Miles of sandy beaches. Blue skies, friendly atmosphere and seafood extraordinaire await those who visit Nags Head, North Carolina.
I discovered Nags Head, North Carolina by mishap in 2018. I was touring the southern east coast of the US and when I was about to return to Canada, a slow moving winter storm front directly in my path caused me to abruptly change plans and look for a place to hunker down for a week.
Permit me to backtrack for a moment. I had visited the east coast of Canada many times and over the years, I had dipped south into the northern US coastal states to visit such northern states as Maine and Massachusetts. My southern east coast jaunts eventually expanded to Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey and Delaware. Virginia had been the place of numerous visits as it holds historical sites such as Colonial Williamsburg, Yorktown and Jamestown.
Finally, in the winter of 2018, I decided to see what was on offer in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. Starting south and making my way north, I planned to visit South Carolina and then return directly home to Canada. However, the forecast of a winter storm front that would adversely impact my return routing changed my plans and I started to look for a place on the beach in North Carolina. Searching for a pet friendly place that would allow my cat, I came across a place in Nags Head, North Carolina. Until that point, I had never heard of Nags Head or the Outer Banks. A beach house was available for seven days, would allow my cat and came at an affordable price. I booked it.
The week spent in Nags Head was excellent and I fell in love with the beaches, area and laid-back atmosphere. I was determined to return at some point and spend more time there. My plan was to use the solitude to write and paint.
Fast forward to the winter of 2020. My husband Dan and I rented a house directly on the beach for three months. Dan often researches historical sites for me, so he was prepared to spend his days obtaining information on the area while I worked on my next book which relates to cruising. I figured the sound of the surf hitting the sand and the smell of the salty air would be motivational.
As for being an inspirational place to write, Nags Head delivered on all fronts. The sound of the ocean was calming and even in inclement weather, the crashing of the waves was stimulating. At that time of year, the beaches are deserted but the morning sunrises are spectacular. Best of all, there was no snow and temperatures, although not hot, were not in the frigid range that normally grips Canada’s capital during the winter months.
For those unfamiliar with Nags Head, it is located almost directly east of Raleigh in an area known as the Outer Banks (OBX). Famous nearby points of interest are the Wright Brothers National Memorial, the Cape Hatteras National Seashore and the Cape Lookout National Seashore.
Nags Head has been continuously occupied for centuries and the name is said to be connected to pirate folklore. On this trip, I asked one of the local fellows I met, how the name came about. He told me that pirates (or privateers), would hang a lantern around the neck of an old nag at night and walk the horse (or mule) around in circles to make ships believe it was a signal from a lighthouse and that the water was safe. When the ships ran into one of the sand bars, the pirates would attack the ship and denude it of all valuables.
Later, when researching the name, I learned that there are several differing theories about how the place came to be named Nags Head but at the end of the day, I rather favour the idea of the pirates and the horse.
There are a large number of vacation homes in this location. I learned that around 1825-1830 Nags Head had become known as a delightful seaside retreat in the summer months. The cooling ocean breezes, gave relief to those fleeing large, continental interior cities. It has retained its status as a summer haven and I am told that during the summer, the population of the entire outer banks area significantly increases and that weekends could easily see well in excess of 100K tourists/visitors descend on the outer banks.
The area is stunning with respect to miles of sandy beaches and spectacular sunrises. During my walks there, I saw plenty of wildlife, including deer. I also saw dolphins playing in the water, which was a total delight.
There is an abundance of typical tourist stores selling beach paraphernalia or ocean themed memorabilia. There is also an outlet mall with brand named stores offering up designer clothing. Not being a fan of big box stores, I sought out and found a number of small boutique stores. Prices varied from the reasonable to the ridiculous. I suggest that people shop around and see what is on offer.
The upside of visiting Nags Head during the winter is that there are few tourists and miles of quiet, walk-able beaches. The downside is that there are many locations that close from December to mid-March or April 1st. That meant that a lot of places that would normally be of interest to us, were closed.
There are plenty of restaurants in the area but as with stores and certain attractions, many are closed during the winter season. The restaurants we visited, alternated between being average and specializing in deep fried seafood and chips, to being exceptional. I used to think that the best seafood was on the east coast of Canada or the west coast of Portugal but I can honestly say that my husband and I had some outstanding seafood meals in this area.
We were staying within a mile of Jennette’s Pier, where one can pay to access the pier and engage in fishing. While checking out the pier and historical information contained in the large building and store (which is part of the complex), we came across information about the sea turtles nesting at Nags Head. Apparently, the sand banks are nesting areas for the endangered Sea Turtles and in September and October, the turtle nests are marked and protected. Interference with them is prohibited. Volunteers keep watch over nests. The information about the turtle nesting sites and their protection by various groups is fascinating and both my husband and I would love to return to Nags Head at nesting time to volunteer as guards.
Overall, I found that visiting Nags Head during the winter months was relaxing and enjoyable. However, looking at the photographs and listening to the stories from locals, I learned that there is a very different dynamic in the summer. People describe Nags Head in June, July and August as busy, fun filled, lively, and with a different vibe to that found during the winter months. In examining the price listings for accommodation during the summer months, I noted that higher prices are the norm so be aware of the seasonal cost fluctuations.
I will be writing more blog postings about the Outer Banks including Kill Devil Hills and the light houses of the area.
If anyone has any questions or comments about Nags Head, please feel free to post them here or contact me.