Outer Banks Vacation: Taking Advantage of Today

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*We received a discount on this Outer Beaches property thanks to a partnership with this blog. Regardless, all content and opinions are 100% honest and my own.*

Saving this for our Outer Banks vacation next summer!

Today is Labor Day, friends, which means one thing: summer is officially over. If not by scientific measurement, at least by our cultural calendars.

I want to bid the beautiful season adieu today by giving you the lowdown on our recent Outer Banks vacation. As we made plans to get away this year, we decided to do a big family trip with my husband’s family—grandparents, “children,” spouses, and grandkids.

Getting away together was of utmost importance. The sands of time can do cruel things. They make us older. They sometimes bring with them disability. As they wear on, fun things like traveling can become more difficult. We wanted to take advantage of today while we could all travel together, because we don’t know what tomorrow will hold.

And we’re so glad we did. Much like we put quarters in our piggy banks, putting shared experiences in our memory banks is an important practice in life.

Where to Stay in the Outer Banks

The drive down wouldn’t normally take us 14 hours, but with so many people caravanning, it did. When we arrived, we were tickled pink about the greeting at our beach house:

You know you're a long-time Pittsburgh Pirates fan when you get the true depth and pain of this humor.
You know you’re a long-time Pittsburgh Pirates fan when you get the true depth and pain of this humor.

We stayed at BUC-n-EER, a property with Outer Beaches Realty. It was spot-on perfect for us. Everyone had the privacy they needed, and all the adults had their own balconies off their bedrooms. The kids excitedly explored the house as we unpacked, making plans to play basketball, billiards and go swimming.

Why, yes, that is the Jolly Roger flying from the house's mast. #RaiseIt!
Why, yes, that is the Jolly Roger flying from the house’s mast. #RaiseIt!

The first night, my brother-in-law showed us the Milky Way from top deck. That’s how clear the night sky was: you could literally see the Milky Way. The only sky I’ve ever seen that compares was deep in the heart of Yellowstone.

Later that night, my father-in-law called us all back out to the porch to watch a storm roll in from the mainland. Because everything is so flat, we could see the night sky light up 360 degrees with electricity as the dark, then illuminated, then dark again clouds moved in from miles away. About half an hour later it was over us, and then half an hour later we were watching it out at sea.

We were very lucky that was the only bad weather we had all week. The isolated storm was amazing to watch, but the rest of our time there was sunny and perfect for doing things like the beach and the pool, which the kids convinced us to do before breakfast the next morning:

outer beaches vacation rental buc n eer

Favorite Beaches on Our Outer Banks Vacation

Our house was really close to the beach. In fact, I went up there for a mommy-needs-a-breather trip myself, and my niece excitedly came back one night raving about all the crabs she had seen in the moonlight.

We were traveling with some people with mobility issues, though, and to walk to pretty much any beach in the Outer Banks, you have to traverse the sand dunes:

outer banks vacation sand dunes
To the left are the houses over a hill, and over another hill to the right is the seashore.

Beautiful though they may be, their soft sands make them a tricky climb. When I went during the day, the beach was pretty well populated. It wasn’t Myrtle Beach crowded; I still had plenty of room to lay out my towel right near the surf with no one behind or in front of me. But here is the relativity it had to compete with:

outer banks vacation off roading

That little spec far off in the middle of the beach was our closest neighbor when we took advantage of the fact that the Outer Banks is a National Shoreline where you are allowed to take off-road vehicles. For $50/vehicle, you get a week-long pass to drive around on the sand, which I got pretty good at by the end of the week. It’s like driving on ice only you can dig in and get stuck. (Which totally happened to us once!)

This allowed us to have large expanses of beaches to ourselves, helped us feel more comfortable with the kids running around, and made the beach accessible to everyone regardless of mobility. From what I understand, the only other beach that allows you to do this is Daytona. At least on the East Coast.

outer banks beach vacation

Of the three beaches we visited, here are our personal rankings:

  1. Ocracoke Island– You have to take a (free) ferry to get here, but it’s well worth it. If you thought the rest of the Outer Banks were isolated, the effort it takes to get out here makes this island even more so.
    Perhaps because there’s less people, we found an incredible amount of shells while visiting this beach, most of them perfect. One of the kiddos even found a fully-intact conch!
  2. Avon– It could have been the time of day or the position of the moon, but Avon had the gentlest surf of all the beaches we visited. It was also the closest to our house in Salvo.
  3. Hatteras– We stopped here after getting our pass to drive on the beach. It was still a beautiful beach, but it had the harshest surf. Again with the moon thing, though. Our experience may not have been the norm.

Things to Do

As my sister-in-law said, “The Outer Banks is where you go to get away from it all.” It’s not a place laden with attractions. That doesn’t mean there’s not a lot to do, though. We spent plenty of days in the pool or in the sand, but there were a couple of other things we checked out, too.

Digger’s Dungeon

Photo by KAZ Vorpal available via CC BY-SA 2.0

Gravedigger is a monster truck, for those of you who don’t know, and Digger’s Dungeon was one of the things on our kids’ must-do list. It’s highly geared towards children, which was great for us. On top of playing and touring, they also got to ride in a monster truck for real. Only one girl from our clan went on the ride; the rest were boys and grown men. She outlasted them all giggling as everyone else turned green!

Wright Brothers Memorial

We wanted to hit this up on our way back from Digger’s Dungeon, but we got there one minute after close.

Super saver tip for those of you who aren’t tardy: If you have a family member with a disability, apply for the National Parks Access Pass. It gets the disabled person and everyone in the same car in to national sites across the country for a severely discounted rate–sometimes even for free.

Ocracoke Island Ferry

As I mentioned before, we loved visiting Ocracoke Island. The last time I had been to OBX, you took a short little ferry ride to get there. Since that time, a sand bar has filled in the short route, so now the free ferry ride is much longer. They make you turn off the car and the AC area of the ferry is not handicap accessible, so going over at 2P under the hot sun was a little bit hell-ish.

But the ride back? One of the best experiences ever. In a lucky accident, we timed our departure right at sunset. For most of the ride back, we were able to see this in half of the 360 degree sky:

ocracoke island sunset

The other half of the sky was pitch-black with those amazing stars again, including the Milky Way. As the night got darker, every time the boat turned it looked like the sky was rotating rather than us. The entire experience was moving, and I’m glad it’s something we got to share as a family.

Best Eats

In all honesty, well only ate out three times while in the Outer Banks. Most of the time, we cooked our own food in our spacious kitchen or out on the grill.

While we were waiting for the ferry, though, we did grab some food at a little stand outside the adjacent shopping center. I got a delectable NC-style BBQ pork sandwich, but I think I was the only one that was impressed with my food.

The other two times we ate out we had a great experiences. Once, we stopped at Bros Sandwich Shack. It was so. dang. good. We had a little bit of a wait between ordering our awesome sandwiches and actually getting them, but their friendly staff was cool enough to hook me up with their WiFi password so I could avoid a total meltdown with one of my kids. Even our picky eater chowed down. Highly recommend the chicken philly!

Then, for our one big dinner out, we blindly stopped at Ketch 55. It was a little bit pricey, but had good food and good service. The things that were hits were super quality, like the mushroom risotto and clams. The fried seafood was actually deep fried instead of fried on the stove, which some people liked and others didn’t, and the skin was left on the flounder, but other than that everyone had a great time and was well satisfied. We also had a birthday dinner, so we tried out a couple of their fantastic desserts!

Family vacations are important.

At least they are in our family. This was the first time a big one with everyone there had happened in their family since the year I was born. While we did some things frugally and took certain measures to make the experience affordable for us all, the point of this trip was to build memories together that each of us could carry for a lifetime. Mission completed.


15 thoughts on “Outer Banks Vacation: Taking Advantage of Today

  1. Emily @ JohnJaneDoe

    Looks lovely. Despite living in NC most of my life, I’ve never gone to the outer banks except for a day trip to Ocracoke. Otherwise, we’ve gone to the more southern beaches (Atlantic, Emerald Isle, Sunset Holden, Oak Island, Wrightsville) because the drives are so much shorter. We particularly like Holden…very laid back, mostly private cottages, and calm water.

    1. femmefrugality Post author

      Have done Wrightsville and heard great things about Holden! Quiet beaches definitely have a soul-restoring vibe.

  2. Dividends Down Under

    Stunning photos. That is really cool that you could drive on the beach, I’ve only experienced that once before but I’m not actively looking for drive-able beaches most of the time! can’t imagine the salt would be very good for the car, but if it’s only very rarely then why not!

    Thanks for sharing your holiday experiences with us 🙂


    1. femmefrugality Post author

      It was my first time! I agree—probably wouldn’t seek it out if the need wasn’t there, but I’m glad for the experience. We actually rented as our car didn’t have AWD. The other car belonged to an extended family member who is actually a mechanic—so he knows what he’s doing!

    1. femmefrugality Post author

      I’m super excited to see the differences—this will be my first time venturing all the way to the Pacific! Have gotten close, but…
      Excited to see you, too, of course!

  3. Jana @ Jana Says

    We went to OBX about 7 years ago and I am dying to get back. It was such an amazing trip. We went in April so there were almost no crowds, the price on the house was deeply discounted (and my in-laws paid so that was nice, too), and it has some of the best seafood I’ve ever had.

    We make it a point to have a family vacation once a year. It’s important to us to have that time away from everything and everyone.

  4. Fehmeen

    Lovely photos! There are so many ways you can go on a frugal vacation and you have proved that today. Looks like you had a great time driving on the beach. Must’ve been a bumpy ride though…

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  9. Kortney

    My grandparents own a hotel on Ocracoke and you are right it is a must see! If you stay there or day-trip over you wont be disappointed! Half of my heart is there along with anyone whom has ever visited! Great read thank you very much!


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