While it's technically the last day of summer 2014, the endless summer rages on all year long here in Huntington Beach. In some beach communities, however, this is not the case. Take the Outer Banks in North Carolina, for example. Beach towns on the East Coast tend to fall dormant during the off-season. The rush of summer vacationers slows to a trickle, seasonal surf shop staffers clock out until spring, and the once crowded beaches welcome only the most dedicated beach lovers who embrace the forgotten chill in the air.
We spent a long week in the charming northern Outer Banks resort town of Duck this summer, where we spotted a few shoreline staples that you won't find here in Huntington Beach.
1 // BEACH GRASSES
Swaying silently in the warm Atlantic Ocean breeze, beach grasses are a typical backdrop in the Carolinas, usually sprouting from sand dunes bordering the beaches. Most common are sea oats, panic grass, broomsedge, and American sea grass, all extremely flexible and serving as not only eye candy, but as wildlife food and natural anti-erosion barriers.
2 // OCEAN SUNRISES
On quiet nights along the West Coast, you can almost hear the sizzle of the sun as it sinks below the Pacific Ocean horizon. On the East Coast, sun worshippers need rise early to catch the sun at the horizon, as she peeks atop it and slowly rises, producing a soft sky accented by pinks, purples, oranges, yellows, and blues.
3 // CRABS
If you eat seafood and visit the Outer Banks, feasting on as much Chesapeake blue crab as possible should be prioritized at the tippy top of your list. Dusted with Old Bay Seasoning, these tasty crustaceans are best enjoyed on a blanket of newspaper and washed down with a cold bottle (or two) of Yuengling Lager. The messier the meal, the better, and don't forget the creamy she-crab soup, crispy hush puppies, steamed shrimp, and melted butter.
4 // GHOST CRABS
There's another type of crab you should experience in the Outer Banks, and it's not edible. It's the elusive Atlantic ghost crab. Hunting for these sand-colored, nearly translucent, white-clawed creatures is a favorite nighttime pastime, one that requires only flashlights and the screams of adults and children. Without warning, ghost crabs appear before you just as quickly as they dart away and disappear into the cool ocean air (or into the sand). A flashlight beacon can sometimes reveal an army of these terrestrial crustaceans, a scene that can easily bring a session to an abrupt end.
5 // WILD HORSES
Huntington Beach is no stranger to animals romping along its sands, but wild horses aren't one of them. The sand dunes of Corolla, just north of Duck in the Outer Banks, are inhabited by these majestic creatures, who roam the sandy hills, grazing on beach grasses and other vegetation. Acknowledged and respected as the oldest settlers of the Outer Banks, the stallions settled in Corolla more than 500 years ago. Driving on the beach in Corolla is also permitted, which is another sight you won't see in Huntington Beach.
6 // WOODEN BEACH WALKWAYS & BOARDWALKS
The quintessential East Coast beach entrance and exit, weathered wooden walkways are certain indicators that the Atlantic Ocean is just a few steps away. They're like rainbows, only at the end, it's the shimmering sea instead of the pot of gold. Intersecting with the beaches of the Outer Banks at countless points, the walkways are often lined with beach grasses and have regretfully plagued millions of children with splinters. Duck houses a soundside wooden boardwalk that juts into the Currituck Sound and leads to small shops, eateries, and the lush Town Park. Its planks continue for just over .6 miles and escort visitors above a willow swamp and marsh. Thanks to an excitable canine, our 6-year-old niece lost her sandal to the marsh for a few moments until her arachnophobic father mustered up enough courage to salvage the wayward flipflop.
7) 100% HUMIDITY
Humidity is not exactly something you can see, but it's absolutely something you can feel, and it's something no East Coaster misses while visiting the more temperate West Coast. Thick, damp, hot air; months of bad hair days; and beads of sweat forming in areas of the body you never knew could perspire—that's humidity. It's unpleasant, but it's also a part of what makes the East Coast and its Outer Banks so truly unforgettable.