By Kristi Parsons

Mountains to the Sea

For as long as I can remember, I had heard stories of the Outer Banks, the oceanside end of North Carolina, a state that begins with mountains and ends at the sea. I was intrigued by the fact that though the islands are consistently shifting, they still have roots that run as deep as Appalachia. Whispers of pirates that once used the OBX as their honey hole for treasures, due to the high number of shipwrecks, drifted in from time to time. Images of the Milky Way spreading across the sky over beautiful beacons of light often popped up online. The lighthouses are symbols of beauty and hope today, but in years past, they guided seamen to safety and back home to their families. I knew that this place of beaches, beacons, and beauty, where the red wolves and wild horses run free, was a place that I needed to see. So, I packed my bags and headed east to the sandy shores of the Atlantic.

The Spirit of the Outer Banks

My first visit to the Outer Banks led to me finding a place that feels like a second home but is also still a dreamland. I unplugged from the world for a week in February 2020 and immersed myself in connecting with the spirit of the Outer Banks. During that week, I had the honor of being shown the best spots around by my friend and fellow photographer, Mark VanDyke. Mark leads private and group workshops in the area, and I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. I quickly found that the Outer Banks is a place where even strangers are welcomed as friends, time stands still, opportunities for adventures are limitless, and there is far more to discover than just one stay in Avon would allow.

So, I have returned time and time again.

I have spent time in the shopping and luxurious relaxing area of Duck, NC, at one of the stunning Bees Nees Getaways properties. I have stayed in the wonderfully charming Saltwood Cottage, a tiny beach house in Kitty Hawk. I called Hatteras home for a week, and I took a spur of the moment trip for just a few days to Buxton. However, my most favorite town of all so far has been Manteo – a coastal gem that awaits just before crossing over the Roanoke Sound that leads to Nags Head and the entrance to Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

Discovering Manteo

In 2021, I had the privilege of spending almost a full month in the heart of downtown Manteo, NC. The cottage where I stayed was a short walk from wonderful locally owned spots like OBX On the Fly, Downtown Books, Charis Coffee Company, Vineyards On the Scuppernong, Wanchese Pottery, Poor Richard’s Sandwich Shop, Outer Banks Distilling, and more. An early morning walk on the boardwalk to watch the sunrise at the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse and then over to Roanoke Island Festival Park became a daily ritual. Downtown was quiet and peaceful; a random local cat would stroll by from time to time, or spontaneous conversation would be sparked by someone blessed to call Manteo home.

Summer days bring a heavier flow of folks, holidays are celebrated with an indescribable essence, autumn brings some of the best bluegrass artists to town with the annual Bluegrass Island Festival, and there is always both something new and something old to discover in Manteo.

One interesting piece of Manteo that many miss is The Mother Vine, the oldest grape vine in North America that is believed to be 400 years old. Another piece of history there is Freedmen’s Colony of Roanoke Island, which leads to a story of both heartbreak and hope. It’s the lesser-known lost colony that was a place of safety for those formerly enslaved during the Civil War. The history that lies within Manteo adds to the spirit of a place that few have truly experienced.

Home Away from Home 

Calling Manteo your home away from home when in the Outer Banks allows you to not only see firsthand a coastal gem, but it supports the locals that run highly rated inns, bed and breakfast spots, locally owned hotels, vacation rentals, and all of the small business owners that work daily to thrive in their communities. Staying in Manteo also puts you in a central location to explore all of the OBX towns, the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, and more. My favorite spots for lodging in Manteo? The Roanoke Island Inn & Croatan Cottage, The Tranquil House Inn, and White Doe Inn. All locations are within walking distance of the best spots around downtown and are owned and run by good local folks that want their guests to have an incredible and authentic experience in the birthplace of English colonization in America, also known as Manteo.

Kristi Parsons is a local photographer and writer with a love for the mountains, art, music, travel, and all things local. @Kristi_Parsons