In my Southern Shores neighborhood, the off-season smells like wood-burning fires and smoked meat and the sunsets burn hotter pink and brighter orange than ever. When the shift occurs, around September, and the air turns from muggy and buggy to dewy and chilly, I feel like I need to gather the new season up in my hands and hold on tight. The crowds are thin, the weather is cozy-comfortable, and there is so, so much to do on the OBX.
I’m not going to tell you there’s ever a bad time to pick up a knife and fork on the Outer Banks. But, September, October, and November may be the very best time for it. Our off-season food events are unbeatable. If you missed this year’s Crabdaddy Seafood and Wine Festival, which was hosted by Sanctuary Vineyards on Sept. 21, it’s is an occasion to eat all the blue crabs you please, courtesy of I Got Your Crabs, and wash them down with beers from local breweries and Sanctuary Vineyards’ wines. But you can still make the most of the pretty fall weather on a hayride around the vineyard; no one will mind if you pick and taste a grape or few along the way.
One weekend to be sure to clear on your off-season eating calendar is Oct. 19-20.
The Mustang Rock and Roast and the Outer Banks Seafood Festival offer some of the best festival fun and food on the beach. The Rock and Roast is home to a BBQ cook-off among eight local restaurant chefs and BBQ masters on Saturday, Oct. 19, and an oyster roast on Sunday, Oct. 20, all going down to the soundtrack of eclectic live bands curated by Bearded Face Productions.
The music lineup includes the Mustang Outreach Program student bands, as well as 13 others, like Bennett Wales and the Relief and Turkuaz. It’s worth the extra bucks to purchase VIP tickets which treat you to brunch and dinner each day made fresh by local guest chefs from Metropolis, Agave Roja, and Mike Dianna’s Grill Room.
The Outer Banks Seafood Festival on Oct. 19 is a chance to sample fresh, creative seafood dishes from 10 different local restaurants, including Jolly Roger, Outer Banks Boil Company, and Ten O Six, as well as tasty beverages from Outer Banks Brewing Station. In addition to live music, there’s also plenty of arts and craft vendors to shop from and a boat and tackle show. This festival is all about celebrating the Outer Banks’ coastal seafood heritage and community and it’s a great way to spend a Saturday in October.
Nov. 30 is The Big Curri-Shuck event at Sanctuary Vineyards — your chance to be as Outer Banks as you can with all you can eat oysters and BBQ, plus local wine and beer samples. There’s a definite theme of BBQ and oysters running through all these fall celebrations but that’s only because there’s actually nothing better than an eastern N.C.-style pulled pork sandwich, dripping with vinegar and hot sauce… unless you’re talking about a creamy, sweet, and salty North Carolina oyster. It’s a toss up and your best bet is to eat it all.
As Lee Nettles with the Outer Banks Visitor’s Bureau reminded me, it’s not all about eating in the off-season. He described how our beaches become, in some ways, even more attractive in the fall and winter when you can drive with a permit in some spots or even snuggle up around a campfire. Check with local municipalities before setting out on your off-road, campfire expeditions, but those two things, paired with the excellent fishing the off-season brings are an Instagram post waiting to happen.
Another draw is that the cost of things around here tends to drop but the value stays just as sweet — especially when it comes to where to stay. Hadley Twiddy, who owns and operates the Corolla Village Inn, offers no-minimum-night stays and lower rates so you can enjoy their newly constructed rooms and serene, breezy screened porches for as few or as many nights as you please.
More than just a gorgeous and comfortable place to stay, the Corolla Village Inn hosts events you won’t find anywhere else. Their Amazing Retreat takes place Oct. 7-10, and, along with your stay at the Inn, includes yoga classes, a painting class, and either a wild horse tour with Corolla Outback or a kayak tour with Coastal Explorations. Dinner on the Inn’s deck and a chair massage round out this relaxing 4-day escape. Hadley encourages visitors to come “enjoy the off-season the way the locals do”, meaning slow down, talk to your neighbors, and enjoy the weather. On Saturday, Oct. 19, a local avocational archeologist will be on site at the Inn to teach about local Native American artifacts and help identify items beachcombers have found on our shores. If you want to dive deeper into what makes our beaches so unique, you can attend a book signing at the Inn on Sunday, Nov. 3, with Glenn Morris, author of The New Guide to NC Beaches.
More Outer Banks businesses and restaurants are open year-round than ever before and with off-season traffic so light, shopping and dining out couldn’t be easier. Some restaurants, like The SaltBox Café and Blue Moon Beach Grill use this time to flex their creativity and host wine and beer pairing dinners where the chefs construct interestingly delicious and uncommon dishes that don’t typically fit on their summertime menus.
Of course, the holidays have their place here as well, with our Halloween Film Festival and costume parade, town Christmas parades, Duck’s crab pot tree lighting, and the fireworks on New Year’s Eve in Manteo.
As the summer winds down, and our busy season comes to a close, we’re gearing up for another kind of fun and a few months of slow, cozy, kindred living, celebrating with food, music, nature, and conversation. If you’re not here already, come on down and enjoy the fall and winter with us. And to you, OBX off-season — we’ve been waiting and are so glad you’re here.