A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

Some people kiss the ground; many immediately beg to climb again. “Everyone reacts differently when they come back out from the granite arch at the base of the Currituck Beach

Madison County Championship Rodeo

Some people kiss the ground; many immediately beg to climb again. “Everyone reacts differently when they come back out from the granite arch at the base of the Currituck Beach

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

Some people kiss the ground; many immediately beg to climb again. “Everyone reacts differently when they come back out from the granite arch at the base of the Currituck Beach

A First Timer’s Guide to the Currituck Outer Banks

Some people kiss the ground; many immediately beg to climb again. “Everyone reacts differently when they come back out from the granite arch at the base of the Currituck Beach Lighthouse,” says site manager and 17-year lighthouse keeper Meghan Agresto. “But there’s always an invigoration — a sense of thrill — and it’s always fun to watch.”

Since 1875, this 162-foot, unpainted red-brick lighthouse has guided mariners away from danger. The northernmost lighthouse in North Carolina, it has 220 steps that lead to spectacular views of the Currituck Sound, Atlantic Ocean, and the northern Outer Banks.

“Humans love to get a birds-eye view,” Agresto says. “And when you get to the top of our lighthouse in Corolla, you see just how unique this region is.”

This area — the Currituck Outer Banks — includes both shores of the Currituck Sound. Naturally, the beach is the area’s biggest draw, but no visit to Currituck is complete without exploring the many other activities and experiences the region has to offer. Here’s our list of 10 you can’t miss.



 

1. See the light

Visitors can climb to the top of Currituck Beach Lighthouse. Photography courtesy of Currituck County Department of Travel and Tourism

“Lighthouse keepers have always had somewhat of a hospitality mandate: If someone shows up, you let them in to see how amazing the tower is. Ours is not work that is meant to be done in secret,” Agresto says.

For a small fee, you can climb the spiraling staircase of the Currituck Beach Lighthouse and take in its panoramic views. Nine landings allow you to catch your breath or pause to appreciate the brick-by-brick architecture of this historic structure. Along the way, informative displays showcase the role of this particular lighthouse in local maritime history.

Even if you opt out of climbing, take some time to wander around the lighthouse grounds. “People walk on-site and have a feeling they’ve stepped back in time,” she says. “You can’t see cars or development. It’s a sense of place — of brick walkways, Victorian structures, and of course the classically beautiful tower. You can tell people are transported.”

 

2. Rise and shine

You won’t want to miss when morning breaks in the northern Outer Banks. Cuddle up in a rocking chair on the deck of your rental house, or, better yet, bring your coffee to the beach to see the sunrise at the waterfront. From there, grab a table at First Light Breakfast & Burgers, where a generous portion of sweet potato pancakes or Cajun-style crab cake benedict (paired perhaps with a bloody Mary?) can be the perfect fuel for your fun-filled day.

 

Kids — and adults! — love trying to catch blue crabs with a hand-line. Photography courtesy of Currituck County Department of Travel and Tourism

3. Catch blue crabs

It’s hard to miss the giddy groups of children crabbing along the boardwalk in Historic Corolla Park. Join in the fun — it’s easy to try your hand at hand-lining. The supplies are simple: a weighted fishing line, a net, and bait (locals suggest chicken meat).

Once you catch a blue crab, be sure it’s big enough to keep — measuring charts along the dock make it quick to decide. The Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education has programming, too, that includes crabbing lessons throughout the year.

 

Take a tour of Whalehead, an Art Nouveau mansion. Photography courtesy of Currituck County Department of Travel and Tourism

4. Tour a 1920s mansion

Get swept up in the romance of a bygone time when you tour Whalehead, the bold yellow-painted Art Nouveau mansion anchoring Historic Corolla Park. Set on 39 picture-perfect acres along the Currituck Sound, the architectural masterpiece was built in the 1920s to be a winter retreat for Edward Collings Knight Jr. and his wife, Marie Louis. Whalehead is meticulously restored and adorned with items like Tiffany glass sconces, corduroy walls, and the original Steinway piano, a special creation for Mrs. Knight. The home is now open to the public for tours — including a popular ghost tour in the summer months.

 

Browse the shops in Historic Corolla Village, including the charming Island Bookstore. Photography courtesy of Currituck County Department of Travel and Tourism

5. Browse the shops

Park your car in Historic Corolla Park and meander on foot through the quaint shops in pedestrian-friendly Historic Corolla Village. Under the shade of stately oaks, late 19th-century homes are now boutique businesses. Select your next beach read from Island Bookstore, pick up souvenir jewelry from Spry Creek, browse works from local artisans at Corolla Village Market, and explore the Corolla Wild Horse Fund museum and gift shop.

 

Go for a hike at Currituck Banks National Estuarine Reserve. Photography courtesy of Currituck County Department of Travel and Tourism

6. Get back to nature

For a different peek at Currituck’s past, take a stroll through the Donal C. O’Brien Sanctuary and Audubon Center at Pine Island. Here, 2,600 acres of marsh, maritime forest, and beachfront remain largely untouched by development and ideal for educational programs, kayak tours, and nature enthusiasts. The refuge, which protects more than 200 species of animals and 350 species of plants, also features an easy 2.5-mile trail with informative viewing stands. Ten miles north on Highway 12, nature lovers and hikers will enjoy the Currituck Banks National Estuarine Reserve, which features a handicap-accessible boardwalk that is perfect for birdwatching or identifying the various types of flora indigenous to the area.

 

See wooden boats made by local craftsmen at the Currituck Maritime Museum. Photography courtesy of Currituck County Department of Travel and Tourism

7. Learn about local industry

Within the 39-acre Historic Corolla Park, the new Currituck Maritime Museum is a free way to see the impact of the region’s waterways. Its self-interpretive, family-focused exhibits explore such topics as boat building, lifesaving stations, duck decoys, and more. Get close to vessels built by local craftsmen, hear the tales of hunting club staffers, and take in the variety of methods generations of fishermen have practiced on these seas. You’ll want to return to the park later in the evening with a picnic to take in the stunning waterfront sunset over Currituck Sound.

 

8. Go ghost crabbing

When nighttime comes, get the generations together to indulge in a rousing round of ghost crabbing. Also called sand crabs or beach crabs, these tiny critters scurry across the beach, and — with the aid of lighted nets — are especially fun to seek and find (and then release).

 

Wild horses roam the beach within Currituck National Wildlife Refuge. Photography courtesy of Currituck County Department of Travel and Tourism

9. Take a wild horse tour

Corolla’s wild Colonial Spanish mustangs have thrived for more than five centuries on the Outer Banks. Descended from mustangs brought to the area by early explorers, today’s wild horses roam more than 8,000 protected coastal acres within the Currituck National Wildlife Refuge.

Several local tour companies, such as Corolla Outback Adventures, Corolla Wild Horse Tours, and Hummer Adventure Tours, give guided rides in open-air trucks where guests not only get within picture-taking distance of the majestic horses but also learn about the area’s history and the importance of safeguarding the resilient herd.

 

Pick your perfect bottle after enjoying a wine tasting at Sanctuary Vineyards. Photography courtesy of Currituck County Department of Travel and Tourism

10. Toast like a local

At Weeping Radish Farm Brewery in Grandy, you can sip a pint at the state’s first microbrewery. Currently under renovation, the iconic stop with German roots brews its popular drafts, seasonal favorites, plus a lauded (all-ages-friendly) root beer.

Newer to the business — but already making a name for itself — the Northern Outer Banks Brewing Company is Corolla’s first and only microbrewery. Try the Corolla Blonde Lager, an easy drinker, or the Swan Beach Honey Pale Ale, which is brewed with local honey.

If you prefer wine, schedule a tasting at Sanctuary Vineyards, where seven generations of the Wright family have farmed in Currituck County. There’s something for everyone — from dry vinifera varieties to sweet Muscadines, too.

Once you’ve picked your ideal sip, raise a glass to your perfect trip to the northern Outer Banks.

This story was published on Feb 18, 2022

Lauren Eberle

Raised in Winston-Salem, Lauren Eberle now enjoys writing, editing, and storytelling from her home in Cornelius.