The Outer Banks, North Carolina is a great travel destination for a beach getaway. My family stays on the north end of the thin island chain, in Corolla. What you may not realize – like me – is that the Outer Banks is pretty big. That famous Hatteras Lighthouse is actually two hours away from Corolla! Needless to say, I had to change my plans for things to do in Corolla, Outer Banks. Here is my top 15 list of things to do, places to see, where to eat, and tours to check out.
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Where is Corolla in the Outer Banks?
The Outer Banks is located on the eastern coast of North Carolina. They are a 200 mile (320 km) string of barrier islands (meaning there are a LOT of things to do here!). They begin at the Virginia border and go to Ocracoke Island. Corolla is located in the northernmost part of the islands still in North Carolina.
Top Things to Do in Corolla
Visit the Currituck Lighthouse
I was preparing to go see the famous Hatteras lighthouse when Google Maps informed me that it’s two hours away. Luckily, it also pointed out there is another lighthouse closer – the Currituck Lighthouse! This one is all brick and unpainted. The park around it makes you almost forget that you’re next to the beach. You can also visit the light keeper’s duplex and the gift shop that once was a single-family home. It’s $10 to go to the top but walking around is free. The lighthouse reopened on Labor Day 2020 (two days after we left) – but we were able to get some incredible drone shots!
Explore Whalehead House and Museum
This was closed this year due to covid-19, but typically costs $7 to tour the museum. Corolla has a rich history -something that I personally wasn’t aware of until I visited. The home was built in the 1920s and is beautiful (even from the outside!). I was so glad we spent some time exploring the iconic Whalehead House in Historic Corolla Park.
Fun Fact: Corolla is not pronounced like the Toyota Corolla but rather “Cor-RAH-la”
Become Friends with Ghost Crabs
You’ll see a movement in the sand out of the corner of your eye while reading on the beach. Then you’ll see another one. If you don’t move for a bit and watch the sand, you’ll see these almost translucent crabs come out of the sand and gradually work their way to the sea! These ghost crabs are pretty small and really fast!
See a Sunrise
I wanted to see at least one sunrise on the beach and ended up seeing a few! Luckily – they were incredibly gorgeous on all the days! Be sure to see at least one while visiting! Sunsets are great, but seeing the sunrise over the ocean directly should not be overlooked!
There is such a wide array of seashells in the Outer Banks. You’ll see every shape and color and find many in-tact shells. Please leave the shells for others to enjoy and to help protect our environment.
Bonus stop: Drive to Kill Devil Hills and visit the Wright Brothers Memorial. You can participate in the kite flying program, visit the memorial, or play around on a replica of the original airplane. Take a step back in time in their workshop and (makeshift) home to see how they lived!
Visit the wild horses
The Wild Horses of the Outer Banks are famous. They are wild animals that are protected and roam around. Before you get too excited – read my full review of our horse tour and decide if you should do it on your own or go with a guide!
Relax at the beach
This is one of the best and most iconic things to do in Corolla! The pristine beaches of the Outer Banks make it perfect for relaxing with a good book. The beaches are pretty flat, making it perfect for a long walk on the beach (or a run if you’re into that kind of thing).
Fun Fact: The sand dunes that line the beach of Corolla are manmade. They were built as part of the New Deal after the Great Depression. The seagrass and fences around it help stabilize the sand and protect the Outer Banks from eroding!
Where to Eat in Corolla
The Chill Spot
Can you even say you’ve had a vacation at the beach if you don’t stop for ice cream? Get your fix of ice cream, milkshakes, or sundaes at The Chill Spot!
No, they’re not made of duck. Yes, they’re from the town of Duck just down the road. However, Duck Donuts‘ donuts are fresh-made and available right in Corolla! You can get any coating or topping as the donuts are made to order. Be sure to order your donuts the day before.
The Oceanfront Grille
For wonderful beer and refreshful wine with a view, head to The Oceanfront Grill. Their signature dish? Crab cakes.
Off the Wall Tap House
A unique tap house that’s also family (and dog) friendly? Do-it-yourself beer technology means that you can get your own refill. It’s casual with indoor and outdoor seating. The Off the Wall Tap House menu has new spins on old favorites – like spicy pickle fries!
Where to Shop in Corolla
I was surprised there were so many places to shop in Corolla. There is a Food Lion for essentials like groceries and a Super Wings for beach supplies you may have forgotten (I know, I was surprised that they didn’t have wings either). You can get awesome foodie gifts such as Gourmet Popcorn, fresh meat, and seafood at the Butcher Block, or fresh produce at the Seaside Farm Market. You can get some awesome locally-made arts at the Corolla Village Market!
Where to Stay in Corolla
Many of the houses are meant for families as they are quite large. For example, we rent a house through Twiddy for 11 adults and 1 kid (that could fit more!). If you’re staying for a week or more with a group, then renting a house is a great option. It’s also a great way to save money while traveling as you can cook at home. However, if you’re only staying for a long weekend then the Hampton Inn & Suites, Blackbeard’s Treasure, or the Inn at Corolla Lighthouse are all good options.
Final Thoughts on Corolla, Outer Banks
We’re lucky that we spend a week every year in this part of North Carolina. It’s a great beach getaway mixed with a staycation. You can customize your time in Corolla to what you’re interested in – history, nature, small-towns – or just relax on the beach with a good book!