Updated: Apr 24
One of our very favorite beach travel destinations is the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The Outer Banks are a string of barrier islands beginning at the Virginia Border and continuing for 120 miles to Ocracoke Island. While we love the slower pace and beach-y vibes of Corolla, we typically enjoy a day trip to Kitty Hawk, NC.
Kitty Hawk: Choose Your Own Adventure
Kitty Hawk is all about flight! Airplanes, hang gliding, kite surfing, and kite flying!
We stay in Corolla which is about 30-45 minutes depending on the traffic from Kitty Hawk. This is how I would organize my day trip to Kitty Hawk:
8am coffee and donuts at Duck Donuts on my way to Kitty Hawk
9am Hang Gliding Lesson at Jockey's Ridge
1pm Wright Brothers Museum & Monument
2pm Beach - maybe a stop at Kitty Hawk Kites to purchase a kite
4:30pm Jockey's Ridge State Park - dune hike, sandsurfing, and sunset views
7pm Dinner at OBX Brewing Company - yard games, beer, and pub food
Ice Cream treat on the way our of town
Visit the Wright Brothers Memorial
Kitty Hawk is famous for being the test location of the Wright Brothers. The Wright Brothers Memorial and museum are open Monday-Friday from 9am-5pm. It is a National Park so typical park fees apply. Visitors can tour the museum to see a short movie and learn more about the people, the place, and the scientific discoveries that created the ability to fly as we know it today. The website says it best!
"Their (the Wright Brothers) story is not simply about building the first plane, but rather about how they scientifically solved the problems of powered flight. It is a story about those who inspired—and those who aided—the brothers, as well as the coastal area of North Carolina before, during, and after the dream came to life."
After touring the museum, there is a paved walk to the memorial. Be aware there is no shade. In the summer months it can be very hot! Make sure to have sunscreen, a hat, and plenty of water.
Learn to Hang Glide
My most favorite activity in Kitty Hawk is Hang Gliding School. It is so fun and so safe! I personally have "flown" from the dunes several times as have each of my kids, my dad, my niece, my nephew, and my friends. It really is safe and fun for all ages.
Dune Hang Gliding lessons are offered through Kitty Hawk Kites. You can book your lesson and complete the necessary paperwork online. Upon arrival there is a short video and instructional session every participant must complete. All flyers are then fitted with the necessary safety gear. Word to the wise, use the restroom and apply your sunscreen BEFORE getting into the safety gear! Once every has on their gear, the group treks across the dunes to the spot chosen for lessons. It really is as easy as run, leap, and then fly! The instructors are amazing and ensure everyone has the chance to "fly" several times. (Note: dune hang gliding = tethered to an instructor on the ground at all times)
The lessons are offered at Jockey's Ridge State Park.
Our best tips for having the most amazing time on the dunes at hang gliding school:
We recommend booking the morning session as the sand can be very hot later in the day. In the summer months, the sand can be as much as 30 degrees hotter than the outdoor temperature.
Bring plenty of water, sunscreen, and an extra pair of socks (if the sand is too hot, you can wear these on the dunes) in your backpack onto the dunes.
We also recommend a towel or blanket so you have someplace to sit.
Bring a change of clothing - you will be covered in sand. It can be very windy on the dunes and the fine sand sticks to everything.
Changing stations (with outdoor rinsing showers) are available at the entrance. This is also where you can purchase gatorade and water if needed.
We have brought others along during the lesson to photograph and watch. There is plenty of space but no shade.
This is a great spot for kite flying while you wait.
Finally as you exit the boardwalk onto the dunes, we recommend leaving your shoes behind (you will see you aren't the only ones that do it!). There are several shady spots near the boardwalk perfect for a pile of shoes.
Ride the wind
Although we haven't tried it yet...kitesurfing is on our bucket list! Sign up for lessons at Kitty Hawk Kites. Visit their website for the details on the kitesurfing lessons offered. Lessons are offered for both groups or one-on-one with a trained instructor. We have watched the kitesurfers on the sound and are just in awe at how amazing they are, the height they achieve, and the beauty of their movements.
Fly a Kite
A visit to OBX should include a stop at Kitty Hawk Kites to shop the many varieties of kites. From novice to expert, there is something there for everyone! But you can also grab a kite from many of the local shops, grocery stores, and even the gas stations. OBX is the perfect place to spend the afternoon flying a kite.
Our favorite place to fly a kite is from the dunes at Jockey's Ridge State Park. Late afternoon/early evening just before sunset is a really popular kite flying time on the dunes. The beach is another great place to fly a kite. Kitty Hawk has several public beach access points which can be found here. We recommend spending at least a little bit of your time in Kitty Hawk testing out your kite skills! (My brother, pictured below, has amazing kite skills honed by years of practice!)
Jockey's Ridge State Park
In addition to hang gliding school and ideal kite flying location, Jockey's Ridge State Park is an attraction all its own. The park covers 427 acres and includes the tallest active sand dune system in the eastern United States.
The park has marked trails throughout for hiking and bird watching. We typically take the one mile trail that leads to the water. The views are pretty and there is a little bit of shade as you make your way to the water's edge. Be aware, swimming is prohibited.
When we visit Jockey's Ridge State Park, we love to bring a boogie board and board wax for "sandsurfing" on the dunes. Young and old will be surfing the dunes typically later in the afternoon or near sunset. Wax up your board to "fly" down the dunes. Our kids have always loved it!
In the late afternoon/early evening, the dunes are a great spot for family photos. The sun sets over the water which is perfectly situated behind you as you are standing on the dunes looking back towards the boardwalk. The colors are incredible.
There are no fees for entering the park. Parking is not a problem in the lot at the visitor's entrance.
Dining in Kitty Hawk
There are many restaurant options along this stretch of Highway 12. We really like Outer Banks Brewing Company. The classic pub food and local beers are great. We have never had a bad meal. But the outdoor space is why we keep going back! Picnic tables, yard games, pirate ship play equipment, live music, and a designated outdoor bar can all be found in the "backyard." No outside food or drinks through the gates and visitors should plan to check in with the inside hostess for a table.
This area of OBX from Nags Head to Kitty Hawk is busy! Along this stretch of Highway 12, visitors can find restaurants, ice cream shops, tourist traps and shops, mini golf, beachfront hotels, and homes of all sizes for rent. If you like a busy beach town then this is the place to look for your OBX accommodations. We enjoy a quieter beach for our lodging and therefore wouldn't choose to stay in this part of the OBX, we still recommend using Twiddy Rentals as they are local and have a large selection of homes at multiple price points.
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