From Charlotte, drive east across the state to North Carolina’s seashores. By starting your coastal tour in Emerald Isle, on Highway 70, you’ll get to take in both the Crystal Coast and, later, connect to Highway 12 in the pristine barrier islands known as the Outer Banks. We recommend you give yourself at least a week, with plenty of opportunities to stop along the way. Certainly, this is the type of scenic stretch that practically begs for a proper road trip.
The Crystal Coast, with more than 85 miles of enticing NC beaches, has nine distinct regions. The town of Emerald Isle is a favorite of ours. It’s a family-friendly haven for watersports and fishing onshore, offshore, and on the Bogue Inlet Pier. Swing by The Trading Post for a homestyle Southern meal or take a break from the sun to visit the North Carolina Aquarium.
From Emerald Isle, drive about 30 minutes to Beaufort, NC’s third-oldest waterfront town. There you can walk along the iconic Front Street, for shopping, galleries, and a variety of foodie options. Then, hop a ferry to see Cape Lookout National Seashore. After spending the day, get ready to load the car up to take the ferry from the Crystal Coast to tiny Cedar Island, and then onto Ocracoke.
For the second leg of your road trip, spend time navigating your way from Ocracoke up to Corolla, which runs you about 115 miles. Starting in Ocracoke, famous for its lighthouse, enjoy the sixteen miles of undeveloped beaches owned by the National Park Service. For nature-lovers and explorers, Ocracoke provides endless opportunity. After a day on the beach or a hike through the dunes, Back Porch Restaurant is the spot for a meal on the eponymous screened porch. Ocracoke Oyster Co. is also great for your post-beach happy hour.
To get from Ocracoke to Hatteras, you have to again abandon car travel for a bit to catch the ferry so you can explore the iconic lighthouse and expansive beaches. Hatteras comprises nearly half of the entire Outer Banks, so it’s a good spot to post up. Stay a few nights in one of the many beachfront rentals. Having your own kitchen and personal pool beats a motel, and many of the house rentals allow you to walk right out your door onto the beach. Grab breakfast at Sonny’s Waterfront Restaurant and get ready to hop back on the highway.
Stop in Avon to take in the scenic 600-foot fishing pier and visit one of the most water-activity friendly spots in OBX. There’s kite-surfing, wind-surfing, paddle-boarding, and
jet-skiing aplenty in this quiet beach town.
Winding through Nag’s Head also lets you experience nearby Kill Devil Hills and Kitty Hawk. This is the place to stop for a great meal. Nags Head has some of the Outer Banks’ best food choices, from Sam and Omie’s Restaurant, first opened in 1937, to Tortugas’ Lie with American, Caribbean, Creole, and Japanese offerings. Walk the beach after dinner and get ice cream at the iconic Scoop’s Ice Cream Parlor.
Cap off your OBX road trip in the quaint, northern island town of Duck. Like the rest of the islands, the wild beauty of these 4×4 beaches are stunning. If you’ve got the right vehicle, drive out at sunset for a view you can’t beat. Stroll through the walkable village center, and take advantage of Duck’s fishing, one of the most popular local activities.