Sometimes the hardest decision about a group trip is selecting the perfect location. While planning a recent extended family trip, locations were suggested ranging from Disney World, Seattle, Maine, Maui and Branson, Missouri. There are pros and cons to each location but what a challenge to compare such different destinations!
While group interests, budgets and distances always play into the suitableness of a location, some places offer better options for a group. The Outer Banks (OBX) of North Carolina is one such location.
The OBX is a series of narrow barrier islands stretching along the eastern coast of North Carolina. By narrow, I mean that you can often look one way to see the Atlantic Ocean, and turn your head for a view of the Sound.
Here are some of the pros and cons to the Outer Banks:
- Beautiful beaches and lots of them! These barrier islands are basically one long beach.
- Tons of rental houses ranging in size from small to ubber large (there was a 16 bedroom behemoth a few streets over from our house). In fact, rental houses pack both the Atlantic and Sound sides of the island and none are far from the beach. Many have private beach access and/or private pools. No matter the size of your group, you will find options here for even large gatherings.
- Lots of vacation homes here are owned by rental companies with large inventories. If you have a really big group, or are looking for two houses close together, you can check with one of these companies to see if they have options available to fit your needs.
- You won’t have far to go for groceries if your group decides to utilize your house’s kitchen. There are almost as many Food Lions as there are Starbucks in Seattle! Okay, not really. But you won’t have to drive far and there will almost certainly be one on your way home at the end of the day.
- Since you will have already spent enough on your beachside house, you can find cheap entertainment at one of the four nearby National Park sites (Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, Wright Brothers National Memorial, Cape Hatteras National Seashore and Cape Lookout National Seashore). If there are kids in your group, check out the Junior Ranger program at each site. Ask at the visitor center for a Junior Ranger booklet. These contain questions and information about each site. Your child answers the questions and then returns to the ranger to receive a badge and be sworn in as a junior ranger. Our whole family enjoys working through the books together since they serve as a sort of guide to the site. Even my 13 year old nephew earned a couple badges! I’d also recommend Jockey’s Ridge State Park to get and idea of what the large sand dunes on the islands looked like before they were stabilized to make room for all those vacation homes. This is also an awesome place to fly kites!
- Lots of cheap beach gear stores. This is particularly handy if you fly to North Carolina. Since you’ll be spending lots of time lounging in the sun, you might want to invest in a couple chairs and a big beach umbrella. We bought a new 10’ x 10’ canopy for $40. We used it every day and then sold it to the family at the neighboring house for $20.
- You can really get away from it all if you rent a house north of Corolla past where the paved road ends. You’ll need a four wheel drive vehicle to make it to these houses (so be sure to double check the location of your house if it has a Corolla address). You will also need to keep an eye out for wild horses that roam this area.
- There are a lot more vacation homes than hotels in the OBX. There aren’t huge cities or large resort areas so the area has the feeling of a laid-back beach community.
- Expect beautiful sunrises and dolphin sightings on the Atlantic side!
- Houses can be expensive and the price goes up the closer you get to the beach. Want a pool too? You can expect to pay more. However, before you cross the OBX off your list, think about how much time you will be spending at the beach. We found that the convenience of beach access was worth the cost. The kids could run back to the house to use the bathroom or bring back a forgotten beach toy without needing an adult to go with them. We never had to drag gear far and we just walked back to the house for lunch. We also spent next to nothing on other activities, mostly because we didn’t need many other activities.
- Beach access for houses not on the beach can be a bit tricky. Since so many of the houses are beach-front, those set back from the beach may require a bit of a walk to get to a public access. It’s usually not far, but you may want to consider that when selecting a house, particularly if you have group members with mobility issues.
- The OBX is not really close to large cities, which makes it harder to get to if you fly. We flew into Norfolk, Virginia and then drove an hour and a half to get to our house. There are shuttle services available, but since there aren’t a lot of urban communities on the islands, you will likely want a car while you are there.
- If you don’t like the sun, sand and surf, then this is not the place for you. There are some tourist attractions but most things are geared toward the ocean.
- You need to book early for the best selection of houses and especially those with more moderate prices. We booked our house about 3 months out, but we had trouble with houses getting booked before we had time to confirm with everyone in our group. We also paid more since only more expensive house were left.
- There aren’t a lot of roads (since there isn’t a lot of room for them) so traffic can sometimes be bad on the main roads.
Overall, I would recommend the Outer Banks if your group is looking for a laid back, beach trip. However, I’d look elsewhere if most group members prefer the indoors. If you are like our family and beach time is always time well spent, then add the OBX to your bucket list!
Got another suggestion for a great group destination? Send us a comment!