A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

Twenty years ago, I thought the only reason to drive south of Milepost 16 was to reach the Kentucky Fried Chicken/Taco Bell outpost at the edge of Whalebone Junction. To

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

Twenty years ago, I thought the only reason to drive south of Milepost 16 was to reach the Kentucky Fried Chicken/Taco Bell outpost at the edge of Whalebone Junction. To

A Local’s Guide to Whalebone Junction

Twenty years ago, I thought the only reason to drive south of Milepost 16 was to reach the Kentucky Fried Chicken/Taco Bell outpost at the edge of Whalebone Junction. To be fair, I was 7-years-old at the time, and that was my definition of haute cuisine (until my mom introduced me to Sam & Omie’s, that is). That’s all changed now. Today, the area around Whalebone Junction is home to grand fishing piers, restaurants where local seafood shines, outdoor adventures, and an even wider beach to play on, thanks to local beach renourishment efforts. The KFC/Taco Bell is still there, but, blessedly, so is Sam & Omie’s, Dune Burger, and Owens’. Whether you vacation in a cedar-shake cottage or live a little closer and feel up for a day trip, here’s where to fish, sightsee, paddle, sip a cold one, and dig into freshly caught seafood at the southern end of Nags Head.

Jeanette’s Pier is open year-round and offers panoramic views. photograph by Chris Hannant

Jennette’s Pier

Originally built in 1939, the newest iteration of Jennette’s Pier (opened in 2011) juts 1,000 feet into the Atlantic. Complete with solar panels, wind turbines, and a glossy, cedar-shake pier house, Jennette’s stands out for its modern design. A two-dollar walk-on ticket grants access all the way to the end of the pier and inside the pier house where the North Carolina Aquarium maintains educational programs and interactive exhibits. The pier is also a popular spot for surf fishing, and even if you don’t plan on casting a line, you can watch from the edges as people reel in flounder, blues, and mullet.

Sam & Omie’s

Serving fishermen since 1937, Sam & Omie’s sits in the heart of Whalebone Junction across the street from Jennette’s Pier. The unassuming cedar-shake cottage (practically ash colored after years of battering winds and rain) serves up classic coastal fare starting as early as 7:30 a.m., making it ideal for an “Omie”lette after a daybreak fishing trip. If you go later in the day, seafood shines in no-frill items like shrimpburgers, clamburgers, homemade tuna salad, and — a favorite — Hatteras clam chowder.

Kitty Hawk Kites

This angular, sunshine-yellow outpost overlooks Roanoke Sound, and offers paddleboard, personal watercraft, and kayak rentals for immediate access to the water. Beyond solo playtime, you can check out different tours, including sunset cruises and kayak outings. The Outer Banks Center for Dolphin Research also conducts tours from here, and you can join the experts aboard their pontoon boats for a two-hour cruise where they monitor the local dolphins and share more about their role in the ecosystem.

Lost Colony Brewery Waterfront Beer Garden

When the folks at Lost Colony Brewery closed their long-standing tavern at the corner of Queen Elizabeth Avenue and Sir Walter Raleigh Street in downtown Manteo, they opened their own taproom and retail space overlooking the Roanoke Sound on the Nags Head-Manteo causeway. You can pop in to pick up a four-pack of Nags Head IPA or Kill Devil Hills Scotch Ale, or, if the weather’s nice, order one of their pours on tap to sip while catching sunset views over the water.

A lucky dinner guest will enjoy fresh-caught flounder with shrimp at Basnight’s Lone Cedar Cafe. photograph by Chris Hannant

Basnight’s Lone Cedar Cafe

While you can find seafood at most restaurants on the Outer Banks, you’ll find some of the freshest at this cedar-shake restaurant on the Nags Head-Manteo Causeway. Opened by former state senator Marc Basnight and his wife, Sandy, Basnight’s is now helmed by their daughters, Vicki and Caroline. They work closely with local fishermen and purveyors to bring in the freshest ingredients possible; Vicki will even go out to rig her own crab pots in season. The sherry-laced she crab soup has a dedicated local following, and the desserts change nightly depending on the pastry chef’s whims.

First Flight Adventure Park

For those seeking thrills on land, this high-ropes course lets you scale great heights above shrubby trees and marsh grass to take in sweeping views of Roanoke Island across the sound. Modeled loosely after a pirate ship, you can crawl across the skull and crossbones, swing between the masts, balance along the twisting gangplanks, and climb the crow’s nest-like structure in the center. The adventure park replaces or reinvents seven different features each season, so you’ll encounter a new challenge each year you visit.

Take your pick of ice cream, frozen custard, sorbet, or Italian ice to turn into a scoop, ice cream sandwich, or sundae. photograph by udra/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Coastal Creamery OBX

This bright-green ice cream hut next door to Jurassic Putt is a wonderful way to start or end an outing in Nags Head. Kids love adorning hand-dipped scoops with every topping imaginable, and you can also order soft-serve, Italian ice, milkshakes, and sundaes. Take your cone onto the outdoor porch to enjoy soundside views at sunset. Next-door neighbors, like the mini golf course and First Flight Adventure Park, are great spots to work off the sugar rush afterward.

Miller’s Waterfront Restaurant

If you’re looking for dinner and a show, head to this two-story spot on the sound. Here, the full wall of windows maximizes sunset views — on nice days when they open the garage-style windows, the upstairs bar is a popular spot for drinks and breezes off the water. In the yard, you can wander out to the gazebo on the dock (with a cocktail in hand) to watch people arriving by boat. Seafood specialties include traditional Outer Banks’ fare like Wanchese scallops and local lump crabcakes, but you’ll also find options like lobster rolls and Alaskan snow crab. Meat lovers can also order rib-eye and chicken fontina.

Outer Banks Fishing Pier and Fish Heads

This slightly (but charmingly) crooked pier leads 600 feet over the ocean and has served local fisherpeople for more than 50 years. Back in the day, fishing piers served as an anchor for social culture, and that sentiment remains strong here. The on-site restaurant and bar, Fish Heads Bar & Grill, boasts a steady local following as it’s one of the only places on the Outer Banks where you’ll find food, drinks, and entertainment right on the ocean. You don’t need a fishing license, but you do need a pass to fish here, which you can pick up along with bait, tackle, and rental rods in the pier house.

Ms. O’s crabcakes (served by a single or double portion) are longtime staples at Owens’ Restaurant. photograph by Anna Routh Barzin

Owens’ Restaurant

At this Nags Head mainstay, North Carolina seafood specialties meet French and Italian influences. With rich wood paneling, leather banquets, and dessert trays presented at the end of the main course, Owens’ embraces classic elegance, and the menu matches the ambiance. Try not to fill up on the hush puppies so that you can save room for the golden-battered shrimp or prime rib served with Seabreeze-style baked potatoes and a seasonal vegetable. Afterward, you mosey across the Beach Road for a post-meal walk on the beach.

This story was published on May 15, 2024

Hannah Lee Leidy

Hannah Lee is a born-and-raised North Carolinian and the digital editor for Our State magazine. Her contributions have appeared in Condé Nast Traveler, Bon Appétit, Epicurious, Culture, and the Local Palate. When not parenting her Bernese mountain pup named Ava, she's visiting the nearest cheese counter.