National Scenic Byway
Article and photos by Christine Tibbetts
Start this trip in the middle. The National Scenic Byway hugging North
Carolina’s fabled Outer Banks provides more tastes and treasures than a
traveler could ever access driving all 138 miles north to south.
Pristine beaches with easy access
Guess that means two holidays in two directions, especially when it
suits your traveling style to meet up with local people whose life
stories are rich with heritage and culture.
View from the ferry leaving Ocracoke Island
Sure, the Outer Banks offer grand beach house vacations as always but
the newly designated Byway status opens new doors too.
America has 124 other National Scenic Byways – a designation difficult
to earn. Try to find Mary Helen Goodloe-Murphy when you go to the
village of Rodanthe. She championed the massive Byway application
Discover 21 villages along this route from Whalebone Junction on the
north (think Nags Head and Cape Hatteras National Seashore) and North
River to the south near Cape Lookout National Seashore.
View from Owens Motel in Nags Head
Village populations run in the several hundreds, with big-city Beaufort
just south of the Byway a charming 4,095. Northern gateway Nags Head
topped 2,800 in the last Census.
Here’s why these numbers matter for vacationers: people stay put here to
live their lives, and you can figure out why they do, meeting them in
the groceries and eateries, on fishing docks and sandy banks, over lush
dunes and on pristine beaches.
Eavesdropping along the Outer Banks Byway works well too. Businesses are
small so conversations travel and the persistent good cheer with which
residents greet one another and strangers tells a tale of community joy.
Haulover attracts wind surfers
Plan a simple, basic-food meal –-breakfast, lunch or
dinner--at Sonny’s in Hatteras Village and you’ll likely meet Belinda
Willis. Her family runs the general store.
“We have an intense history here, fishing for a living,” she notes
matter-of-factly. “This is the same way we have always lived.
“Just walk along the waterfront and meet people living their lives,
talking their talk,” Willis says.
I suggest the first week of May for the second-annual Hatteras
Storytelling Festival. Find facts on Facebook.
Willis also recommends “September and October is a great time to come to
Hatteras for the skies, and because the clouds are astronomically
There’s still more a visitor can learn at breakfast in an Outer Banks
fishing village. The Lee Robinson General Store sells no
cigarettes but does sell matches.
“Bonfires on the beach are important for moon dancing, fixing S’mores
and to watch those skies,” Willis says.
|Ferry arriving at Beaufort
On the top end of this National Scenic Byway, listen around the dining
room at Sam and Omies, a Nags Head icon since 1937.
When the hostess is the great granddaughter of the founder and
cook is third generation in the same kitchen, I know local lore is
Longevity suits visitors too at Sam and Omies; a woman from Maine told
me she’d been coming here for 30 years and finally moved to nearby
Original family members have a big restaurant presence and owner of 12
years, Carol Sykes, says she spent summers in Nags Head because “Daddy’s
family and mother’s had cottages.”
Her grits have substance, the tuna salad’s carved right from the day’s
catch and the clam chowder has been declared one of the 100 best foods
to eat in North Carolina.
Bodie Island Lighthouse
Visit four lighthouses along this Byway, grasping new reverence for the
station keepers and their extraordinary life-saving work where two of
the world’s most powerful ocean currents collide.
Contemplate the cold south-flowing Labrador currents and the warm
northward flowing Gulf Stream, and their ever-changing underwater dunes
Add value to lighthouse stories you hear with a visit to the lifesaving
station in the village of Rodanthe. The name’s lyrical and quite
pleasing to say after some practice: Chicamacomico.
Conversations with the historic site manager, James Charlet, deliver
passion about the men saving lives, especially the 1918 rescue when the
British tanker named Mirlo exploded, and even the ocean caught fire.
See the actual rescue boat and then walk on the pristine beach to muse
about heroism along these Outer Banks.
Here’s your lighthouse agenda, adjusted of course depending on where you
launch the Scenic Byway journey. They’re 20 miles apart, National Park
Service Interpreter Patrick Gamman told me, because “you can see light
for 18 or 19 miles.”
is northernmost with a nice Visitor Center. Be in the know and say
“body.” Horizontal stripes on this one with the light blinking
2-1/2 seconds on, 2-1/2 off. Can’t climb it.
soars 198.5 feet, considered the world’s tallest brick lighthouse,
climbing the 248 spiral steps OK in summer. Stellar National Park
Service museum in the stationkeeper’s home, and big bookstore at the
Imposing base of Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
This light flashes every 7-1/2 seconds; the black and white stripes are
angled like old barber poles
I’d allocate several hours here, walking the grounds, resting during the
15-minute documentary, absorbing the excellent exhibits.
I’m a hiker, thrilled to discover the walking route from Cape Hatteras
Lighthouse to Buxton Woods Coastal Reserve. Maritime forest in the
midst of maritime rescues is an exceptional combination.
is the next lighthouse, heading south on state Highway 12, so on the way
stop in the Hatteras Village Red and White grocery because you might
bump into Coastal Reserve activist Jon Burrus. His family traces their
Hatteras roots back 350 years he told me.
Ferry required to reach Ocracoke and its 1823 lighthouse -- short, no
stripes, no climbing. Such fine cuisine, museums and enthusiastic
residents that Ocracoke is a story to tell separately. Beaufort on the
mainland is too.
Lighthouse visits require a three-mile boat ride to its National
Seashore location, and that’s after the ferry transport from Ocracoke to
Down East. This Byway is an adventure of many details.
The National Park Service has a visitor center at the access point, next
door to the handsome and interesting Core Sound Waterfowl Museum and
This lighthouse is diamond patterned, or some call it a diagonal
checkerboard, showing sailors north-south direction in the center of the
black patterns and east-west in the white.
Climb the Cape Lookout 207 steps May through September when you can also
visit the Keeper’s Quarters Museum.
Seafood stew - Dinky’s Waterfront Restaurant in Hatteras
Fine dining along the Byway
Long, lingering dinners with exquisite service and flavors abound along
the Outer Banks National Scenic Byway. Here are my top four, but I
suspect if I return I’ll expand the list.
Owens’ Restaurant in Nags Head, Cafe Pamlico at the Inn in
Buxton, Dinky’s Waterfront Restaurant in Hatteras and Dajio on Ocracoke
Island. Hold them up to any fine dining standards you have, but know you
can dress casually.
order your copy of
Fish House Opera
from Amazon, Click link.
Reviews of Fish House
Click here to choose an
The authors expertly blend
exhaustive and impressive research with a novelist's flair
for characterization, setting, dialog, and drama.
Leyland Fields, author of The Entangling Net and Surviving
the Island of Grace
This book is a window
into American culture and a tribute to enduring values.
You'll enjoy every word.
Gerard, author of Brilliant Passage and Cape Fear Rising
Outer Banks Vacation Rentals.
See the Outer Banks yourself this vacation!
Viewing life ‘on the edge of the nation’
Down East fishing dock (photo by GW Tibbetts )
Fish House Opera
is a book loaded with interviews and insight with fishing families in
the southern communities on the Outer Banks National Scenic Byway.
Likely to build enthusiasm to get there for more conversations.
Our lives are intricately and fiercely interwoven with the
This is a mixed blessing of a lifestyle.
Fishing families live by values truly American:
independence, risk-taking, freedom.
The fisherman is a keen observer with a wealth of knowledge
Commercial fishing has been part of Down East life since
This is where everything is swinging and nothing is for
That living on the edge of the nation
notion comes directly from the Byway management plan;
Fish House Opera authors are
real-deal local residents Susan West and Barbara J.
Authentic voices all the time on this journey and here’s another
example; I learned about the book out on the water with Capt. Mike Scott
of the Albatross Fleet---boat builder, fisherman, lifelong resident.