greeters near the brewery entrance. 🙂 If you’re interested, guided brewery tours are available on Wednesdays at 11:00 am, on a first come, first serve basis.

In hindsight, I have to think we were pretty lucky with the weather during our vacation, even if our last day turned rainy and a little windy in advance of Hurricane Sandy. We decided to “hunker down” for lunch that day at the “wind powered” Outer Banks Brewing Station in Kill Devil Hills. On sunny days, parents can enjoy a Lemongrass Wheat Ale or Irie Tropic Stout while the young ones play on the pirate ship play ground found in the brewery’s grassy backyard. Want to see more? Then set your DVRs to catch the Food Network show “Diners, Drive Ins & Dives” segment featuring Outer Banks Brewing Station on Nov. 5th at 10 pm.

We spent a glorious week feasting on sunrises, ocean scenery, sound side sunsets, local seafood and local brews while in Nags Head. Though currently some areas once again experience the challenges of recovering from storm destruction, other areas were spared major damage and will be open soon, ready to greet visitors.

Hurricane Sandy has devastated many coastal communities along the eastern seaboard beyond North Carolina. If you’re able and willing, a donation to the American Red Cross can help those impacted by the storm. Another way to help locally is to spend money at OBX businesses that may have been closed for days (and lost income) as a result of the storm’s aftermath. Give the Outer Banks a little while to regroup and repair, and in the meantime, plan that road trip for some quality beach time along the North Carolina coast.

Before your next trip to the Outer Banks, visit the visitors bureau website for sites to see, places to dine and area events, or follow them on Facebook and Twitter to stay current on the latest activities along our Outer Banks.


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