Excerpt from HRM 2008 Source Book
Stay A While
The Outer Banks has plenty of options for accommodations that allow guests to practice the sweetness of doing nothing.
Dare County natives say that the Outer Banks was formed from some extra dirt God had laying around after creating the Garden of Eden. He picked it up, threw it down to Earth and said, Dare!
An elongated strip of barrier islands on the edge America, the term Outer Banks of North Carolina collectively refers to all of Dare County, the beaches of Currituck County and Ocracoke Island.
The first travelers to discover the area were English colonists in 1587. They described it as the goodliest land under the cape of Heaven. But eventually tourists recognized it for what it was ... paradise.
Golden sunshine, long stretches of soft yellow sand, sparkling waterways, majestic dunes, rich vegetationif this wasnt a leftover chunk from the Garden of Eden, it was close enough.
Initially, vacationers discovered the village of Nags Head and, today, it has the distinction of being North Carolinas first tourist town.
In 1830, a Perquimans County farmer named Francis Nixon took his family there for vacation. The hot summer weeks spent languishing on the warm sand had both sabbatical and medicinal purposes. Malaria was spreading, and Nixon believed that the sand and salt air in Nags Head had healing powers that would protect his family from the tropical fever.
Word spread, and soon other prosperous plantation owners from surrounding counties were packing their families into river-dock steamers and heading east. Instead of carrying sunscreen and surfboards, these nouveau tourists brought their household slaves and livestock. They settled into huts on the sound side of Nags Head to spend the summer.
The first oceanfront hotel was built here in 1838. Financed by a group of men who contributed $100 each, the hotel could bed 200 guests a night. In the evenings, its tavern hosted vacationers and locals who swapped stories about fishing, fox hunting and the benefits of ocean bathing.
Nearly 30 years later, Dr. Pool from Elizabeth City paid $30 for 50 acres of sand on the ocean in Nags Head. He subdivided it and sold each lot for one dollar to his neighbors back home. By 1885, they had built 13 oceanfront cottages, many out of wood salvaged from shipwrecks. Their protective shutters, wide porches and weathered shingles began an architectural trend still replicated today.
Located along NC 12 between the ocean and Jockeys Ridge, nine of the original cottages are still standing. They have been affectionately tagged The Unpainted Aristocracy of Nags Head.
The construction of the Washington Baum Bridge in 1928 linking Roanoke Island and Nags Head, and the completion of the three-mile-long Wright Memorial Bridge across the Currituck Sound in 1930along with the ferries shuttling between Hatteras and Ocracoke islandsprovided easier access to the area. Paved roads began to crisscross the sand, and new communities sprouted like sea oats on the sand dunes.
While the beaches arent as quiet and untouched today as they were two centuries ago, the unsullied beauty of the Outer Banks continues to attract travelers.
Of course, the primary draw in the summertime is the beach. We have over 100 public beach accesses that provide free and open access to the beach. There arent many beaches along the East Coast offering that, says Carolyn McCormick, managing director of the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau.
The beaches of the Outer Banks have received national recognition. This year, Ocracoke was ranked as the top beach in the nation by Dr. Beach, a.k.a. Florida International Universitys Professor Stephen Leatherman.
The Travel Channel listed it as one of the top 10 beaches in America in 2007, and the Outer Banks has been named one of the top five vacationland water destinations by both Good Morning America and National Geographic.
The big appeal is that were not the urban beach. People get a different vibe when they come here. Our beaches are safe, clean, family friendly. And were close enough that people from Hampton Roads can get away for a weekend without busting the bank, McCormick says.
As the beaches from Kitty Hawk to Nags Head were developed, tourists seeking more isolation turned left when they crossed the Wright Memorial Bridge and headed for the Currituck beaches, which has also had its share of national recognition.
Currituck County is the fastest growing county in the state, and its beaches were named by USA Weekend as one of the 10 best undiscovered beaches on the East Coast.
Our beaches are unique. They are very family oriented, peaceful, wider, uncrowded and not very commercial. Theres not a lot of (commercial) chains or anything on the beach ... only beach homes, says Veronica Brown, marketing coordinator for the Currituck County Travel & Tourism Department.
The Currituck beaches also have attractions you wont find elsewhere, such as the Corolla wild horses; the Currituck Beach Lighthouse, which is one of the few lighthouses on the Outer Banks that you can climb; and the new Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education.
Because of all this, Brown says that they have seen tourism numbers increase every year.
During the 2007 summer season, approximately three million visitors crossed the bridges to the Outer Banks, heading either north to the Currituck beaches or south toward Nags Head, Manteo, Hatteras and Ocracoke.
An estimated two million more arrived in the shoulder season (September to May).
And where do these five million people sleep when theyre on the Outer Banks? Just about anywhere they want. They can rest in a rustic hostel, a campground, timeshare, inn, condominium, cottage court, hotel, motel or a bed and breakfast.
In addition, there are an estimated 12,000 single-family rental houses from Carova to Ocracoke. While a few could be classified as 13-bedroom mansions, most of the beach houses are between four and 10 bedrooms. Many are packed with amenitiesswimming pools, hot tubs, game tables, luxurious baths, home theater rooms, electronic gaming, golf putting greens, televised sports packages and espresso bars. Some include a membership to the Outer Banks Family YMCA, golf packages, charter fishing trips or parasailing lessons.
Those who want to experience the Outer Banks as it used to be can even rent a vintage beach housewithout air conditioning, television or electronic amenities.
The type of accommodation chosen is generally determined by the time of year people want to visit, how far ahead they plan, the length and purpose of their stay, the desired location and how many beds are needed.
Rates change from season to season and vary according to how close the accommodations are to water. There are fewer crowds during the shoulder season so many of the properties have lower rates and special holiday packages. Hotels and motels usually rent rooms off season at a fraction of the summer rates.
For a mental snapshot of the diversity on the Outer Banks, surf the internet. Check out Web sites of local property management and real estate companies. Or call and ask them to mail you their rental catalog, which lists each property separately.
Before booking a beach house, you might want to ask some basic questions: What is the minimum stay? What is the cancellation policy? What insurances are available or required? When will the rates change, and is the rate negotiable? What amenities are included in the rental? How much is the security deposit, and is it refundable if theres a hurricane or an emergency situation? Are pets allowed? Are there any additional fees, such as an inspection fee? What options do you have for guests who arrive hours before check-in? Are any service providers available, such as babysitters, housekeepers, private chefs or a concierge?
Although the Outer Banks is on the edge of America, you dont have to feel out of touch. The beach isnt quite wired enough for you to catch both UV rays and Wi-Fi from your oceanfront beach chair; however, most accommodations do have internet access. So, once you brush aside the fish-and-chip batter and ketchup droplets from your laptop casing, you can log on to the Web ... or not.
You dont have to invite the world into your little area of paradise. Instead, you could spend a long weekend practicing what the Italians call il dolce far nientethe sweetness of doing nothing.
VACATIONS & SALES
Brindley Beach Vacations offers 310-bedroom homes, private pools, hot tubs, pets, oceanfront to soundfront, linens and towels provided, all close to shopping and restaurants. 877-642-3224, 252-453-3335, www.brindleybeach.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
COROLLA CLASSIC VACATIONS
Create special memories in our lovely premier homes located oceanfront to soundfront. Enjoy fishing, golf, tennis, biking. Pet homes available. We are deliberately & selectively smaller. 866-453-9660, www.corollaclassicvacations.com
JOE LAMB JR. & ASSOCIATES
Offering more than 500 Outer Banks vacation homes, from cozy cottages to 12-bedroom estates. Call today or visit www.joelambjr.com for availability, or to book our vacation homes. 800-552-6257
HILTON GARDEN INN
Centrally located in Kitty Hawk, between the North and South Beaches, The Hilton Garden Inns gorgeous design and outstanding amenities are only surpassed by endless oceanfront views! 252-261-1290, www.outerbanks.stayhgi.com
Located in Kill Devil Hills, the Ramada Plaza Resort offers a beautiful oceanfront, full-service catering/bar, an oceanview ballroom and restaurant, an indoor/outdoor pool with Jacuzzi and much more. 252-441-2151, 800-635-1824, www.ramadaplazanagshead.com
Choose from the largest selection and variety of vacation rentals on the Outer Banks! 114 bedrooms, oceanfront, pools, pet-friendly. Reserve on-line or call today! 888-853-7757, www.SunRealtyNC.com
SURF SIDE HOTEL
Oceanfront in Nags Head at Milepost 15 ½. Awesome views of the sound & ocean. Great central location: nearby world-class fishing, lighthouses, national parks, beaches and recreational sports. 800-552-7873, www.surfsideobx.com
For the rest of this article, see the 2008 Hampton Roads Magazine Source Book, currently available on newsstands.