Outer Banks & Northern Coast
Off Season On The Outer Banks
It used to be that tourist season on North Carolina’s Outer Banks was as easy to predict as the tides. The first visitors began arriving on the Friday of Memorial Day Weekend, the last ones departed on Labor Day. Attractions and most beach accommodations shuttered up soon afterwards, as “CLOSED FOR THE SEASON” signs sprouted like weeds along NC Highway 12.
Not anymore! Locals say things are changing. Families with school-aged children still leave the coast as summer turns to fall, but they are now being replaced with an entirely different demographic: younger couples alone or with pre-school children, and empty nesters looking for a quiet, romantic week at the seaside.
“It’s basically a ten month season now,” says Rodanthe resident James Charlett. “The only months it seems empty around here now are January and February.” Apparently, people are catching on to what was once a well-kept secret: the Outer Banks has good weather and is less crowded in the off-season, and accommodations can be had at bargain rates.
“I actually think November has some of the best weather,” says year-round resident Linda Molloy. “It’s my favorite time of the year.” According to local weather statistics, the average high temperature on the Outer Banks stays in the 60s through the month of November, and the four driest months are all in the fall, winter, and spring.
Meanwhile, the beaches here, packed with people in the summer, suddenly become a private playground. Intact seashells are easier to find, fish easier to catch. That long romantic stroll on the sand becomes even more romantic, with nary another soul in sight and a cool, brisk breeze requiring a tighter embrace. When you’re hungry, there’s usually no waiting for a table at a restaurant in the off-season, and the traffic on Highway 12 becomes delightfully light. “You can actually make a left-hand turn,” jokes Molloy.
Visitor attractions in the off-season vary on a case-by-case basis. Many of the child-oriented options, such as miniature golf courses and go-kart tracks, still shut down after Labor Day, but most of the lighthouses and museums stay open at least through Thanksgiving weekend. Some, like the Wright Brothers National Memorial and the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum, are open year-round.
But perhaps the biggest attraction of all for off-season visitors is the amazing deals they can find on a vacation rental. A massive eight-bedroom house in Duck that rents for $7,300 a week in July rents for $2,500 a week in November. A two-bedroom condominium in Ocracoke Village goes from $1,450 to $850. And a five-bedroom oceanfront home in Rodanthe (with a hot tub) drops from $2,795 to $595. “If you’ve ever wanted to live like a king but pay commoner rates, this is the time you can do it,” says Charlett.
Sure, there are trade-offs. Not many people will get a tan (or a sunburn) out here in the off-season, and an autumn or winter nor’easter can potentially keep visitors cooped up indoors for an extended period of time. But these days, most vacation rentals come stocked with board games and DVDs, and many couples find that a storm, a fireplace and some wine can actually be a good recipe for romance.
“It’s not for everyone,” says Molloy, “but people who want to escape the crowds, those who want a quiet vacation in an isolated spot at the edge of the world, will really appreciate the off-season on the Outer Banks.” For a growing number of people, that sweet escape to a wind-swept coast is exactly the getaway they’re looking for.
added: December 15, 2008
updated: April 15, 2013