My husband and I were recently invited to a “destination wedding” in Cape Hatteras in the Outer Banks. Just getting to the Outer Banks, a region in North Carolina comprised of islands out in the Atlantic, takes some logistical planning. Cape Hatteras is 2.5 hours away from the nearest airport. So with that in mind, we decided to make a long weekend of our adventure!
The closest airport to the Outer Banks is Norfolk International Airport in Norfolk, Virginia. Depending on where in the Outer Banks you choose to explore, the airport is at least an hour and a half away from the nearest towns. And regardless of whether you’re flying or driving, you’ll need a car in order to get there. I highly recommend booking a rental car in advance, right at the Norfolk Airport. We’ve had headaches with renting a car during our Florida trip, but found that this time was a rather simple and stress-free process.
We chose to stay a couple of (non-consecutive) nights in Norfolk and stayed in Buxton on Cape Hatteras for the other two nights, which was 2.5 hours away. We did some brief exploring in Norfolk and neighboring Virginia Beach to see what southern Virginia has to offer. If spending some time in Norfolk, I highly recommend checking out Grain, a rooftop beer garden and restaurant, which had some delicious food and beverages!
After taking a pit stop to swim and eat at Virginia Beach, we made our way down to Cape Hatteras. From Virginia Beach and with a couple of breaks, it took us 3 hours to drive down along NC Highway 12 to the island. Once getting out of the more commercial towns of Kill Devil Hills and Nags Head, the coastal drive becomes peaceful and scenic. We knew we were getting close to Cape Hatteras when we started seeing kite surfers everywhere!
Once we settled into our hotel, we immediately felt relaxed and soaked in the island’s laid back vibes. We stayed at Hatteras Island Inn in Buxton, which was one of the more affordable hotels in the area and close by the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse! The lighthouse is definitely the “main attraction” of the area, besides the beaches themselves. First built in 1803, even the lighthouse was unable to effectively warn ships of the dangerous Diamond Shoals because it was too short, blended in with the background, and the signal was not strong enough to reach mariners. The lighthouse went under several repairs and was even demolished and reconstructed in 1870 and 1871. Visitors can climb the lighthouse, however due to restoration efforts, the lighthouse was closed while we were there.
When not stuffing our faces at the wedding, we did have to search for some restaurants around the island. The restaurant I found most memorable was Fatty’s Treats and Tours, both a restaurant and a kayak tour business. We only went to the Eatery for some breakfast before hitting the road back north to Norfolk. The breakfast and lunch menu ranges from simple fare (ex: breakfast sandwiches, which are delicious!) to food they describe as “crazy on purpose”. The restaurant is also decked out with gifts for purchase, as well as fun nautical artwork.
Speaking of quirky, I’m also a huge fan of Atlas Obscura, a quirky travel site that allows everyone to research, track, and add unique travel destinations around the world. Whenever I visit a place, I try to explore an “off the beaten path” location from Atlas Obscura, to experience a different part of the area. Even quiet Cape Hatteras had a few quirky spots, including the Futuro House! Futuro Houses were a novel “techno-utopian” experiment in the 60’s and 70’s, with Lee and Mary Jane Russo buying a plot of land in North Carolina and decided to buy one of these newfangled houses to put on the property. The house was designed by by Finnish architect Matti Suuronen, with fewer than 100 of these houses having been built, due to immediate criticism. Sometimes, the resident “space alien” will make an appearance during the summer and on Halloween night (we sadly missed him)!
While it was a quick trip, it was a great long weekend to go to a wedding and spend time between southern Virginia and the Outer Banks!