Last Updated on September 3, 2022
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The Outer Banks (affectionately known as the OBX) in North Carolina has always felt like home away from home. Since I was a teenager, the unspoiled landscape and dunes have called me there. This trip was memorable, though, as it was the first time my husband would experience the OBX with me.
We made the 6-hour drive via the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel from Baltimore in mid-December to the shores of Nags Head. I’ve vacationed here in the winter before for a laid-back family Christmas. However, this trip was about searching for migrating waterfowl at the region’s wildlife refuges.
I smiled as we pulled into the driveway of our wooden-shingled cottage. Even though the sun had set, the brightly lit courtyard welcomed us to our home away from home. We used the key code emailed the day before to unlock the front door and settle in for the next day’s adventures.
Instant Love for Our Oceanfront Outer Banks Vacation Rental
Whalebone Ocean Cottages consists of seven two-story vacation homes. Cottages B and C face the oceanfront for excellent sunrise views. We were lucky to stay in Cottage B, which had three generous bedrooms and could sleep up to 10 people.
Shades of coastal blue and sea green give the well-appointed cottage a coastal vibe. You immediately feel like you are at the beach as soon as you enter the large open floor plan.
We made breakfast each morning in the well-stocked kitchen with stainless steel appliances. The kitchen island provided plenty of counter space and three bar stools for extra seating. The dining room table, with seating for eight, was steps from the kitchen. I also enjoyed having my morning coffee made from the complimentary selection of K-Cups on the cozy striped couch.
The bedroom on the main level had plenty of storage in a large dresser and closet. The two bedrooms upstairs each had two queen beds. And each bedroom had an en suite bathroom stocked with shampoo and conditioner.
Each cottage has a covered porch with cheery cobalt blue high-top chairs and a small table. I could have spent many hours here just listening to the waves crash.
A community pool for cottage guests is also on the premises. Although it was winter, the pool deck still looked inviting with Adirondack chairs. Cottage B overlooks the pool.
Long Walks on the Beach
OBX beaches are meant for long walks and searching for seashells. So each morning, I would take the short walk on the boardwalk over the dunes and breath a sigh. The beach is my happy place.
Winter temperatures average in the low to mid-50s, perfect for a stroll. However, remember that the OBX can be windy, so bring layers.
If you head north about ½ mile along the beach, you’ll run into Jennette’s Pier. The pier, owned by North Carolina’s Aquariums, houses a 3000-gallon aquarium and interactive exhibits. Anglers of all ages come here to cast a line ($14 for adults, $7 for children). Jennette’s Pier is also ideal for ocean birding and taking in panoramic views.
Access to the pier is $2.
The Perfect Location for Birding
Whalebone Cottages is a perfect launching point for exploring the barrier islands. Birding often requires early morning starts when the birds are most active. The Visitors Center at Pea Island Wildlife Refuge is about a 20-minute drive from the cottages. My husband and I caught an apricot-colored sky peeking over the dunes en route.
Pea Island Wildlife Refuge, located along the Atlantic Flyway, is home to over 400 species of birds and animals. Tundra Swans, Snow Geese, Northern Pintail Ducks, Green-Winged Teals, and Bufflehead Ducks, to name a few, spend the winter. In one morning, my husband and I saw over 40 species.
Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge on the mainland is also a must-see—for black bears! Interestingly, the black bears here do not hibernate due to plentiful food sources. Early in the morning, bears forage in the refuge’s fields. My husband also spotted swans, diving ducks, hawks, and falcons. In the warmer months, many people come here to kayak.
Also on the mainland, just nine miles away from the cottage, is the delightful town of Manteo. The waterfront town offers boutique shops, locally made pottery and artwork, an independent bookstore, and more. Also, be sure to sample North Carolina wines at Vineyards on the Scuppernong. If you like Christmas stores, the Christmas Shop and General Store has 25,000 square feet of holiday décor.
Outer Banks Dining: Fresh Seafood
Of course, no trip to the beach would be complete without a seafood dinner. The OBX is famous for its shrimp, Carolina barbecue, and Hatteras clam chowder.
One evening we dined on succulent fried shrimp and fresh fish tacos at the lively Blue Water Grill & Raw Bar. My husband and I are beer lovers so we had to try the Outer Banks Brewing Station. We sampled local brews with a warm bowl of chowder filled with clams and some tangy pork barbecue.
For wine lovers, TriO Restaurant and Market has a diverse menu. This sophisticated but comfortable venue was filled with locals enjoying drinks together. If you fancy one of the wines, you may also be able to take home a bottle from the on-site market.
Although this was a December trip, the OBX is perfect year-round. The two barrier islands that make up the OBX stretch over 200 miles. Hatteras Island to the south is a road-trippers dream with sleepy fishing villages, iconic lighthouses, and untamed nature.
The Northern Beaches region is home to the Wright Brothers National Memorial. Make sure to take the informative tour offered by the National Park Rangers. Orville and Wilbur Wright’s journey to the First Flight is fascinating. You’ll also find the tallest living sand dunes on the Atlantic Coast at Jockey’s Ridge State Park.
And I’m happy to report that my husband loved his first trip to the OBX! We’ll be back.
Visiting for Less than a Week? No Problem
The OBX is different because high-density hotels and high rises do not overlook the beaches. Rentals homes dominate, almost always requiring a seven-night stay with a weekend check-in. Whalebone Cottages offers flexible visits allowing you to check in any day and stay for any duration with all the benefits of having a rental home.