Ultimate OBX Family Vacation
by Jessie S.
The Outer Banks is a place where kids, teens, couples, friends, and entire families can get away from the hustle and bustle. Whether you’ve visited a dozen times or are considering a new travel spot, the Outer Banks is guaranteed to help your family make hundreds of new memories that you’ll remember for years to come. From diving into history and going on a shopping spree to eating delicious food and spending lazy days relaxing, the Outer Banks has something for everyone. However, with so many different activities to choose from, it can be hard to know where to start. If you plan on exploring everything the Outer Banks has to offer in a single week trip, here is our guide to the Ultimate OBX Family Vacation.
Day One: Take the Family on a Wild Horse Tour
You may have already heard of this activity but if not, it is one you don’t want to miss! Very few places in the country are as fortunate enough to have such fascinating ties to our nation’s history as we do and part of that history includes the Wild Horses of Corolla! These horses, known as Banker Mustangs, originally were brought over to the “New World” on Spanish ships during early explorations. The current population is believed to be descended from those breeds that never returned to Spain and instead made a new home here. The horses today roam the beaches of Corolla and the 4x4 Carova Beach area eating sea oats and other native vegetation. Although they appear docile, the wild horses are exactly that – wild – meaning they are unpredictable and potentially dangerous. However, observed from a safe distance, they are beautiful and majestic creatures that deserve the utmost human respect. To protect yourself and the horses, be sure to maintain a distance of at least 50 feet at all times (per county ordinance) and never feed a wild horse fruits, vegetables, or other snacks that you may feed domesticated breeds. Wild horses have a very particular digestive system that cannot process these foods properly which could lead to conditions that could be fatal for the horses.
The best way to ensure you are viewing the horses from a safe distance is to take a wild horse tour with a professional tour guide. A guide who is familiar with the horses can identify behaviors, point out different horses and foals and even provide a more extensive history and answer questions about the mustangs. We recommend Bob’s Wild Horse Tours of Corolla! Their guides will take you on an open safari-style tour so you can see these amazing animals for yourself! As a bonus, Seaside Vacations guests are eligible for discounts on their horse tour through Club Seaside!
Day Two: Road Trip to Ocracoke Island
The adventure to Ocracoke Island will take a full day but is sure to be an exciting and fun one for the whole family! After all, who wouldn’t want to explore the same grounds once frequented by the most notorious pirate Blackbeard himself? Head down NC-12 south fairly early in the morning until you reach Hatteras Inlet. The drive will take over an hour depending on the location of your rental home but it’s a beautiful drive that will let you see the towns of Rodanthe, Waves, Salvo, Avon, Buxton, Frisco and Hatteras (which means plenty of opportunities for shopping on the way home later that evening)! From here, you will need to board a NC ferry from Hatteras to Ocracoke. During the summer, ferries depart pretty often (2019 Ferry Schedule), are free to ride and the trip takes about 60 minutes. This is a great chance to get out of the car, stretch your legs, and breathe in the salt air. Plus, kids will love bird watching, looking for dolphins, and just being on the water as the ferry crosses the inlet.
Once you arrive, continue on NC-12 for about 15-20 minutes depending on traffic and you’ll eventually reach Ocracoke Island Village! From there, drive to the Ocracoke Island Visitor Center and stop by to learn about the history of the island. Consider parking for the day and renting a golf cart so you can really tour the island properly (the village itself is small enough to explore on foot if you prefer). Stop by famous landmarks like the Ocracoke Island Lighthouse, the British Cemetery and the Blackbeard exhibit at Teach’s Hole. While you’re driving through the town, you'll also enjoy local shopping at places like the Village Craftsmen, the Island Ragpicker, and Mermaid’s Folly.
One of the best things to do while on Ocracoke Island is to enjoy a delicious meal of fresh, local seafood! Howard’s Pub & Raw Bar has been a popular destination for locals and tourists alike since 1991. Dajio is another great seafood joint celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2019 and serves up unique, made-from-scratch dishes. On a hot summer day, you should also visit The Slushy Stand for ice cream, sundaes, milkshakes, floats, smoothies, or a classic syrup slushy.
Day Three: Go Surf Fishing or Try a New Water Sport
One of the characteristics of the Outer Banks that makes it unique is the 100+ miles of ocean and sound coastline creating the perfect destination for anglers and water sports athletes. Fishing is relaxing and thrilling all at the same time and surf fishing (fishing right from the shoreline) is an experience that many people only get to experience when they are on vacation on the coast. If you don’t have the equipment, you can always rent rods, reels, and other items from a local tackle shop. Preparing for surf fishing is really as easy as packing your bait, gear and some light refreshments depending on how long you’re going to be on the beach. Then, head to a good spot (away from swimmers) and cast out for the day! Keep in mind that surf fishing requires a temporary or annual NC Coastal Fishing License which you can purchase online or at a local tackle shop. There may also be size requirements for any fish you plan to keep. NC Marine Fisheries has the latest coastal recreational fishing regulations.There’s an old saying that goes, “A bad day of fishing is better than a good day at work,” so as long as you live by that saying, you’ll have a great time even if you don’t catch anything!
If an adventurous wind or water sport is more your speed, the Outer Banks is perfect for everything from kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding and parasailing to surfing, kiteboarding, and windsurfing. If none of those sound enjoyable, those are only a few of the many wind and water sports you have the option of trying here on the Outer Banks. Local companies like Kitty Hawk Kites offer private and group lessons or workshops for beginners. If you already know what you're doing or if you prefer to give it a go yoruself, you can also rent the equipment so you don't have to haul equipment with to your vacation rental! Spending the day on the water is the perfect way to get the whole family outside trying something new. Seaside Vacations guests may even be eligible for discounts on some Kitty Hawk Kites lessons and rental equipment through Club Seaside!
Day Four: Learn About the History of Flight
A visit to the Outer Banks isn’t complete without experiencing the Wright Brothers Memorial. This landmark combines elements of history with interactive fun making it a must-see for both first-time visitors and repeat vacationers. Once upon a time in the late 1800s, the concept of taking transportation to the air seemed like a pipe dream to most of the world but to inventors like Wilbur and Orville Wright, it was just another exciting mechanical challenge to figure out. The Wright brothers were both highly intelligent and developed a love of understanding how things worked from a very early age which eventually led them to owning a bicycle repair shop in Ohio. They had also been long-time fans of the work done by aeronautic engineers and researchers.
Eventually, Wilbur and Orville decided to explore this particular field on their own and set their sights on Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hills to test their inventions. On December 17, 1903, Wilbur launched their heavier than air Wright Flyer I in Kill Devil Hills for a flight that lasted 59 seconds and traveled a length of 852 feet. This incredible flight marked an aviation achievement that, although not initially recognized in the United States, would go on to become known as the first successful powered flight earning the Wright brothers a well-deserved place in our country’s aviation history.
Today, the location of the successful 1903 flight is a 428-acre national park that includes a museum, replicas of their living quarters, hangar and various flying machines, as well as the well-recognized Wright Brothers Memorial made of over 2,000 tons of gravel, 800 tons of sand and 1,200 tons of granite. Recent renovations to the Visitor's Center were completed in 2018 adding new interactive exhibits and artifacts to help teach visitors how Wilbur and Orville’s innovations inspired modern aviation.
Day Five: Explore Roanoke Island
The local attractions and historic sites on Roanoke Island are so plentiful that you’ll definitely want to reserve a full day to explore the island! Start with a visit to Roanoke Island Festival Park – a fun, interactive and family-friendly attraction that will teach you all about life in 1585 in the first English settlement. The kids will love practicing activities like woodworking and basket weaving as they try on 16th-century inspired armor, explore classic longhouses, learn about the Coastal Algonquian tribe and play Elizabethan-era games. A trip on site isn’t complete without walking through the indoor museum or boarding the Elizabeth II – a representation of one of the seven English ships that brought settlers over during the Roanoke Voyage of 1585! As a bonus, Seaside Vacations guests are eligible for a complimentary ticket to the park through Club Seaside!
After a good history lesson, it’s time to learn more about the local ecology of the Outer Banks by visiting the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island and the Elizabethan Gardens. Everyone will love wandering through the exhibits at the aquarium including the Wild Wetlands exhibit featuring river otters and alligators, the Graveyard of the Atlantic exhibit featuring sharks and other marine wildlife, and of course, the Sea Turtle Assistance and Rehabilitation (STAR) Center exhibit where visitors can learn about the work done to rescue, protect and rehabilitate sea turtles. The nearby Elizabethan Gardens is a living memorial to Sir Walter Raleigh’s lost colonists with beautiful, elaborate garden grounds, classic sculptures and dozens of species of flowers, trees and herbs. Plus, it is a great place for photographs, leisurely strolls and bird watching!
While exploring Roanoke Island, don’t forget to stop for lunch or dinner! Try Darrell’s Seafood Restaurant in Manteo, a family-style seafood restaurant locally owned and operated since 1960. From fresh seafood and salads to BBQ and fried chicken, Darrell’s even offers a menu for kids 10 & under. If you prefer sandwiches, head to downtown Manteo and stop by Poor Richard’s Sandwich Shop. A local favorite since 1984, Poor Richard’s offers everything from deli sandwiches, soups and subs to signature salads, burgers, and hot dogs. While you’re there, enjoy walking around some of the local shops downtown or even visiting the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse. For a fine dining experience with a view of the Roanoke Sound, Stripers Bar and Grille serves up tasty steamed and fried seafood as well as options like alfredo pasta, meatloaf and chicken enchiladas.
As the evening draws to an end, get your tickets ready to watch The Lost Colony – the renowned live theater performance about America’s greatest unsolved mystery at the Historic Waterside Theatre in Manteo. Visitors of all ages will love stepping back into history and immersing themselves in local legend as they learn about Virginia Dare and the other English settlers that infamously disappeared without a trace.
Day Six: "Sunrise, Sunburn, Sunset, Repeat"
As Luke Bryan’s famous summertime jam goes, we suggest you enjoy a little “sunrise, sunburn, sunset, repeat.” Okay, maybe not the sunburn part (you definitely need sunscreen when you’re here!) but you get the idea. Take day six to relax and enjoy the natural beauty of our pristine, gorgeous beaches. Even if waking up early isn’t your forte, trust us when we say watching the sunrise over the Atlantic is well worth setting that alarm.
After being amazed by the spectacular view, reward yourself with a scrumptious breakfast at Stack’em High Pancakes & So Forth in Kill Devil Hills. A locally owned and operated establishment since the late 80s, Stack’em High serves everything from pancakes, waffles and French toast to omelettes, biscuits and sausage gravy. Once you’re full for a few hours, head back to the beach for a day of relaxing and fun in the sun. Don’t forget to grab your sunblock, umbrellas, beach towels, a good book, toys for the kids, and plenty of water!
After a long day of soaking up the sun, we understand you aren’t going to feel like cooking dinner. Maybe you even have to start packing and you don’t have time to go out and wait for a table. That’s totally fine! Instead, let a restaurant dinner come to you. That’s right – you can have a real Outer Banks-style clambake right in your own beach rental thanks to Clambake OBX and you won’t even have to lift a finger! A professional chef will come prepare the food, set it up, and clean up afterwards! All you have to do is get your own drinks, plates, silverware, and bring an appetite! Choose from classic clambakes with crab legs, clams and mussels, add succulent lobster tail, or even choose non-seafood options for those in the family who prefer turf over surf. As a bonus, Seaside Vacations guests are eligible for discounts on clambakes through Club Seaside!
To conclude your relaxing day, head back outside to one of the many sound accesses along the coast, sit back, and watch the sun set over the water. There’s nothing quite as beautiful and peaceful and it’s the perfect way to end your final full day on the Outer Banks.
Day Seven: Visit & Climb Bodie Island Lighthouse
We know that day seven usually means check-out day but it doesn’t have to be a wasted day of Outer Banks exploration! If you have a flexible travel schedule, consider stopping by the Bodie Island Lighthouse on the way out of town. Not only is the perfect place to get some last-minute vacation photos but you can climb to the top for truly spectacular 360-degree views of the ocean, sound, and surrounding marshes. Plus, how long you spend visiting is totally up to you meaning it’s an easy activity for travel day.
Of course, after the exertion of climbing, you should probably stop for lunch! Miller’s Waterfront Restaurant is just a few minutes from the lighthouse and has been locally owned and operated since 1982. Ideally located for those heading out on 64 W or heading north on 168, Miller’s offers a lovely waterfront view and is a great place to stop for a quick bite before heading home. Plus, it's your last chance to enjoy some fresh, local seafood!
So what are you waiting for? Browse our selection of awesome vacation rentals by clicking on the button below and start your Ultimate OBX Family Vacation!
Jessie has been coming to the Outer Banks since she was just 5 years old. She loved it here so much that she finally relocated in 2018. Now her mission is to show the world that the Outer Banks is an incredible place that everyone should experience. When she isn't working, you can find Jessie hanging out with her friends, chilling at home with her awesome cat, Yoji, or discovering a new Outer Banks adventure.