We’re well into winter here in the South, which means it’s time to start planning summer vacations. For millions of people that will mean booking some beach time on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. What that can also mean is lots of traffic, hotels and rental homes that fill up months in advance, and long waits for a table at local restaurants across the barrier-island chain that stretches from the southern tip of Virginia to remote Ocracoke east of New Bern.
Here’s a tip—avoid the crowds, congestion, and cost by visiting the Outer Banks in the offseason of winter or early spring. Sure, the water will be chilly, but with North Carolina’s notoriously fickle weather, you can probably count on some days being warm and sunny enough for a pleasant beach stroll. Prices for inns and rental homes are usually lower this time of year, and even though many of the region’s restaurants close during the colder months, a handful of excellent choices remain open year-round. So pack a light jacket and a hearty appetite and hit the road because hey, even a winter weekend at the beach is still a weekend at the beach.
Kill Devil Hills
This sunny, welcoming spot is as much a place to find great craft beer as it is the Outer Banks’s living room. Regulars and tourists head to Swells’a for a pint or two (try the High Toid On Sound Soid dark lager) or to attend one of the dozens of community events, charity fundraisers, or craft weekends that the brewery hosts throughout the year. In the wintertime a crackling fire warms the cheery space, giving SoCal-meets-New-England vibes. Bring the fur family too, as dogs are welcome.
Blue Moon Beach Grill
Blue Moon Beach Grill serves classic Southern coastal fare for lunch and dinner all year long. Think oysters Rockefeller, fried calamari, and a mahi-mahi BLT with a jalapeño remoulade. The bouillabaisse, a hearty seafood stew in a saffron-scented tomato broth, is the perfect winter warmer after a breezy day on the beach. A bourbon espresso martini might help ward of the chill too.
The Blue Point
One of the most iconic restaurants in the Outer Banks, the Blue Point is perfect for family dinners, date nights, or solo evenings cozied up to the bar. The menu takes its cue from the surrounding seas and marshes and changes often, but the warm sweet potato biscuits with country ham are almost always available. Other recent offerings perfect for colder weather include Rosebay oyster stew, a grilled bone-in pork chop (with walnut-gruyère bread pudding), and the house-made cornmeal gnocchi with winter squash and charred Brussels sprouts. Sommelier Jamie Raskin (who co-owns the restaurant with siblings Ryan and Leigh) curates one of the region’s best wine lists.
Trio Restaurant & Market
Wine and cheese sound good all year long, right? At Trio, diners are greeted with an extensive retail wine section and a large case of artisanal cheeses. Grab a seat at the bar for a taste of each, or make it a whole meal with one of Trio’s paninis or dishes like crab pot pie, oyster stew, and strip steak. Take home a bottle to go, and keep an eye out for special wine tastings and classes held in the upstairs event space.
At the southern tip of the Outer Banks, Hatteras can turn into a bit of a ghost town come winter, but Kat’s Deli stays open year-round to serve a delicious menu of sandwiches, paninis, wraps, and more. For breakfast Kat’s offers a variety of bagel and biscuit sandwiches, plus specials like a sausage gravy breakfast burrito. Come lunchtime diners can ward off the cold with a soup and sandwich combo—say, a cup of tomato basil soup with a “Pesto Both Worlds” sandwich featuring roast beef, cheddar, provolone, mayonnaise, tomato, and pesto on ciabatta.