Guest poster Kate Weller is a writer from Pennsylvania who has spent many years vacationing in the Outer Banks.
Sure, you could spend every single minute of your Outer Banks vacation at the beach. But sometimes it rains. Or everyone gets sunburned. Or your 3-year-old decides he’s terrified of sand (because no one is more irrational than a 3 year old).
On those days, what do you do? Don’t worry. I’ve got you covered.
1. Visit the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island.
We always try to fit in a visit to this charming small aquarium. Most of the exhibits are
interactive, which is great for young kids who don’t want to or can’t read.
It’s expanded in recent years to include robotic dinosaurs—both awesome and terrifying to my then-preschooler—and a turtle rehabilitation center. After seeing the real turtles, kids can play veterinarian in a pretend rehab hospital. We’ve been known to walk through it a few times.
2. Check out the climbing wall at Kitty Hawk Kites.
Kitty Hawk Kites has a little bit of everything—retail stores throughout the Outer Banks, tours and activities (I’ll get into some of those later), and rentals.
But the store across from Jockey’s Ridge in Nags Head has something extra special—an indoor climbing wall. For just $8 for two climbs, it’s a fun little activity on a rainy day.
3. Visit Jenette’s Pier.
The longest pier on the Outer Banks, Jenette’s Pier has seen some rough times since it was built in 1939. Hurricane Isabel swept away about 500 feet of it in 2003, and the pier was subsequently purchased by the state of North Carolina and rebuilt. It now sports a gift shop, lobby featuring an aquarium of local fish, research facilities, wind turbines and, of course, fishing. For $2 per adult and $1 per child, you can walk to the end of the pier for stunning views of the ocean.
4. Eat some ice cream, and listen to the singing servers, at Scammell’s Corner Ice Cream.
Everything just tastes better at the beach—especially ice cream! Stop by Scammell’s Corner Ice Cream for a cone of premium Hershey’s ice cream. If you’re there in the evening, you’ll even get it served with a song.
5. Check out some lighthouses.
From Carova in the north to Ocracoke in the south, there are lighthouses throughout the OuterBanks. The Cape Hatteras lighthouse is probably the most famous and recognizable, but don’t miss some of the lesser known ones!
6. Climb Jockey’s Ridge.
Jockey’s Ridge is the tallest living sand dune on the East Coast—and it sure feels that way when you climb it! But it’s the perfect place to fly a kite, roll down the sandy hill, catch a sunset, or, if you’re feeling brave, take hang gliding lessons. There’s also a visitor’s center with a museum and a boardwalk with exhibits.
7. See Corolla’s wild horses.
Several companies offer wild horse tours in Corolla, including Kitty Hawk Kites from No. 2. Pro tip: go in the evening. The horses are most active toward sunset.
8. Check out the Wright Brothers Memorial.
Famously, Wilbur and Orville Wright took their first success airplane flight in Kitty Hawk in 1903. Check out the large granite memorial dedicated to them as well as the National Park visitor’s center. There’s no shade so plan this for a cooler day.
9. Take a dolphin cruise.
Kitty Hawk Kites strikes again with a family-friendly dolphin cruise of the Roanoke Sound. What sets this eco-tour apart is that it is run by the biologists who study these beloved mammals. Kids will even get a chance to help out with the science.
10. Have a family game night.
Sure, you can have a family game night anywhere, but there’s something special about staying up late after a long day at the beach and unwinding with a little friendly competition.
11. See the bears.
You don’t necessarily think of black bears when you think of the beach, but nearby Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge is full of them. Drive yourself through the reserve for a chance to spot bears, deer, alligators and more. The reserve is also home to one of the nation’s only populations of critically endangered red wolves. Howling tours are just $10 for adults and free for children younger than 12.