The Outer Banks are located at the northeast tip of North Carolina
, right at the Virginia
border. They are a chain of barrier islands
stretching over 200 km from the secluded beach
es and mansion
s of Carova
, to the equally off-the-beaten-path Ocracoke
and Portsmouth Island
There are four lighthouse
s scattered throughout the Outer Banks - Currituck
Light, the Bodie Island
lighthouse, Cape Hatteras
lighthouse, and Ocracoke lighthouse - as this has historically been a popular region
s and similar activities. For this reason, the region has been known as the "Graveyard of the Atlantic." It is also home to Kitty Hawk
), where the Wright Brothers
made their first, rather brief, flight. Further to the south, near the present-day town of Manteo
, is the site of one of the longer-lived mysteries of the colonial period
: the lost colony of Roanoke Island
The place name
s themselves are an interesting bit of history
. Nags Head, for example, comes from the use of the Outer Banks as a pirate outpost
. Pirates would hang a lantern
around the necks of horses (nag
s) to simulate the appearance of a lighthouse, so that ships' navigator
s would see it and run aground
. Legend has it that another similarly picturesque place name, Kill Devil Hills
, is derived from the local rum
made there in the early colonial times. It was rumoured to be so strong that it would "kill the Devil
These days, the Outer Banks is one of the nicer tourist
destinations on the eastern seaboard
. Unlike some of the other popular destinations on the southern Atlantic
coast, such as Myrtle Beach
, which has all the charm of a parking garage
and all the taste of a Pauly Shore
movie, the Outer Banks is a chain of small towns growing more and more sparsely populated as one moves southward.
You won't find a Planet Hollywood
or a Hard Rock Café
there. In fact, one of the more endearing features of the Outer Banks is the general dearth
of chain store
s and restaurants. While there is a K-Mart
, a Seamark
, as well as two Food Lion
s, most of the business
es there are small and locally owned.
Even more endearing is the fact that the Outer Banks is over 200 km of beach. Since the islands are such narrow strips of land, you are essentially always around 5 minutes away from a public beach access
. Many of the beaches in the northern towns of Duck
, Kitty Hawk, and Nags Head
can be highly crowded during the summer, but about 30 minutes south of the main spots is Coquina Beach
, part of the Hatteras National Seashore
. Its slightly remote location ensures that it is rarely as packed as the northern beaches. In addition, the sand is gloriously fine, and there is plenty of pelican
activity for those who enjoy watching birds with large, pouch
During the summer, the hotels are often booked solid; however, there is no shortage of houses for rent (if you book sufficiently in advance). Some of the better areas for rentals include Old Nags Head Cove
, with its network of canal
s, which allow you to take a kayak out on the Sound
from your own backyard, Duck, a slightly upscale area in the north with a wide variety of good restaurants and shopping, and Nags Head proper.
There are two main roads in the Outer Banks, known commonly as the Bypass
Highway) and the Beach Road
Trail). These roads have milepost
s along them, which serve as the most common way of indicating the location of something (e.g. "MP 14 Kill Devil Hills
). Just about every restaurant, store, or other place to go is located on these roads.
This might seem convenient; however, it isn't. Finding a decent place to eat in the Outer Banks is a hit and miss
s, such as the Insider's Guide to the Outer Banks
, are of at best very limited utility
. For one thing, these books constantly overvalue the expensive places, particularly those owned by "pillars of the community
." Often, the only useful indicator of the quality of a restaurant
's food in these books is the emphasis of the write-up
. For example, if the guidebook goes on for three paragraphs about the restaurant
's architectural and ownership history ("The building was once used as a station by the U.S. Life Saving Service
...."), stick to beverage
s. Often, it is utterly impossible to fathom
why a particular restaurant was included or excluded from the book. For example, Nags Head's New York Pizza Pub
, which has won several awards, including "best pizza
," inexplicably disappeared from the Insider's Guide
This can lead to a great deal of frustration. It also puts a lot of pressure on diners. There is a desire, rooted in cognitive dissonance
, to sincerely believe that the choice one has made is the best one, resulting in awkward restaurant moments such as this:
A: (tentatively) So, this place turned out to be pretty good after all.
B: (stiff upper lip) Yeah.
The party continues chewing, uneasily. A minute passes.
B: This steak is tough.
C: These mashed potatoes are runny.
A: Now that you mention it, this pasta is overcooked...you know...this place kinda sucks.
General agreement around the table.
Here are some general guideline
s to avoid this unfortunate turn of events
1.Stick with mid-range restaurants. In my experience, the expensive places on the Outer Banks generally aren't worth the gamble. The best places I've found there are relatively inexpensive.
2.Throw out your guidebook, or at least tear out the restaurants section. Apart from the utterly useless and irredeemable restaurants section, the Insider's Guide has had some good ideas. The boat rides it recommends, for example, have all been worthwhile, as have the recommended beaches. It's only once they get into the area of food that they start having trouble.
3. Ask locals for recommendations. This method has not failed me yet. The guidebooks most likely include the places that have difficulty getting local business and are dependent on tourists for revenue. People who live there will know where to go.