Despite living on the California coast about 5 miles from the Pacific Ocean, it’s sometimes necessary to fly 3,000 miles across the country just to experience some fun in the sun. This is exactly what I did for a week of August, when myself and 30 members of my very close family visited Nags Head, NC for a week of sunburns, sand dunes, drinking, debauchery, and general pirate behavior.
Nags Head is situated in the heart of the Outer Banks, the narrow chain of barrier islands off the North Carolina coast. We picked this destination because we would visit here nearly every summer when I was a kid. The only difference is that we never had this many people with us while we were there when I was a kid.
Our giant multi-generational family of 31 kids and adult kids shacked up in two giant neighboring beach houses. Both houses were fully equipped party pads, complete with hot tubs, game rooms, bars, karaoke machines, and swimming pools. Public beach access was just across the street.
In the days of my youth, I would rent a surfboard the entire week and surf all day, every day. After a few summers of this, I became the rarest of all creatures – an Ohio surfer. This would help later in life after I moved to California and took up surfing as a weekend hobby. I originally planned to spend this entire week surfing as well. Unfortunately, as you can see by the beach break above, this wasn’t a prime week for surfing. The waves never broke much further than 20 yards from the beach, making riding them a likely body slam onto the sandy ocean floor. For this reason, I skipped the surfboard rental this year and stuck with a leisurely boogie board approach instead.
We didn’t realize this until after our arrival, but our houses were located only about a quarter mile of the Nags Head Fishing Pier. The pier was outfitted with a bar, tackle shop, small arcade. This proximity had many advantages, including easy access to fishing and rod rental. My sister’s husband, who hails from small fishing village in the UK, was the only one of us able to snag a fish off the pier.
The Outer Banks is best known as the location of the Wright Brothers’ first powered airplane flight at Kill Devil Hills in 1903. The brothers were drawn here because of the constant 25 mph wind and soft sand dunes perfect for crash landing an experimental aircraft. I just so happened to be reading David McCullough‘s excellent new biography on Wright Brothers during this trip and had the first flight on my brain the whole time I was there. I’ve been to the Wright Brothers National Monument a few times before, but was eager to go back and visit again on this trip to experience first-hand what I was reading in the book.
The Wrights were bike Mechanics from Dayton and didn’t have a college degree or formal engineering training, yet they revolutionized aviation. Their breakthrough was the invention of a three-axis control system which remains the standard for airplanes to this day. The Wrights built their Wright Flyer from wood and common hardware store parts. They even built their own engine. I’m a pretty handy guy, but after close inspection of the plane at the museum, I’m not sure I’d have the craftsmanship to be able to pull off something like that.
Another thing the Outer Banks is known for is ship wrecks. There were so many off the coast in the 19th century that the area became known as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic.” For this reason, there are also several lighthouses located along the 200 mile stretch of islands.
The most beautiful of these structures is the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, the tallest lighthouse in the country. Built in 1870 and originally located a safe distance from the ocean, by the 1990s the eroding coastline left the lighthouse only 15 feet away from the breaking surf. In a feat of engineering dubbed “The Move of the Millenium,” the National Park Service picked up the lighthouse in 1999 and move it 1,500 feet inland away from encroaching ocean. Although, 1,500 feet sounds like a fair distance, it will probably need to be moved again one day, as the sands of the Outer Banks are constantly shifting and eroding the coastline.
It’s a challenge feeding 31 people at the same time, but we managed to pull it off multiple times throughout the week. Each of our family dinner nights had a theme – Cincinnati chili and hula, family BBQ, etc. I was responsible for the make-your-own taco salad reception on the pool table. Of course, there were also nights were everyone went their separate ways to local seafood restaurants, but it was nice for us to enjoy a meal together as many times as we could.
One of the Outer Banks’ most popular attractions is Jockey’s Ridge State Park, home to the largest sand dune in the eastern United States. As kids, we used to climb to the top of the steep dune and run down the sides as fast as our legs could carry us. We made several sunset trips to Jockey’s Ridge this year since it was located directly across the highway from our neighborhood. However, it was disappointing that the shifting sands had now leveled the hill and spread it over a much larger area than before. What used to be one very tall and steep dune is now 6 or 7 gentle sloping dunes. It’s still one of the most amazing places in the country to watch that godforsaken orange orb in the sky slip below the horizon at the end of the day.
Speaking of sundown, there was a legitimate party scene happening at our compound each night. The nice part of having two massive houses is that we could rotate the party location between the two houses each night to avoid wearing out our welcome. Although, I’m certain we were loud enough that the entire neighborhood heard us every night, we never received any complaints.
The Outer Banks are one of the most beautiful beach locations in the country and a perfect place to spend the week with a large family. If you’re looking for a perfet beach vacation destination on the east coast, look no further. Heck dlink login it’s even worth visting from the west coast.