Outer Banks Travel Guide

History drips from the Outer Banks: Here, aviators Orville and Wilbur Wright took their famous first flight (at Kill Devil Hills), the pirate Blackbeard fought his last battle (at Ocracoke) and the mysterious Lost Colony disappeared (where is anyone’s guess). But this chain of barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina – affectionately dubbed OBX – isn’t just for history buffs. Fishing, windsurfing and wildlife watching attract adventurous types, not to mention the 3,000 shipwrecks you can explore by scuba diving. Families gravitate toward the beaches, mini-golf courses and the North Carolina Aquarium at Roanoke Island.

Each island has its own charm: The old lighthouses, rugged dunes and secluded beaches in the south couple with vacation rentals, water sports and kitschy beach shops, such as the Stop-N-Shop Beach Shop, in the north, all to form a unique seaside destination. If you come to the Outer Banks expecting action, you’ll be disappointed. OBX is ideal for those looking to skip the overly touristy attractions and head straight for the unspoiled beaches. You won’t find big nightlife, but you will find an abundance of natural beauty. Beaches are more populated during the summer months, but with so many destinations spread out along the barrier islands, you likely won’t experience big crowds.  Vacation to the Outer Banks, continue reading our Outer Banks Travel Guide and plan your vacation here. For more beautiful East Coast Beaches, visit here.

Weather – When to Visit the Outer Banks

Most locals and out-of-towners arrive during the summer months when the temperatures are the warmest. But the best times to visit the Outer Banks are from March to May or September to November, when rates drop and crowds dissipate. Similar to other parts of the Southeast, the temperatures stay relatively warm and humid – with average highs hitting the upper 80s in the summer – until the winter months, when the weather dips into the 40s and 50s. Keep in mind that during the offseason some attractions, as well as restaurants and shops, may close or operate under more limited hours. 

What Should You Pack?

When figuring out what to pack for the beach, there are two tips to keep in mind. First, forgetting an item isn’t the end of the world. Unless you’re heading for a remote, deserted island, chances are you can find a store where you can pick up the extras. Second, don’t stress out over making a packing list when there’s a stress-free beach travel essentials list for you below:

  • Sunglasses and hats offer much-needed sunscreen and flip flops are perfect for navigating hot, sandy beaches. Go pack them now so you’re not kicking yourself later.
  • What about those little items that make beach visits so much more enjoyable? For a little extra comfort on your trip, make sure you pack: Lip balmsunscreenbug spray.
  • Beach toys and goggles are a must for kids. Building sandcastles and viewing the underwater wonders are perennial favorites.
  • Take a first-aid kit with you. Hopefully you’ll only have to worry about a few minor scrapes from seashells, but having your own kit handy is a good precaution.
  • Beach Bag – Your beach bag will likely contain a few of the items mentioned above. For a well-rounded bag, consider tossing in sunscreenlip balmbug sprayfirst-aid kit and water-proof baggies.
  • Beach Gear – No matter who’s supplying the gear, look to have the following items on hand: beach bagbeach chairsbeach towelsbeach umbrella or tentbeach cart and a cooler.
  • Remember: Don’t wait until you’re parched to drink. When you’re out in the heat and sun, it’s important to stay hydrated by drinking regularly. So take along a water bottle as well.

Outer Banks Attractions

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

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The most recognized symbol of the Outer Banks is certainly the black and white candy striped lighthouse in Buxton. The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is the same height as a 12-story building and is the tallest lighthouse in the United States! For 2009, the lighthouse is open to visitors from April 17th – October 12th. You may climb to the top, but be forewarned – it’s not an easy journey! Be prepared to climb up 248 iron steps with no air conditioning. However, the view from the top is so worth the effort!

North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island

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While the otters tend to steal the show, the aquarium also offers a touch tank, a shark exhibit, gift shop, and programs for kids. Special programs include dive shows, live animal encounters, and animal feeding activities. The Roanoke Island Aquarium is open 9:00-5:00 daily, and tickets are $8 and less.

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Jockey’s Ridge

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No trip to Nags Head is complete without climbing to the top of Jockey’s Ridge! Located in Nags Head at Mile Post 12, it is the tallest natural sand dune system on the east coast. The fragile system of dunes constantly changes in response to the wind and weather. Visitors will find a 1.5 mile self-guided trail, a 360 foot boardwalk, and a 1 mile soundside nature trail. You’ll see many families flying colorful kites, and kids having fun rolling down the dunes.

Elizabethan Gardens

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Located on historic Roanoke Island, these breathtaking gardens offer flowers, shrubs, and trees. Marvel at ancient live oaks, smell the herb garden, and delight in the endless array of blooms. The Elizabethan Gardens are open 7 days a week, year-round.

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Wright Brothers Memorial

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You simply can’t talk about Outer Banks history without mentioning Orville and Wilbur Wright’s famous 1903 flight. Visit the exhibits, including a replica of the Wright’s “flying machine.” Be sure to climb Kill Devil Hill where the 60 foot pylon stands – you’ll find stunning views of both the ocean and sound from the top.

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Things to do in the Outer Banks

Nor’Banks Sailing & Watersports

Nor’Banks offers the most complete water sports center on the OBX, with Wave runners, Parasailing, Wake Boarding, Water skiing, Tubing, Kayaks, SUP, Tours, Pontoon Boat Rentals and Sailing (Rentals, Lessons, Youth Camps and Sales). Telephone: 252-261-2900 Web: Nor’Banks Sailing & Watersports

Outer Banks Kayak Adventures

Outer Banks Kayak Adventures provides quality, affordable, and relaxing kayak and stand up paddle board (SUP) eco-tours. Join them for an unforgettable family adventure and see a more natural side of the Outer Banks. Their guided kayak and stand up paddle board (SUP) tours offer exciting and educational opportunities for all ages. Telephone: 252-489-8146 Web: Outer Banks Kayak Adventures

Back Country Safari Tours

Custom open-air Safari Beach Cruisers take you & your family on off-road explorations of the Outer Banks northern beaches. Telephone: 252-581-0104 Web: Back Country Safari Tours

Wild Horse Adventure Tours

See the wild horses of the Outer Banks and whip through beach, dune, and forest trails with Hummer Adventure Tours. Discover some of the most unique sights the Outer Banks has to offer. Their friendly and knowledgeable tour guides take you onto pristine northern beaches that are accessible only with a 4×4 off-road vehicle. Telephone: 252-489-2020 Web: Wild Horse Adventure Tours

OBX Airplanes

They offer tours of the historic Wright Brothers memorial, Bodie Island, Hatteras or Currituck lighthouses, and of course the scenic beaches which the Outer Banks is famous for. Have you ever dreamed of becoming a pilot?? They also offer extensive pilot training for all levels. Telephone: 252-489-8165 Web: OBX Airplanes

Best Restaurants – Outer Banks

$-Inexpensive     $$-Moderate     $$$-Pricey     $$$$-Ultra High End

$$ – $$$ Barefoot Bernie’s

The diverse menu blends together cuisines as varied as Asian and Caribbean, Mediterranean and down-home American with ease, using fresh ingredients with a unique touch. The amount of options and variation ensures every member of your family will leave satisfied. Telephone: 252-261-1008 Web: Barefoot Bernie’s

$ Art’s Place

Art’s Place has been the Outer Banks’ biggest kept secret for thirty years serving the best burger on the beach. Not only are their burgers fantastic, they also make our own fresh hand cut fries. Weekly homemade meals made with love and care. Telephone: 252-261-3233 Web: Art’s Place

$$$$ The Blue Point

At The Blue Point, their menus change seasonally but always lean toward local and sustainable seafood. From their famous crab cakes to fresh fish, beef or pork, pasta or gnocchi to their salads, small plates and desserts, their philosophy has remained the same – keep our dishes simple and consistent with strong roots in Southern cooking. Telephone: 252-261-8090 Web: The Blue Point

$$ – $$$ The Kill Devil Grill

Here’s a reason to make a long weekend of it. Take Friday off and arrive at The Kill Devil Grill as close to the 11:30 a.m. opening time as possible. That way you won’t have the heartbreak of the Southern Fried Chicken “blue plate” special selling out before you get some. It’s half a chicken, crisp on the outside, moist on the inside and served with potato salad and pickled cukes for $9. Believe me, you’ll need to beat the locals. Telephone: 252-449-8181 Web: The Kill Devil Grill

$$ – $$$ Coastal Provisions Oyster Bar & Wine Café

A gourmet market turned award-winning full service restaurant with one of the best selections of oysters on the East Coast, extensive wine selection, wine bar, oyster bar, take out and retail goods to go. Telephone: 252-480-0023 Web: Coastal Provisions Oyster Bar & Wine Cafe

Best Nightlife – Outer Banks

Off The Wall Tap House

Off the Wall Tap House has an innovative beer wall technology that allows you to personalize your experience and try over 20 craft beers. Taste test just an ounce, fill a pint, or choose anything in between. Not into beer? Have a drink from the wine and cocktail menu! Their food puts new spins on old favorites and introduces a few beachy originals. Get your seafood fix. Share nachos with friends. Enjoy a burger. Telephone: 252-489-5114 Web: Off The Wall Tap House

Pangea Tavern

This gastropub features an outdoor beer garden, delicious innovative food choices, and an extensive selection of local craft beers on tap make this a must-visit while you’re relaxing in The Outer Banks. Also, this place is just steps from the beach and with the largest selection of craft beers on tap on Hatteras Island. Pangea Tavern is a favorite of locals and visitors alike. Telephone: 252-995-3800 Web: Pangea Tavern

Basnight’s Lone Cedar Cafe

Considered one of the premier restaurants in the Outer Banks, Basnight’s also plays host to romantic, waterside nightlife. Guests can enjoy their favorite cocktail while gazing at the Roanoke Sound from anywhere in the restaurant, including the bar. Telephone: 252-441-4505 Web: Basnight’s Lone Cedar Cafe

Lucky 12 Tavern

With its selection of old-school pinball machines, vintage billiard tables, and plenty of flat-screen TV’s, this beach bar attracts a diverse customer base. Young and old, locals and vacationers, bikers and surfers all flock to the fun-filled atmosphere of Lucky 12 for lunch, dinner and fun. Once there, they can enjoy a great selection of beers on tap and a kitchen that stays open late. DJ’s also frequent the tavern. Telephone: 252-255-5825 Web: Lucky 12 Tavern

Mama Kwan’s Tiki Bar & Grill

By day, Mama Kwan’s is one of the top lunch and dinner spots on the Outer Banks – thanks in part to its famous fish taco. By night, the zesty island flare and modest prices attract customers for festive nightlife. Mama Kwan’s draws a healthy crowd of college students, locals, and late-nighters who gather not only for the cheap food and drink, but also for frequent live music during the summer. This beach bar often hosts rock and reggae bands. Telephone: 252-441-7889 Web: Mama Kwan’s Tiki Bar & Grill

Best Outer Banks Hotels

The Inn on Pamlico Sound

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The Inn on Pamlico Sound is a full service boutique hotel offering world class waterfront accommodations, fine dining, event hosting and gourmet catering on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. The three acre facility sits on a ridge between the banks of the Pamlico Sound, one of North America’s largest estuaries, and the Buxton Woods coastal preserve, one of North America’s largest maritime forests. For more information, pricing, or to reserve your room visit The Inn on Pamlico Sound.

Oasis Suites Hotel

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Located on the beautiful Roanoke Sound, they are the only boutique hotel in Nags Head. Their 17-suite hotel was designed and decorated to offer all the comforts and amenities of home. Here you will find Honeymoon, Executive, Family and Handicap Accessible suites. Each suite offers a full kitchen, jet spa-inspired tub with a separate shower, a private master bedroom, a private balcony and beautifully appointed furnishings. For more information, pricing, or to reserve your room visit the Oasis Suites Hotel.

Surf Side Hotel

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This Outer Banks hotel offers oceanfront and ocean view hotel rooms where guests can relax and enjoy the sunrise over the water. A variety of accommodations are available, including efficiency rooms, loft rooms, double queen and single king bed rooms, and full honeymoon suits. In addition to the gorgeous view, they also offer a great selection of amenities to their guests, including hot tubs, indoor and outdoor pools, private balconies and a free continental breakfast. For more information, pricing, or to reserve your room visit the Surf Side Hotel.

Hilton Garden Inn Outer Banks

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Make yourself at home in one of the 180 air-conditioned rooms featuring refrigerators and microwaves. Grab a bite to eat at the hotel’s restaurant, which features a bar, or stay in and take advantage of room service (during limited hours). Quench your thirst with your favorite drink at a bar/lounge. Buffet breakfasts are available daily. Enjoy a range of recreational amenities, including an indoor pool, a spa tub, and a fitness center. Additional amenities at this hotel include complimentary wireless Internet access, an arcade/game room, and wedding services. For more information, pricing, or to reserve your room visit the Hilton Garden Inn Outer Banks.

Cape Pines Motel

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With a stay at Cape Pines Motel, you’ll be centrally located in Buxton, steps from Cape Hatteras National Seashore and within a 5-minute drive of Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. This motel is 1.2 mi from Buxton Woods Nature Trail and 3.5 mi from Frisco Mini Golf and Go Karts. Take advantage of recreation opportunities such as an outdoor pool, or other amenities including complimentary wireless Internet access and a picnic area. Additional amenities at this motel include barbecue grills and a vending machine. For more information, pricing, or to reserve your room visit the Cape Pines Motel.

34 Comments

  1. Sanni Babatunde Bilal

    Wow cool. Nice write up here about the outer banks and its environment.  I feel like I have just walked thru the area myself!  But now I am packing my bags….well seriously I am planning a trip to the Outer Banks. I have a friend who has vacationed here and he said it was an amazing place.  I can see by your post that it is.  You have provided everything I need!  Thank you!

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      You are very welcome, and yes it is an amazing place.  A lot to explore and discover that is for sure.  Thanks for visiting beach travel destinations.

      Reply
  2. Topazdude

    Helpful guide! I love the Outer Banks! It’s just a place of relaxing and full of fun. I have been there, and my favorite thing to do is just walk along the coast.  So beautiful and serene.  Now I see there is so much more that I have missed.   I am looking forward to revisiting the Outer Banks.  Now I have all the information I need to make it an even better vacation.  Thank you!

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      You know first hand then all about the area.  I am glad my Outer Banks Travel Guide gave you some additional information for your next vacation here.  Please let me know if you need anything else.  I would be glad to help!

      Reply
  3. Ayodeji

    Great travel guide and wonderful writeup. This guide is perfectly written to increase my passion about travelling to beach sides and islands. I love scuba diving and the fact that there is one with 3000 shipwrecks makes the location perfect for me, other locations are wonderful too, if only I could travel them all. Great work sharing these. 

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      Thank you !  I am glad you enjoyed my Outer Banks Travel Guide.

      Reply
  4. Christina

    This is a fantastic Outer Banks travel guide. My family and I were there a few years ago, and you hit on the best things about the Outer Banks. I want to go back, and your guide reminded me of the things that we’d like to do again. (Actually, we missed a few things like the Wright Brother memorial and the Elizabethan Gardens. We need to go back to make sre we get everything in!) 

    Besides the beach (which was quiet where we were), we absolutely loved going to Jockney’s Ridge! The kids brought their boogie boards and slid down the hills. I had quite a good workout climbing up those dunes! lol It was lots of fun though. 

    I can’t wait to go back to the Outer Banks!

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      Oh I bet you had a work out climbing the dunes!  Never did do the boogie boards down that, how fun!  Thanks for visiting my Outer Banks Travel Guide and taking the time to leave me comments!

      Reply
  5. Wendy

    Last year we went to Myrtle Beach but this year I want to go to the Outer Banks as I have never been there. I love the ocean of course, but I also get excited to check out the sites. When we go on vacation we love to check out the local microbrews. Off The Wall Tap House looks like it would be a fun place to go. Are there any good microbrews that you could recommend?

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      Hi Wendy,   as far as micro brews it really depends what you like.  If you like a good Ale, try Weepin Radish Farm Brewery.  I like hefeweizen, so I stick with Lonerider, or a good IPA choice is high-wire brewing.  They, of course, have many others to choose from 🙂  You will enjoy!

      Reply
  6. Shubhangi

    Leahhroe,

    Outer Banks is so beautiful with all the images and places like a lighthouse in Buxton, an aquarium in North Carolina, wright brother memorials, kayak and so many things to experience.  Elizabeth garden is so beautiful and even better its open 7 days a week!b

    Must say the drone view of Outer Banks, is amazingly beautiful!

    thank for such an informative review of Outer Banks

    Regards

    .

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      You are very welcome.  I am glad you enjoyed my Outer Banks Travel Guide. Thanks for stopping by!

      Reply
  7. Adisa1

    I have been wanting to visit the Outer Banks for quite some time now.  I just started doing a little research for hotels and pricing and such.  Great information here!  You have basically everything that I need from hotels, to restaurants and things to do.  Loved the video!  Thank you so much – this has helped immensely!

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      Glad I could help and that my Outer Banks travel guide provided you with all the information you need for your Outer Banks vacation.  Thanks for stopping by!

      Reply
  8. Jeedajoy

    I have read the beautiful blog about the Outer banks and left you a comment there. I loved the topic as I am visiting places around the world and never been to the US yet. It’s one of the subjects I personally love, and I’ll make sure to remember the Outer Banks.

    Last year I have chosen Montenegro on the Adriatic Sea and have visited Budva city in particular. My choice was because I have heard about its beautiful beaches. Beaches are what I choose all the time as I love the sea and the sun most above anything else.

    United States should be my destination next and I’m glad Ive been to your articles…

    Best of Regards;

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      Great !  You will love the U.S. beaches!  Please let me know if you need any additional information.

      Reply
  9. Linus Udochukwu Marvellous

    I have always wanted to visit but did not know how to go about it. Now I know what to do, I know when to visit, I can work on my budget and still have great fun. I know the outer banks will be fun but do you think a budget of $10,000 will be enough to have a great time there?

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      Hi Linus!  Oh my gosh, $10,000 is a HUGE budget for the Outer Banks!  You really don’t need that big of a budget.  I guess it depended on how long you stay LOL.  You will have a marvelous time!

      Reply
  10. Craig

    My company is based in the Raleigh area and I often travel there for work. I’ve heard wonderful things about the Outer Banks (which you’ve confirmed thoroughly), but was curious if it is worthwhile to be driving from Raleigh or if there is a better way to get there.

    I also grew up in the Michigan area and every Friday the trip from the lower half of Michigan to the upper half of Michigan was an absolute traffic jam and nightmare. Does the same happen from the west to east side of the state? Basically, should I be leaving Thursday night if I can to avoid a permanent traffic jam?

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      Yes, I would recommend leaving Thursday night.  Really depends on when you go though.  If you go during the busy time of year (summer) then, absolutely leave a little early just in case you do hit traffic.  I’ve only driven from Florida up.

      Reply
  11. JeedaJoy

    I’m really glad I read your post here and get to know all about the beautiful Outer Banks. It’s the first time I hear of it and Ive never been to the US before. I love traveling myself and I make sure to visit a new destination every year. I’ve been to so many beautiful beaches around the world, and this seems to be a must visit place.

    Thanks

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      It is a must visit place Joy! I hope you can make it here soon and take in all the Outer Banks has to offer!

      Reply
  12. Jon

    Kill Devil Grill is a favorite of mine, and you’re absolutely right, the specials board wipes out early! However they do have some reliable staples such as the cheesesteak egg rolls.

    One other suggestion would be Food Dudes. Tiny place that sits in a strip mall but possibly the best and most innovative food I’ve had anywhere in OBX.

    Thanks for the review, I’ll be heading there again this summer and definitely need to check out Coastal Provisions!

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      Wow Jon, I envy you. Although it is really not far for me to drive, so this might be a great trip for us this summer as well. We will try the Food Dudes! Thanks for the tip!

      Reply
  13. Jen

    Thanks again for your wonderful site! I know this is for travel but this information for me is extra valuable. My husband and I have been talking about moving to North Carolina, (we are in Boston, MA now) because of it’s beautiful landscapes and the lower cost of living, but it would also be nice to have things to do when we are there. I really like this post, just looking at the pictures you have here lessen my anxiety of moving to a new state and I will have to be sure to visit Outer Banks once I am there. Great post!

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      You will most definitely have to visit the Outer Banks. There really is something for everyone, not just gorgeous beaches. Thanks for stopping by!

      Reply
  14. Alexis

    I love how you give pretty much everything on one page. I usually have to research and visit several pages to find out everything on a place to visit! Thank you so much. As a history teacher AND a lover of the outdoors, Outer Banks is on my travel list!

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      Great Alexis! I am glad you enjoyed reading and now added the Outer Banks to your travel guide. Thanks for visiting beach travel destinations.

      Reply
  15. Devara Garrison

    I love the Outer Banks! It’s so peaceful and relaxing. We usually stay at the Surf Side Hotel. Very nice place! Clean, comfortable, and nice staff.
    One thing we like to do is take the ferry over to Ocracoke Island. Ocracoke is one of the southernmost islands of the Outer Banks. It is such a beautiful island where you can ride around on bikes and visit the beach. We always find really nice shells there, especially sand dollars.
    You mentioned several things here in your article that I haven’t seen or visited yet. I’m very interested in the Wild Horse Adventure Tours. I’ve always wanted to do that. Thanks for providing the number where I can get more information about it. We will be sure to do that next time we visit!
    Devara

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      Wow, sounds like you love the area too! I know that since I have been in Florida, so many beautiful places on the east coast are just a stone throw away, compared to Texas where we used to live. Yes, lots of shells and sand dollars which are really not too hard to find! Thanks for stopping by and I am glad you found some new places to visit while vacationing to the Outer Banks!

      Reply
  16. Daniella

    Hi Matts,

    Awesome guide, I loved the reading!
    I’ve heard of Outer Banks from a few friends of mine. They went there on vacations and they really liked the place. Now that I read your article, I can understand the good time they had. I will definitely put the Outer Banks on my bucket list. I see there is safari excursion, that’s one of my dreams. Do you know when we can get the best deals for traveling there? We are on a budget for the moment.
    Also, are there places to go camping? We love this and it’s less expensive:)
    Thank you!

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      March to May or September to November you will find that the rates drop. So this is the best time to stretch your vacation dollars farther. There is plenty of camping sites, for a great list of the camp sites in the Outer Banks, go to The Outer Banks Camping website. Let me know if you need any additional information.

      Reply
  17. Bex Arnold

    I had no knowledge of the Outer Banks and am keenly interested in exploring this beautiful part of the world. The Elizabethan gardens look so peaceful and lovely and the contrasting experience of the aquarium to Jockey’s ridge make it an appealing and dynamic destination. I will definitely put this on the list of a tentative place to jump to when I head out East to see my folks!

    Thank you for your continued content Leahrae! So many places to discover!

    -Bex

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      Thank you Bex for visiting and taking the time to leave me comments as well as your continued support. Glad you enjoyed my outer Banks Travel Guide.

      Reply

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