Whatever you do, please do not plan on spending much if any of your vacation on the island of Hatteras further to the south. Perhaps a short day trip to see and climb the famous Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is permissable, but other than that you will want to skip this area entirely. Trust me when I say that driving through the unique and fragile landscape of Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge and being able to view both sound and ocean from the same sand dune are things that are quite uninteresting to most vacationers. Really, how many cranes do you want to see wading through the marshes and Pamlico Sound anyway?
There's truly not much to do and see south of Nags Head unless you enjoy quiet and peaceful days of soaking up the sun on the ocean or sound beaches. You won't find many people to talk to or beach babes to stare at over dark sunglasses. Lots of open sand even in the peak of summer makes it hard to choose the perfect waterside spot. You'll really only have the company of a few casual surfers, young families and, on the sound side especially, some friendly but quite solitary kite boarders. Trust me when I say you will miss the planes buzzing overhead with their advertisement banners and the cozy feeling of sand kicked on you every minute from the swarms of people passing by your tiny blanket area.
Shopping is much too difficult on the island as well. Chain stores are few and far between and almost nonexistant until a few years ago. Only one major grocery store means you may have to shop at a smaller locally owned market, or plan ahead to bring specialty food with you. And you'll probably have to bring food, because there are very few 'name brand' places to eat out while you're there. True, there are some smaller restaurants, most of them mom & pop shops with a weather beaten exterior, but if you can't eat at your tried and true Ruby Tuesday's you may as well just stay home, right? I know we wouldn't want to ruin our vacation by planning meals ahead of time and having to actually cook, maybe even outside on a grill, while we're supposed to be relaxing. Best to just stay on the north of the OBX were Shoney's and Outback Steakhouse are easy to find.
If you are vacationing with kids you will be even more frustrated. Yes, there is a somewhat run down water park and go-cart track on the island, but you will find no arcades or extravagant putt-putt golf courses or, God forbid, a McDonalds. In fact, there is NO PLACE on the island to get a fast food kids meal that comes with a toy.
But most importantly, whatever you do, DO NOT tell your friends to head down to Hatteras for a truly relaxing vacation. We wouldn't want them to be dissapointed by having nothing to do at night besides watching the same old spectacular sunsets over the water. There's way too many empty houses and campgrounds down there too. Anyone visiting for any length of time might become lonely or actually come to feel like they are one of the unlucky few who get to enjoy such a quiet, if temporary, life. Although you can find an occasional small local spa or coffee shop, amenities are few so those who go have to make due by keeping themselves occupied by a reading good book and walking some of the trails in the park areas. Be sure your friends do not underestimate the incredible solitude they may experience if the venture past the popular OBX tourist spots. Its certainly no vacation for the faint of heart.
I urge you not to go, just skip the lower secton of the barrier islands entirely. If you don't, you might accidently fall victim to the lure of this protected national treasure and be lost to the overcrowded and over commercialized beaches farther north forever.