Updated: Apr 16
"Currently pretending I am at the beach" - Unknown
Anyone else pretending to be at the beach? The warm (or hot!) weather we are already experiencing has me longing for summer days at the beach.
One of our very favorite beach travel destinations is the Outer Banks of North Carolina. We have been vacationing in OBX for twenty years. We typically spend at least one week there each summer although we have also done a spring break or two there as well. This year we are thinking we might even spend a week in the fall. The weather is mild so it really is a perfect destination!
North Carolina's Outer Banks are a string of barrier islands beginning at the Virginia Border and continuing for 120 miles to Ocracoke Island. Corolla is a village located at the northernmost of the Outer Banks between the Atlantic Ocean and the Currituck Sound.
Each town has its own unique style, vibe, and temperament. We adore the laid back, easy going vibe of Corolla. The Village is less commercial and less developed than its OBX sisters. It is friendly, charming, and provides the perfect mix of activity and relaxation.
We always stay with family while visiting but would recommend renting a home from Twiddy Vacation Rentals. The Twiddy office is located in the heart of the Village and their signs are on most of the homes you will see in the area. We prefer the "ocean" side of the island which allows easy access to the beaches. If you are more of a pool person, you might consider renting on the "Sound" side so you can catch the sunset each evening from your deck or pool. If you do choose the Sound side, know the Currituck sound is not a place for swimming. If a home is too big, you might consider staying at the Corolla Village Inn or The Wild Horse Inn. Both are relatively new to the area and have great reviews and total boutique hotel vibes.
Restaurants in Corolla are mostly casual. Visitors can walk in straight from the beach, in shorts or a sundress, or even dressed a bit nicer. Many restaurants offer outdoor seating. One of our favorites is Corolla Village BBQ! We highly recommend getting your "Carolina" BBQ (vinegar not sweet sauce) to go then walking or biking to the Corolla Beer Garden. Similarly, grab a pizza from Corolla Pizza and Deli and take it next door to the Corolla Beer Garden. Our perfect beach lunch includes cheesy fries from the pizza joint topped with pulled pork from the bbq place paired with an ice cold beer at the beer garden. Either way...you probably want to end up at the Beer Garden! There are also several food options in Corolla Village. We have tried most of them liking our food at each. Finally, Timbuktu has several restaurants and snack places if you are spending the day shopping.
Getting around Corolla is slow paced! There is one way in and one way out along Highway 12. Also parking is limited. Therefore, we tend to ride our bikes everywhere. Bikes (and helmets) can be rented from Ocean Atlantic Rentals. While they do sell locks, I have never seen anyone lock a bike. There are racks outside every restaurant, shop, and attraction for your bike to be left without worry. I do highly recommend having at least one bike with a basket as you just never know what treasure you might pick up! Ocean Atlantic Rentals is a full service rental company - be sure to check out the other items available. All rentals can be completed online prior to your arrival and delivered/picked up from your rental.
Choose Your Own Adventure - Our Top Recommendations:
The beach is our favorite part of Corolla! In addition to being beautiful, the beaches have soft sand, the water isn't too cold so splashing in the waves is possible, and even at their busiest, you will be able to find a space to spread out blankets and sand pails for the day. Typically lifeguards aren't on duty but they do patrol throughout the day. While tents are permitted during the day, all beach items must be removed each night. If your rental does not include beach chairs, umbrellas, sand equipment, you can rent those items as well as the bikes from Ocean Atlantic Rentals.
The brackish waters of the Sound provides the ideal spot to play! We have rented wave runners, parasailed, kayaked, and boated from the Corolla Water Sports rental location in Timbuk II. Reservations can be made online or in person. If you have to wait for your reservation time, there is a mini-golf course at the same reservation booth. The sun sets over the Sound so evening boat tours are also popular.
The red brick Currituck Lighthouse can be seen from most locations in Corolla. Admission to the grounds and gift shop are free - photos are always free! For a fee, visitors 4 years and older can climb to the top for outstanding views of both the Atlantic ocean and the Currituck sound. The lighthouse is open to visitors mid-March to mid-November. Parking can be found along the road to the lighthouse as well as the lot of the Whalehead Club. Bike parking is plentiful. We recommend parking your bikes/vehicle and visiting the lighthouse, the Whalehead Club including the Center for Wildlife Education, and the coffee shop and bookstore in Corolla Village.
The Whalehead Club
The Whalehead Club was originally built as a duck hunting lodge. Today this 21,000 square foot building sits on 39 acres along the Currituck Sound. Tours are available Monday - Friday from 10am-4pm. This property is a must see when in Corolla even if a tour isn't to your liking. The beautiful grounds are a great location for an afternoon picnic, a game of frisbee or flying a kite, family photos, or to watch the sunset over the Currituck sound. We typically picnic in the early evening as the sun is setting.
When visiting, be sure to check out the exhibits and meet the staff at the OBX Center for Wildlife Education. The exhibits are free. The bathrooms are clean. There is a deck that provides great views of the Currituck Sound.
Locals and visitors can often be found catching blue crabs along the waterway and from the docks. Just a short bike ride along Hwy 12, Corolla Bait and Tackle sells everything you need to crab - string, hook, chicken necks, and nets. We enjoy catching the crabs as a sort of competition - who can be the first to catch a crab, which crab is the biggest, and when released which one hits the water first off the boat dock. Winner takes bragging rights until next time! During the day, parking is not a problem.
Every Wednesday evening mid-June through mid-September, Corolla Cork & Craft happens on the grounds of the Whalehead Club. Local breweries, wineries, and food vendors fill the area. Visitors are able to purchase beer and wine by the glass or bottle. There are also curated local craft artisans selling unique gifts, souvenirs, and craft items. They do card so be sure to bring along your ID.
In the evening around sunset, parking is limited so we recommend riding your bike.
The Wild Horses of Corolla
The Corolla Wild Horses are a group of feral Spanish mustangs that live in the 4WD beach north of Corolla and south of the Virginia border. They are believed to be descendants of shipwrecked horses from hundreds of years ago. The 4WD beach is accessible from Hwy 12. Once you have passed through the gates, you MUST HAVE a 4WD vehicle or you will get stuck. Over the years, we have seen many attempt to try it...never have we seen anyone be successful! Towing is available and it is very expensive!
If you have a 4WD vehicle, there are two locations to stop and let air out of your tires (as well as replenish the air) - the gas station near the post office and across from the library or the lot of the Whalehead Club. If you don't have a 4WD vehicle, you can still see the horses by taking a guided wild horse tour. We actually like the tours better because the guides know where the horses are on any given day and have the ability to leave the beach and drive through the dunes to get you up close so you can snap that perfect picture.
For more information about the horses, visit the Corolla Wild Horse Fund.
The Corolla Adventure Park
The Corolla Adventure Park is a giant jungle gym in the sky. Our family has enjoyed climbing, zipping, and playing on the equipment.
Obstacles are arranged on 12 different circuits giving you the ability to create your own unique experience during your 2 hour
climb. They also feature axe throwing! Reserve your lane for a thrilling activity today. Snacks and beverages from the
outdoor bar are available to enjoy along our nature trail with garden style seating and games! Minimum height for climbers is 40"
for the first level of obstacles and 4' for the rest of the course. Maximum weight is 260lbs.
Kayaking in the Currituck Sound is a unique (must do!) experience. There are several tour companies that offer kayak and SUP tours from Corolla. We love and highly recommend Coastal Explorations. We have never had a bad tour or guide. The company offers several options based on skill, length of trip, and interests. Check out what they have to offer at Coastal Explorations. We have participated in the day time tour, the family friendly kayak tour as well as the more intensive trip to Monkey Island. Next time we will try the sunrise tour. Bike parking is plentiful. Vehicles can be parked along the road or even at the Whalehead Club lot as Coastal Explorations is located in the Village.
Currituck Banks National Estuarine Reserve
NC Coastal Reserve and National Estuarine Research Reserve encompasses 965 acres of ocean beach, sand dunes, grasslands, shrub thicket, maritime forest, brackish and freshwater marshes, tidal flats, and subtidal soft bottoms. There is a small, but clearly marked, parking lot in Corolla just past the Village. The handicap-accessible boardwalk trail takes visitors along the marshy areas of the Currituck sound. We typically ride our bikes and then walk the trail (often in swim clothing and flip flops). For more adventure or exercise, grab a pair of tennis shoes and some bug spray to take one of the trails leaving from the boardwalk.
Biking in Corolla
As you have probably guessed, Corolla is very bike friendly! If your rental does not provide bikes, they can be rented from Ocean Atlantic Rentals. There are several styles including tandem, child sized, and bikes specific for the beach. Order online prior to your arrival and the company will deliver and then pick up your bike rentals. Helmets are also available for rent. Consider getting at least one bike basket!
We typically bike from our rental to the areas we have shared (the beach, the village restaurants and shops, the lighthouse, the Whalehead Club, and even onto the 4WD beach). Along Hwy 12, Corolla Village has a really nice and well-lit bike trail. It is always busy with bikers, walkers, and joggers. This bike trail runs for 10 miles. We also love to take the trail along the Currituck sound leaving from the backside of the Whalehead Club. There are several interesting stops along this trail, amazing photo opportunities, and several osprey nests.
Shopping in Corolla
There are several options for shopping in Corolla. Within Corolla Village, there are several boutiques including a book store and coffee shop. The items found in these shops tend to be curated items from local artists or unique to the area. This isn't the place to pick up your OBX hoodie. If you are interested in a really cool piece of pottery, earrings, and other artisan items then you will enjoy these shops.
Across from the Lighthouse, Corolla Light Town Center, has restaurants, stores, mini-golf, ice cream, and a bakery. In need of a kite? Be sure to stop in at Kitty Hawk Kites.
Tourist shopping (i.e. tshirts, sweatshirts, flip flops, etc.) can be found at Timbuk II Shopping Village. There is also a small vegetable stand, several resturants, water rentals, mini-golf, and a playground. The Brew-Thru is also located here - drive thru beer store. On rainy days, parking at Timbuk II can be very challenging.
There are two grocery stores in Corolla. We recommend stopping at Harris Teeter on your way into Corolla. It is the larger of the two grocery stores and typically has a better selection. Be aware the grocery and liquor stores are very busy Saturday and Sunday afternoons as visitors arrive for the week.
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