The Outer Banks (OBX): Corolla, North Carolina
The Outer Banks consists of a 200-mile string of barrier islands home to the wild horses of Corolla, the Lost Colony, delicious food, fun things to do, and not to mention – some of the best sunrises on the East Coast.
Growing up, Jared vacationed in the Outer Banks before the wild horses of Corolla were annexed to the 4×4 beaches of Carova & OBX bumper stickers were a thing. After watching the first season of OBX on Netflix in quarantine (yes, we know the show wasn’t filmed in NC), we began researching availability and as luck would have it – we found the perfect spot.
You may have heard of more popular towns of the Outer Banks such as Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, Duck, or Nags Head. These are the towns most closely located between either the Route 158 Wright Memorial Bridge or the Route 64 William Baum Bridge (southern access point) which is where visitors first enter the Outer Banks. However, the upscale town and golden beaches of Corolla are not to be missed and definitely worth the trip a little further north.
Jared’s family owned a home in Corolla Light Resort [the *perfect* place to stay for families with young children] on Bodie Court for many years. He and his brother both grew up playing basketball, riding bikes, and surfing the waves on the beaches of Corolla Light, but sadly that home was sold after he went to college.
20 years later, this is Jared’s first trip back to the Outer Banks & it feels as if he never left. It’s been great seeing the Outer Banks through Jared’s eyes, and since it’s Chloè, Coco Chanel, and I’s first visit ever to the OBX, we’ve really enjoyed having our own personal tour guide along on this adventure.
The Beaches of the Outer Banks are some of the most stunningly beautiful beaches we’ve visited in the United States. Not only are the Outer Banks Beaches home to some of the best waves, but they have some of the cleanest and best quality sand we’ve ever seen state-side. We honestly cannot stress how clean these beaches were – absolutely pristine! There are countless access points from public to private up and down the coast, so that keeps getting to and from your spot on the sand simple.
In addition to being beautiful, every single beach throughout the Outer Banks is dog-friendly which means you and your four-legged friends can enjoy miles of sun, sand, and salt water together all year round. Our girls, Chloè & Coco Chanel, were living for all of the ball and frisbee time they had on the beaches of the OBX. However, dogs must be leashed at all times, even while swimming. Read more about the dog-friendly beaches of The Outer Banks here.
The two beaches we visited while in the Outer Banks were Corolla and Carova. We visited the Outer Banks during the last week of September and the first week of October. Overall, we had great weather with absolutely no rain at all other than the very first day we arrived into town which allowed us to visit the beach in some form each and every single day of our trip.
There are many beaches to visit throughout the Outer Banks, but the beaches of Corolla are the ones that will make you want to stay. Corolla’s white sand beaches are clean and wide. This is the spot for a perfect beach day in the Outer Banks.
Many Corolla beach goers utilize beach gear rental services throughout their stay. From May through October, a third-party outfit of your choice will delivery and arrange everything from your beach chairs and umbrellas to your cornhole games and boogie boards at your chosen spot on the beach for a fee. In addition, some rental homes provide this service as a benefit of renting. During our trip to the Outer Banks, we personally carried everything from our rental home onto the beach along with handling our two dogs on leashes. To say we would not do this again is an understatement. We thought the short trip from our home to the sand would be manageable, but it was the exact opposite. For our next visit to the Outer Banks, we will most definitely chose a home that offers this service or we will arrange it ourselves.
A number of public access points are available throughout the Corolla Beaches. However, many homes throughout Corolla also offer private beach access as well. Our rental home in Buck Island offered private beach access to the Corolla beaches. We preferred this option as we knew showers and restrooms were close by. Also, if the weather became too much for our girls, we knew we could easily make it back into the AC in a matter of minutes.
Public access to the beaches of Corolla can be found at:
- Currituck County Southern Beach Access (Bathroom, Shower, Parking)
- Sailfish St & Whalehead Dr (Parking)
- Bonito St & Whalehead Dr (Parking)
- Perch Street & Whalehead Dr (Parking)
- Barracuda St & Whalehead Dr (Parking)
- Shad St & Whalehead Dr (Parking)
- Currituck Beach Lighthouse Ramp & State Public Beach Access
Travel Tip: If you’re looking to rent a more affordable option with a vacation home outside of a private gated community like Buck Island, we highly recommend the oceanside and oceanfront area of Whalehead for its many beach access points.
We visited Corolla during October of 2020, so COVID-19 protocols were in place on the beach. Social distancing was taking place between each of the families set up on the beach, and we really enjoyed this. There was never a time when we felt unsafe or as if another family was getting to close. Masks were also not required on the beach at any time which was wonderful.
When visiting the beaches of Corolla, please note:
- Pets are permitted, but must be leashed at all times.
- These are strictly pedestrian beaches. No vehicles are allowed on the beach.
- Lifeguards are on duty from 10:00 am – 6:00 pm from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
- Please help keep the beach beautiful by taking all trash and waste with you when you leave.
Carova 4×4 Beaches
Even though our Beach House in Buck Island Community was just steps from the ocean, the 4×4 beaches of Carova offered a certain convenience that Corolla didn’t. Carova’s twelve miles of secluded beaches are less crowded, geared more towards adults, and was simply easier with the dogs for us to pack our beach supplies (cooler, beer, beach chairs, umbrella, blankets, towels, …. the dogs, etc.) into our 4WD pickup truck and drive onto the eleven mile stretch of beautiful beaches in Carova.
Our girls love lounging in the bed of our pickup truck after a good swim on the 4×4 beaches of Carova. It allowed us to keep them safe from the beach traffic, and their sandy paws off of our beach blankets and chairs. Meanwhile, we lounged in the sand watching as powered paragliders passed over us from high above.
The beaches of Carova are also home to the Wild Horses of Corolla. Forget people watching, observing these beautiful creatures in their natural habitat is truly incredible. For us, the best part of a beach day in Carova is when the Wild Horses of Corolla decide to pay you a visit. Just make sure you keep your distance at all times. If the horses do decide to approach you, as they did us on many occasions, make sure everyone in your party stays still, refrains from startling them, and allows them to pass. Remember, we are the visitors here as Carova is now their home.
If you visit Carova, here are a few tips:
- A four-wheel drive (4WD) vehicle is required to access the Carova 4×4 beaches. There are no paved roads.
- Tire pressure must be deflated prior to driving on the sand.
- Pets are permitted, but must be leashed at all times.
- Carova is the steady stream of traffic heading up and down the beach as opposed to the pedestrian beaches of Corolla. Dogs must be leashed at all times, and parents of pets and children must keep a close eye on their loved ones to be sure they don’t wander into traffic.
Currituck Beach Lighthouse
Located in the beautiful village of Corolla, adjacent to Historic Corolla Park, this is the Outer Banks’ northernmost lighthouse. It was constructed of brick and mortar in 1873, and it is still in operation today.
Currituck Beach Lighthouse towers over 160 feet in height. Visitors to the Lighthouse should be in good health in order to climb the Lighthouse. There are over 220 steps spiraling to the top, so take your time.
- Admission is $10.00 USD per person.
- There are a number of high touch points throughout the facility (handrails, etc.)
- Social distancing is nearly impossible in a building this old
- Face coverings are currently required at the time of this post
As you make your way to the top, there are several platforms that highlight the history of Currituck Beach Lighthouse. Be sure to hang on tight to any loose belongings when you reach the observation deck. Jared held on tight to our camera, but the wind could’ve easily taken it from him. One of our friends had their sunglasses ripped off his head. When we made our way to the bottom, the search for his sunnies began. We were very lucky that they did not hurt anyone when they fell and to have found them nearby in the bushes – still in tact!
We were very fortunate to be able to see the Currituck Beach Lighthouse’s beacon each night from the top deck of our beach house, Tangerine Dream. This was an extra special treat that we did not expect, and made our evenings by the shore a little more magical.
Whalehead Club Historic House & Museum
Once a winter home for wealthy hunters, the Whalehead Club is located in the heart of Corolla village at beautiful Historic Corolla Park. The home was constructed in the mid-1920’s, and the architecture is a mix of Pennsylvania farmhouse meets French-country. With five chimneys and over 20,000 square feet of living space, this mustard color structure was once the largest residence in the Outer Banks. What attracted us the most to the structure was its eye catching art-nouveau style of this soundfront mansion. The original residents surely new how to live the beach life in style. Upon first glance, were immediately in awe as we felt a bit underdressed and as if we had been transported into the pages of The Great Gatsby.
Self-guided audio tours of the Whalehead Club are available for $10.00 USD per adult and $5.00 USD per student. Children ages 8 and under are free of charge.
Guided tours lead by local historical experts of the Whalehead Club are available Monday through Friday from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
Historic Corolla Park
If you make the trip to Historic Corolla Park, it is here that you can visit the Whalehead Club, the Currituck Beach Lighthouse, and The Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education. Besides these attractions, the 39 acre park is home to four nature trails as well as winding pathways for bicycles, running, and walking, and there is no shortage of green space both shaded and unshaded. Kayaking and paddle boarding on the soundfront are also very popular.
During the summer, weekly wine festivals and live entertainment are offered. Waterfront fireworks celebrations are held during the 4th of July, and seasonal ghost tours are offered in the fall. If you are looking for an event space, Historic Corolla Park also hosts special events throughout the Park. This is a very popular spot for wedding ceremonies, receptions, and also family photoshoots.
- Historic Corolla Park is free and open to everyone.
- Pets must be leashed at all times.
- Fireworks and alcohol are not allowed in the Park.
If you go, pack a picnic and grab a table or spot on the lawn to enjoy a beautiful sunset over the sound in historic Corolla village. We did this on many occasions both with and without the dogs, and we really enjoyed it. We also ordered take-out for lunch one afternoon from a nearby restaurant and enjoyed our meal at the picnic tables in Corolla Park. Afterwards, we threw the balls for our dogs and watched as others flew kites overhead.
There are so many ways to stay active and sightsee during your trip to the Outer Banks. With over 200 sunny days a year, the Outer Banks has plenty of options for outdoor activities and is the perfect destination year-round. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to do it all during our visit, but now we have an excuse to return. Since we were staying in the Corolla area, we kept our activities close to home and never wandered far outside of the Corolla/Carova area which is the northern-most section of the Outer Banks.
A beautifully maintained 18 hole golf course located in Corolla, North Carolina. The course is both fun and challenging (but not unreasonable) with a lot of water play. We really enjoyed the layout of the front 9. Many of the fairways offer rolling dunes and views of the Currituck Sound. Overall, the course has a mix of short and long Par 3’s and 4’s.
Our golf carts were fitted with color touch screen GPS navigation, distance information, and food and beverage service. The course layout is setup so that you end up near the Clubhouse after finishing the 9th hole. This offered us an opportunity to refuel with lunch and hit the restrooms before hitting the back 9.
The clubhouse offered a Pro Shop with an array of apparel and golf accessories as well as The Hunt Club Tavern, a pub which offered both dine-in and take-out service. There was also outdoor seating available at the Tavern which overlooks the Club’s Practice Facility. The bartender at The Hunt Club Tavern was very friendly, helpful, and efficient. Restrooms are available in the Clubhouse behind the Tavern.
We teed off around 10:00 a.m. in October during the “off-season” in the Outer Banks, and we thought the pace of play was manageable. We had read reviews online prior to playing Currituck that October was one of the best months to play this course as it is said to be in the best shape. A tournament had ended just prior to our tee time, and when the Starter alerted us that we would be paired up with another couple – we were a bit nervous. Luckily for us, we were paired with a wonderful couple who were similar to us in skill level which was very reassuring. We had a wonderful afternoon together on the golf course, and we made new friends while we were at it! We never felt rushed, and we only had one couple who we let play through as they were a two-some behind our four-some. However, we have heard horror stories of the pace during “high-season” from others who play the course regularly.
As a private club, we were able to arrange tee times through the owners of Tangerine Dream, the beach house we rented. This perk was one of the reasons we chose the rental property we did.
Timbuck II Shopping Village
785 Sunset Boulevard Corolla, NC 27927 – Open 10:00 am – 10:00 pm (hours vary by season)
If shopping is your cardio, then TImbuck II has you covered! We spent a full day shopping all of the stores and boutiques at Timbuck II. From The Cotton Gin and Nag’s Head Hammocks to Gray’s Outer Banks and Corolla Wine & Cigar, Timbuck II is a shopaholic’s dream come true. While you’re there, take a break from shopping some of our favorite brands like Vineyard Vines, Tommy Bahama, and Lilly Pulitzer and grab ice cream at Big Buck’s or take a lap around the track at Corolla Raceway.
There is so much to do at Timbuck II from shops to restaurants and attractions, this is one place you should not miss on your trip to The Outer Banks. Because our beach house was located just across the street from Timbuck II in the community of Buck Island, we spent a lot of our time at Timbuck II morning, afternoon and into the evenings. We really enjoyed the convivence of being so close to all of the shopping, dining and activities that Timbuck II had to offer, and we will absolutely rent a home in this area again.
Morning Walks on the Beach
From boardwalks to sand dunes, to beaches and nature trails, there are countless ways to take advantage of the over 200 sunny days per year in the Outer Banks. We love nothing more than to start our day with sand in our toes (and paws) and that fresh ocean air in our lungs. We love our morning walks on the beaches of the Outer Banks.
We like to get out on the sand early, before everyone else wakes up, so we have the beach all to ourselves. October mornings are cool enough that our old girls can still walk a few miles on the beach without overheating, like they would in the summer months. Keep in mind, crowds are much lower in the Off-Season months of September to May than what you can expect during the High Season months of June to August.
Morning Bike Rides
There are over 100 miles of bike paths to ride your way through the Outer Banks. From scenic woodland trails to paved beach roads, bring your own or rent a bike for the week and ride your way from Corolla to Ocracoke. This is a fun way to explore the Outer Banks, and it’s an easy way to get around during the busy season when traffic can be congested.
We rented two beach cruisers from Atlantic Ocean Rentals for the entire week of our stay. After our morning walks on the beach, we would continue our morning outdoors with a ride through the areas surrounding our community. This was the perfect way to explore the Outer Banks, work off all of the good food we were enjoying, and enjoy the beautiful October weather.
Travel Tip: Watch out for animal waste on the beach roads and pathways. From dog poop to horse poop and everything in between, you will want to avoid this on your bike rides for sure.
Unfortunately, our girls couldn’t join us for our daily bike rides. At their ages of 11 and 13, the heat is just too much for Chloè and Coco Chanel to run along side us for over ten miles a day. We hope to purchase a pet bike trailer in the future so they can ride along and enjoy the outdoors as much as we do!
Eating out isn’t common for most visitors to The Outer Banks. In fact, restaurants can be hard to come by at times given their seasonal schedules. The most popular thing to do in the OBX is rent a beach house and cook large meals for your family throughout your stay.
However, when we vacation – we prefer not to cook. The only meal we cooked during this trip was breakfast. Because we make fresh full meals when we are home each and every night from scratch, we enjoy that small break from the kitchen that we get during our vacations. We truly love food, and when we travel, we enjoy trying new restaurants and menu items that will inspire us to then recreate them at home.
Berne’s Brother Tropical Grill & Bar – Lunch
803 Albacore St, Corolla, NC 27927
We had the pleasure of dining at Berne’s for lunch one afternoon. Although the indoor seating is very nice (offering not one but two bars – one on each floor), we had our hearts on dining outside. First floor and second floor outdoor patio seating is available, and we opted to dine on the upstairs patio.
The menu items were well-priced for the area, and we even enjoyed a few drink specials during our visit. We began our meal with a few cocktails like Mermaid’s Water and Mango Peach Sangria. Our drinks were refreshing after our long bike ride earlier that morning, and we relaxed surrounded by the views of Highway 12. They have an extensive beer list, so this is a great spot for beer lovers.
Although we visited for lunch, we imagine this would be a great hangout in the evening for a little après sea. We ordered some loaded house-made chips and Coconut Shrimp. Both were delicious, and we really enjoyed our drinks, the casual vibes, the service, and our time on the patio. We will definitely be back the next time we return to town!
La Dolce Vita Ristorante – Dinner
Timbuck II Shopping Village, Corolla – Building #798 – (252) 453-0069
Delicious menu items featuring fresh local seafood and popular Italian classics all served in an upscale setting with excellent service.
Travel Tip: Request a table by the window when making your reservation.
Tucked inside the heart of Timbuck II Shopping Village, La Dolce Vita is an incredible date night destination in The Outer Banks. The decor inside the restaurant is lovely, and we cannot express how wonderful and attentive the staff was – from the hostess to our server and everyone in between. We dined on Clams Bianca, the heirloom tomato bruschetta, the crispy calamari, and a few delicious glasses of wine which were fabulous.
The menu was filled with so many amazing dishes, but we just couldn’t try it all in one sitting. We decided to return another evening for takeout, and this time we ordered one of their hand-tossed gourmet pizzas. Our pizza was fantastic, and we enjoyed a night dining in with some Netflix and our girls.
Mike Dianna’s Grill Room – Dinner
Timbuck II Shopping Village, Corolla – Building #777 – (252) 453-4336
Fresh local seafood and truly INCREDIBLE steaks. Our first choice for dinner one evening wasn’t available, so we stumbled upon Mike Dianna’s Grill Room on a happy accident.
The decor is rustic with comfy oversize booths and dark wood accents. We were pleasantly surprised by the menu and service, but we were simply blown away by their steaks! Hands down, the best surf and turf in the Outer Banks. While dining at Mike’s, we enjoyed steaks, scallops, and an excellent selection of wines.
Outer Banks Boil Company – Dinner
Timbuck II Shopping Village, Corolla – Building #785 – (252) 453-6578
The perfect first night meal after a long road trip. Quick and easy fresh local seafood.
We ordered the Ben Franklin Pot which comes with red bliss potatoes, sweet corn, spicy andouille sausage, sweet onions, jumbo shrimp, littleneck clams, mussels and snow crab legs. In addition to all of that, we also added on two lobster tails, extra snow crab legs, little neck clams and shrimp. Our boil was the thing we were looking most forward to leading up to our trip to the Outer Banks, since we’ve never done anything like this before and it did not disappoint!
Big Buck’s Homemade Ice Cream – Snack
Timbuck II Shopping Village, Corolla, NC 27927
After a long day in the sun on the beaches of the Outer Banks, there is nothing that makes us happier than ending the evening with delicious homemade ice cream from Big Buck’s. It is the perfect treat to beat the heat!
There are two locations in the Outer Banks for Big Buck’s – Corolla and Kitty Hawk. We frequented the Corolla location in the center of Timbuck II Shopping Village. The service at the Corolla location is excellent – friendly and knowledgeable. Big Buck’s offers over fifty flavors of ice cream made fresh daily and a host of toppings. In addition, Big Buck’s offers an array of salt water taffy, chocolates, from milk to dark, and candies. This is one spot in Corolla not to be missed!
Corolla Light Town Center – 1159 NC-12, Corolla, NC 27927
Located just outside Corolla Light Resort, this laid-back venue quickly became our favorite place for food and drinks in all of the Outer Banks. They offer outdoor seating, are pet-friendly, and have some of the best food and drinks around. The Blackened Sesame Ahi Tuna kept us coming back!
Mama Easley’s Grub Hut
Timbuck II Shopping Village, Building #799
Conveniently located just across the street from Buck Island and tucked into a small corner of Timbuck II Shopping Village, Mama Easley’s is a great spot for a burger or a bite day or night. Although the location itself is small and somewhat hidden, they sure do a lot with the little space they do have. Mama Easley’s offers outdoor seating with incredible views of the soundfront from the back patio. The staff does an amazing job of making you feel at home, and the best part is they are all dog-friendly!
Shrimp, scallops, fish & chips, fried green tomatoes, and onion rings are all delicious. We grabbed a few beers (ice cold PBR’s for $1.00!!) on the patio on our first visit, ordered takeout another day, and then returned one last time for a full meal outdoors with our pups.
Corolla Light Town Center – 1159 Austin Street #111AB, Corolla, NC 27927
Also located just outside Corolla Light Resort, this location features both indoor and outdoor dining. We prefer a table outside on the covered patio. We grabbed lunch and a few margaritas here during one of our bike rides from Buck Island to Corolla Light. Our dogs did not join us for a meal, but there were plenty of other patrons who were dining with their pups.
The outdoor seating and the pet-friendly atmosphere is a plus, and the food was tasty. The next time we visit, we will absolutely bring our pups along for the trip.
This pet-friendly beach house has five bedrooms, four full bathrooms, one half bathroom, an inground swimming pool, and an incredible amount of outdoor deck space throughout the home. Jared and I really enjoyed evenings under the stars in our home’s elevated hot tub just steps from the ocean. Meanwhile, our girls loved lounging on the many multi-level wrap around decks the home had to offer.
We really enjoyed our stay in Buck Island and at Tangerine Dream. It was the perfect pet-friendly home for a wonderful week in The Outer Banks. Learn more about our stay at Tangerine Dream in the Outer Banks: here
Traveling to the OBX during COVID-19
The global pandemic forced us to rethink our travel plans for 2020-2021. Instead of heading somewhere tropical on a plane like the Caribbean for our big trip, we packed everything in the truck and hit the road for a drive to The Outer Banks. Vacationing in The Outer Banks during the pandemic could not have been easier.
On the day we arrived in The Outer Banks, an electronic gate code and key pass to our vacation home was texted to our cell phones so that we could go directly to the property (instead of a physical check-in which was previously required). All paperwork and information was e-mailed to us prior to check-in thanks to Brindley’s excellent customer service. Reminders about trash pick up and pool services were also texted and e-mailed to us so that things items were not overlooked during our stay.
Our rental property underwent an extensive cleaning prior to our arrival and in-between our visit and the previous visitors who had just checked out that same morning. We had no issues with the condition of our rental as far as cleanliness went, which was surprising because it was a pet-friendly rental we never know what to expect. Although they were provided, we brought our own bed linens and towels along as a personal preference.
Masks were not required while outdoors, unless we were around large numbers of people which was rare. The only times we masked up outdoors were when we visited the local attractions like the Currituck Beach Lighthouse, the Whalehead Club, when we went inside the Clubhouse at the golf club, and when waiting for tables outdoors at restaurants. Masks were not required at the beaches, walking the streets, riding bikes, playing golf, etc.
The restaurants were not busy or overcrowded, and proper social distancing was maintained with tables indoors. Overall, everyone we met from the waitstaff at the local restaurants to the volunteers at the local attractions was happy to see us. Obviously, the global pandemic has had astronomical effects across the globe, and the travel industry has been hit hard.
It’s no secret that we love traveling, but the hardest part has always been leaving our dogs behind. In our opinion, the Outer Banks really is the perfect place to vacation with your pups. We’re so happy to have our girls along on this adventure, and we couldn’t be more proud of how well-behaved they were throughout the entire trip. Our tans may fade, but the memories we made in the Outer Banks will last FURREVER!
Have you visited the Outer Banks? If so, please leave a comment below with all your OBX tips and tricks to help us plan our next visit!