About an hour north of Kitty Hawk in the Outer Banks of North Carolina lies the beachside town of Corolla. A visit here means digging your feet into silky, white sand and absorbing the sun (make sure to bring sunscreen). The historic area provides a plethora of things to do, from touring the wildlife refuge and visiting the Currituck Beach lighthouse, to watching the wild horses run or learning to surf.
Corolla is one of the most secluded points in the Outer Banks, but it draws a crowd every year for its herd of 119 feral horses. In the sunny beauty of the beach, they run free in a 12,000-acre animal sanctuary funded and maintained by The Corolla Wild Horse Fund.
To access, you can drive the 4X4 beaches yourself or hop on one of the tour buses. A quick drive up to the Currituck National Wildlife reserve bears the possibility of catching a glimpse of the elusive King Rail. It’s difficult to spot as it keeps to specific areas in the wetlands, but the reserve is also home to a wide variety of colorful raptors.
The beaches and wetlands provide a staggering amount of biodiversity and incredible wildlife, but Corolla offers entertaining activities of all kinds. It’s a prime spot for on-shore and deep sea fishing, there’s a surf school, and thrill seekers can feel the air beneath their feet as they parasail above the sparkling sea.
It’s ideal to stay in one of the many seaside homes that are available for rent. In typical Carolina fashion, the cabins come with names that evoke days in the sun and laid-back evenings. The smell of salt in the air complements these homes more than anything else could. In the evenings, as you lay back with your family after a home-cooked meal, you’ll be treated to a rosy-pink sunset reflecting across the water and the silhouettes of the dunes.
The fare on Corolla is varied, casual, and funky. Corolla is more of a proper small town than some its southern counterparts (Avon, Salvo), and it offers cute coffee shops, bars, and eateries a-plenty. All of the establishments have that beach-town feel, with plenty of fresh-caught seafood. The Sanderling’s Lifesaving Station has delicious dinner offerings as does North Banks Restaurant and Raw Bar, and First House is a staple breakfast spot.
Corolla is a diamond in the rough — it’s small and out of the way, with only 500-ish full-time residents. But it’s a beach trip unlike any other: no noisy tourists, no zany attractions, just the purity of nature and the relaxing fun of sand between your toes. The unbeatable sunsets, small town vibe, and the calming roar of the ocean in the distance will leave a smile on your face year after year. It’s well worth the drive every time.