The barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina are better known as the Outer Banks, and they're the perfect place to take a long weekend to rest, relax and unwind. From state parks and endless miles of beach, to extreme water sports, this popular holiday spot really does have something for everyone. Better yet, you can do it on the cheap (motels starting at $69 a night) or in ultra luxury (renting a beach house), depending on your tastes and your budget.
The drive from Atlanta to the Outer Banks can be done in a day. To get there, take I-20 E to I-95 N. As you get closer to the Outer Banks, you'll merge onto U.S. 64 E to finish out your road trip. The entire drive can usually be done in less than 10 hours, depending on traffic or unforeseen circumstances.
If flying is more your style, your best bet is to fly from Atlanta to Norfolk International Airport, which is just 82 miles north of the Outer Banks. You can rent a car and head south or arrange for a shuttle to take you from the airport to your accommodations (starting at $150, depending on which Outer Banks island you're staying on).
Nothing says vacation like riding a horse along one of the most beautiful beaches in the country. Horseback riding on the beach is an ideal excursion for nature lovers, equine aficionados or adventurers looking to check something off the bucket list.
A three-hour guided horseback tour from Equine Adventures will take you through trails and along desolate stretches of beach for only $100 to $120, depending on the season. The experienced guides lead guests through trails in the Maritime Forest, the N.C. Coastal Reserve, and the National Park Service. The highlight of the horseback riding excursion is coming out over the dunes and onto the beach by the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.
Equine Adventures is located in the town of Frisco, on Hatteras Island. No horseback riding experience is necessary, and the tours are frequented by beginners and experienced riders alike. Guests must be 10 years old or older to book the horseback riding excursion.
If your vacation includes young travelers, you can fulfill their sense of adventure with a little swashbuckling fun in the Outer Banks. The tour operator is called Pirate Adventures and it's located in the town of Manteo, on the eastern side of Roanoke Island.
It will cost you $23 for children 3 years old and older ($12 for kids 2 and younger), and in exchange your child will be entertained with over an hour of pirate dress-up, a boat ride on a pirate ship, and a treasure hunt. Parents are invited to join their little ones on the adventure, as there's plenty of seating on the Sea Gypsy pirate ship.
The treasure hunt takes you along the waters of Roanoke Island's Shallowbag Bay and the adjacent Roanoke Sound, so it's complete with beautiful scenery for the older generations to enjoy. Perhaps the biggest highlight of the excursion comes when you engage in a sea battle (complete with water cannons) with the infamous Pirate Pete, before you head back to shore.
No vacation to a beach paradise would be complete without checking out some sea life. Outer Banks Dolphin Cruises will get you up close and personal with one of the smartest and most fascinating ocean creatures; the dolphin.
For only $15 to $25 per person, you're guaranteed to see dolphins or you get to ride again for free. The dolphin cruise takes place on the Roanoke Sound and lasts about two hours. It leaves from the Wanchese Marina in Wanchese. Reservations are required. Children and babies are welcome on the cruises.
Before you head home
Before you leave the vacation life behind and head back to reality, eat donuts like a local at Duck Donuts. With four locations in the Outer Banks, and donuts that are anything but ordinary, it's a decision you won't regret. Something about a box full of maple bacon donuts just makes that long road trip home seem a little better.