While Nags Head and many of the Outer Banks beach communities have grown exponentially over the last decade a family and budget friendly vacation can still be planned. The first step in maintaining one’s budget is to look further south on Highway 12. Stopping at the Visitor’s Center in Kitty Hawk will allow you to pick up several discount booklets and brochures for hotels, motels, and an abundance of activities.
Be sure to stop at this end of the Outer Banks to complete any grocery shopping as the prices increase drastically as you continue south. Beyond the traffic jams and neon signs lies the heart of the Outer Banks. Highway 12 winds peacefully through the Cape Hatterras National Seashore, the Atlantic Ocean to the left and the Currituck sound to the right. Bodie (pronounced “body”) Island Lighthouse is open for viewing but not climbing. Nearby Coquina Beach is very family friendly offering showers and handicap accessibility.
Cross over the Bonner Bridge at Oregon Inlet into the Pea Island Wildlife Refuge, which offers unending opportunities to cross the dunes and find your own piece of paradise. Those that are old enough to remember Walter Kronkite may remember his love of the waterfowl that transiently call Pea Island home. Young and old alike can learn about these waterfowl at the visitor’s center and try their eye at bird watching, and turtle spotting along the trail. The visitor’s center is staffed by volunteers that are eager to share their knowledge of the local wildlife.
The beach is walking distance across the highway and primitive restrooms are available. A short distance south just before Salvo is an area known to the surfing community as the “S” turns. Here you can watch pro, semi-pro and novice surfers share what is often described as the best surf on the East Coast. In Salvo, Avon and Rodanthe you will find surf shops, bait and tackle, gas stations, souvenirs, family owned hotels, camping and restaurants.
Camping is an excellent option for the budget minded. Several campgrounds are operated by the NPS, but commercial campgrounds such as KOA are also available. I do not recommend tent camping in August as the temperatures can soar above 100 degrees Fahrenheit and little shade is available. Cape Hatteras National Park offers tours (fee required) of the famous lighthouse, visitor’s center, gift shop camping, picnic tables and of course more beautiful beaches and surfers galore.
Everyone will enjoy taking the “free” ferry to Ocracoke. Ocracoke offers the most pristine beaches and quaint shops filled with souvenirs and antiques. Be prepared to spend at lest a day here if not your entire vacation. The mini-golf, fast food and gaudy souvenir shops will seem like a bad dream, even your teenager may stop grousing long enough to enjoy arguably the best kept secret on the East Coast.