The small northern Outer Banks town of Duck appeals to all kinds of vacationers. Artists, shoppers, wildlife lovers and beach bums all congregate to this small but popular tourist destination, and often all of these activities combine to create unique settings and activities that please absolutely everyone in the group.

The Waterfront Shops in Duck is a prime example of this phenomenon in action, as the clusters of exquisite boutiques, restaurants and galleries combine the best of both worlds: unparalleled shopping and relaxation, and some of the most stunning Currituck soundfront views on the beach. Visitors throughout the Outer Banks are encouraged to check out Duck for a little retail therapy that becomes an even more relaxing adventure simply because of the beautiful surroundings.

Enjoy a cocktail and a sunset, a little bit of history to go with your morning coffee, or simply an exploration of some of the best locally owned shops on the beach. In Duck, nature meets elegance in all facets, and the Duck Waterfront Shops exemplify this philosophy at its very best.

History of the Duck Waterfront Shops and the Duck Shopping Scene

It's no coincidence that some of the Outer Banks' most elite and exquisite boutiques wound up in the small town of Duck. For decades, well before mainstream tourism hit the northern Currituck beaches, Duck was well known as a retreat for the elite. With a small handful of wealthy hunt clubs set up around the area, (beginning with the now famous 21,000 square foot Whalehead Club located just a few miles north in Corolla), locals soon set up stores and supply depots to cater to their new clientele. Visitors were charmed with the natural backdrop, hundreds of species of waterfowl and migrating birds, and overall rustic setting that felt miles away from the rest of the world.

In the 1980s, as tourism boomed in the northern Outer Banks region, the town council of Duck began to set up strict developmental guidelines to ensure the area maintained its natural appeal, as well as remained a safe haven for the thousands of birds that flocked through the area. The majority of the Outer Banks is located along the "Atlantic Flyway," the main migration route that birds take on their way south or north, and the town of Duck, as its name would suggest, was an especially popular spot.

It is mostly because of these efforts that the world-renowned shopping options in Duck are concentrated within a half mile area, making it easy for visitors for walk from one shop to another. The waterfront shops were especially environmentally conscious during their construction, and aimed to provide a shopping experience that was in harmony with the local natural scene.

This included restoration and renovation efforts of the local "Powder Ridge Gun Club" cottage, a building that anchors the shopping plaza and once served as the private retreat for 1920s hunt club members. Today, the small cottage has been completely restored to preserve Duck's former hunt club history, and serves as a small coffee shop and book store that welcomes thousands of patrons every year.

Whether you're heading to Duck for the fantastic beaches, the incredible shopping, or just to enjoy that natural appeal that attracted visitors as far back as the 1920s, the town has never lost that rustic charm. As a result, patrons to the Waterfront Shops will enjoy a completely relaxing and quiet day of shopping, with incredible sound views, and miles of wildlife to keep them company.

Visiting the Waterfront Shops

The best way to begin a day of Duck shopping is to head to one of the local town parking areas, get out of the car, and start exploring on foot. The town is filled with biking and pedestrian trails that wind through the woods, or border the sound, making a walk to your favorite stores a perfectly enjoyable and natural stroll.

Several small shopping plazas or centers are located along shaded thickets of woods with covered porches and weathered wooden exteriors, though arguably, none of these centers are as impressive as the Waterfront Shops. This shopping center is a one-story compilation of nearly 20 stores and restaurants, which are connected via two outdoor walkways, one facing the main "entrance," and one bordering the water.

As the name aptly suggests, the Waterfront Shops in Duck borders the Currituck Sound, and feature a wide sound boardwalk that extends the length of the plaza, and even connects with the new Town Boardwalk that leads visitors even further into Duck's wild side. The Duck Town boardwalk is open from dawn until 1:00 a.m., and hovers 6-12' feet above the Currituck Sound as it follows the perimeter of the town. With water in all directions, visitors are assured some incredible sunsets and wildlife spottings that only get better as the boardwalk winds away from the shopping centers and meanders deeper into the town park.

While an extensive tour of the boardwalk in its entirety is certainly recommended, it is by no means necessary to enjoy the local waterfront scene. In fact, the boardwalk bordering the waterfront shops itself is an ideal locale for bird gazing, as hundreds of different species of birds pass through the shop's waterfront borders every year. Lean against the railing or settle into a built-in bench to watch egrets, ospreys, herons, ducks, geese, martins, and even turtles and fish breeze by in the background. The unobstructed open water views make any spot along the Waterfront Shops ideal for nature-gazing.

The shops are generally open from the spring until the late fall, although several shops may even be open year-round for winter visitors. Generally, the shops within the plaza open at about 8:00 a.m. or 9:00 a.m., although the local coffee shop, which is located in a 1920s hunt club outside of the main plaza, is open much earlier to serve early risers their first cup of coffee of the day.

In the summer season, many of these shops remain open until the evening hours, when the sunset pouring in through the shops' windows makes a little retail therapy a completely serene experience. Have fun exploring, and be sure to take a moment in between credit card swipes to smell the salt air and admire the view. With the gorgeous scenery bordering the Waterfront Shops, patrons don't have to spend a dime to have a relaxing and perfectly scenic good time.

The Stores at the Waterfront Shops

One of the main reasons why the town of Duck is considered such an Outer Banks shopping Mecca is because the stores are locally owned, and tend to stray away from the typical chains and everyday beach fare. In this town, patrons won't find the same chain stores that they can access at their local malls back home, and instead the region is home to a number of locally owned boutiques, jewelry stores, galleries and surf shops that offer merchandise that OBX visitors can't find anywhere else.

There may be a regional chair or two in the plaza, but these are stand-outs amidst the local chains, and feature some of the items that vacationers may need for a sunny day at the beach, or a treasure trove of souvenirs to take back home.

Visitors are advised to take their time browsing through the one-of-a-kind sundresses or authentic watercolors created by local Outer Banks artists. One of the best aspects of exploring the Duck waterfront scene is the sheer variety and unique nature of the items available, and a careful perusal is sure to uncover some fantastic finds to take back home.

Dining Options at the Waterfront Shops

The waterfront shops have three locales for dining, including an ice cream parlor, a casual and fun waterfront cantina, and a critically acclaimed fine dining restaurant that has made numerous appearances on regional "Best Places to Dine" lists.

The big draw of all of these establishments is location, location, location, and patrons will find they have the option to settle into a table indoors overlooking the water via a wall of windows, or head outside to café-style seating with covered umbrellas to protect against a hot summer sun.

As to be expected, the best time to visit any of these restaurants is around sunset, when the sky is illuminated with a rainbow of colors, and these eateries offer front row seats to one of the best sunset vantage points on the beach. With nothing but the open water and a passing pelican or cormorant to interrupt the view, the Waterfront Shops in Duck clearly offer Outer Banks soundfront dining at its best.

Tips and Tricks for Visiting the Waterfront Shops

  • Don't discount an off-season visit. In the late fall months, especially around Thanksgiving, many of the shops in Duck offer deep discounts on their current year's merchandise to make room for new treasures coming in for the next season. With storewide sales that can range from 10% - 40% off, a fall or winter visit is an ideal time for budget-conscious and bargain hunting visitors to make a Duck shopping expedition.
  • Another draw to the spring and fall seasons is the hundreds of birds that fly by, and can be easily spotted from the comfort of the sound boardwalk. Be on the lookout for migrating geese, waterfowl, and even tundra swans which make seasonal appearances in the late fall and early winter months.
  • Don't contain your shopping adventures to just one locale. Within walking distance of the Duck waterfront Shops are dozens of other picturesque stores and shopping centers with equally enchanting locations and incredibly unique wares, from jewelry to art, clothing to children's toys. Because the majority of shops in Duck are concentrated within a small area, it's easy to scope out the entire scene in one full afternoon of window shopping.
  • Keep an eye on the Waterfront Shops' calendar of events, which is available at the shopping plaza itself, or online. A number of local bands, artists and musicians make seasonal appearances, especially during the summer season, so patrons can enjoy a little music infused with their outdoor dining experience, or watch a local artist at work at a neighboring gallery. Guaranteed to only enhance your trip, a quick scan of the calendar will ensure you get the most out of your Duck shopping experience.

The town of Duck has always been known as a natural elite retreat for discerning vacationers, and that reputation still stands as the dozens of shops represent only the very best that the region has to offer. From fine wines to local works of art, exquisite summer sandals to sea-inspired jewelry, a day of shopping in Duck is sure to unearth some spell-binding treasures that can't be found anywhere else on the Outer Banks.

Combine your love of retail therapy with your love and appreciation of nature with a trip to the Waterfront Shops in Ducks. With miles of views and some of the most unique stores the northern Outer Banks has to offer, every patron will leave this area relaxed, happy, and most likely with piles of goodies to take back home and enjoy.