Corolla is sequestered on the northernmost reaches of North Carolina ’s Outer Banks. Bordered on the east by the Atlantic Ocean and on the west by the Currituck Sound, with its northern border barred by a gate at the Virginia line, Corolla is a beach-lover’s boondocks. Traveling here only amplifies its feeling of remoteness. You have three options: arriving by water in a shallow-draft boat, landing on an airstrip in a small plane or motoring in via a long, curvy, two-lane highway.
Most travelers come to Corolla from the north, traveling down U.S. Highway 64 then U.S. Highway 158 from Virginia. At Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, U.S. 158 joins up with N.C. Highway 12 N., which leads directly to Corolla. The only problem is that every visitor to the northern Outer Banks – tens of thousands a week in the summer – has to travel this same two-lane highway in the same direction at the same time. Traffic can be a little trying on check-in, check-out and rainy days, but really it’s nothing compared to a daily commute in the city. Some Corolla property and business owners are begging for the construction of a bridge that would lead from U.S. 158 across the Currituck Sound directly to Corolla, offering another way in and shaving as much as an hour off the trip. It might happen someday, but until then expect it to take twice as long as you’d think it would to travel 10 miles up N.C. Highway 12 in the summer.
But please take heed of this important note: In recent years, some visitors to Corolla, NC, and areas north have begun cutting through neighborhoods in an attempt to avoid the traffic on N.C. 12. While we can’t legally regulate this activity, we do ask that in all good consciousness you not use these neighborhoods as your short cut. These roads are even narrower than N.C. 12 and are not designed for such traffic. And the increased traffic truly negatively impacts the safety and ambiance for the year-round residents whose homes border these streets. So, please only use N.C. Highway 12 to reach your rental cottage in Corolla.
Heading north from Kitty Hawk, N.C. Highway 12 winds through the small Dare County towns of Southern Shores and Duck before entering the realms of Currituck County, home of Corolla. Up until the development boom of the late 1980s, the Currituck Outer Banks was little-traveled and little-known, often referred to as North Carolina ’s last beach frontier. How things have changed today!
Don’t let Corolla’s out-of-the-way location fool you. This is no isolated outpost starved for vacation amenities. With shopping centers, restaurants, major grocery stores, a movie theater, a golf course, a world-class tennis facility, hotels, thousands of vacation homes and a whole range of services, Corolla is anything but desolate.
You have three options in traveling here: arriving by water in a shallow-draft boat, landing on a grass airstrip in a small plane or motoring in via a long, curvy, two-lane highway.
The Lay Of The Land
The Currituck Outer Banks is a 20-mile stretch of sand on a 50-mile-long peninsula that reaches from the state of Virginia down to Oregon Inlet.
There are no incorporated towns in the Currituck County area of the Outer Banks (nor are there any towns in the entire county, most of which is on the mainland). It is common nowadays for people to use the term “Corolla” to refer to the lower Currituck Outer Banks, though historically Corolla was only the name for the village near the lighthouse.
Upon entering Currituck County, you’re greeted by mile after mile of immense homes packed together neatly along the oceanfront. Homes of astounding size and grandeur are the hallmark of Corolla, and weekly vacation home rentals, not hotel stays, are definitely the trend for tourists. The overwhelming majority of the houses on the Currituck Outer Banks were constructed within the last decade, most of them to accommodate vacation rentals. To stand out in this highly competitive market, Corolla homes must be fairly new, well-maintained and offer a surprising range of amenities, from oceanfront swimming pools to home gyms to professional-grade kitchens.
Back to Highway 12, in these parts known as Ocean Trail. Along your trip north, you’ll notice the fancy signs for various planned community developments. The first you’ll come to is Pine Island, site of opulent homes, a small airstrip, an incredible tennis center and, nearby, an oceanfront Hampton Inn. Farther along N.C. Highway 12, you come to the massive development of Ocean Sands, where literally thousands of homes are spread out over several miles. On the west side of the road farther north is the Currituck Club, a golfing community with a prestigious links-style course, a clubhouse and restaurant, and exclusive homes. Next door, you’ll find the Shoppes at the Currituck Club anchored by Harris Teeter. The Currituck Chamber of Commerce and the local ABC store are also located inside The Currituck Club.
Moving northward, you’ll arrive at the bustling intersection of commerce at Ocean Trail and Albacore Street. Here you’ll find TimBuck II, a grand shopping/dining/recreation complex; Monteray Plaza, with shops, restaurants, a major grocery store and the movie theater; plus stand-alone shops, gas stations, a bank and other services. Nearby are the developments of Buck Island, Whalehead and Monteray Shores. Farther north, you’ll come to Corolla Light, another sprawling vacation development, this one with an abundance of amenities and family activities. Here you’ll find the Inn at Corolla Light, the Corolla Light Sports Center as well as the Corolla Light Village Shops, with restaurants and stores.
Whalehead and the Currituck Beach Lighthouse are situated in Currituck Heritage Park on the west side of the island north of Corolla Light. These are the two major tourist attractions in the area. Everyone loves climbing the lighthouse, and people return year after year to see the restored historic club and attend all the fun events held there. The Center for Wildlife Education offers a wide variety of educational programs and a natural trail.
Just north of the lighthouse is Historic Corolla village. Here you’ll find old homes, quaint shops and friendly folk in an atmosphere that is very different from the rest of the beach. Beyond the park is a cluster of shops and a gas station, then another vacation development known as the Villages at Ocean Hill.
Just when you think you’re getting somewhere, the paved road ends abruptly at the beach. You can keep going, however, driving on the beach into what the locals call the “four-wheel drive area,” up to Pennys Hill, Swan Beach and Carova Beach, where there are a ton of rental homes and a few full-time residents, including wild horses. About 10 miles up the beach, there’s a fence line and gate blocking you from entering the state of Virginia. And, here, you have to turn back and go the way you came.