Travel Like a Local: Outer Banks, NC
Words by Laura Bento
Photos by Wes Frazer
I have a certain love affair with the East Coast. I suppose it’s because I grew up just minutes from its shore and made most of my childhood memories in its sand. My most recent love affair with the East Coast took place in The Outer Banks (OBX) of North Carolina.
It is an investment to get there. I heard a local joke, “This coast isn’t for everyone; you have to know there is magic here to make the trek.” It is right on both counts—the magic and the time investment. When I arrived, I immediately fell in love with the Cape Cod-style architecture and a view free of high-rises that seem to litter so many beachfronts. Maybe I’ve read too many Nicholas Sparks books, but I felt as if I was walking into one.
I checked into the Sanderling Resort and quickly sat on the balcony of my room that overlooked the waves crashing into the shore. Sanderling is a staple of this part of the world, as it has been here since 1985 but underwent a massive investment and remodel in 2013. The staff has East Coast hospitality, as they have a familiar friendliness that reminds me of my Savannah, Georgia roots. This trip was about unplugging, so I made an appointment at the spa right away. After a facial and massage, staying in the vein of “treat yourself,” I went to dinner at Kimbell’s Kitchen, a fine dining restaurant on property, and it didn’t disappoint.
The beauty of visiting places in the off-season is the ability to dive into the local scenes. I love meeting people who have made a life in places where most of us dream of vacationing. A common theme for those who have become locals was that they all appeared to have vacationed here. The massive, beautiful homes are ideal for big families or groups of friends, and those experiences inspired a desire to live there full-time.
I also quickly realized that people in the Outer Banks don’t take this oasis of East Coast charm for granted. I gathered suggestions of local favorites from everyone I talked to, from the gas station to the valet who helped me check in to the hotel. If I’m traveling to a place I‘ve never been, I always try to balance my experiences. I knew I couldn’t leave this place without visiting the Wright Brothers Museum, which seemed like it would swing a bit on the “touristy” side, but from what I heard from the locals, it’s one of the best hidden gems in the area.
I fueled up on coffee at The Front Porch Café in Kill Devil Hills the next morning before starting my exploration of the entire coastline of The Outer Banks (all 130 miles of it). I mapped out my day in the hope of having the windows down and the crisp fall air to keep me company as I took in everything this romantic coastline had to offer. I was looking forward to my first stop—the Wright Brothers Museum. If you are a dreamer and anything like me, you have looked to the Wright Brothers’ grit for inspiration: These two men who didn’t have all the resources or the best technology, but they had an idea they refused to give up on. I stood in the spot where the first flight took place and it felt surreal. I tried to imagine the celebration that must have taken place when they finally made it happen. To stand where so much hope was born—I could feel the magic of that moment still lingering in the air.
Being a tourist can be fun, but to truly experience the soul of a place, you need to experience it like a local. Outer Banks has such soul, and the people who love it love to share the best things about it. My 130-mile adventure along the Outer Banks coastline can’t really be explained in words—it can only be experienced. Sure, I could tell you about the family of ducks I watched climb sand dunes so high they hid beachside mansions. I could tell you the moments that forced me to breathe in the gratitude of the beauty, but I would rather you go. Take the list I put together through my meaningful conversations with the locals I met along the way and go do it yourself. Pull yourself away from your screens, throw this issue of Good Grit in your travel bag, and go experience OBX in the off season. Let the fierce waves and salty air of the East Coast wash you clean from the previous seasons.