In the Outer Banks, the beaches are the star attraction.
Just off the North Carolina coast, the chain of barrier islands stretches more than 90 miles. And for inhabitants and visitors in the 15 towns along the Outer Banks, the beaches rank among the nation's best.
With quiet bays to the west and the Atlantic Ocean to the east, the Outer Banks offers panoramic water views everywhere you look.
Rental homes make up the bulk of the accommodations in the Outer Banks - from quaint cottages to multimillion-dollar estates with pools, spas and game rooms.
An influx of new development has expanded the Outer Banks' dining and recreation opportunities. The town of Duck has become a booming shopping and dining destination.
If you visit, be sure to check out at least one of the seven lighthouses (and ruins of an eighth) that run the length of the shore.
The Sanderling, 1461 Duck Road, Duck, 252-261-4111; thesand erling.com. One of the Outer Banks' most famous and prestigious resorts, the Sanderling has three inns and four Oceanside villas. Facilities include a full-service spa, racquet club, fitness center and indoor pool. Summer rates: $270-$400.
Wilbur & Orville Wright Days Inn Oceanfront, Kill Devil Hills, Mile Post 8.5 101 North Virginia Dare Trail, 252-441-7211; daysinn oceanfrontobx.com. As the longest, continuous-running hotel on the Outer Banks, the Days Inn Oceanfront has won several of the hotel chain's top awards. Free wi-fi reaches the outdoor pool area, and there's direct access to the ocean beach. Summer rates: $159-$259.
The Nags Head Inn, 4701 S. Virginia Trail Drive, Nags Head, U.S. 158, Mile Post 14, 800-327-8881; nagsheadinn.com. Perched on the Atlantic Ocean, the inn provides unparalleled sunrise views and direct access to a sprawling beach. The indoor pool and heated spa are open year-round. Summer rates: $99-$225.
Hilton Garden Inn Outer Banks/Kitty Hawk, 5353 N. Virginia Dare Trail, Kitty Hawk, 252-261-1290; hiltongardeninn .hilton.com. One of the Outer Banks' newest hotels, this place sits directly on the oceanfront and features an indoor pool, fitness center, meeting rooms and wi-fi access. Summer rates: $269-$319.
Elizabeth's Cafe and Winery, Highway 12, Duck (inside Scarborough Lane Shoppes), 252-261-6145; elizabethscafe.com. An esteemed wine list is matched only by the staff's ability to pair wine with food. A six-course prix-fixe wine dinner matches wines with each course and runs $90 per person.
Pigman's Bar-B-Que, Milepost 9, Kill Devil Hills, 252-441-6803; pigman.com. Got a craving for pork? The authentic North Carolina pulled-pork BBQ sandwiches and sweet potato fries are unbeatable at Pigman's. You can also enjoy ribs, fried shrimp, chicken tenders and hush puppies. Prices range from $4-$5 for sandwiches, and there are no entrees that cost more than $20.
Weeping Radish, 525 S. Virginia Dare Trail, Manteo, 252-473-1157; weepingradish.com. An authentic Bavarian restaurant and the first brewpub on the Outer Banks, the Weeping Radish has its own butcher prepare Angus steaks, hamburger, pork BBQ and sausages. Wash any of them down with a signature beer such as Fest, a 1995 gold-medal winner.
Kelly's Outer Banks Restaurant and Tavern, U.S. 158 Bypass Mile Post 10.5, Nags Head, 252-441-4116; kellysrestaurant.com. Kelly's is one of the top spots for nighttime with live music every Friday and Saturday. Every third Sunday, Kelly's "On the Edge Party" features female impersonators.
Fishbones Sunset Grille and Raw Bar, N.C. 12, Duck (on Currituck Sound across from Barrier Island Station), 252-261-3901. With live music five nights a week, Fishbones has bands for all tastes, including blues, rock and Jimmy Buffet-style. During the summer, Fishbones has a raw bar and sushi bar.
Howard's Pub and Raw Bar Restaurant, N.C. 12, Ocracoke Island, 252-928-4441; howards pub.com Live bands and karaoke are on tap most evenings at Howard's, where there's a friendly mix of locals and visitors. With more than 200 brands of beer, plus darts and billiards, there's plenty to keep you busy until the 2 a.m. closing time.
Waterfall Action Park, N.C. 12, Hatteras Island, Rodanthe, 252-987-2213. Bungee-jumping, mini-golf, go-carts and speedboats make this a playground for kids of all ages.
The Grass Course mini-golf, N.C. 12, Corolla, 252-453-4198. Forget that bright-green plastic grass found on most mini-golf courses. Here, the grass is real, and the greens (alongside Currituck Sound) run over 18 holes and feature par 3s, 4s and 5s.
North Duck Watersports, N.C. 12, west side of Duck Road, directly on Currituck Sound, 252-261-4200. Go parasailing and pretend you're one of the Wright brothers soaring over the North Carolina coast. Sea kayaks and Jet-Ski rentals are also available.
Frisco Mini Golf and Go-Karts, N.C. 12, Frisco, 252-995-6325. Check out the mini-golf, go-carts and 1,800-square-foot arcade with pool tables, air hockey and video games. There's also a concession stand with ice cream, snow cones and snacks.
The Waterfront Shops of Duck, on Currituck Sound on the North End, Duck, 252-255-3109. A collection of 18 shops features jewelry, clothing, gifts, a restaurant, and ice cream on the waterfront.
Whalebone Surf Shop, 2214 S. Croatan Highway, Nags Head, 252-441-6747. Custom surfboards, swimwear and beachwear for the entire family.
The Marketplace, U.S. 158, Mile Post 1, Southern Shores. Food Lion and CVS Pharmacy anchor a shopping center where patrons can stock up on the basics or check out the optical, jewelry, women's clothing and discount stores.
Spry Creek Dry Goods, Corolla Village Road, Corolla, 252-453-0199. A wide variety of handcrafts, including glassware, pottery, ceramics, jewelry and artwork by local artists.
Hang Gliding Spectacular -- Jockey's Ridge State Park and Jockey's Ridge Crossing in Nags Head / 877-FLY-THIS or kittyhawk.com. May 18-21. Rock-climbing wall, street dance and hang-gliding demonstrations, kite making and face painting. Call for ticket information and times.
Evening Under the Stars With the North Carolina Symphony -- Roanoke Island Festival Park's Outdoor Pavilion / 877-629-4386 or outer banks.org. 7 p.m. June 3. Bring blankets, picnics and lawn chairs for this symphony performance. Free.
Fishing and Crabbing Rodeo -- Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge / 252-987-1118. 9 a.m.-noon June 9. The only day of the year North Pond is open to fishing and crabbing. All children 12 and younger can take part in a free drawing.
Whalehead Club Arts Festival's Under the Oaks -- Currituck Heritage Park, 1101 Corolla Village Road, Corolla / 252-453-9040, ext. 3, or whaleheadclub.com. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. June 20-21. Works by more than 100 artists will be on display at this two-day event, which also features food, live music and children's activities. Admission is free, and a parking donation is requested.
Festival and fireworks -- Currituck Heritage Park, 1101 Corolla Village Road, Corrolla / 252-453-9040, ext. 3, or whaleheadclub.com. 6 p.m. July 4. Fireworks start at 9 p.m. Admission is free, and a parking donation is requested.
Kitty Hawk Kites Hatteras Kite Festival -- Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, Nags Head / 877-FLY-THIS or kittyhawk.com. Midmorning to midafternoon July 19. Stunt-kite demonstrations, exhibitions, competition and children's games. Free.
First Friday on Roanoke Island -- various locations, Manteo / roanoke-island.com. 6 p.m.-8 p.m. Aug. 3. Arts and crafts, rock-climbing wall, live folk music and other entertainment. Local businesses will have extended hours. Free.