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Image courtesy Outer Banks Visitors Bureau
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Image courtesy The Sanderling
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Image courtesy Outer Banks Visitors Bureau
In the summer, Dare County's population swells from less than 35,000 to more than 250,000. Undeveloped beaches, abundant wildlife and a laid-back attitude attract getaway seekers who prefer remote shorelines to built-up boardwalks. But at peak season, the coastal getaway can start to feel overcrowded. "The Outer Banks is always easy going, but in the fall it's even more so," says Lee Nettles, managing director of the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau, who suggests visiting after Labor Day. At less than a three-hour drive from Richmond and with temperatures into the 70s through October, the chain of barrier islands is ideal for a weekend escape even after the boys of summer have gone. By Anne Dreyfuss
Originally opened in 1985, the Sanderling Resort (855-412-7866 or sanderling-resort.com ) in Duck, N.C., recently underwent a multimillion-dollar renovation that included the addition of an adults-only pool, a welcoming new lobby, fire pits and an upstairs deck overlooking the Atlantic. Cedar shake siding and white wicker furniture add an unpretentious subtlety to the luxurious hotel. "The most important thing with the renovations was to keep the same sense of escape in a laid-back, relaxed atmosphere," general manager Dick McAuliffe says of the only full-service resort in the Outer Banks. Situated on 113 acres between the Currituck Sound and the Atlantic Ocean, the 95-room resort is home to four restaurants, a 6,000-square-foot award-winning spa and other amenities.
Formerly Sam's Grill on U.S. 1 in Richmond, the 1939 Kullman diner car that fronts the Kill Devil Grill (252-449-8181 or thekilldevilgrill.com ) brings mid-century Americana to mind. One of only six diners in the national registry of historic buildings, the local favorite features tabletop juke boxes and Art Deco details, along with a menu that adds a modern twist to American cuisine. "Most people identify with our backyard wings," co-owner Liz Tucker says, adding that the cheese-steak egg rolls are another favorite.
Tucked in the back of an Exxon station off North Carolina Highway 12, it would be easy to overlook the Kill Devil Hills Stop 'N Shop (252-441-6105 or stopnshopobx.com ). But this sandwich counter at the back of a convenience mart might have the best deli offerings on the island. In 2012, Jay Patel bought the business from its founders, Tom and Vickie Byers, but he kept the favorite deli sandwiches made with Boar's Head meats. Not a meat lover? Try the Veggie Weggie. The Swiss, Muenster and provolone cheese sandwich, garnished with black olives, is made on freshly baked wheat bread.
Paying homage to Eastern North Carolina's maritime heritage, Kimball's Kitchen (866-860-3979 or sanderling-resort.com/restaurants-and-bars/kimballs-kitchen ) serves seafood caught at the Oregon Inlet — about 20 miles from the restaurant. The upscale restaurant maintains the coastal casual environment of the Outer Banks, while serving food you would expect from a four-diamond establishment. Of particular note is the raw oyster selection served with mignonette, chili vinegar and marinated cucumbers. Take a seat at the bar in the late afternoon and enjoy a view of the Currituck Sound sunset reflecting on the mirror behind the bar.
In July, Kitty Hawk Kites (877-359-8447 or kittyhawk.com ) became the only company in the Outer Banks to offer stand-up paddleboarding after dark. "As the temperature heats up during the day, the winds pick up," reservations manager Luke Baer says, adding that early morning and evenings are an easier time to attempt the sport for the first time. An LED light strip is installed along the rails of the paddleboards, creating a halo of light in the water where boarders can see fish and crabs swimming beneath them. Fish are livelier at night, Baer says; so don't be surprised if a few energetic ones hop over the front of the board mid-paddle.
Past Highway 12 road's end, Corolla Outback Adventures (252-453-4484 or corollaoutback.com ) leads guided SUV tours of wild horse refuges and sanctuary sites in Corolla's four-wheel drive area. The family-owned business started in 1962 when there were no paved roads past Kitty Hawk, and the founders' son, Jay Bender, often leads the Outer Banks safaris. Expect to come face-to-face with the Colonial Spanish mustangs that roam the natural terrain, but keep your distance. Getting within 50 feet of the horses comes with a $500 fine. "It's a good deterrent," Bender says.
For the first time, visitors are invited to tour Bodie Island Lighthouse (252-441-5711 or nps.gov/caha/historyculture/bodie-island-light-station.htm ). The 1872 beacon recently underwent a $5 million renovation that included strengthening the support of the 214 steps that spiral to the top of the 156-foot tall structure. The third lighthouse built along that stretch of North Carolina's barrier islands offers a 360-degree view of the sea and the Roanoke Sound that is definitely worth the $8 guided tour.