The Outer Banks of North Carolina, one of the prime vacation spots on the East Coast, is an easy two-hour drive from Hampton Roads. Famous for its family-oriented entertainment, the area offers miles of beautiful white beaches, amusements and historical attractions, and scores of restaurants. Though there are many hotels to choose from, many vacationers opt for weekly rentals at the thousands of vacation homes that line the ocean and the sound.
Here's a closer look at the several communities that dot the Outer Banks. The middle communities of Nags Head and Kill Devil Hills tend to be more populated, with many of the larger hotels, more affordable restaurants and family activities such as mini-golf. Head north to the communities of Duck and Corolla where you'll find large rental homes and high-end shops and eateries. Or travel south to the unpopulated landscape of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore and the quaint, old-world charm of Ocracoke Island.
. These towns feature charming shopping areas with upscale boutiques, art galleries and coffee shops, and large rental homes. Duck's 10-acre municipal park features boardwalks and trails meandering through sound-side forest. Water sports include windsurfing, jet skiing, fishing, sailing, kayaking and even parasailing.
. This area has a popular sound side where kayakers enjoy Kitty Hawk Bay. Home to the Wright Brothers National Memorial and Visitor Center, where brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright launched the first powered flight in 1903.
Kill Devil Hills
. Famous for its large sand dunes, the area might have been named for Kill Devil, a brand of rum found washed ashore during the colonial period.
. The area many people refer to when talking about the Outer Banks. A popular resort community and home to Jockey's Ridge, one of the last giant sand dunes that once towered over the beaches.
. Great day trip for shopping or an overnight excursion to enjoy one of the many bed and breakfast inns. The picturesque waterfront town of Manteo has interesting turn-of-century architecture and many art galleries. The island is best known as the site of the first attempted settlements of English colonists in the New World, depicted in the summertime outdoor drama, "The Lost Colony."
Cape Hatteras National Seashore
. A 16-mile strip of wilderness beaches for swimming and fishing. Camping facilities are available, as well as dozens of boats for charter fishing.
. Accessible by ferry, it's one of the barrier islands where the pirate Blackbeard is known to have once roamed. It includes the 1823 Ocracoke Lighthouse, unique shops and is known as a bird watcher's paradise.
Sanderling Resort & Spa, Duck. 877-650-4812. thesanderling.com.
Ramada Plaza Nags Head Beach, Kill Devil Hills. 800-635-1842. Ramadainnnagshead.com.
Days Inn Kill Devil Hills Oceanfront. 252-441-7211. Daysinn.com
Best Western Ocean Reef Suites, Kill Devil Hills. 252-441-1611.
Holiday Inn Express, Kitty Hawk. 800-315-2621. hiexpress.com.
Quality Inn John Yancey, Kill Devil Hills. 800-592-6239.
Blue Point Bar & Grill, N.C. 12, Waterfront Shops. 252-261-8090.
Elizabeth's Cafe & Winery, N.C. 12, Scarborough Faire shopping center. 252-261-6145.
Roadside Raw Bar, N.C. 12. 252-261-5729
Kill Devil Hills
Awful Arthur's, Beach Road, Mile Post 6. 252-441-5955.
Chilli Peppers, ByPass, Mile Point 5.5. 252-441-8081.
Mama Kwan's Grill & Tiki Bar, Bypass, Mile Point 9.5. 252-480-0967.
Basnight's Lone Cedar Cafe, Nags Head Causeway. 252-441-5405
Fisherman's Wharf, 4683 Mill Landing Road. 252-473-6004
Tour the Whalehead Club
. This stately 21,000-square-foot private retreat of Mr. & Mrs. Edward Knight, with its elegant Art Nouveau details, is located in Corolla.
Visit a Lighthouse
. Choose from Currituck Beach, Bodie Island, Cape Hatteras, Ocracoke or Roanoke Marshes.
Hike Jockey's Ridge State Park
. It's the largest active dune system east of the Mississippi River, where you can learn about sand and dune migration and experience breathtaking views of the ocean.
See the Wright Brothers National Memorial
. Here you can experience the site where Orville and Wilbur Wright introduced flight to the world. See a replica of the 1903 airplane that made it happen.
Watch "The Lost Colony."
America's longest-running outdoor drama on Roanoke Island follows the tragic story of Sir Walter Raleigh and the English colonists who came to America.
Take in the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum
. Learn about the dangerous conditions around Cape Hatteras that caused numerous shipwrecks. Discover how technology has aided in the recovery of shipwrecks like the USS Monitor.
Ferry to Ocracoke Island
. This remote island is accessible only by boat or airplane. Stroll down historic Howard Street and see what island life was like before paved roads.
See the Elizabethan Gardens
. Walk amidst acres of beautiful gardens with its collection of statuary on Roanoke Island.