If you’re planning a winter vacation to the Outer Banks, I hope you’ll find my Corolla Beach Travel Guide helpful. It’s still a work in progress, so I’ll be adding more info after my upcoming OBX trip!
Sunny summer days by the sea are wonderful, especially on the Emerald Coast. However, winter is also a great time to go to the beach. You’ll save a bundle on accommodation rates, and you can still walk on the beach and enjoy the same beautiful scenery with cooler temperatures.
A few local attractions may be closed, but there is still so much to do you’ll have a struggle deciding how to spend your time. Below are lots of ideas to help you plan. I’ll be adding more after my Corolla Beach vacation this December.
Whether you’re planning your own trip or just browsing and dreaming, enjoy!
Remember to call before you go because off-season hours may change without notice.
Historical Sites and Museums
OBX has so much rich history, including the Revolutionary War era, Civil War, the Wright Brothers, and some very interesting African-American history. Here are some highlights.
Historic Corolla Park
1160 Village Lane, Corolla, NC 27927
Currituck Beach Lighthouse – 2023 Season March 18 – November 30
Open daily from 9:00 am – 5:00 pm, weather permitting, Closed Thanksgiving Day
Admission charge for climbing lighthouse for ages 4 and up; minimum age 4 years old to climb
Lighthouse Office: 252-453-4939, Lighthouse Museum Shop 252-453-6778
Whalehead Museum – Open 10:00 am – 4:00 pm Monday – Friday; Closed Saturday and Sunday; Off-Season Hours Vary; For info call 252-453-9040.
Set on 39 acres on the Currituck Sound, this restored 1920s-era Art Nouveau-style mansion is a museum of Outer Banks history during the early 20th century. For more information also see Outer Banks Visitors Guide.
Currituck Maritime Museum
Open 7 days a week 10:00am – 4:00pm, Free Admission
Located across from the Currituck Beach Lighthouse, this museum displays exhibits relating the story of the local community and surrounding waterways and its unique heritage.
Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education
22,000 square foot museum of natural history of North Carolina’s wildlife
Open 9:00 am – 5:00 pm Monday – Saturday; Off-season hours vary.
Located next to Corolla Park and the Currituck Beach Lighthouse, this pedestrian friendly village is a historic community that includes:
- Corolla Chapel built in 1885
- Two-Room school house built in 1800s
- Wild Horse Museum
- A number of shops housed in restored homes that date back to the late 19th century
- Corolla Village Bar-B-Que (which gets a 4.5 star rating on Tripadvisor)
Described as a quaint little village, this is not a large area so it won’t take long to see it all. Shops include the Island Bookstore, Spry Creek Home Accents & Gifts, The Event Boutique, and more.
Wild Horses of Corolla
No Corolla Beach Travel Guide would be complete without mention of what many consider the main attraction!
The legendary OBX wild horses can be seen on the beaches just north of Historic Corolla Park. These horses are descendants of colonial Spanish Mustangs that were brought to the area by explorers nearly 500 years ago.
The beaches where the horses roam are accessible by 4-wheel-drive vehicles only. The public is allowed to drive on these beaches, but there are very strict and specific rules that you must obey. For complete information, and to obtain a permit during the high season, see Beach Driving & Parking on the Off Road.
Also note that these horses are indeed wild, and they are protected by ordinance. For their protection, and yours as well, it is against the law to feed, lure, or come within 50 feet of these horses.
The best way to see the horses is to book a tour with one of the local guide services. There are quite a few, as you can see if you do a simple search for Corolla wild horse tours.
Important: These tours book up in advance. Some tours are not offered regularly after November. You will need to check to see if any of the local guides will be doing tours in December and after the first of the year. It is recommended that you hire a “reputable” guide (though I cannot yet offer personal experience on that). Please note that no matter what time of year you go, none of the tours will guarantee that you will see the horses.
It would be impossible to list all the wonderful shops all along the shores of the Outer Banks. In addition to the Historic Corolla Village shops mentioned above, there are dozens more places to enjoy browsing and buying. That includes several large shopping complexes such as the TimBuck II Shopping Village.
The Twiddy Vacation Guide provides an excellent online resource. To explore the possibilities check out this link:
OuterBanks.org provides another very comprehensive shopping guide. It lists hundreds of shops! Don’t worry, you don’t have to spend all day looking. To save you time, the site offers you several ways to filter and narrow down your search to focus on what interests you most. See this shopping directory here:
Note: Before you go you may want to call or check business websites. Operating hours can change, especially in the off-season, and unfortunately shops occasionally go out of business.
If you have a sweet tooth, it’s going to be very happy here. Honestly, I try to eat healthy most of the time, but not on vacation. That’s when I indulge in those sinfully delicious treats I love!
- Corolla Scoops & Sweets, 1152 Ocean Trail, Corolla
hand dipped Hershey’s ice cream, milkshakes, floats, and “an ever changing variety of candy”
- Duck Donuts, 603D Currituck Clubhouse Drive, Corolla
donuts, coffee, espresso, ice cream, sandwiches
- Big Buck’s Ice Cream & Espresso Bar, 794 Sunset Blvd., Corolla (Timbuck II Shopping Center)
milkshakes, sundaes, banana splits, homemade soft serve ice cream, espresso bar, smoothie bar
- Corolla Cupcakes, 797 Sunset Blvd., Corolla (Timbuck II Shopping Center)
homemade gourmet cupcakes
- The Fudgery, 790-M Ocean Trail, Space A, Corolla (Timbuck II Shopping Center)
fudge, dessert sauces
North of Corolla Beach is Corova Beach, a community accessible only by 4WD vehicles. This area is remote with no restaurants or activities, but it has beautiful rental vacation homes and, of course, the famous wild horses. Go here for more info about Corova Beach.
Starting at Corolla Beach and driving south you’ll come to the following towns, in the order listed.
Duck is actually the northernmost town on the Outer Banks. It has a one-mile boardwalk with shopping centers and restaurants. This is also the home of the first, original Duck Donuts.
- Southern Shores
Beaches here have no public access as the town caters to residents. You will find a limited number of restaurants at either end of town.
- Kitty Hawk
Sandwiched between Southern Shores and Kill Devil Hills, Kitty Hawk is home to many full time residents of the Outer Banks. Rental homes here are modest compared to the mansions in other OBX areas, and it also offers hotels, motels, and RV-friendly campgrounds. The town has lots of shops and restaurants, and a Walmart.
- Kill Devil Hills
Adjacent to Kitty Hawk is the largest OBX town and home of the Wright Brothers National Memorial. Were you thinking that should be in Kitty Hawk? Well, as it happened, Orville and Wilbur made their inaugural flights in a field in Kill Devil Hills. However, at the time only nearby Kitty Hawk had a telegram station, so when the success telegram was sent, it came from Kitty Hawk. Reporters picked up on that name, and Kitty Hawk got all the credit for what actually happened in Kill Devil Hills.
The town has plenty of restaurants and shopping and is home to the Avalon Fishing Pier, built in 1958 and one of the few wooden piers left on the North Carolina coast.
- Nags Head
Nags Head boasts all types vacation accommodations. Find anything you need in the local shops, grocery stores and an outlet mall. Restaurants range from casual to fine dining, and of course they offer lots of great seafood.
Notable attractions in Nags Head include Sam & Omie’s, the oldest OBX restaurant, and the 1000-foot long Jeannette’s Pier with some exhibits and aquariums.
Turning toward the inland it’s just a short drive to Manteo on Roanoke Island. There are no beaches here but lots of interesting attractions. Here are a few I discovered on my last visit there:
The Christmas Shop & General Store – This is huge! Imagine 25,000 square feet of Christmas ornaments, décor, gifts, plus candy, wine, gourmet food items, local art and jewelry, and more.
- Elizabethan Gardens – In November and December don’t miss the annual “WinterLights”. The ten-acre gardens are illuminated with a new look and feel every year, and always designed to showcase the beautiful setting and trees.
- Pea Island Cook House and Herbert M. Collins Boathouse at Collins Park – The Pea Island Lifesaving Station is America’s only all African-American U. S. Coast Guard station. Under the leadership of Richard Etheridge, a former slave born on Roanoke Island, the crew risked their own lives to save hundres of others from 1880 to 1947. The museum is currently open by appointment only, and you can find more information here.
- The Freedmen’s Colony of Roanoke Island – This is not a museum, but a very impressive monument marks the site of the historic National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom. Most of the 3,000 residents of this area had been slaves in North Carolina. The history of this colony and its people is very interesting and you can read all about it here.
Heading south from Nags Head are Rodanthe, Waves, Salvo, Avon, Buxton, Frisco, Hatteras, and Ocracoke. These are a rather long drive from Corolla Beach, but you can find information about them online if you’re interested.
See my note below about Ocracoke and its famous lighthouse.
Golf Courses and Miniature Golf
Most notable is The Currituck Club, 620 Currituck Clubhouse Drive, Corolla, NC
18 holes, championship golf, course designed by award winner Rees Jones. This course is know for its “flawless bent grass greens, spectacular rolling dunes, seaside vegetation and views of the Currituck Sound”. To learn more or book a tee time click here to visit the website.
Hunt Club Tavern Restaurant – Dine at The Currituck Club in a family atmosphere that is open to the public. They serve breakfast and lunch, and it appears that dinner is by reservation only. Go here to see menus and current serving hours.
Golf Courses Located on the Mainland:
- The Carolina Club, 127 Carolina Club Drive, Grandy, NC
Par-72 course, generous fairways, superb bent grass greens, locals favorite.
- Holly Ridge Golf Course, 8818 Caratoke Highway, Harbinger, NC
18-hole, par-71 course for all skill levels.
- Kilmarlic Golf Club, 215 Westside Lane, Powell’s Point, NC
“Legendary Golf in a Legendary Setting”
- Eagle Creek Golf Club & Grill, Moyock, NC
Slated as fun, affordable, and casual, and for players of all ages and skill levels.
- The Pointe Golf Club, 308 Pointe Golf Club Dr, Powells Point, NC
Par-71 championship design, a fun and playable course for all skill levels. Includes a public driving range and a short game practice area with two chipping greens, practice bunker, and practice putting green.
There are 3 mini golf courses in Corolla Beach. Corolla Putt Putt appears to have a more sophisticated look, whereas the other two seem to be geared more toward kids. (But then, aren’t we all still kids at heart? Especially on vacation!)
- Corolla Adventure Golf and Bumper Cars, 808 Ocean Trail, Corolla, NC
Call for off-season hours: (252) 453-7777
- Corolla Putt Putt, 785 Sunset Boulevard, TimBuck II Shopping Village, Corolla, NC
Call for off-season hours: (252) 453-6900
- Pirate’s Island Golf, 1109 Ocean Trail, Corolla Light Town Center, Corolla
Call for off-season hours: (252) 453-4443
Flights leave out of Manteo. At the time of this writing, prices depend on the tour you choose and range from $53 to $367 per person with 3 people on the tour. The tour company makes a video of your flight, posts it on YouTube, and sends you a copy to keep. For details see Outer Banks Helicopters Tours.
Donal C. O’Brien Jr. Audubon Sanctuary at Pine Island
Located 14 miles north of the Wright Memorial Bridge in Corolla
2,600 acroe property with 2.5 mile nature trail with viewing stands
170 bird species, 7 amphibian species, 17 reptile species, 19 mammal species, over 350 plant species
For information see Currituck Banks Coastal Estuarine Reserve.
Currituck Banks National Estuarine Reserve
Located just north of Corolla
965 acres with ocean beach, sand dunes, grasslands, shrub thicket, maritime forest, marshes and tidal flats
Southern portion accessible by car or boat and has two walking trails.
Northern portion accessible by 4WD only. For information see Currituck Banks Reserve.
- Also there is the Mackay Island National Wildlife Refuge on Knotts Island, accessible via the Knotts Island ferry, Ferry Dock Rd, Knotts Island, NC
Ferry schedule may be limited. Call (252) 463-7020.
There are so many more recreation opportunities that you can look into. Here are a few to get you started, and an online search will lead you to more detailed information.
- Charter Fishing
- Corolla Raceway (gocarts, bumper cars, arcade)
- Bicycle Rentals
- North Carolina Aquarium, Roanoke Island, approximately 1 hour 20 minute drive from Corolla Beach
Ocracoke Island, approximately a 4 hour drive from Corolla Beach, but it could take longer because that drive includes a ferry. The most impressive attraction here is the famous Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. Unfortunately, the lighthouse is currently closed for renovations until 2024.
That’s it so far, but stay tuned. I’ll be adding more to my Corolla Beach Travel Guide after I return from my winter OBX adventure!
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