6/09/2009

Summer Road Trips : Outer Banks Pt 1

We are fortunate to have the tradition on my husband's side of the family to vacation each year in the Outer Banks of North Carolina . (We go other places as well, but are always in the OBX at some point in the summer, like the swallows return to Capistrano each year.) When people ask me, "Are you going anywhere this summer?" and I tell them where, I often end up having to explain myself, for this is not a common destination for Texans. Most natives will take a vacation in the Rockies, San Antonio, or South Padre - places closer to home - or else go as far away as possible and head to Florida, Hawaii, South America or Europe. Hubster's family hails from the mid-Atlantic area, Pennsylvania and Washington DC mostly, and people there tend to go to the Outer Banks if they don't want a long journey. The OBX are the closest beach areas that are clean and pleasant and family friendly. Sure, there are boardwalk beach towns all up and down the Jersey-Delaware-Maryland coastlines, but these have evolved into the places one goes for a day trip, to eat hotdogs and play pachinko machines, rather than a destination to stay for days or weeks at a time. Many have heard of Hilton Head or Myrtle Beach, and the Outer Banks are very similar to these places; they just happen to be off the coast of North Carolina.

The Outer Banks are a string of barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina that were largely uninhabited (a few small towns do exist, mostly on the mainland) until very recently. When hubster's family first started going there, in the late 80's and early 90's, wild ponies still roamed freely in many spots and schools of dolphins swam by at regular intervals. Hubster's mother actually owned a beach house there until fairly recently. All the development is fairly new (no charming old Victorian homes, and even the few rattier vacation cabins from the 1950's have been torn down and modern, larger beach houses built in their place). Driving up and down the main drag, HWY 12, one gets a sense of large-ish single family homes, (which people rent by the week), a few scattered hotels, stores, country clubs and restaurants, and that's about it. It is not as exclusive as the Hamptons, but the beach houses tend to be large-ish (4 to 10 bedrooms) and full of all the modern amenities : pools, hot tubs, spas, tennis courts. Unlike Texas, where folks can drive on the beach (means broken glass and oil stains in the sand- whose great idea was that ?), the beaches in the Outer Banks are largely accessible only to the people who are renting the beach houses or staying at a particular hotel or apt. Which means they tend to be uncrowded.

There are a few touristy things to do - visit light houses, play putt-putt golf, visit Jockey Ridge State Park or the Wright Brothers National Monument, play some tennis, get a massage or a pedicure, visit a local historical theme park and take in the play about the first colony of settlers, aka "The Lost Colony", about the group that mysteriously disappeared with nothing but the strange word "Croatoan" carved into a tree as a clue. (Trivia note : Andy Griffith and many others got their start acting in this play.) There are little shops, which mostly sell t-shirts and souvenirs and knick-knacks to bored moms who need a break from the kids for an afternoon. Over the years, we have pretty much done it all. One doesn't go to the Outer Banks to DO anything, one goes to relax and get away from it all.
Here is a bigger map to look at ; each family has their own favorite areas. My husband's family prefers the Corolla area, but lots of different people have their own favorites. We have a couple of special spots, little neighborhoods that we prefer, that are less crowded and more picturesque . I'm sworn under a family blood oath not to reveal where they are.
It is our family tradition to go once each summer - the dates we select vary, depending on whatever else is going on at the time. June is lovely and rarely crowded at all, but the water in the ocean can still be too cold to swim ( important for my kids.) July is "high season" and the rental prices reflect that, but the ocean warms up enough to truly enjoy the beach by that point. Of course, since we are Texans, we have to go back to school in early August, unlike other east-coast folk who don't start till after Labor Day or later, so that means August is not really an option for us. When we lived in northern Virginia, we'd also drive down for weekends and holidays, but it takes us now 2 and 1/2 days to get there from Texas, so that is not really workable for us any more. The cross- country journey to get to the OBX is all part of the fun for my family - yes, most people would fly and rent a car somewhere closer, although there aren't any major hubs nearby - but we have our special "road food" places we simply MUST stop and eat at, all along the way. (Many involving various awesome BBQ joints spread across the south, in a veritable map of meal hopping ecstasy.) We also have some good friends we traditionally visit, on our way back, and would never get to see, any other way. I complain about it a lot ( mostly the having to spend a week with my in-laws part) but overall, it is a fun vacation that I wouldn't miss.


Want general info about the Outer Banks ?
Want to see how much the beach houses rent for, what they look like, etc ? (And yes, many are wheelchair accessible). There are many different rental companies; this is the one we use.
http://www.kittydunes.com/

Little bit of trivia : The movie "Weekend at Bernie's", which is theoretically set in the Hamptons, was actually filmed in the Outer Banks. Watching it again for the first time in 20 years, I was struck by the vast sweeps of open space, the distance between homes in this movie. Not so any more.

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