One-Tank Trips

 In Activities, Do It Yourself

We all love living on this sandbar called the Outer Banks, but sometimes you just gotta get away for a little bit. Not far. Just enough to know that you’re escaping for a day or two. Because of this, Coastal Life has put together a few “One-Tank Trips” that you may want to consider when the itch hits you to getaway.

Before we jump in, we must agree on a definition. Exactly how far is a “one-tank trip? I drive a Toyota Tacoma. On a full tank of gas, I can go 400 miles. So we’ll use that as our measuring stick. Next question, will that one tank get me there and back? Or is it that I’ll use one tank getting there and another getting back? Well, because I don’t want to split the audience, how about we do both? We’ll start with trips that will get you there AND back on that 400-mile tank of gas. One last point, we’ll use the address of Coastal Life in Nags Head as our starting and finishing point.

trip elizabeth city

Elizabeth City, NC

Our First location is only 56 miles away, leaving you plenty of gas to get there and back, and then back to work the next day. Our getaway will take us to the “cultural, economic, and educational hub of the sixteen county Historic Albemarle region. Fasten your seat belts, we’re off to Elizabeth City for our first “one-tank trip.”

Known as the “Harbor of Hospitality,” Elizabeth City proudly offers The Museum of the Albemarle” next to the city’s waterfront. So maybe you don’t want to get all cultural on your quick getaway. Well, you don’t have to. There are several breweries and restaurants to check out, including at least one winery and two breweries.

If you want to enjoy the great outdoors, you can do that too by paddling the Great Dismal Swamp. There are 20,000 acres of state parks where you can hike, bike, enjoy bird and wildlife observation, and camp under the stars.

Edenton, NC

From the home office of Coastal Life (Nags Head), Edenton is a short 75-mile drive. Located on what is known as the Inner Banks of North Carolina, Edenton served as the second capital of the Province of North Carolina from 1722 to 1743. 

trip edenton

Located on the north side of the Albermarle Sound, the town offers much history. The Lane House, built-in 1719, is located in the Edenton National Register Historic District and has been identified as the oldest house in the state.

The second oldest building in Edenton is the Cupola House. It was built approximately in 1756 and is the only known surviving example in the American South of a house with a “jutt.” A jutt means it has an overhanging second floor.

If relaxing is all you want to do on your one-tank trip while in Edenton, check out the Spa at Waterloo on South Broad St.

You won’t go hungry in Edenton either. There are plenty of restaurants in town to satisfy any craving.

trip virginia beach

Virginia Beach, NC

The Coastal Life office is only 94 miles to our next stop, Virginia Beach, Virginia.

I know, you’re saying why get away from the beach to go to another. Hold on. Let me explain. 

Just because the word “beach” is in the city’s name,

that doesn’t mean you have to do “beachy” things. Plus, when I say Virginia Beach, I mean it to be a generic term for the entire Tidewater area.

Have you ever wanted to skydive, but that whole jumping out of a plane has got your stomach in knots? Then, check out Virginia Beach Indoor Skydiving. Instead of free-falling from a plane wondering (ok in my case, panicking) about the chute not opening, you safely float on a vertical wind tunnel which gives you the feeling of skydiving.

Still too adventurous? If so, you can check out the Military Aviation Museum or hike the nearly 2,700-acres of hiking trails, cypress swamps, and nesting grounds at First Landing Park. Or check out the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

You’ve likely have built up an appetite by now. Depending on the time of the year of your one-tank trip, you could feast on some iconic Virginia Beach dishes, including Lynnhaven Oysters, She-Crab soup, Soft Shell Crabs, Fresh Pungo Berries, and of course,
the Orange Crushes.

Williamsburg, VA

A mere 128 miles away, Williamsburg is certainly close enough to Nags Head to make it up and back on a single tank of gas. 

History, History, History. If you love it as I do, you have no problem whiling away the day


in Colonial Williamsburg. Visit Raleigh Tavern on Duke of Gloucester Street. And the Governor’s Palace, home to Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson before the capital was moved in 1780 to Richmond.

One of my favorite places to walk in Williamsburg is on the campus of William & Mary, the second-oldest institution of higher learning in the country. I get a tingle in my spine as I walk the grounds knowing that Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, and John Tyler also walked these grounds at one point in time. Equally exciting that some non-presidents also walked the same grounds. People like comedians Patton Oswalt and Jon Stewart and head football coach Lou Holtz.

It’s time to get back in the truck for another destination!


Richmond, VA

I know we’re pushing the envelope on getting there and back on one tank of gas, but it is still in our original parameters. Google maps show it being 175 miles from Nags Head to Richmond.

Assuming we hadn’t taken in a Norfolk Tides baseball game

on our one-tank trip to Virginia Beach, maybe now would be a good time. The Richmond Flying Squirrels (Double-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants) play their games at the “Diamond” on N. Arthur Ashe Boulevard. Tickets for the 2022 season are available now. Spending an evening (or lazy Sunday afternoon) at a ballpark is just about the best thing in the world, but not everyone is a baseball fan. If that’s you, no worries, there is plenty to do in “River City.”

Museums are popular in Richmond. From the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts to the Science Museum of Virginia. There also is the Children’s Museum of Richmond and the Old Dominion Railway Museum.

Shopping on your list of things to do? Check out the Short Pump Town Center. Or maybe on your one-tank trip you’re itching to be surrounded by water again. If so, you’re in luck! Check out Belle Island in the middle of the James River. There you will find rock climbing, biking, hiking and so much more.

There is also history in Richmond, as you would expect. The Hollywood Cemetery has winding paths along and overlooking the James River. There you can look for the final resting places of James Monroe, John Tyler, and Jefferson Davis.


Mount Airy, NC

Mount Airy has made an entire industry of being the actual “Mayberry.” Though we on the Outer Banks know differently. Nonetheless, it is where Manteo resident Andy Griffith spent his formative years. 

Mount Airy is 335 miles from Nags Head, requiring a quick fill-up before returning home.

trip mount airy

A run-up on one side of Main Street and down the other will provide you just about any Andy Griffith or The Andy Griffith Show souvenir that you can think of. The downtown area is filled with shops, including a barbershop named Floyd’s.

The Andy Griffith Museum and Playhouse is a must-stop on your trip. Be sure to grab a selfie with the Andy and Opie statue in the front. A little more than a half-mile away is the house in which Andy grew up. It is actually available to rent on your stay at Mount Airy.

If your getaway trip takes place in September, make plans to attend the yearly Mayberry Days.

Before leaving town, be sure to stop by The Snappy Lunch. Andy went there as a kid and mentioned it once in an episode of The Andy Griffith Show. The pork chop sandwich is an absolute must!

trip hickory nc

Hickory, NC

Named from a tavern made of logs beneath a hickory tree in the 1850s. Hickory, North Carolina, is 372 miles, just under our agreed-upon 400 miles from Nags Head.

Hickory boasts 22 locations on their National Register of Historic Places, including

Kenworth Historic District and the Piedmont Wagon Company. Like most places on our one-tank trips, Hickory also has museums and a Science Center. It also has an impressive aviation museum. The Hickory Aviation Museum allows you to get up close and personal with their exhibits. You’ll find aircraft like the F/A-18 Hornet and F-14 jets.

In this article, we’ve talked a bit about baseball, but nothing yet about the life-blood of the state. NASCAR! Hickory is the location for “The World’s Most Famous Short Track” and “Birthplace of the NASCAR Stars.” Though not still part of the Busch Grand National Series, Hickory is still used as a venue for NASCAR’s club racing division.

 There you go! Every once in a while, you need to get off this sandbar. If you’ve not tried any of the places listed here, perhaps you now will. If you have other sites you suggest, send them along to us at

Greg Smrdel
Author: Greg Smrdel

Greg Smrdel, while his physical body lives in Ohio (for now), his soul will always remain on the Outer Banks.

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