Updated May 2020.
Are North Carolina’s Outer Banks on your summer travel list this year? I was just there a few weeks ago for a quick girlfriend getaway, and we stayed in Corolla, on the north end of the thin island chain. I’d heard about the lighthouse at Hatteras, the history at Roanoke, and British Ocracoke. I was getting super excited about all of that, and then I mapped it–all those sites are hours away from Corolla! So I shifted gears to figure out what there is to do and see around Corolla. Turns out, there’s a lot! Here is my top 10 list of things to do, places to see, and tours to check out!
10. Try Out Duck Donuts
The original location may be just down the road in Duck, but you don’t have to leave Corolla to try these incredible, cakey donuts! Get any coating, topping, and drizzle you like from their “Duckzillion” options, or go with one of their seasonal or featured creations! They had me at Maple Bacon Donut. They also make them fresh on-site, after you order them. So you get them while they’re warm. Mmmmmmm.
More here: What to Eat in the OBX
9. Walk Around Historic Corolla Park
A visit to the Currituck Lighthouse (more on that below) will also give you opportunity to explore Historic Corolla Park, including the Whalehead House and Museum. It’s $7 to tour the museum, where you’ll learn more about Corolla’s rich history. This impressive 1920s home sits on 39 acres, so take your time to take it all in!
8. Take in a Sunrise or Sunset
You will have less competition for the sunrise, especially when the late spring and summer days dawn early. But sunsets are just as beautiful! While you’re in Corolla, make an effort to be on the beach for one or the other, at least once during your stay. It’s beautiful. In fact, this is one of my new favorite photos I’ve taken:
7. Visit Currituck Lighthouse
While Hatteras and the other lighthouses seem to be a little more well-known, I was quite impressed with the lovely Currituck Lighthouse! It’s all brick and unpainted, and it’s in a lovely green setting (which used to be sand!). You can also see the light keepers’ duplex, single-family home that is now the gift shop, and the outline of the fence that used to divide the property between the two families that lived there. It’s $10 to go up to the top, but walking around the grounds is free.
6. Walk or Run on the Beaches
OK, so you can walk or run on any beach. But the beaches in the Corolla (and probably most of the Outer Banks) are particularly flat, and the high water mark is particularly far into the beach at low tide, making for a perfect surface for walking or running–soft enough to be easy on your joints, firm enough that you’re not simply treading sand.
5. Make Friends with the Ghost Crabs
I kept thinking, “Those crabs are almost translucent. I can hardly see them against the sand until they start moving. They’re like little ghosts!” And then I looked them up… they’re ghost crabs! And they are super fast. They are fascinating to watch as they popup out of their holes, dash across the sand, and let themselves be washed out to sea! I could have watched them go about their little lives all days long!
4. Collect Seashells
I have explored an awful lot of beaches over the years, but nowhere else have I ever seen so many large and intact seashells! You’ll see every color from black to white to orange to purple, and every shape from scallop to oyster to crab and more! In the shoulder season you’ll see some any time of day, but in the busy season, be sure to get up early before the good ones are picked over!
Keep reading: What to Know Before You Visit the Outer Banks
3. Drive Down to Kill Devil Hills for the Wright Brothers Memorial
Yes, that’s Kill Devil Hills, not Kitty Hawk! When you arrive at the National Park, you’ll understand why they chose this location–it’s incredibly windy! You can participate in their kite flying program, visit the memorial, or play around on their replica of the original airplane! Their workshop and makeshift home are also available to see just how they lived and worked to pioneer the necessary technology. No computers in sight!
2. Wild Horse Tours
We did not have time for this one, but if you love horses, history, or unique tours, book this activity far in advance! There are wild Spanish horses that roam free just north of Corolla. How did they get there? A credible possibility is that there was a Spanish ship that wrecked offshore hundreds of years ago. The horses that survived the wreck swam here, and all the present-day horses are descendants of them. You can take Wild Horse Tours in open-air Hummers to see them up-close and personal.
This is really the reason people go to the Outer Banks. It’s like a different world than the mainland because the pace is slower, the breezes are sweeter, and sound of the waves is never far away. Sleep in, wake up early to have the beach to yourself, or bring a zillion books and devour them all in a week. Go to the Outer Banks to relax any way you want!
Are you ready for your own trip to Corolla on the Outer Banks? Tell me below! And check out all my all-American blog posts on my United States Page!
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