Duck, North Carolina
Stretching for 130 miles along the Atlantic coast, North Carolina's Outer Banks are a skinny strip of barrier islands whose hallmark high, sandy dunes front frothy surf on 1 side and a gentle sound on the other. The area's slogan is "A secret worth keeping" and while the droves of tourists who head here in summer are a hint that the secret's out, some areas have managed to keep their claim on quaint and quiet longer than others. Perhaps none more so than Duck, an upscale residential rental community along the northern reaches of the Outer Banks.
Development of Duck -- which owes its name to the hordes of fowl who stop here during migration -- didn't begin until the 1970s. And it has since stuck faithfully to residential construction, with just a few small commercial strips to provide the necessities -- a last-minute bikini buy, sandwiches for the kids or even a candlelit dinner for 2. Duck's relative solitude and its vast array of neatly constructed rental homes make it ideal for families. There are no hotels or motels in Duck proper, so to stay here you'll have to either rent a vacation home, snag a spot at the one B&B or head to a nearby town for lodging.
Still, while we admit Duck would never make the list for top spring break party spots, boredom is hardly a threat here. After all, the beach is the main attraction and Duck's wide swaths of sand are nothing to scoff at. Oceanside, respectable surf is ideal for boogie boarding, body surfing and swimming, while the sound offers up a perfect playground for nature lovers and sports enthusiasts who require calmer waters. And if you tire of all that, there are lots of attractions within a short drive. Just don't tell anyone where you came from. It's a secret.
Web Site: www.advice5.com
This is the B&B in the town of Duck, but rest assured that there is plenty of R&R to be had at Advice 5¢. Located between the Atlantic Ocean and Currituck Sound, this B&B is within walking distance of Duck's main strip of shops, as well as the beach and the sound. The casual atmosphere is complemented with bed-and-breakfast-style service that makes guests feel right at home. While we can't vouch for the advice, if it's as comforting as the surroundings, you can't possibly go wrong.
Best Luxurious Hotel
The Sanderling Inn Resort
Web Site: www.thesanderling.com
Located just north of Duck, the Sanderling Inn Resort is 12 acres of luxury, where grand old hotel elegance meets seaside cottage charm. The resort boasts 88 high-end hotel rooms and suites, plus 4 villas, 2 restaurants and a full-service spa and fitness center. To take advantage of the area's abundant marine life, there's also the 45-foot Sanderling, a yacht for hire that offers daily fishing jaunts.
Best Family Hotel
Holiday Inn Nags Head Beach
Web Site: www.holidayinn.com
With a full-service restaurant complete with kids menu, a video game room and oceanfront setting, the Holiday Inn in Kill Devil Hills is a safe bet for any family vacation. The 4-floor hotel has 106 rooms and is within a short hop of all the local attractions, including, of course, Duck, which is about 8 miles north.
Best Budget Accommodations
Kill Devil Hills Days Inn Oceanfront
Web Site: www.daysinn.com
Because there aren't any hotels or motels in Duck, those who are budget conscious will have to head south to Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills or Nags Head. In Kill Devil Hills, the Days Inn Oceanside offers up low-cost lodging in a clean and homey setting. With an oceanfront perch, an outdoor pool, a grilling area and a volleyball court, there are plenty of options for lots of seaside action, without the painful price tag.
Food & Drink
Best Waterfront Atmosphere
Fishbones Sunset Bar & Grill
From the owners of Fishbones Raw Bar and Restaurant comes Fishbones Sunset Bar & Grill, offering up sound-side dining with spectacular sunset views. In January, the grill underwent significant renovations, increasing the size and adding an outdoor bar. The newly upgraded restaurant features a Caribbean-influenced menu with live music, raw bar, sushi bar and, appropriately enough, sunset celebrations every evening.
Best Local Seafood
The Sanderling's Lifesaving Station Restaurant
Web Site: www.thesanderling.com/
Located in a restored lifesaving station built in 1899, the Sanderling's flagship restaurant features upscale contemporary American cuisine with a bent toward local seafood and a wine offering to satisfy any palate. The décor is turn-of-the-century coastal -- casual, with nautical artifacts and antiques reminding diners that they're not on the mainland anymore.
Best Family Restaurant
Web Site: www.ramadainnnagshead.com
With a kids menu and family friendly attitude, Peppercorns is an ideal place to dine on a real meal with the whole family. The dining room has an ocean view, and during summer tables are set up on the deck as well. On the menu are traditional seafood offerings, steaks, salads and sandwiches, plus an a la cart menu for breakfast.
Best Candlelit Dinner
Elizabeth's Café and Winery
Web Site: www.elizabethscafe.com
Nestled in Duck's Scarborough Faire shopping plaza, Elizabeth's has been serving first-rate French Bistro-style cooking and an outstanding wine selection for the past 12 years. Nightly prix fixe menus promise a constantly changing complement of wine and food that's as alluring as the atmosphere -- part wine cellar, part country bistro.
Best Kid Stuff
The Lost Colony
Web Site: www.thelostcolony.org
Located 25 miles south of Duck, Roanoke Island in 1587 became the site of the first permanent English settlement in America. It soon proved to be not-so-permanent, however. Just 3 years after the settlement's 117 men, women and children were deposited on the shores of the Outer Banks, they disappeared without a trace. Four hundred years later, the nation's longest-running outdoor performance re-creates what is known of their story. Visitors can also tour the remains of the settlement at Fort Raleigh.
Best Day Trip
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and Visitors Center
Web Site: www.nps.gov/caha/
The nation's tallest lighthouse -- towering at an impressive 196 feet -- is a 2-hour drive south of Duck on NC 12, but there are enough small-town stops and coastal views to make the trip half the fun. During the summer months, visitors can climb the 268 steps to the top of the lighthouse for a spectacular view of the national seashore. But even from ground level, the lighthouse is well worth a look. The visitors center details the island's maritime history, and a nature trail makes for a pleasant walk.
Best Historical Site
Wright Brothers National Memorial and Visitors Center
With its towering sand dunes and an ever-present wind, it's no surprise that the Outer Banks was the site of the first powered airplane flight, made by Orville Wright on Dec. 17, 1903. The craft built by Orville and his brother Wilbur only made it aloft for 12 seconds at a height of 120 feet, but it was enough to start aviation on its way. Today a visitors center and memorial commemorates the Wright brothers' work and offers a fascinating look into the past.
Best Place to Fly a Kite
Jockey's Ridge State Park
Web Site: www.jockeysridgestatepark.com/
If you've always wanted to fly, this might be your chance. After all, what better launch point could there be than the largest natural sand dune on the East Coast? Hang gliding is permitted on certain faces of the dune by anyone who has the appropriate rating, and lessons are offered for those who don't. And of course, there's the much more grounded option of simply flying a kite. And if flying whatever it may be holds no interest, a hike to the top of the dune -- while a little strenuous -- offers an outstanding view of the 400-acre Jockey's Ridge State Park and surroundings.