Outer Banks, N.C.
The barrier islands, known as the Outer Banks (OBX), lie between North Carolina and the Atlantic Ocean, surrounded by 900 miles of water. Pristine by today's standards, OBX is all about Mother Nature: wildlife refuges, maritime centers, Elizabethan Gardens and sand dunes. It boasts one of the largest estuary systems in the world, several state parks, Cape Hatteras National Seashore, seven intact lighthouses and one that lies in ruins [source: Shelton-Roberts].
What you won't find is a coast littered with commercial hotels, high rises and tourist traps. You'll probably stay in a rental cottage or bed and breakfast on or near the shore. Wherever you stay, you're only a few steps from the sand.
The wilderness may beckon you to kayak, hang glide, parasail and horseback ride on the beach. Much of the terrain is suited to off-road bicycle exploration, and you can rent bikes and other sporting equipment on the islands. If you prefer less adventure, there's fishing or a free 40-minute ferry ride on the Hatteras - Ocracoke Ferry. When the weather refuses to cooperate, you can tour the restored U.S. Weather Bureau Station or take a cooking class sponsored by Outer Banks Epicurean. Save some time for shopping in the many fine antique stores and art galleries.
Dinner at one of the 160+ locally owned eateries tops off the day. There's no need to sacrifice taste for atmosphere in OBX. What better way to work off the extra calories than with an after-dinner stroll under the stars.