Memory Making Worth Picture Taking
A look back at vacation memories on the Outer Banks can be like one of those Christmas mornings when you look up and see your children playing with the simplest of toys or building a fort from the empty boxes. Likewise, during your beach vacation, it may be the activities that are not over-planned, over-budgeted, or over-done that stand out the most. We’ve compiled the following list of iconic memory makers that are a must-try while you are here on the Outer Banks.
1. Critter Search
Do the kids need to run off a little energy after dinner, and do you want them to stay tucked in their beds until the full light of day comes? Here’s the trick:
Critters at Nighttime:
Introduce them to the sheer delight of a flashlight-fueled frenzy of ghost crabs at night. During the daytime, those little, tunneling architects seem to only appear in the corner of your eye. But the night belongs to ghost crabs. At night they come out of their holes to forage for food and have claws-up duels for territory and mating rights. Pay special attention to the big crabs near the dune line.
Aside from supplying everyone with a bright light, no special equipment is needed. Be prepared if your littlest ones insist on being carried in the beginning because watching ghost crabs at night can be the Halloween-of-the-sea for some folks. In fact, if you are renting an oceanfront cottage and keep your windows open, the laughter and screaming you hear coming from the beach at night is likely to be a ghost crab search happening in your front yard.
Critters during Daytime:
Do you want the daytime version of a critter search? Watch every retreating wave for bubbles, tiny holes, and fleeting motion. There in the wettest sand, you will see sand fleas or tiny coquina clams dipping in and out of the sand and leaving bubbles or tracks behind. For sand fleas, scoop generously into wave-swept sand and wait for their harmless wiggles in between your fingers. For coquinas, soften a meditative gaze on the retreating wave action and you will be rewarded with a synchronized ballet as dozens of bivalves point downward and feed on algae.
2. Critter Capture
Sure, it’s great to sink a fork into backfin lump crab cake or to dig deep in a bowl of Hatteras style clam chowder, but there’s something to be said for connecting where those ethereal delicacies come from. A day spent clamming or crabbing on the Outer Banks is one that will be etched in your memory as a day well spent.
Catching blue crabs starts with a simple chicken neck on a string. Head to the sound with a bucket and a net and you’re good to go. Not much else is needed for crabbing except a lot of patience. Hold the string lightly, and you will feel gentle tugs when a crab has surfaced out of the silty part of the sound. The trick is to pull the neck up so slowly and imperceptibly that he does not realize that a net is about to scoop him away.
Ideal locations to go crabbing are any bulk headed sound fronts, low piers, gazebos, and bridges that have platforms for fishing. Stay away from the busy commotion of boats and swimmers.
Clamming (in small quantities) also does not require a fishing license or complicated equipment. As you walk in the shallow parts of the sound where the edges of sea grass beds are, shuffle your feet just a few inches below the sand’s surface. It may feel like a rock, but you are feeling the “knuckles” of the clam. Scoop them up with your hands, or rake the whole area, and collect them in your buckets.
Similar to saying a mealtime grace or having a firsthand experience with farm chores, clamming and crabbing will give everyone an appreciation for how food gets on our tables.
3. Speaking of Seafood
In addition to your favorite vacation foods, take a pledge to try a truly fresh and local seafood item, a decadent Southern dish, or a locally brewed beverage. You just may find yourself going home with a new love for fried green tomatoes, crab slough oysters, or green tail shrimp and grits. Appetizer plates and tapas nights are perfect for passing around samples of a new dish without a huge time or financial commitment.
No one’s suggesting you deny your affection for eating Alaskan King Crab legs while you are at the beach, but if you are eating them here, those legs have traveled a long way to get to your dinner plate.
So, eat like a local while you are here.
4. Take a Hike
Whether it’s maritime forests, soundfront boardwalks, or beachcombing, the OBX is known for being a walker’s paradise. When to go for a walk and where are the toughest decisions you will make.
Shell seekers should concentrate on the “trash line” or the high tide water marks that are left on the beaches twice a day.
For those who want to avoid the noon-day sun, the Nags Head Woods Preserve offers cooler shaded walking trails through four ecosystems. Known as the treat that is “hidden within plain sight,” parts of the Nags Head Woods are just yards away from the US 158 Bypass.
For sunset walks along Duck’s mile long waterfront and a mix of shade and sun, go to Town Park and pick up the wooden pier from several commercial areas. The 11-acre park winds through maritime forest, willow swamps, open green spaces, and offers plenty of soundside sunsets.
5. Go Fly a Kite
We may have a few more people and power lines than when Orville and Wilbur were conducting their glider tests here, but the beaches, Jockey’s Ridge State Park, and the soundside have great locations to reacquaint you with a childhood favorite: kite flying.
When it comes to equipment decisions, consider the wind conditions and ages of the flyers. And remember, there’s a reason that Charlie Brown was always crying about his kite being stuck in a tree. That diamond shaped kite is best left to the cartoon characters. Instead, pick a user-friendly delta shape for a large variety of wind conditions or an all-cloth parafoil kite without any spars to break or injure bystanders.
If you want to up your game, try stunt kites which will need a stronger wind and more desolate flying area, but will provide a lot of fun after the kite is launched.
6. Make the Climb
Do you want to see the Outer Banks the same way that Orville and Wilbur saw it? There are several ways to change your point of view without having to get on an airplane.
Come see why Hollywood has loved the largest dunes on the East Coast for everything from sci-fi movies to music videos. Depending on the shifting sands, Jockey’s Ridge State Park will give you a vantage point that varies from 80 to 100 feet in the air. Plus, it’s an ideal location for sunsets and dramatic family photos.
Tour one of the lighthouses on the Outer Banks. The highest vantage point in Buxton is at the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. It is the tallest lighthouse in the United States, standing 193 feet (above ground level).
The Wright Brother’s National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills sits on a hill that is 90 feet in the air, but there’s another one that is off the beaten path that also pays homage to our First in Flight heritage.
Located at the Aycock Brown Welcome Center, the Monument to a Century in Flight is in Kitty Hawk and is easily passed on your way to or from the Outer Banks. The hill offers great views to both the north and south. Fourteen wing-foil shaped pylons symbolize our humble aviation beginnings and orbital journey to the moon.
7. Accomplish Your (Sand) Bucket List
Remember, there’s no talent or supplies needed to build a drip castle. Simply check the tide chart before you begin if you don’t want your masterpiece to be swept away during construction.
And don’t forget to re-fill any holes you dig for the well-being of humans and sea life.
8. Got 4WD?
Tell all those car commercials with mountains and boulders to move over, because both you and your SUV deserve some beach driving fun.
Learn how and when to inflate tires for driving on the sand, go see the wild horses in Corolla, or explore a quieter beach at numerous beach ramps.
To find out more about driving techniques, tire pressures, which towns require permits, or where beach access ramps are located, go to the OBX Beach Access website at: obxbeachaccess.com.
While it may be tempting to make a plume of water spray like you’ve seen in the car commercials, remember, salt water is highly corrosive to your car’s sheet metal and undercarriage.
9. Screen Savers and Christmas Cards
How often are all of these family members and friends together? Be sure to snap plenty of photos for this year’s Christmas cards because there’s nothing like capturing the whole clan against the sand dunes or with the Atlantic Ocean as a back drop. Those sunrise shots that you take on the beach today will be perfect for your screensaver on a gloomy day in February.
10. Swap Places – Trade Places
Judy, a guest from Virginia, says her family saves several evenings each year to go out to their favorite restaurants. Last year their tradition was upset by a toddler’s sleeping schedule.
“We found that going out for lunch instead meant we ate the same food, but saved a little money, and didn’t have to wait for tables,” says Judy.
Here are a few other ways to switch things up:
- If you usually spend every day at the beach, sample the steady water temperatures and long walk-out distances at the toddler-friendly sound for a change.
- If you rented in a desolate area, try the village scene in Manteo, Duck, or a day trip and ferry ride to Ocracoke.
- On the flip side, if you rented in the heart of a busy area, spend the day at a more desolate stretch of sand such as Coquina Beach or Pea Island.
11. For the Inner Traveler
Yes, this was supposed to be a Top 10 list, but here’s the bonus round.
If a vacation is supposed to recharge your batteries, consider the batteries that really count: your spirit. There are many houses of worship here that have late morning or ‘come-as-you-are’ services to accommodate a vacationer’s schedule.
Here are a few more spiritual offerings that are unique to the Outer Banks and are good for both body and soul:
- Volunteer to walk one of the lonely dogs from our local SPCA at any of the picturesque walking areas described above.
- Join a sunrise yoga session.
- Pick up beach trash that threatens our sea life. There are numerous beach sweeps you can join that will combine a feel-good experience with a beach twist that you can’t get back home.
However you decide to spend your time while here on the Outer Banks, you are likely to discover that some of the best memories you bring back home with you are ones that weren’t planned, and perhaps didn’t cost a dime. And don’t be surprised if the photos that get posted the most on your kid’s Snap Chat come from the day you went crabbing or built the ultimate sand castle.