The beach and the ocean are the big draws for many vacationers, but the Outer Banks offers plenty of great sites to explore when you’ve had your fill of sun and surf.
Head south to Hatteras Island, and you’ll an unspoiled gem dotted by unique, edge-of-the-sea communities that boast great restaurants and bars, specialty shops and coffee houses, museums and opportunities for adventure. There’s also undeveloped terrain to explore by 4-wheel drive and on horseback, and wetlands and marshes that can be discovered by kayak on a guided or self-guided eco-tour.
Bodie Light Station
The Bodie Island Light Station, pictured right, is sometimes overshadowed by the more famous Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. Tucked away between tall pine trees and freshwater marshland, the smaller structure is located at the northern end of Cape Hatteras National Seashore. The light station that stands today is the third on Bodie Island. The original, constructed in 1847, was replaced in 1859, but it was destroyed during the Civil War by retreating Confederate troops, who feared the Union troops would commandeer it. Construction on a third light station began in 1871. The most recent restoration of the existing lighthouse itself was completed in 2013.
Hours: Tours are available from the third Friday in April to Columbus Day in October. The lighthouse also is open for self-guided climbs
Cost: $10 adult, $5 ages 52 and older and ages 12 and younger (must be 42 inches tall to climb)
Where: 8210 Bodie Island Lighthouse Road, Nags Head
Info: (252) 475-9000, nps.gov/caha/planyourvisit/bils.htm
Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge
The refuge, located between Oregon Inlet and Rodanthe, includes 6,000 acres with walking trails and uncrowded beaches and is a birder's paradise. An array of educational and fun programs are offered for all ages.
Hours: 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Saturday, noon-4 p.m. Sunday
Where: Highway 12 north of Rodanthe
Info: (252) 473-1131, ws.gov/refuge/pea_island
Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station
Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station, located in the village of Rodanthe, is the most complete site of all remaining life-saving stations in North Carolina and one of the most complete sites in the the U.S. Constructed in 1874, it is on the national register of historic places. The U.S. Coast Guard recognizes the 1918 "Mirlo" rescue by the Chicamacomico station as one of the top rescues in maritime service's history.
Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday
Cost: $8 adults, $7 seniors, $6 youth
Where: 23645 Highway 12, Rodanthe
Info: (252) 987-1552; chicamacomico.org
Buxton Woods Coastal Reserve
The reserve treats visitors to a self-guided nature trail through the largest tract of maritime forest on the North Carolina coast.
Hours: Daylight hours
Where: Old Doctors Road and Highway 12, Buxton
Info: (252) 261-8891; nccoastalreserve.net
Frisco Native American Museum
The museum features artifacts of North American tribes and those of Hatteras Island, along with walking trails through maritime forest.
Hours: 10:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday
Cost: $5 adults, $3 seniors, $15 per household
Where: 53536 Highway 12, Frisco
Info: (252) 995-4440; nativeamericanmuseum.org
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is 193 feet tall and considered to be the world's tallest lighthouse. Climbing is available through Columbus Day. The Visitor Center and Museum of the Sea is located on-site. Visiting the museum is free. Hiking trails are located nearby.
Hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily
Cost: $8 adults, $4 seniors and youth
Where: 46368 Old Lighthouse Road, Buxton
Info: (252) 473-2111; nps.gov/caha/planyourvisit/lighthouseclimbs.htm
Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum
The museum features exhibits on a maritime history and shipwrecks off the coast of North Carolina, along with special programs each week. Programming from mid-May through September includes its Salty Dawg Series, which is at 2 p.m. each Tuesday. Presenters celebrate all things coastal to include seafood cooking, historyand culture talks on the Civil War and WWII, maritime art and music, fishing history and life-saving stories, and even local language.
Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday
Where: 59200 Museum Drive, Hatteras
Info: (252) 986-2995; graveyardoftheatlantic.com
Rodanthe Fishing Pier
Hours: 6 a.m.-midnight Sunday-Saturday
Cost: Sightseeing is $2 per person per day, $10 per per person per week; day fishing pass is $12 ages 11 and older, $7 ages 10 and younger; week fishing pass is $60 per person, $180 for family of four plus $40 each additional member; $2 discount on daily fishing passe for military and ages 62 and older, with ID
Where: 24251 Atlantic Drive
Info: (252) 987-0030, rodanthepierllc.com
Avon Fishing Pier
Hours: 6 a.m.-10 p.m. (spring and fall), 6 a.m.-midnight (summer), closed in winter
Cost: Sightseeing is $1 per person; fishing day pass is $10 adults, $9 seniors, $7 ages 12 and younger; 3-day fishing day pass is $27 adults, $24 seniors, $24 ages 12 and younger; annual pass also available
Where: 41001 Highway 12
Info: (252) 995-5480; avonpier.com