Another Brady family Outer Banks vacay is in the books. And it was a good–albeit crazy–one. I have all the details below, plus a guide with all our favorite activities for anyone planning their own trip to the Outer Banks. We have vacationed here for the last 17 years, and while we’ve done lots of stuff over the years, we definitely tend to gravitate towards our favorite things over and over again. So stick around through the end of the post for our best of the Outer Banks guide ;).
This year was exceptional because it was the vacation with all the babies. Babies (and kids) everywhere! It was crazy at times, for sure, but we had a great time. Just like we always do when we’re all together.
Both girls had a beach vacation under their belts, so they knew exactly what to expect and were so excited leading up to our trip. They couldn’t even wait an hour after our arrival to head down to the beach to play.
For the last 5 or 10 years we’ve been renting a house in Hatteras (the island right off the end of the Outer Banks), but this year we decided to try something a little different and got a house just north of Duck, NC in Corolla. We loved the beach up here, and I think it might have been just luck, but there were huge sandbars really far out into the surf, so you could walk and walk and still only be about knee deep in the water. The girls were absolutely thrilled with it.
When we’re on vacation, we’re not really squeeze-it-all-in-run-yourself-ragged-everyday type people. We basically like to take it easy, sleep in, hit up the beach for most of the day, then come in and cook good food. Oh, and also drink lots and lots (and lots!) of coffee. So that’s what we did all week! Fortunately, we had really great weather with only one rainy/chilly day (we were seriously all bundled up all day long, pretty strange for summer in NC).
The kids all absolutely love being outside, and the beach is basically like a giant sandbox, which allows lots of creativity and sensory play. Both girls really overcame their fear of the waves this year and spent a TON of time in the water swimming, ducking under waves, and boogie boarding. It was so much fun to watch them get the hang of being out in the surf playing and swimming.
Around day six, a little bit of restlessness and crazy set in with the Harts, so we headed out to do some things as a family before we hit the beach for the day. One of the things Corey and I love is going to the Currituck Lighthouse, and since the girls have never visited we decided to drive up in the morning then spend some time at the waterfront shops in Duck. I was unsure if JJ and Teddy would be into climbing the lighthouse at all. In fact, when we were in line Teddy insisted on being held the whole time and I was almost certain it was going to be a no-go for her. When we got to the front of the line we saw a woman giving stickers to everyone coming out of the lighthouse and I managed to convince the girls that they could each get a sticker, but only if they actually walked the stairs themselves. Teddy totally bought into it and beat us all to the top! Parenting high-five for that one! 😉
Some of us might have been a little terrified once we stepped out of the stairwell (ahem, Corey), but we mostly enjoyed taking in the view and managed to snap a couple pictures before retreating back inside to the safety of the lighthouse.
After visiting the lighthouse, we headed to Duck for lunch at one of our favorite restaurants, The Blue Point. It had been a kind of rough morning and as soon as we sat down Corey said, “just order yourself a drink.” It didn’t take much convincing for me to oblige, and I had a really refreshing Moscow Mule, which was perfect with my sourdough BLT. We never regret a lunch at The Blue Point!
Front Porch Café Kill Devil Hills, Nags Head, Manteo
If you want the best coffee in the Outer Banks, look no further than Front Porch Café and Kill Devil Coffee Roasters. They roast all their own coffee, and it is some of my very favorite. You can order fresh roasted, sealed bags of coffee from their website. Our favorites are Surfer’s Blend, Morning Mission, and Secret to Life blends. If you are visiting one of their locations in the Outer Banks, get the West 3rd half sweet for a delicious coffee drink or some of their kombucha on tap if you’re looking for a refreshing non-coffee treat.
Outer Banks Brewing Station Kill Devil Hills
This might rank as our very top pick for restaurants in the Outer Banks. The food is consistently amazing, the atmosphere is fun and laid back, and the prices are reasonable. They have their own brewery and do flights of their beers which Corey has tried was impressed with the beers. I absolutely love the shrimp and grits with red eye gravy. They use stone ground grits which have a lot of texture and less of a tendency to get mushy like regular grits. And the gravy is made with bacon. Does it really get any better than that?
The Cotton Gin, Corolla, Duck, Nags Head
My favorite for beachy finds that aren’t cheap souvenirs. I got a super cute trucker hat here this year, and in the past have gotten other fun things like pepper jelly, pretty framed prints, and even Christmas decorations. Be careful! These shops can get very crowded on a rainy day. Like, can’t move around the shop crowded. I recommend either going right when they open (10:00 am) or mid-afternoon on a sunny day :).
Jockeys Ridge State Park, Nags Head
A family favorite for sure. I’m pretty sure my kids think this is one GIANT sandbox. With the bonus of enormous hills to run up and down ;). If you want to wear the kiddos out, take them to Jockey’s Ridge for a couple hours. If you want to see a beautiful sunset over the sound, head there after dinner. I promise the view will not disappoint.
Duck donuts Corolla, Duck, Nags Head, Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, Avon (Hatteras Island), and um–just about everywhere else in America 😉
Ok, I’m just going to go ahead and be really honest here. These are not my favorite donuts. Maybe it’s because I’m spoiled in Durham by places like Rise and Monuts, but I’d probably grab something else for breakfast given the chance. That said, these donuts are beloved by so.many.people. And I feel like if you’re in the Outer Banks, you need to try them at least one time just to decide for yourself.
Food Dudes Kitchen Kill Devil Hills
The BEST fish tacos, hands down. You guys, I’ve tried fish tacos sooooo many places. In the Outer Banks and elsewhere. These ones win. They are the freshest tasting and the flavors are on point. We love this little hole-in-the-wall for lunch. It’s small, so maybe not the greatest for a big party. The service is fastest if you’re with just a couple people and you are willing to sit at the bar.
Tortugas Lie Nags Head
This restaurant is a long-time OBX favorite. I have never been disappointed with anything on their menu. We love the fish burrito and the jerk chicken! They also have volleyball nets outside that are open to group play as well as a spectator area. So fun to grab a drink before dinner and sit down to watch the action.
Elizabethan Gardens Manteo
Corey and I visited the gardens pre-kids back in 2014 (that seems like a lifetime ago). This is definitely something you’d want to do on a cooler but not rainy day. The gardens are all, obviously, outside. These gardens were originally created to entertain Queen Elizabeth I and now serve as a memorial for the members of Roanoke’s lost colony who lived n–and disappeared from–the very same land where the garden was built.
Orange Blossom Bakery and Cafe Buxton (Hatteras Island)
This quaint little bakery is probably the most popular on Hatteras Island. It’s definitely the most well-known. They are famous for their apple uglies–huge freshly-made apple fritters that may not be appealing to the eye, but will not disappoint once you take a bite! We recommend going first thing in the morning when they open (6:30 am) because they sell out of the uglies FAST and the line can get rather long if you wait until later.