The Wright Brothers National Monument (U.S. Highway 158 Bypass between Mileposts 7 and 8, Kill Devil Hills; 252-441-7430) is a site definitely not to be missed. Start at the Visitor Center with the exhibits of a full-scale reproduction of the 1902 glider and the 1903 flying machine. These explain the events leading to the first flight. Numbered markers point out the spots where the first airplane left the ground and landed. Some people fly brightly colored kites or model airplanes by the granite Memorial on top of grassy Kill Devil Hill — a beautiful sight the Wright brothers surely would have liked.
Nearby Jockey’s Ridge (U.S. Highway 158 Bypass near Milepost 12, Nags Head; 252-441-7132) is the tallest natural sand dune system in the Eastern United States. It was preserved as a state park in 1975.
Soft sands and year-round winds allowed the Wright brothers to make the dream of aviation come true on the Outer Banks. Today, you can fly the same skies as the famous pilots. Kitty Hawk Kites (1-877-FLY-THIS or 252-441-4124) offers a three-hour beginner hang gliding lesson on the dunes. They also offer many more flight-related activities such as parasailing, ultralight lessons, seaplane tours or kite boarding.
You must be hungry by now, so head for Jockey’s Ribs (252-441-1141), the casual restaurant with the funny name, just across the street from the state park. They serve up spicy barbeque, steak, chicken and fresh local seafood for lunch.
If you’ve always wanted to find out how soldiers camped in the 1500’s, visit Roanoke Island Festival Park (252-475-1500) next. It’s located about 5 miles (8 km) from Nags Head on Roanoke Island, across from the Waterfront in downtown Manteo. Explore 400 years of the Island’s history, with live blacksmithing and leatherworking demonstrations.
In the interactive Adventure Museum, children can dress-up in period costumes and learn about boat building, pirates, shipwrecks and lighthouse keepers. The highlight of the museum park is the replica of the 16th century English merchant ship Elizabeth, one of seven in Sir Walter Raleigh’s 1585 expedition to establish England’s first colony in the New World. Climb aboard and listen to some of the sea tales, legends and facts as presented by history interpreters dressed in authentic costumes.
The nearby Elizabethan Gardens (1411 National Park Drive, Manteo; 252-473-3234) were designed by two of America’s foremost landscape architects: M. Umberto Innocenti and Richard Webel. There are 10 acres (4 hectares) of butterfly bushes, ginger lilies, rhododendrons and lavishly blooming azaleas honoring the “Birthplace of America.”
Children might prefer a trip to the North Carolina Aquarium (374 Airport Road, Manteo; 252-473-3493). Here, little visitors can pet small rays, learn what to feed an alligator and ask a diver about life under the sea. The aquarium has a freshwater gallery, a wetlands atrium and a 285,000-gallon (1,078 liter) ocean tank.
You’ll find dinner options galore in Manteo. Choose from mixed grilled seafood at Clara’s Seafood Grill and Steam Bar (Manteo Waterfront; 252-473-1727), Big Al’s Soda Fountain and Grill (100 Patty Lane, Manteo; 252-473-5570) or hearty German food at The Weeping Radish Brewery & Bavarian Restaurant (Highway 64, Manteo; 252-473-1157).
Watch a performance of The Lost Colony at the Waterside Theatre on neighboring Roanoke Island (1409 National Park Road, Manteo; 252-473-3414) tonight. It’s the nation’s longest-running outdoor drama, first opened in 1937 for what was supposed to be one season. The symphonic play, by Pulitzer-prize winning author Paul Green, tells the story of the mysterious disappearance of America’s first English settlers in the New World. It is a dazzling spectacle of Elizabethan music, song, dance and drama beneath the stars. Take plenty of bug spray!
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