Road Trip Through Charming Towns in The Outer Banks

Outer Banks, North Carolina is a road trip enthusiast’s dream. This iconic chain of barrier islands linked by coastal highway NC 12 is home to some of the largest tracts of undeveloped beaches on the East Coast. There are endless undeveloped coastlines, preserved wildlife, great fishing and historic landmarks.

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Though I did see many dolphins around OBX, this picture is courtesy of outerbanks.org

Known collectively as the “OBX,” the four islands are home to six towns and 12 coastal villages – all with very different personalities ranging from quintessential beach towns to traditional fishing villages. If you are unfamiliar with OBX, it can be hard to decide where to start your journey and what all to explore! You can spend as little as 4 days if you want to just get a feel for the OBX, or stay for a week in each of the four islands and get a taste for the local life.

However, if you are planning a quick summer road trip to the Outer Banks, here’s what you must include in your itinerary…

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Sanderling is one of the best luxury resorts in OBX.

Relax at a Resort in Duck

Check into Sanderling Resort in Duck, a relatively quieter part of OBX, occupied by large beachfront holiday homes. Sanderling is an upscale hotel with a North Carolina bungalow charm that spreads across a large area, so families can enjoy private time. Here you can walk along secluded beaches, dip in one of the swimming pools, relax at the spa, or simply watch dolphins playing in the Atlantic right from your balcony.

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Lifesaving Station Restaurant is a historical landmark!

Dine at Delicious Restaurants

The Lifesaving Station at Sanderling is not just one of the best restaurants in Duck, it is also one of the original rescue stations from 1870s. You can see the many pictures and memorabilia of wayward passengers and crew aboard shipwrecked vessels along the Atlantic shores, while dining on Carolina delicacies – blue crab and corn chowder for dinner or crab Benedict for breakfast.

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These warm cake donuts are to die for!

For breakfast, bike or walk along the tree shaded sidewalks to Downtown Duck to eat some of the best cake donuts in the world! This is the birthplace of the famous donut chain – Duck Donuts. Made to order, hot and fresh, you can create any kind of decadent concoction you want, or choose from some of their fan favorites. My personal favorites include Hynoduck, Pina Colada, and Blueberry Pancake, but the expression on little kids faces digging into their boxes, is priceless!

Grab dinner, watch the sunset or shop at the boutiques in the Town of Duck.

Spend the afternoon exploring the Town of Duck which features 11 acres of trails through the maritime forest and willow swamp, and shops and restaurants located on the Duck Boardwalk. This is also a good place to watch the sunset over the Bay while dining outdoors at The Blue Point. The restaurant prides itself on featuring local farmers, fisherman and independent suppliers on its menu. 

Commemorate the first flight in the world!

Take a Lesson in Aviation History at Kill Devil Hills

This is where you want to come for a history lesson in aviation. The Wright Brothers National Memorial is the most famous landmark in Kill Devil Hills. There, Wright brothers achieved the world’s first heavier than air, powered, controlled flight in 1903.

Stop for drinks and lunch at the Outer Banks Brewing Station, the oldest wind powered brewery in the US! Take a tour of the brewery and watch how wind energy is harvested to make beer.

Walk or jump over the natural sand dunes in the Eastern US!

Stop for an Adventure in Nags Head

Continue your Outer Banks road trip to the adjacent town – Nags Head, known for the towering sand dunes, salt marshes and quiet beaches. Being the entertainment hotspot, this OBX town is dotted with souvenir shops, fast food restaurants, mini golf courses and fishing charters.

You would never know how fun it is to hang glide over sand dunes until you try it for yourself!

For a unique experience that can be enjoyed by adventurers of all ages, try Hang Gliding at Jockey’s Ridge State Park. It’s a 426-acre park with the tallest and largest natural sand dune system in the Eastern United States. The Kitty Hawk Hang Gliding school offers a chance to safely experience flying over soft sand dunes with the assistance of two instructors. You get 5 attempts to perfect your landing and you don’t even have to worry about falling. This sport is super fun and easy!

For other Outer Banks thrills, try jet skiing, kayaking or parasailing. Kitty Hawk is the largest adventure company with locations all over the OBX, offering a wide range of bike and paddle rentals, surf and kite flying lessons, to scenic bi plane and full moon kayak tours.

Bodie Island Lighthouse has been moved from its original location due to the southward migration of the inlet.

Dreamy lighthouses make for picture perfect backdrops and climbing up the towers offer great vistas. Note: Some lighthouses are currently closed due to Covid-19, but you can still visit them from outside with social distance and face covering. At the tip of Nags Head, visit the 156-foot tall horizontally-striped Bodie Island Lighthouse. It is not the tallest in the area, but the marsh walk around it makes for good wildlife viewing as well.

Soak in Nature’s Beauty in Hatteras

The drive from Duck to the end of Hatteras Island is 83 miles. However, it is highly recommended. Along the way, you can stop at the islands mentioned above, or just spend an entire day exploring the rugged natural beauty of Hatteras Island. Most people who live in these rustic villages of Hatteras have fishing boats. You can charter a sport fishing boat here or watch one of the professional fishermen and women bringing in their fresh catch each afternoon to the Hatteras Harbour. Needless to say, this is also a great place for seafood lovers! Also, all the restaurants you will find in Hatteras offer daily caught shrimp, crab, tuna, grouper and mahi mahi on their menus.

Most seafood in OBX is locally sourced and sustainable.

Enjoy the Surround Wildlife

Pack your walking shoes and a hat and prepare to spend a couple of hours at the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge (around mile marker 31). The Refuge is a great spot to spot 365 species of local wildlife, including birds, reptiles, mammals and amphibians. In addition, explore on your own walking along one of the trails, or join refuge staff for programs on topics ranging from sea turtles to life in the sound, to bird adaptations.  

Learn how to volunteer at Pea Island

The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is the tallest brick beacon in the world!

Continue on to Cape Hatteras Lighthouse (also known as America’s Lighthouse), because it is the tallest brick beacon in the world, standing at 210 feet, and originally constructed in 1870.

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Horseback ride through the forests and beaches in the southern tip of Hatteras.

Another unique way to explore the southern end of Hatteras Island is on horseback. You will find families of all ages, coming for generations for Equine Adventures Horseback Tour. The guided trail ride goes through the thick maritime forest of Frisco, crossing deep water pools (especially after a good rain), and the beaches of the Carolina coast. You have a chance to gallop your horse on the wide-open beaches, or leisurely stroll with your experienced guide. You’ll have a memorable adventure while getting wet!

Catch a sunset cruise behind The Tranquil House at Manteo Waterfront.

Slow Down The Pace in Manteo

The town of Manteo located on Roanoke Island is a charming North Carolina coastal town, where you can enjoy history, shopping, dining and a quieter pace. Stroll around the downtown near Manteo waterfront to soak in its unique architecture, local boutiques, and coffee shops. Learn about the first English colonies on North American soil at Roanoke Island Festival Park, or watch the seasonal blooms at The Elizabethan Gardens.

Because sunsets in the coastal barrier islands of North Carolina are spectacular on most days, book yourself a private sunset sail on a 41-foot Gulfstar. Captain Dan will sail you from downtown Manteo Waterfront into the Roanoke and Albemarle Sounds. There, you’ll also spot dolphins and birds, and listen to a lot of interesting stories. For dinner, head over to BlueWater Grill for the best tuna tartare and crab cakes in Manteo!

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Respect the guidelines when you travel.

Travel Sustainability in OBX

There are not many fast foods or big retailers in Dare County. Most businesses have signs at the door stating which local charities they donate a portion of their proceeds too. In the Outer Banks, you are likely to only see locally caught seafood at restaurants, which is generally fresh, tasty and a lot more sustainable.

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Businesses in Dare county give back to the community.

Due to COVID-19, businesses are mandating keeping social distance indoors and at public parks and beaches. Individuals must wear a mask indoors, especially when entering restaurants and retailers. Many of the hotels have reduced capacities. A large majority of the accommodations found in the OBX are also holiday rentals.

To get to OBX, start your road trip in Raleigh, NC or Norfolk, VA if you want to save a few hours.

How To Spend a Weekend in Chattanooga

Are you ready to travel again? Even as international travel still remains restricted, you can still explore destinations in your own backyard. If you want to get away for a weekend or even a day trip, Chattanooga, TN offers a perfect blend of nature, history, food, and culture. Conveniently located less than 2 hours drive from Atlanta, there are several attractions for families and travelers of all ages in Chattanooga. Businesses around the city are taking several measures to ensure the safety and health of travelers, that you can read about below. Here’s where to go on your summer getaway for a weekend in Chattanooga…

Exterior of RiverView Inn in Chattanooga
RiverView Inn offers proximity to attractions and views of the river

Stay at a Charming Inn

Lookout Mountain, the highest point in Chattanooga, has a number of family-run B&Bs, many of which are historic homes. Though the mountain is part of Georgia and part in Tennessee, you have to drive through the city of Chattanooga to get to the boutique RiverView Inn. This cozy inn is well-spaced out, with clean suites, and balconies offering stunning views of the city and the river. Due to current COVID Hotel Standards, they offer a to-go breakfast bag and coffee only, while the heated and salted swimming pool is open to guests.

Rock City Walking Path in Chattanooga
Pristine walking paths in Rock City

Stroll Through Historic Gardens

One of the biggest attractions on Lookout Mountain is Rock City – a geological garden with waterfalls, wildflowers and art. Here you can walk through quiet woodland gardens, ancient rock formations, and a suspended bridge; breathe in fresh cool mountain air, and get a view of 7 states. There’s a cafe and restaurant onsite where you can enjoy a lunch break, before you make your way underground to a colorful displays of classic childhood fairy tales at Fairyland Caverns and Mother Goose Village.

Fairyland Caverns of Rock City
Storybooks of your childhood come alive at Fairyland Caverns

Explore the Sites, Safely

You need to make reservations online to visit Rock City, as only a limited number of people are allowed in at any given time (pets are allowed too). This actually makes it a great time to visit Rock City, as you can avoid crowds and take amazing photos! There are hand sanitizing stations throughout the garden as well as reminders for visiting gnomes to maintain social distance.

Covid Safety Gnomes
Be safe and healthy while visiting Rock City

Near Rock City, also checkout the famous Ruby Falls, Point Park, and Incline Railway.

Views of Rock City Chattanooga Tennessee
Waterfalls and Lovers Leap at Rock City

Explore the Urban Areas

Chattanooga has a cool urban vibe, while being close to nature. The downtown area is pedestrian and bike friendly. You can walk or bike on Walnut Street Bridge, or along the waterfront, where you will see families, street artists, musicians and food trucks. Kayak or rent a boat on the Tennessee river and check out the scene from the water.

Parks of Chattanooga
Stroll through the waterfront trails, parks and bridges around Chattanooga

Stroll around the Chattanooga Choo Choo hotel area (access to interior is currently closed), which comes alive on weeknights and weekends. Here you can see several bars offering outdoor seating, live music and lots of people watching.

Songbirds Restaurant Exterior
Grab a drink and listen to music in downtown

Get a Taste of the South

During your weekend in Chattanooga there are several good restaurants that are open for dine-in, with spaced out tables, masked employees, and advance reservations. On weekends, grab a pitcher of mimosa for only $10, and sit outside overlooking Main St at STIR. Latin-inspired State of Confusion has some of the best Peruvian ceviche and traditional margaritas, paired with excellent service.

For dessert, get a scoop of some of the creamiest salted caramel and  coffee toffee at Clumpies Ice Cream. If you’re there on Sunday, check out the Chattanooga Market at First Horizon Pavilion, to purchase goods from local farmers and artisans.


Spring Yoga Retreat in North Carolina

Take a break from your busy life & join us for a Yoga Retreat in Boone, North Carolina. Nestled among forest and Blue Ridge mountains, the Art of Living Retreat Center offers peace and tranquility like no other place. Soak in the Fall colors as you hike through the Carolina mountains. Enjoy daily healthy vegetarian meals using farm fresh ingredients, gather by the bonfire to sing or play music, and relax with natural Ayurvedic treatments. This is a fun retreat for couples, singles and friends.

Dates: April 6-8, 2018

Destination Gaylord Opryland

Until a few weeks ago, I had not even heard of the Gaylord Opryland in Nashville, TN. The Gaylord Opryland is much more than a resort and convention center, it is an experience. When I arrived there, I had mixed feelings –  it looked like a tropical rain forest, had the creativity of Las Vegas, and the inclusiveness of a cruise ship.

Stepping into the palatial lobby embodied with giant glass sculptures and dazzling ceilings, gave you the impression of stepping into the Bellagio. As porters hauled luggage to one of the 2,880 guestrooms, you found yourself wandering the nine acres of botanical gardens and cascading waterfalls under the 15 story high glass atrium.

The interior of the resort is home to over 50,000 tropical plants maintained at 72 F year round. There is also a quarter mile long indoor river where you can go for a boat ride and tour the property. The guide will make sure to point out the fruit trees and give you some education about the plants. In the evenings, watch the water fountains dance to a sound and light show at the Delta Atrium. Being home to country music, there are live performance and entertainment daily.

Besides the overall architectural marvel, there are also the restaurants, spa, pools and boutiques to enjoy at the resort. Strolling along the shops at the Magnolia pavilion feels like you have stepped into a piazza in Florence. The two stories building have Italian look and feel while the flooring is of cobblestone. Again, this reminded me a lot of the shops in the Venetian and Bellagio in Vegas. The boutiques carried souvenirs, sundries and unique art and gift items.

A number of dining options are presented to you at the hotel itself. There are 20 restaurants that offer everything from British pub (which includes Indian), Italian, Mexican, sushi and contemporary fast food to an upscale Steakhouse. The food is prepared by some of the best chef’s in the country and the service is exceptional. Most employees at the Gaylord Opryland have long tenures so you can tell they are truly passionate about their work.

The little ones would particularly enjoy the special activities organized just for them. Besides learning about the plants and walking through the waterfalls, they can also sneak into Shrek’s den and hang out with the characters from the movies, Kung Fu Panda, Madagascar and Shrek. At Christmas time, the property converts itself into a wonderland with 2 million lights and many festivities.

Whether you are looking for a romantic weekend getaway or an adventure for the entire family, the Gaylord Opryland is not just a place to stay, it is a destination like no other.