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11 Jul 2022
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Travel Tips

The Outer Banks for First-Time Visitors

Congratulations! You finally booked your dream Outer Banks vacation with Seaside Vacations. Beautiful sunrises, warm sand, and exciting adventures await you once you arrive. The Outer Banks is a unique place, home to many different types of people, wildlife, and weather. A trip to the Outer Banks comes with its own fun quirks and idiosyncrasies that make the Outer Banks a special place like no other. 

Now that you’re on your way here, what should you expect? Keep reading for more.

The Outer Banks: A Short History

The Outer Banks has an exciting and transformational history since the first English settlers arrived on Roanoke Island in 1587. This group of settlers disappeared after their governor left on a supply run to England, thus earning them the nickname the “Lost Colony.” Fast forward a hundred years, and the banks and shifting sands created the perfect haven for pirates and smugglers, including the infamous Blackbeard who spent much of his time on Ocracoke. As the community grew, fishing and boating became the foundation of Outer Banks society.

After the Great Depression, the building of highways under the New Deal and the building of the Herbert Bonner Bridge (now the new Marc Basnight Bridge) opened the way for growth and expansion on the Outer Banks as people saw the joy of vacationing on our pristine beaches and taking advantage of the abundant wildlife and waterways on the Banks. Progressing technology and innovation connecting the banks to the rest of the country eventually turned it into the hot-spot tourist destination that it is today!

Outer Banks Pests & Insects

In addition to beautiful birds and sea life, many different types of bugs and pests call the Outer Banks home. Spiders, mosquitoes, and the unfortunate palmetto bug can sometimes make it into and around your home while you’re on vacation. We maintain a strict cleaning schedule and conduct regular pest-control sprayings, but sometimes bugs and pests come with living near so much water. Here are some of the most common ones that you can expect to see during your stay:

Midges:  Also called “fuzzy bills” or “no see-ums,” midges are tiny flying insects that can be annoying, but are not harmful. They actually provide a food source for much of the wildlife on the Outer Banks and while pest control efforts can temporarily control midges and the spiders that feed on them, they are a natural part of the Outer Banks ecosystem.

Spiders:  And because these midges are just about everywhere on the Outer Banks and they are essentially impossible to exterminate, they also attract the other bugs that like to feed on them, especially spiders. Spiders of all types like to feed on these swarms of midges that are often attracted by outdoor lights. It’s important to keep in mind that bugs like spiders and midges were here on the Outer Banks long before we were. And so, while we at Seaside Vacations are committed to effective pest control, extermination, and routine cleaning efforts, spiders and spider webs can and will appear on a regular basis. This does not mean that your home was cleaned improperly. It simply means that your home is part of the valuable Outer Banks ecosystem that is home to both midges and the insects and arachnids that feed on them. If you do see midges and/or spiders in and around your home during your stay, we advise the use of a broom or hose to remove them. If you start finding them inside your home, a vacuum with a hose extension may work best.

Palmetto Bugs:  These large water bugs, or “palmetto bugs,” are dark brown winged insects that thrive in humid, dark environments. Seaside Vacations regularly sprays our homes, but sometimes seeing these pests is inevitable. For tips on preventing a large number of palmetto bugs, check out our guide here.

Mosquitos: Since the Outer Banks are small stretches of narrow islands with marshy conditions from the sound on one side, mosquitoes can be a problem. Luckily, Dare County has mosquito trucks that perform routine, drive-by sprayings. This is especially useful in the evenings and after it has rained. These trucks put a serious dent in, what would be, a far worse mosquito problem on the Outer Banks. Mosquitoes are at their worst in warmer temperatures when there is a lot of standing water. This makes Spring and Fall the worst seasons for mosquito breeding on the Outer Banks.

Ants: If you encounter ants in your home, please let us know. We have procedures in place to remedy ant resurgences. This may include sending a contracted pest control company or having one of our techs come out and spray the home, pending on how frequent the sightings are. Fire ants are no different from most other living creatures -- to survive, they need water and food. Our preventative tips for what you can do are based on controlling food and water remnants on the property.

Things to See

Wright Brothers Memorial
Located in Kill Devil Hills, the Wright Brothers National Memorial recognizes the accomplishments of Wilbur and Orville Wright who are credited with flying the first successful airplane here in December 1903. Find out more: Experience the Wright Brothers Memorial

Jockey’s Ridge
For visitors to the Outer Banks who have traveled along Highway 158 through Nags Head, Jockey’s Ridge—the massive mound of sand that sits along the sound side of the island—is virtually impossible to miss. Towering 100 feet tall and extending across an area of more than 420 acres, Jockey’s Ridge State Park has been a popular destination for tourists and Outer Banks locals for decades. Find out more: Jockey’s Ridge State Park.

The Outer Banks is home to five different lighthouses, each of them beautiful and unique in its own way. Find out more: The 5 Lighthouses of the Outer Banks

Outer Banks Wild Horses
One of the pulls of the Outer Banks is the abundance of wildlife that call this area home. From sea turtles and dolphins to sharks, crabs, and birds, there are many different kinds of animals that you will run into on your vacation. One of the most fascinating are the Outer Banks Wild Horses. Find out more about them and how to visit them here: Outer Banks Wild Horses.

Winged Horse Statues
Why not go on a search to see how many of the Winged Horses statues you can find during your stay? These beautiful pieces of art were erected during the 2003 Centennial of Flight celebration commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers’ first flight in Kill Devil Hills. 99 horses were installed during the Winged Horse Extravaganza and many of them are still standing outside of shops, schools, restaurants, and many different other places on the Outer Banks. The statues are shaped like horses with wings and are decorated in elaborate styles, with everything from lighthouses to glitter adorning these beautiful fixtures. There’s no official record of which horses are still standing and where they are located, but it’s hard to miss these fun, vibrant art pieces up and down the island. Take the family out and try to find as many as you can!

The Lost Colony
It's back! The 84th year of Roanoke Island Historical Association's production of The Lost Colony is hitting the stage on May 27th, 2022. This play was first staged in 1937 and is the nation's longest-running outdoor symphonic drama. Filled with intense battles, beautiful Indian dances, and tears of both joy and sadness, this production tells the story of 117 English men, women, and children from our history.

Things to Do

NC Aquarium Roanoke Island
Few educational places out there excite both kids and adults the way that aquariums do. The concept and design of aquariums have come a long way in the era of environmental preservation and for those that exist for the purpose of research, education, and conservation, they can be a great resource to the local ecology. The North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island celebrates the unique geography and diverse ecosystem of the Outer Banks and is a great place to spend the afternoon!

Corolla Wild Horse Tours
No visit to the Outer Banks is complete without getting a first-hand view of one of our most precious treasures - the Corolla Wild Horses. Bob's Wild Horse Tours, owned and operated by local resident Bob White, began in 1996 when his father gave some visitors a tour of the 4WD beach area. Today, Bob's Wild Horse Tours uses open-air safari trucks designed to give riders great views of the beach and of course - the horses!

Visit an Outer Banks Pier
The Outer Banks has a wide variety of piers that are open to the public (one exception) that are perfect for fishing, walking, and enjoying amazing views right over the Atlantic ocean. Some OBX piers even have special activities like arcades and aquariums. Be sure to check out our Fishing Fanatics Outer Banks Trip Planner to learn how to make the most of your fishing time. Find out more: Outer Banks Piers.

Go Surfing
When you’re looking for breaking waves on the Outer Banks, it’s not always as simple as grabbing your board and heading east until you hit the sand. Yes, the OBX is famous for some of the best breaks on the east coast. However, they’re not always as easy to locate as those off the Pacific. We asked some true OBX locals some of their go-tos for frequent swells. Graciously, they decided to divulge some of their favorite hot spots in our Best Surf Spots on the OBX Guide.

In addition to going to the beach, taking a hang gliding adventure, or enjoying all the fun and history that the Outer Banks has to offer, you’ll also find that the Outer Banks has a wide variety of shops and boutiques to pique your interest and find something for everyone in your family to love. Find out more in our Outer Banks Shopping Guide.

Diving on the Beaches
One of the best things about visiting the Outer Banks is the ability to drive your Off-Road Vehicle (ORV) directly on the beach in many places. However, it’s important to keep in mind that driving on the sand is very different from driving on payment. There are many important things to know and prepare for before you decide to take your 4-Wheel Drive (4WD) vehicle off the road and onto the beach. See our Driving on the Beaches of the Outer Banks Guide.

Visit Outer Banks Breweries and Beer Gardens
To be a thin stretch of barrier islands, the Outer Banks certainly isn’t short on fun places to try tasty craft beers. Breweries on the OBX are not your run-of-the-mill bars with standard brews. The establishments in the area try to offer more of an eclectic selection and scene. Most even offer local options that you’ll be hard-pressed to find anywhere else. Check them out here.

Visit an Art Gallery
The Outer Banks is known for its local "flavor" - fresh seafood, unique shopping, and southern charm. But did you know that we've also got tons of local art galleries and studios? Here you'll find a wide variety of art created by local and regional artists. From paintings, photography, and pottery to jewelry, glass, wood, ceramics, fibers, candles, and more, the art scene on the Outer Banks is a plethora of local talent. Check out our Art Aficionado Outer Banks Trips Planner for more information.

Travel Tips

Check-In/Check-Out Times
Check-in starts at 5:00 p.m. on your date of arrival. For an additional $125 fee (plus tax), guests may check in at 2:00 p.m. as homes become available.
Check-out is at 9:00 a.m. on your day of departure. The cleaning crew arrives at the home at 9:00 a.m.; your prompt departure is appreciated.
For more information, see our Rental Policies.

What to Bring
Your vacation rental home features all the comforts of home, plus a few upgrades! Just remember that there are some things you should be sure to bring along with you, since you may not find them in your vacation rental home, like bath soap, toiletries, tissues, and toilet paper. 

For your convenience, linens and towels are provided. We also provide an amenity starter kit so that you have the basics upon your arrival. Please keep in mind that you may need to replenish during your stay and will need to bring personal items, additional soaps, and paper products. The starter kit includes:

  • Two rolls of toilet paper
  • A roll of paper towel 
  • A kitchen trash can liner 
  • A sponge 
  • A dishwasher detergent packet

See our Vacation Planning: Things to Bring on your Outer Banks Vacation Guide for more. 

Grocery Stores
When coming to the Outer Banks for vacation, you want to spend your time relaxing, hanging out on the beach, and enjoying all of the adventures that the Outer Banks has to offer, not worrying about grocery shopping. Fortunately, the Outer Banks is home to many chain grocery stores, as well as local markets, where you can easily find everything you need during your stay. Check out our list here.

If this is your first time visiting the Outer Banks, it’s important to keep in mind that for a relatively small and rural area, the Outer Banks has a large amount of traffic, especially during Saturday and Sunday check-in days during the summer months and holidays. To ensure that your vacation travel remains a positive experience, it helps to have some tips and tricks to help you prepare for your trip onto the island. Check out our Outer Banks Traffic Guide.

Beach Access Locations
The local towns on the Outer Banks strive to make beach accesses convenient and available to its residents and visitors. It isn’t uncommon to see a community path or walkway to the ocean that is available for public use and these are typically located in convenient places for foot access by semi-oceanfront and oceanside rentals. Check out our condensed list of beach accesses here.

Everyone loves the appeal of a bonfire on a cool summer night, especially on the beach. However, here on the Outer Banks, there are some rules regarding when and where you can have bonfires on the beach. See these laws by town here.

Hurricane season lasts from June 1st until November 30th each year. However, it’s important to be aware of storms that can also form before or after this traditional season. In the event of a voluntary or mandatory evacuation, there are two routes off the island: Hwy 148 and Hwy 64 West. Each of these routes is marked with blue hurricane signs. 

For more tips and information on hurricane preparedness and evacuation, please see our Outer Banks Hurricane Preparedness Guide. Under NC law, Seaside Vacations will not issue refunds in the event there is an evacuation due to a tropical system/hurricane. Please consider purchasing Travel Insurance.

What is Travel Insurance?  What would you do if you had paid a few thousand dollars for a vacation rental and then had a sudden emergency come up that prevented you from going on your trip? Now, not only are you dealing with the emergency but you’re also out thousands of dollars because you are legally liable to uphold the terms within your rental agreement. That’s a reality that some people face but it doesn’t have to be. Travel insurance is exactly that—insurance on the vacation you have purchased is designed to protect vacationers from losing out on the money they invested in their trip. Only it provides coverage for so much more than just a trip cancellation. It also covers medical expenses and belongings while traveling. When renting a Seaside Vacations home, visitors can purchase travel insurance through Red Sky - Sun Trip Preserver

Now go enjoy your amazing Outer Banks vacation!


About the Author: Lauren is the author of two books and a travel enthusiast. She grew up on the Outer Banks and only left for a few years to get her degree at UNC-Chapel Hill and complete a tour in the Coast Guard before making her way back to the beach in 2017. The only thing Lauren loves more than writing is sharing her love of the Outer Banks and its rich history with visitors and locals alike. When she isn’t writing for the Seaside Vacations Travel Blog, Lauren can usually be found with a book and cup of tea in hand, planning her next travel adventure and trying to figure out what happened to the Lost Colony.