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|Blogging from the Family Vacation, Part 2|
|Written by Sam Fiorani|
|Friday, 23 July 2010 20:43|
Food and fun in North Carolina's Outer Banks
"Going down da shore" is Philadelphia-ese for vacationing at the beach. It usually means heading to Cape May, Wildwood, Sea Isle City, or Avalon, New Jersey--great beaches all, with amusement parks and boardwalks and plenty of places for family entertainment. And many thousands of people do seek out these relaxation spots every weekend between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
But if you're "going down da shore" early in the season, when ocean temperatures in New Jersey are typically in the 60s, you need to head to more southern locations. North Carolina's Outer Banks lures many of these early vacationers.
Nags Head doesn't have a boardwalk, though. There's no Morey's Pier amusement park as at Wildwood. No casino like Atlantic City. Yet the region still offers plenty for the whole family. Instead of one central amusement park or boardwalk where all your entertainment and food options are concentrated (along with all the crowds), North Carolina's most popular vacation area provides a variety of activities the whole length of Bodie Island. You'll have to drive, but parking is easier than at the New Jersey beaches.
Having arrived at your rented vacation home or hotel room, it's time for the kids to get out and stretch their legs. Miles of beautiful beaches are the primary lure of the area. Even in the wake of the major hurricanes that have pummeled this area over the last decade or so, white and black shells still decorate a well-maintained shoreline of pale brown sand lapped by gentle waves. Beachgoers can play in the sand or wade out 50 yards to sandbars to enhance their swimming, body-surfing, or boogie-boarding pleasure.
Of course, water plays a huge part in the area's economy. Water ride rentals are easy to find, from sedate two-man canoes to daring kite board and exciting jet skis. Watercraft for any level of adventure is just a Visa card and a short car ride away. For the truly adventurous, you can take to the water and the skies at the same time while you parasail on the bay side of the Outer Banks.
Just across the bay in Manteo, the quaint fishing village offers shopping and sights and a special quest for the kids. Pirate Adventures gives the little mateys in all our families a unique experience to tell all of their friends about back home. The participants "sneak" onto a replica pirate ship and sail through the bay, getting "tattoos," fighting Pirate Pete, capturing pirate loot, and shooting water cannons at their enemies. And implanting a memory they'll keep for many years to come.
On days when the weather just isn't conducive to being outside, indoor attractions beckon. A 68,000-square-foot aquarium on Roanoke Island (just across the bridge from South Nags Head) entertains and educates. Little kids learn about Pipe Fish during specially tailored projects, while the whole family can enjoy seeing sharks, turtles, otters, and hundreds of types of fish.
For those of us more land-bound mammals, the Outer Banks doesn't disappoint. Along with the typical outlet shopping malls, miniature golf courses, and go-cart tracks, the sky's literally the limit. After a stop at Kitty Hawk Kites to purchase everything you need, walk across the street to Jockey's Ridge State Park. The 426-acre park boasts the largest natural sand dunes on the East Coast, rising as much as 100 feet. Climbing the dunes provides an excellent view of Bodie Island and makes for the perfect place to fly kites or learn to hang glide.
And we weren't the first people to realize the aeronautical benefits of the area. More than 100 years ago, two bicycle mechanics from Ohio made their way to nearby Kill Devil Hills to test their latest invention. Today, you can visit Wright Brothers National Memorial Park, walk the original flight paths, and learn all about man's early forays in heavier-than-air flight.
To the south is the quiet village of Rodanthe, featured in the popular Nicholas Sparks novel Nights in Rodanthe (and, later, the movie starring Richard Gere and Diane Lane). To the north, visit the Bodie Island lighthouse, take a tour and see the wild horses along the coast, or cast a line for some great fishing. The southern sights are easy to reach by car, but you'll realize why all the four-wheel-drive trucks are lifted and have huge tires--necessities for certain parts of the northern coast.
After all that, you'll need somewhere to eat, and seafood should be on your menu. Fresh seafood is available almost everywhere, from roadside vendors to the most elegant restaurants. Sit down for a fantastic meal at Tale of the Whale near the bay, and make sure you try their homemade ranch dressing or locally made deserts. No matter which entrée you choose, you really can't go wrong. If "all you can eat" is more your style, Captain George's Seafood Restaurant serves up endless crisp crab legs and delicious oysters.
Of course, the typical fast-food stops are available if even Tale of the Whale and Captain George's are too upscale for you. I do enjoy pulling up to a Sonic Drive-in on a beautiful North Carolina summer afternoon for an Old-Fashioned Root Beer Float or a blended Limeade Chiller.
If you're fortunate enough to have rented one of the gorgeous shorefront properties, you may not want to leave for dinner--but you're definitely not going to want to cook. Place a quick call to the grocery stores (Food Lion or Harris-Teeter) and reserve a smorgasbord of seafood favorites. Good deals can be found on shrimp and crab legs and lobsters... and they'll steam them for you in the store. Just pick them up, take them home, and break out the hammers! And don't forget to pull the family minivan into a Brew-Thru for the adult beverages you'll need once the kiddies hit the sack.
One last secret for eating on the Outer Banks: Pigman's BBQ. It's a small eatery, rarely crowded, but Pigman's does a healthy business of take out! Call ahead and order your whole meal; they'll pack it up in tin-foil serving trays so your meal is ready to eat. Don't forget the hushpuppies with honey butter!
A seven-day rental goes quickly. When you're packing up the Family Truckster for the ride home, and you realize there's so much you still haven't done, it's been a good vacation. While there, just relax, enjoy the warm weather, swim in the ocean, chow down on some excellent seafood, and take in all the Outer Banks has to offer.
Having grown up where heading "down da shore" is something you do for an impromptu weekend getaway, I've come to realize that the Outer Banks fit the bill better as a real family vacation. I'd fill you in on the tricks my wife has on finding an excellent vacation house, but we've got to keep some secrets to ourselves!
Sam Fiorani has found that reading Car and Driver at the beach can be very relaxing. Realizing you've left the magazine outside during a torrential downpour... less than relaxing.