We lived in Kitty Hawk, NC for about two years, and you can’t do much better for a summer vacation spot. We’ve gone back every year since we left, and recently headed down there with my mom for three days to see old friends and re-explore our old haunts.
First thing’s first, we headed to the ocean. Kids don’t seem to mind too much that sand is one of the worst things in the world. They take to the beach like I take to folksy similes. On this day, the beach happened to be coated with small, harmless jellyfish called moon jellies. I immediately set Shiloh on a mission to collect as many as possible and put them in a bucket. And once she has her marching orders, nothing will divert her from the task. We collected all the clear, shiny circles from the immediate area and piled them into the big bucket. Then we played in the waves for a bit while more jellies washed up on shore. Then more scavenging. Then some “surfing”, then back to scavenging. In the meantime, Judah just splashed around in the bucket and dumped the occasional jelly out, then picked up all shiny shells and things he could find on the beach, before facing the waves on his own. These kids only have two speeds: ludicrous speed and asleep.
We met up with one of our family friends at one of our favorite hangouts, the Outer Banks Brewing Station. The food is great, but more importantly, the outdoor area is fantastic. They have a big, grassy area with a pirate ship playground for the kids to explore while you just relax or play cornhole or do whatever. It gets busy, but it’s still a great place. And of course, we dropped by to visit our old neighbors, and found out that the people who live in our old house are total mysterious recluses and everybody misses us. I loved that neighborhood.
Having had the privilege of being locals, we thought we might clue you in to some of our favorite things to do there, outside of the standard tourist attractions like the Wright Brothers memorial and Jockeys Ridge. We are outdoorsy people, so these activities are centered around nature.
- Bay Drive
When we lived there, we would go to Bay Drive in Kill Devil Hills all the time to catch the sunset and play in the much calmer, shallower, warmer waters of the sound. At the north end of Bay Drive is a small parking lot next to a public sound access area. We loved to set up on the tiny beach there and let the kids (and our dog) play in the shallow, wave-free waters. It is also a popular area for kayakers and stand-up paddleboarding. I tried my hand at it once there, and I am, shall we say, not gifted in that area.
Most of the rest of Bay Drive has a nice, wide sidewalk to stroll down while you admire the well-kept soundfront homes with such enviable views. The best stretch lies toward the south end, where there are no houses blocking your view. There is also a public pier there with a covered gazebo on the end, where you can watch the birds in the marshes and the locals catching crabs by hand. This is the best place to catch the sunset over the water.
- Duck boardwalk
The Duck boardwalk is actually pretty touristy, but it’s still worth the visit. This was always one of our favorite things to do, especially in early spring and late fall, when the weather was still nice, and the hordes had not yet descended into town. The entire town of Duck only has around 350 year-round residents. In the summer, that number balloons to over 20,000 at peak times. If you can avoid the crowds, the boardwalk is the place to be. Built out over the water, skirting the edge of the reedy grass beds that line the shore, there is nothing quite like the serenity of watching a heron slowly skulk its way through the shallows, in patient search for a fish to pluck from the water. There are lots of large bird species that call this stretch home, including herons, egrets, ospreys, ducks, geese, and hawks. For those who keep their eyes to the water, you can watch schools of young fish swirling about in the relative safety of the grassy shallows; crabs methodically creeping along the bottom, filtering the silt for tiny mites, shells, and worms; and if you’re lucky, you may even spot a nutria or even a deer. With views out over the water, it’s a very serene scene.The boardwalk is lined with plenty of tourist shops and restaurants, and it is easy to spend at least half a day here, eating and snacking, shopping for trinkets, and watching the wildlife, and people, pass by. Great spot.
- Sandy Run Park
This one is really a locals-only affair. It’s a small park hidden back in the woods of Kitty Hawk, with a simple loop trail of roughly half a mile. Most of the trail is a boardwalk that winds its way over and through the marshes. The rest cuts through the woods.The park itself is built around a gorgeous marsh, with a stocked fishing pond, gazebos by the creek, and an elevated viewing platform. It is an exceptionally beautiful slice of land. The marshy reeds are home to a very dense number of amphibians, which then invite a dense number of birds. Ospreys and egrets are everywhere, constantly circling overhead, or resting on low branches. The park is strewn with desiccated old pine trees that have died during various floods, yet still stand upright, giving the park an intriguing and even somewhat eerie mystique. Turtles are everywhere, though there is one stretch in particular along the south end where you will see roughly a bajillion turtles bobbing and swirling below you. People feed them (though they shouldn’t), and when they see a human walk by, you can watch them come flooding toward you at full turtle speed, which is like watching a tiny dog swimming in slow motion.
We came here a lot, and even had a couple of photoshoots here because it is so picturesque. In time, we saw most all of the animals you can find there, like snakes, nutrias, deer, foxes, and raccoons, though my biggest regret is that we never got to see the enigmatic and highly elusive bobcats that live in the area. I always had my eyes up in the low trees to try and catch one snoozing, but was never so lucky.
The Outer Banks of North Carolina is an incredibly beautiful place. There is a never ending number of things to do for visitors, well beyond sitting on the beach and visiting the Wright Brothers Memorial. This is just a snapshot of a few of our favorite things to do. We’ll be back again soon. Can’t stay away.