I've been lucky enough to spend two weeks in Duck, North Carolina, twice in my life, and both times have been amazing vacations. Duck, which is part of the Outer Banks, has some of the best beaches in the country, and it's an amazing place to relax and enjoy life in a small island town.
You can fly into the Outer Banks--the Richmond, VA airport is fairly close--but I recommend driving, because, if you're spending a week at the beach, you're going to need a lot of stuff. For me, it's a drive that can be done in one very long day, but both times I've gone, the drive has been split into two days on the way there, and done in one on the way back.
So here are my recommendations for a great week in one of my favorite places on Earth.
Both times, the house we stayed in was a Sun Realty NC rental. They have a HUGE variety of properties to fit every budget, are pet-friendly, and are fantastic to work with. (They also support the CF Foundation!) They have everything from tiny beach bungalows to multi-story houses with pool tables and inground pools.
The food in the Outer Banks (Hereafter OBX) is fantastic, especially the seafood. Here are some of the places we've enjoyed eating:
The Blue Point for a nice lunch or dinner. Located in the Waterfront Shops in Duck, you have a lovely view of the sound, and the crab cakes are to die for. Seriously. 1240 Duck Road.
Duck Pizza Company: It's a Sunday evening tradition--don't go grocery shopping, get Duck pizza. They deliver, or you can eat at their shop in the Scarborough Lane shops. 1171 Duck Road.
Duck Donuts: The one. The only. Incredibly good and incredibly famous. :) 1190 Duck Road.
Sooey's BBQ and Rib Shack: Get some Carolina cue in the Scarborough Faire shops (right next to the Scarborough Lane shops).
Big Al's: This is in Manteo--we ate here on our way to see The Lost Colony (More on that below). Fantastically fun retro diner. 716 S. Highway 64.
Food Lion in Corolla is your big box grocery store. In Duck, you have two smaller choices: Tommy's, which is a gourmet market and sells a ton of fresh seafood as well as other gourmet eats, is in the waterfront shoppes. Your other option is Wee Winks, which is less pricey and has your general food/household stuff. TINY parking lot, though, which backs right out onto Duck Road, so be careful!
That's right guys--book stores. Two fantastic independent bookstores!!!! Both have really friendly staffs and are heaven for book browsers.
Duck's Cottage: My true love. I go there almost every day when I'm in Duck. Not only books--coffee and pastries, too, that you can eat in the shop or on the adorable porch outside. Treats and water for pups, too! Small, but an incredibly diverse collection, and they'll order books for you. 1240 Duck Road. (In the Waterfront Shops) This is my favorite bookstore in the country, guys. I love it even more than The Strand in NYC!
Island Bookstore: Scarborough Faire shops. Packed to the rafters with all sorts of books, including ones that are crazy hard to find. A great place to dig around and browse.
Duck is known as a shopper's paradise, and there's a lot of great places to check out. The Scarborough Lane and Scarborough Faire shops are a good place to go when it's raining since they're more covered; the Waterfront Shops overlook the sound. The Fudgery at the Scarborough Lane shops is to die for, and the Christmas Mouse shop there is really cute. I love just about every shop in the Waterfront Shops.
The Beaches are divine. If you rent from Sun, you'll have private access routes to the beaches. You can also rent beach items--chairs, noodles, floats, even bikes--from various companies around town. The beaches all have lifeguards and boards noting the weather conditions, water temperature, and other things. Be aware of riptides and how to get out of them before you go, though--every house that Sun rents has information sheets about these in the main room.
The Lost Colony is one of America's first outdoor drama performances, and it's one of the good ones. The performance features really cool sets and music, and is located in an outdoor amphitheater that overlooks the water. Wear bug spray and bring a jacket, because it gets chilly! But it's a great performance that details what might have happened to the "lost colony" of Roanoke. 1409 National Park Drive, Manteo, NC.
If you want to see where the Wright Brothers took their first flight, head to the Wright Brothers National Memorial. (Even though the first flight was in Kitty Hawk, the museum is located in Kill Devil Hills. Go figure.)
The OBX is a great place to learn to surf, SUP (Stand up Paddleboard), body surf, kayak--all sorts of things are available. There's fishing off the research pier, kite flying, and a lot more. North Beach Outfitters at the Waterfront shops sells sports gear and also has kayak and Jeep adventures.
Everything in Duck is off the main road--route 12, or the "Duck Road." It's easy to get around via car or even bike--and to get to the other towns, you either go north or south. Corolla, the city north of Duck, is pretty remote, and some of the sites are only accessible via a 4X4.
Sundays are crazy, because that's the biggest day for people leaving and arriving in the Outer Banks. Be prepared for slow traffic on the bridges and once you're on the island. It gradually clears up as you get closer to Duck. To avoid the traffic when you're heading home, leave really early in the morning. I haven't figured out how to avoid it when you're arriving, yet. : ) Also be sure to study the hurricane information sheets in your hotel/rental.
Your rental company will tell you what you need to bring in terms of cooking/household gear. If you're like me and you like to cook, you might want to bring a decent knife and cutting board, since those can be hard to find in rental houses.
I really want to get back to Duck soon--writing this has made me miss it!! If you're looking for a great vacation spot, I highly recommend the Outer Banks, and Duck in general.