The Outer Banks, North Carolina, is one of the best beach destinations that you're not going to. With miles of sandy beaches, gentle surf, and an impressive number of activities, it's a wonder that this low-key locale doesn't see the crowds that other east coast beaches attract. Late summer and early fall are great times to go—it's still beach weather, but the crowds are thinning out.
The Remodeled Sanderling Resort: If you didn't score a rental (rental houses can book up a year in advance) or you just don't need that much space, the Sanderling Resort is the place in the Banks to stay. Newly renovated just this year, updates include new guestrooms, a massive deck overlooking the ocean, a beachside bar & grill, and two pools (including the adults-only tranquility pool).
For one of the island's best meals, head to Kimball's Kitchen, Sanderling's upscale restaurant with a panoramic view of the sound (and much of the seafood comes from right down the island). Stressed? Unwind at the spa with their signature Ocean Serenity Ritual, a facial, massage, and mud wrap combo.
Kitty Hawk Kites: Thrill-seekers and scaredy cats will both find bucket list-worthy activities at the Outer Banks's recreation activity hub. Whether you're looking to take flight at the oldest hang gliding school on the East Coast, keep your feet on the ground with a bit of kite flying, or get your feet wet with surf lessons, kite boarding, or stand up paddle boarding, Kitty Hawk Kites has you covered. For the really adventurous, become a human rocket man with Jetpak lessons. Participants blast off from a pontoon boat launching pad and fly around the Banks via Jetpak.
Bodie Island Lighthouse: Climbing up 214 vertigo-inducing stairs may not be your idea of a good time on vacation, but the view from the top of Bodie Island Lighthouse is worth it. Offering unobstructed views of the marsh, ocean, and sound, 2013 is the first year that the 141-year old lighthouse has been open to the public. A $5 million makeover stabilized the steps and balcony, making it safe for the public to climb to the top and enjoy the birds-eye view.
Beach Off-Roading: You've used that 4wd vehicle on asphalt enough; give yourself—and your ride—a real challenge by off-roading in the sand. A popular past-time in the Outer Banks for locals and visitors alike, off-roading on the beach is an adventurous way to enjoy the seashore. Some drive in search of the perfect secluded picnic spot while others set out on wild horse safaris (these awe-inspiring creatures make their home on the islands). Just make sure you have an Off Road Vehicle (ORV) permit and stay on designated ORV routes.
Wright Brothers National Memorial: Of course the Outer Banks's real claim to fame is as the birth of flight, where two brothers sent a powered flyer up in the air in 1903. Today the spot is marked by the Wright Brothers National Memorial, complete with full-scale reproductions of the Wrights' glider and flying machine. The memorial also features exhibits, historical markers where you can trace each attempted powered flight, and a 60-foot granite monument honoring the brothers.
Photo credits: Sanderling Resort courtesy of Sanderling Resort; Hang Gliding courtesy of Allyson Reedy; Bodie Island Lighthouse courtesy of Outer Banks Visitors Bureau; Wild horse safari courtesy of Allyson Reedy; Wright Brothers National Memorial courtesy of Outer Banks Visitors Bureau