Choosing between South Nags Head and Hatteras area?
August 20, 2009 7:59 AM   Subscribe

Should I try to convince my family to head to The Hatteras Island area of the OBX, or just be satisfied we will all be going together and end up in South Nags Head?

My family (mother, father, brother with wife and 2 kids - infant and 2 3 year old - extended cousins and aunts to be determined) are quite conservative middle-class all-americans, which I totally respect and love them as my family ---- but I'm not that. I'm progressive, nature-oriented, happier away from the commercialism of most tourist destinations. I'd rather take a day trip into the commercialized areas than a day-trip out of them to the National Parks area.

This will be the first trip to the OBX for any of us. Family members are leaning towards South Nags Head. From the little research I've done, I feel I'd prefer to go farther south to Hatteras area.

What do I need to know about these comparisons? Are there still enough restaurants and beachy shops down south to keep the fam' happy? Will I be unhappy in South Nags Head? Who can help point me in the right direction here? Or recommend something else entirely? Thanks and Cheers!
posted by franklen to Travel & Transportation (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
We spent a week out in Duck (north end near kitty hawk) in 2002. We drove all the way down to Ocracoke to get a feel for the whole island.

I thought the Avon/Hatteras area was much prettier. More natural, nicer scenery. The national seashore is gorgeous.

I think there's plenty of touristy shops and the like within driving distance, so if you go to the more isolated areas, you don't really miss out.

Plus you can hop the ferry to ocrakoke. That's plenty touristy..
posted by Lord_Pall at 8:13 AM on August 20, 2009

Years ago we took the ferry across to Ocracoke and drove the length of the Outer Banks - further south is less developed - or was the last time I was there, quite a few years ago. The most famous lighthouse of the bunch is in Nags Head - Hatteras Lighthouse and it's quite interesting. Kitty Hawk and the Wright Bros museum is well worth a visit. Diamond Shoals - southern tip of Hatteras Island - is worth the drive. It's a place where two currents come together and has been the site of many, many shipwrecks over the years. I thought Ocracoke was really lovely and wish we had spent more time there - it's really old and charming.

I haven't been back in 15 or so years but would heartily recommend the more southern part of the banks. I don't have current enough information about development and the impact of more recent hurricanes. Like you I prefer the more nature focused parts of a trip.
posted by leslies at 8:22 AM on August 20, 2009

My family went on trips to the Outer Banks every summer for probably 15 straight years. We've been all over, from Corolla in the North to Rodanthe in the South. Mostly we stayed in the Duck/Southern Shores area.

I'll take you on a short tour of the islands. If you take US 158 down and across, as you get off the bridge, you have the choice of going north or south. The area right around the bridge is fairly commercialized. If you go south, you get to the relatively built up Kitty Hawk area. If you go north, you get to Southern Shores and Duck. Duck is a little bit less built up -- most of its commercial developments are comparatively small, though there are a lot of housing developments and the beaches can sometimes be relatively crowded. As you move further north, the commercial developments become fewer and farther between. There's a big bird sanctuary between Duck and Corolla that's pretty much empty. Corolla's a real town with some stuff (as well as its own lighthouse), but once you get North of there, the road ends and there are essentially houses out in the middle of the dunes.

If you decide to go south when you get onto the islands and move south of Southern Shores, you get into Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, and Nags Head. These are the more built-up and touristy areas. They have most of the hotels and a lot of the services (including an emergency room, which came in handy a couple of times). They can be really bleh in places, but are for the most part just fine. It will be more crowded than the beaches to the north and south, since the beaches (at least in parts) are public rather than private. There's still plenty of nature-related stuff -- Jockey's Ridge, a giant sand dune, is always a lot of fun. You can schedule interesting kayaking trips on the sound-side, or rent a sea kayak and do the same in the Atlantic. There are a number of places to organize trips like this all over the Outer Banks.

Heading south of Kill Devil Hills and Nags Head, once you get south of the bridge to Manteo (US 158), it starts being a lot less developed. And then, once you get onto Hatteras Island, there's pretty much nothing for a while. It's gorgeous, though frankly I'm kind of scared to go down there -- you're getting much farther from the mainland onto a thinner and thinner strip of sand with essentially only one way out. There certainly are towns on Hatteras Island, but they're much less built up. There's plenty to do, for sure, but if the people in your party aren't fairly nature-oriented, they might get bored pretty quickly. If you stay in Rodanthe/Salvo/Waves, you'll be closer to the touristy stuff up North but farther from things like the Hatteras lighthouse or the ferry to Ocracoke -- as well as the towns at the southern end of the island, where most of the services are.

You probably won't be too unhappy in South Nags Head. Frankly, none of the Outer Banks is nearly as built-up as, say, Ocean City, MD or Virginia Beach, if you've been to either of those places. It's pretty much all houses separated from the beach by a dune. Parts of Nags Head and Kill Devil Hills have hotels right on the beach, but they're solidly in the minority. There will be other people, but it probably won't be too crowded. If you're in the planning stages for a trip this summer now, you'll probably be there more towards the end of the beachgoing season.

You also need to consider what kind of accommodations you'd like. If you're planning on renting a house, you can stay pretty much wherever you want. If you're planning on staying in a hotel, your options are much more limited. Most people, as far as I know, rent houses -- I know we did every year. Depending on where you are, and the size of the house, prices can range around a lot.

Personally, based on what you've said, I'd recommend staying in either north in Duck or Corolla or down south in Rodanthe/Waves/Salvo or Avon. These places are reasonable compromises between the natural side and the commercial side, with the southern beaches leaning more natural and the northern beaches leaning more developed. If you stay north but think you'll want to take day trips south, it can be quite a haul from Corolla down to Hatteras -- staying in Duck will make it ever so slightly more reasonable. If you stay south but think you'll want to take day trips north, Rodanthe is not too terribly far from Nags Head, but it can be a bit of a trip.

There's a lot to do and see in the Outer Banks, but if you try to cram it all in you'll have a frustrated and hectic vacation with a lot of driving (with 3 year olds... ew). And it seems like you're in the minority as far as what you're looking for in this trip. But keep in mind that if your relatives all decide they want to go shopping or play miniature golf or whatever, you can always just hang out and relax on the beach -- that's the best thing to do anyway.
posted by malthas at 9:23 AM on August 20, 2009 [2 favorites]

It depends on what your family wants to do. There are lots of fun, family things to do near Nags Head (Roanoke aquarium, festival island park, Lost Colony), Kill Devil Hills, etc. So if those are the types of things they want to do, stay around there.

If they are happy to sit on a beach and hang out at the house, Hatteras might be better. There really isn't that much else to there, though.
posted by imposster at 11:29 AM on August 20, 2009

Just be satisfied that you're all going together to Nags Head, especially if you can bring your own car and have time to get away from the family to Jockey's Ridge and Hatteras Island.
posted by infinitewindow at 11:40 AM on August 20, 2009

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