Tourism is our lifeline on this itsy bitsy stretch of sand we locals call home. We are, as I like to say, literally on the road to nowhere…and yet year after year our community is bursting at the seams with what appears to be an exponentially growing number of tourists who love what they find at the end of the road.
Some of you are first timers, many are repeat guests who have been coming here since childhood and others like to consider this their home away from home. You come solo, in pairs, in groups of four or 40. Some of you blend in so well that the only give away is your license plate lacks the “OBX” signature, while others give away your “out of town” status simply by the number of OBX logos you’re sporting.
Whatever your tourist status may be, you are our guests and we are at your service. Most of us were once visitors to the Outer Banks ourselves and chances are, if we find ourselves in the middle of your city on vacation one day, we may be looking to you for a few pointers, too – and perhaps some tips on how to make us look …..perhaps, not so touristy?
As you make your way across that bridge onto the Outer Banks, you may be entering a foreign environment, or at least one you haven’t seen in a while. SO consider this a study guide, cheat sheet, checklist…or whatever you want to call it. From traffic and ocean temperature to sunscreen and crosswalks, here are some tips straight from the locals. We hope it helps. Enjoy your stay on this stretch of land we call home.
Is it this way, or that way?
When asked directions, a typical response by a local may go something like this: “Go about three or five miles north, look for the big red house with the imported palm trees, and it’s your next left after that.” As for those mile markers, we call them mileposts, but it’s cool – just know that this is basically all the direction you need.
Milepost markers are used for directional purposes and are found along N.C. 12 (the beach road) and U.S. 158 (the bypass) and are posted every half-mile until you reach Hatteras Village. Along with “it’s on the beach road” or “it’s on the bypass,” you’ll find that milepost markers are the primary way for us locals to give directions.
And if you can remember the ocean is to the East and that we only have two roads off of which to make any possible turns that are clearly marked, you’re gonna make it to your destination – we promise.
The Dreaded Turning Lane
The turning lane on the bypass is a touchy subject among the locals and is also adorably known to locals as the suicide lane. The bypass, or U.S. 158, runs from Kitty Hawk to Nags Head with two southbound lanes and two northbound lanes. There’s one lane in the middle, and it’s not a HOV lane, a U-turn lane, or the way to avoid long lines of traffic on Saturdays. It’s used to merge into, slow to a stop, and then turn either east or west to get to your destination. We know. It takes some getting used to, and there’s a lot to see on either side.
Life’s a Beach
Ahh…finally…that moment you cross over the dunes and see the Atlantic Ocean stretched out before you for the first time. It’s easy to throw caution and common sense to the wind. But remember that while there’s so much to enjoy when it comes to the sun, sand and surf, there are also precautions. And there’s perhaps no better place to spot a tourist than on the beach.
Let’s talk sun first. We cringe for you – friends we haven’t met yet – when we see those terrible, awful, horribly painful-looking sunburns. The reflection of the sun’s rays off the sand and water make the beach a prime spot for getting sunburned. Always use a mineral-based, water resistant sunscreen that has full-spectrum protection against UVA and UVB rays.
Next up are shoes. The sand gets scorching hot, so always slip on some flip flops before heading over the dunes. But lose those water shoes. They are a dead give-away when it comes to spotting a tourist, not to mention they can inhibit your ability when it comes to swimming in the ocean.
What’s up with the flags? Nobody likes to walk over the dunes ready for a day at the beach and see the dreaded red flags flying. Red flags are erected on the beach to indicate that swimming is prohibited. Ocean rescue personnel consider the current ocean conditions and forecast when deciding whether to fly these flags. Red flag days are the perfect opportunity to go shopping, visit local tourist attractions, or head to the sound side or pool.
If you see a yellow flag flying as you head over the dunes, it means that there are powerful rip currents in that location. Lifeguards place these on the beach directly in front of these strong channels of water that can pull swimmers and those on floatation out to sea. It’s important to not swim in front of or on either side of the flags.
Lifeguards. They are there to help you, and possibly save your life if you get in trouble. Always, always swim near a lifeguard and ask them questions if you are not sure. Before you start your beach day, check their advisory board located on each lifeguard stand to learn more about the day’s conditions, such as tides, ocean conditions and water temperature. Speaking of water temperature, our ocean doesn’t just get warm and stay that way throughout the summer. Much to many tourists’ (and locals) dismay, it can be a pleasant 80 degrees and then plummet 15 degrees overnight. The culprit? Wind and ocean currents. When the wind moves offshore, it blows all the warm surface water with it and we are left with the colder bottom water. When wind blows onshore, it blows warm water in. Keep in mind that rip currents are more common with onshore winds, and at low tide. Strong shore break is more likely at high tide and ocean goers should use caution entering and exiting the ocean. Check out obxbeachaccess.com for all the lifeguarded beaches on the Outer Banks.
Fireworks are Illegal – even on the Fourth of July
Yes, of course. It’s always a celebration at the beach, but leave the pyrotechnics to the experts. Any fireworks that leave the ground are illegal in North Carolina, and on Hatteras, in Southern Shores and the Town of Duck, even sparklers are prohibited. Don’t ruin your vacation with a town violation, a trip to the ER or worse, a house fire.
Stop at the Crosswalk
Drivers should always yield to pedestrians, but it’s the law in North Carolina to yield to pedestrians at designated crosswalks. People use the beach road every day to get to and from the beach. They also walk their dogs, jog, or bike along the extended shoulders. Use extreme caution, particularly during the summer months, while driving on the beach road due to the enormous increase in pedestrian traffic, particularly children who may be eager to get to the beach and not be paying attention to the roadway.
You are not just on vacation, folks. You are vacationing on the Outer Banks. That means that you are likely noticing that life moves at a slower pace. Some of us even talk slower than you, and we don’t seem to be in that much of a hurry most of the time. You’re on island time now, so kick back and enjoy. Our clocks don’t always jive, so if we say, “See you at 3 o’clock,” what we really mean is that we will see you around 3, which could really mean anywhere between 3 and 3:59. We are occasionally early, but rarely more than an hour late.
And you might as well get used to those Gone Fishin’ and Gone Surfin’ signs. Are we serious? You betcha. You will find these signs regularly hung on doors of locally run businesses on days when the surf is good or a school of fish is running. That might sound like a cliché, but when we work indoors all summer in a tourist town and happen to BE surfers or avid catchers of the fishes, then closing up shop for an hour or two here and there just may be the key to our sanity… and will also guarantee you a more pleasant experience when (and we truly hope that you do) visit that same shop next time – as the ocean soothes our savage sides just as much as it does yours.
We at Three Dog Ink Media hope this guide helps and wish you fun in the sun on your Outer Banks vacation!
Lindsey is a mom of three, freelance writer, kids yoga instructor, and active community volunteer. She has called the Outer Banks home since 1995, and if she knew what spare time meant to moms it is certain she’d have a fabulous list of hobbies to fill it!