A family of four spills from the car the moment it rolls to a halt at Historic Corolla Village. The road-weary parents are smiling, and the children’s voices trill with
A family of four spills from the car the moment it rolls to a halt at Historic Corolla Village. The road-weary parents are smiling, and the children’s voices trill with excitement. Clark Twiddy knows this scene well. “The first thing they often tell me is how long they’ve been coming here, and how much they can remember.”
Twiddy, an Outer Banks native, local business owner, and author of Memories of the Currituck Outer Banks, believes this is visitors’ way of expressing their ties to an area that’s long held a special place in their hearts. “Any of us can relate to the idea of trying to put either our parents and grandparents or our children and grandchildren in touch with a moment in our lives.”
Travelers who return year after year to this coastal community at the edge of the Atlantic find a place with an essence that essentially remains the same. Still, ever-changing tides and shifting sands keep Corolla, North Carolina, from feeling static or stale. Read on for our favorite ways to revisit past experiences while creating new memories.
When it’s time to get away, simply escape to Corolla, North Carolina, on the Currituck Outer Banks. Miles of windswept remote beaches, legendary wild horses, iconic historical sites, the freshest coastal cuisine, and the finest family-friendly accommodations await you.
With more than a dozen public beach accesses in Corolla, it’s easy to stretch out and unwind as the tumbling surf lulls you into the rhythms of island life. The beach provides plenty of space for you to have your own piece of paradise. When you feel like playing, splash in the ocean, build a sandcastle, or throw a frisbee with the kids. You can also stretch your legs, strolling along miles of unspoiled beaches, in search of whelk shells among the tiny clams and colorful scallop shells.
A quintessential part of Corolla’s untamed beauty, the wild equine residents number around 100. Ancestors of these horses have roamed among the live oaks and dunes for five centuries. While the exact origins of these descendants of colonial Spanish mustangs remains a mystery, it is believed that Spanish colonists brought them over via ship in the 1500s.
If your ride has four-wheel drive, follow NC Highway 12 beyond the pavement onto the sands of Carova. Here, you can navigate the horses’ stomping grounds. Or, if you’re worried about your car becoming mired in the sand, opt for a guided tour. Tour guides will share history and local insight about the legendary horses that live among remote, sand-swept neighborhoods.
Explore this soundside park by foot, bike, or from the water. Follow the curving trails to attractions like Whalehead, a 1920s hunt club, and the Currituck Beach Lighthouse. Or shove off from one of the boat launches in a kayak or paddleboard. At one time, this land was part of Whalehead’s four miles of grounds. Today, you can tour the grandly restored Art Nouveau mansion and hear tales of the coastal elite who flocked to the Currituck Sound for its abundant waterfowl.
Across a wooden walking bridge from Whalehead, the Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education focuses on the diverse wildlife’s influence on Corolla’s cultural history. Exhibits at the nearby Currituck Maritime Museum center around lifesaving stations, lighthouses, boatbuilding, decoy carving, and many aspects of seaside industry and culture. Wind your way up Currituck Beach Lighthouse’s spiral of 220 steps for panoramic views of the sound and Atlantic Ocean. Two lightkeepers’ houses, one of which is used as the museum shop, border a small courtyard in front of the lighthouse.
You can follow the dirt paths leading from the park to Historic Corolla Village to see vestiges of its past as a small, isolated fishing and hunting community. “It’s one of the few places along the entire North Carolina coastline where you can see an authentic fishing village, in many ways untouched from what it was,” Twiddy says. Today, elementary students at the little white schoolhouse run and play in the schoolyard much like they would have 100 years ago. And a historic lifesaving station moved from Kill Devil Hills to the corner of Schoolhouse Lane and Highway 12 holds a small museum open to the public.
In the Gray-Lewark House, a colonial revival bungalow built circa 1895, peruse Corolla Wild Horse Fund’s Museum and Gift Shop. Stop at The Kind Cup Coffee & Art within the Parker House for a caramel latte and to shop the works of local artists and makers displayed throughout the 1920 home.
H2OBX Waterpark reopens for the 2024 season on Memorial Day weekend. The park, which opened in 2017, offers attractions for young and old members of your crew. The youngest family members will delight in Sand Pail Beach’s pint-size slides and shallow water. Bigger kids will love the cool spray of the water cannon, dumping water buckets, and twirling slides at Calico Jack’s Cove. And thrill seekers of every age will revel in heart-pounding slides like the nine-story, freefall Paradise Plunge.
Splash in the wave pool and relax in the winding lazy river. Stop for a meal or snack at in-park eateries like Outer Franks and Heavenly Hawgs BBQ. Enjoy craft beers, local wines, and specialty drinks at Flyboys.
Vines twist along the trellises at the 10-acre Sanctuary Vineyards laden with muscadine, Norton, Syrah, Tempranillo, and Viognier grapes. This seventh-generation Jarvisburg farm shifted its focus from food crops to producing varietals like muscadine and Cabernet Franc — which it uses in wines like The Plank, an award winner.
Tours with Buffalo City Distillery explore the area’s bootlegging history, the inspiration for opening this high-end spirits operation. In the Dare Forest Lounge, sample the distillery’s farm-to-glass whiskeys, vodkas, and gins. Or relax with a lavender lemon drop martini at a picnic table while the kids play.
Inside the family-owned and -operated Northern Outer Banks Brewing Company, shiny pipes, kegs, and brewing equipment fill most of the space. The real place to hang out here is in the courtyard, where you can savor one of the brewery’s fresh, aromatic beers on tap, like the Penny’s Hill IPA or Corolla Saison.
At Whalehead Brewery, the pizza is hot and tasty, the beer is cold and flavorful, and the selection of brews is large and varied. At the self-pour wall, it’s easy to try an ounce of Mexican chocolate stout before committing to a full glass, or to sample several of the 18 beers on tap, like Hopfly’s The Mayor IPA and 1718 Brewing’s Pretty Work Kolsch.
Bernie’s Brother Tropical Grill and Bar serves seafood and more with a tropical flair. Start your meal with a Cuban mojito — Cruzan rum, mint, lime, sugar, and club soda. Then dine on the rooftop on a satisfying dinner of jerk mahi mahi and shrimp topped with a pineapple-mandarin orange glaze.
The dining room at Mike Dianna’s Grill Room evokes classic seafood houses, with long tables that allow large families to dine together on delicious surf and turf meals. Order a filet mignon or the Atlantic swordfish, and don’t miss the award-winning seafood chowder.
You’ll find all sorts of seafood goodies in a relaxed atmosphere at Uncle Ike’s Sandbar & Grill. The seafood mac ’n’ cheese comes topped with jumbo lump crab meat and local pan-seared scallops and shrimp. And if you’d like something with a Southwest flair, dig into seafood nachos with shrimp, lump crab meat, onions, and peppers.
The Currituck Outer Banks offers a beautiful – and remote – retreat year-round. Whether you’re seeking sun and surf or a quiet oasis removed from the hustle, accommodations are plentiful. The Outer Banks is “nationally famous” for its vacation home market, Twiddy says, with lots of choices “ranging from cozy cottages for small families to sophisticated and luxurious options for large family gatherings.” Many travelers, in fact, often return to the same rental homes every year — yet another way to relive memories here and create new traditions