One of the first things you’ll notice about Corolla is that it looks and feels newer that other areas of the Outer Banks—also more planned and conceptual. Approximately 30 years ago, Corolla was one of the last beach frontiers on the East Coast, with miles of empty land and only a few vacation homes dotting the dunes. Until 1984, the area was blocked off to everyone but a few landowners, but when the gates opened, a flood of development followed.
With expansive Atlantic beaches, luxurious seaside accommodations, polished landscaping and upscale shopping and dining complexes, Corolla is an increasingly popular East Coast vacation destination. If Corolla was human, we’d call it a yuppie, for it is young, affluent, of-the-moment and a tad materialistic. It is a world of contemporary luxuries where vacationing is easy and life is civilized.
Corolla sprung up so fast and its architecture is so new-fashioned that few people realize Corolla actually has deep roots dating back to the 1800s. Most visitors don’t realize that Corolla was originally the name for a small village that sits beneath the Currituck Beach Lighthouse. It has only been in recent years that people starting using the term Corolla to refer to the whole stretch of northern Outer Banks from the Dare County line to the end of the paved road.
This new Corolla is really the Currituck Outer Banks. In this stretch of Currituck County there are no incorporated towns; rather, there are numerous named subdivisions or planned developments – Pine Island, the Currituck Club, Ocean Sands, Whalehead, Buck Island, Monteray Shores, Corolla Light, Villages at Ocean Hill and others. Corolla is just a descriptive moniker, the name of the post office, not an official town designation. Since there are so many different subdivision names and everyone gets mail through the Corolla Post Office, it is easiest to call everything on the Currituck Outer Banks “Corolla.”
Surrounded by the Currituck Sound and Atlantic Ocean, the Currituck Outer Banks seems like a barrier island, but it is actually a barrier spit, or peninsula. The long, narrow spit of land is attached to the state of Virginia on the northern end and continues all the way down through Duck, Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills and Nags Head to Oregon Inlet, where the ocean rushes through to meet the sound.
By the way, on the Outer Banks we pronounce Corolla as “Cor-RAH-lah.” Those who say “Cor-OLL-lah,” as in the car, are immediately pegged as tourists.
The newness of Corolla can be refreshing and uplifting. Nothing is rundown. Everything is clean. All the buildings are air-conditioned. There are no potholes in the roads. The developments are well planned, not haphazard. But the lack of apparent roots can be unsettling. You might find yourself craving the sight of a few old houses. You might find yourself digging your toes deep into the sand, searching for the lineage of the land. Don’t worry. Corolla does have heritage. You just have to look a little harder to find the history that’s overshadowed in this vacation boomtown.
This history of the area is in what’s left of old Corolla Village, the hunt club culture and in the memories of the few true natives that still live here. The quiet village roads, the turn-of-the-(last)-century houses, the Currituck Beach Lighthouse and The Whalehead speak volumes of stories about the long-gone days of the true Corolla old Corolla Village.
Corolla is predominantly a vacationland. The full-time, year-round population is only around 500, while the summer population can soar to more than 50,000 a week! It is estimated that there are nearly 5,000 rental homes on the 20-mile stretch of Currituck Outer Banks. The island is so narrow that there’s only room for one main road N.C. Highway 12, a.k.a. Ocean Trail so you can imagine what summer traffic is like. Expect backups and delays upon arrival and departure and on rainy days in between. Everyone gets into their cars on rainy days, so if you’re smart you’ll do your shopping and attraction-hopping on sunny days.
The main tourist season in Corolla is, obviously, summer. The biggest crowds roll in and the rental prices go up from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Fall is heavenly on the Outer Banks because the crowds are thinner, the rates are a bit cheaper, all of the businesses are still open, the locals are in fabulous moods and the weather is still mild. And don’t overlook winter and spring, when you can definitely get an accommodation bargain and some isolation, though not all of the businesses will be open. Businesses exist here to cater to the vacation population, so most every business owner takes a little break in the winter.
In Corolla you’ll find all the amenities you want for a great vacation, but not a lot of the regular services you’re used to back home. For those you may have to travel down the road to another Outer Banks town. For example, health care is offered in Corolla at a small center, but the closest hospital is in Nags Head, about 30 miles away.
No one really cares too much about the lack of super stores and necessities. Here, everyone’s mind is on the beach. Corolla’s beaches are clean and vast, with fine sand that gently slopes to the sea, and the water is warm. In the off-season you can find great isolated stretches of beach all to yourself.