I wouldn’t pass up an opportunity to visit anywhere in the Outer Banks but Hatteras Island was the draw for me. I’m already trying to convince my husband that we need to plan a return visit to spend more time Exploring Cape Hatteras National Seashore. And maybe next time we’ll make it all the way to Ocracoke.
Cape Hatteras National Seashore stretches between Bodie, Hatteras, and Ocracoke Islands. It’s a beautiful shoreline drive with places to stop and explore along the 70-mile drive. The towns along NC Hwy 12 are not part of the national park but don’t skip them. You’ll find great places to eat, museums, properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places and even a few shipwrecks if you know where to look.
Exploring Cape Hatteras National Seashore
I enjoyed the Kill Devil Hills and Nags Head areas of the Outer Banks but the real draw for me was the more unspoiled landscape found along the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, which is NC Highway 12. There was just something about driving down a road flanked by sand dunes and ocean views that seemed almost magical.
Our beach rental was located on Hatteras Island so we took our time exploring the attractions, beaches, and souvenir shops on the way. Here are some of the highlights from our trip.
Bodie Island Lighthouse
Constructed in 1871, this attraction features the Lighthouse, a National Park Ranger/ Visitor Center, and a boardwalk leading to an incredible view of not only the lighthouse but of the surrounding marshlands. You’ll catch a glimpse of egrets and waterfowl and according to the signs we strolled past, snakes as well. It was at this stop that I learned I’ve pronounced “Bodie” wrong for years. The name is actually pronounced “Body”.
Address: 8210 Bodie Island Lighthouse Road, Nags Head
Surfing in Rodanthe
The kids took surfing lessons and loved it. You can read about their lesson and near death experience (as told by my daughter) in this post———> Learn to Surf in the Outer Banks
Chicamacomico Lifesaving Station
Located on the National Register of Historic Places, it is the largest and most complete US Life Saving Service station in the country, and only station that serves as a museum in the US. My husband and I were in awe as we listened to the docent share true life stories of the miraculous rescues that took place and learning how this station, and others along the coast, paved the way for the US Coast Guard. This stop offers a fascinating glimpse of nautical and island history.
Address: 23645 NC Hwy 12
Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge
My husband and I spent hours at Pea Island taking photos, watching the pelicans and dolphins compete for food, beach combing, and kite flying (which we purchased from Kitty Hawk Kites).
On this trip, Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge was definitely a highlight. After all, we saw dolphins and a shipwreck in the same spot! Score!
Address: NC Hwy 12
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
At 208 feet tall, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is the tallest lighthouse in North America. In addition to the lighthouse, you’ll find a keeper’s home turned visitor center and museum on site. Though we didn’t attempt it, the lighthouse is open for climbing.
You’ll also find a nearby small British cemetery that is maintained by the National Park Service. The soldiers buried here were killed during WWII when their ships were attacked by the Germans off the coast in the Outer Banks.
A ¾ mile walking trail that leads you through some of the native vegetation with placards along the way sharing tidbits about the environment of Hatteras Island.
Address: 46375 Lighthouse Road, Buxton
Horseback Riding Lessons
The kids also enjoyed a 3-hour long horseback ride on the beach with Equine Adventures. I’ll share more on that later.
U.S. Weather Bureau Station
This unique building once served as one of the first weather reporting stations in the U.S. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and now serves as a Welcome Center and National Park Service site.
Address: NC Hwy 12, Hatteras
Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum
This free museum features shipwreck artifacts, interactive exhibits about pirates, and the Civil War and the iron clad U.S.S. Monitor. Pick up a scavenger hunt at the desk if you have kids with you.
Address: 59200 Museum Drive, Hatteras
Where we Stayed
The Lighthouse View Oceanfront Lodging in Buxton provided the perfect accommodations for my family. Located on the third floor, this large vacation rental included patios on both the front and back of the rental, beach and ocean views, a private bedroom, loft with two small beds, and a hallway bedroom. Traveling with three women can be a challenge when it’s time to go out to eat but the property had a full and half bath so we had plenty of mirror space. The full kitchen allowed us to prepare meals at the unit while the large living area gave us plenty of room to spread out, watch TV, and enjoy each other’s company. While my husband and I explored the area, the kids hung out on the beach or in the onsite pool.
Where we Ate
The girls wanted to dress up one evening so I made reservations at Café Pamlico. The only reservation I could get was for 5 p.m. which was a bit early for dinner but it was very relaxed and offered great views of the Pamlico Sound which would be amazing at sunset.
Café Pamlico’s fine dining selection includes items from their garden as well as local seafood. Surprisingly, none of us had seafood and instead opted for Baked Zucchini, Lamb Rack and the Southern Fried Chicken. I think it’s important to note that I had the best cocktail ever at Café Pamlico- an upside-down pineapple cake martini. Definitely a spot to check out.
Address: 49684 NC Hwy. 12 Buxton
Frisco Sandwich Company
My husband and I passed by this stop and it looked hopping so we turned around to give it a try. Sandwiches are served with fresh homemade potato chips and a pickle. The portions were very generous and food was good. Outdoor dining is available and there is limited indoor, air-conditioned seating.
Address: 53674 NC Hwy 12, Frisco
Orange Blossom Bakery & Café
This cute bakery is only open until 11:30 so you need to get there early to grab your Apple Uglies. I missed them the first two days we were there so I made it a point to stop in before we left town and I’m so glad I did. The Apple Ugly is legendary in the Outer Banks and for good reason- the deep fried leftover donut dough with apples is almost as yummy as the cocktail I sipped at Café Pamlico. Not something you’d eat everyday (or should eat everyday) but something you should definitely try. Keep in mind that the Apple Ugly is huge and can probably feed 4 people and sells for less than $4.
Address: 47206 NC Hwy 12 Buxton
This was a great stop to make after the kids had finished their surfing lesson. They were famished. Lisa’s Pizzeria offered good, fast service and great food.
Address: 24158 NC Hwy 12, Rodanthe
While I enjoyed our entire visit to the Outer Banks, Hatteras Island captured my heart and I don’t feel like a few days was nearly enough time to truly explore (and relax). I’m trying to convince my husband that we need to a camping trip for the two of us and my 23-year old is trying to figure out how he can relocate to the Outer Banks.
Have you spent time exploring the Outer Banks?
Thank you to the Outer Banks Visitor’s Bureau for inviting us to experience the Outer Banks.
© 2017, Tonya Prater. All rights reserved.