Beyond the water, there is history to explore in the area, including the events at Kitty Hawk, 10 miles away. This, of course, is where the Wright brothers made their storied first controlled, powered flight in 1903. Wright National Memorial (252-473-2111) has a full-size model of the biplane they flew. A walk along the sand dunes, now covered in grass, gives a sense of how daring the brothers were to trust their flimsy craft in the breezy Outer Banks weather. Kite flying is de rigueur on the beach; Duck is filled with stores that sell all manner of kites.
Nearby, on Highway 158, is Jockey's Ridge State Park (252-441-7132), whose 100-foot-tall sand dunes give a better sense of what attracted Orville and Wilbur to the area: It's a place where glider experiments could end in a soft landing. Instructors offer $99-an-hour hang-gliding lessons, but don't expect to stay aloft for more than 15 seconds after launching yourself from a dune.
Another historic attraction is the Roanoke colony, where British colonists first landed in 1585 and endured a few scant years. Their remains weren't found, giving rise to tales of a "lost" colony. The national park on the site of the colonists' Fort Raleigh (252-473-5772) is a lovely forested area, but the highlight isn't much: a reconstruction of the earthen walls of the fort.
It will cost you nothing to stroll along Duck's boardwalk, which juts over the sound. Take a drive along the roads of Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge (252-473-1131), 30 miles from Duck, a marshland where black bears lurk and cross the road at sunset.
Where to Stay: Prices for one-week rentals of three-bedroom homes start at about $2,500 in Duck and nearby Southern Shore, both of which have thick tree cover.
Where to eat: There are lots of restaurants with great views of the water. To eat well, try The Blue Point Bar & Grill (252-261-8090).
It offers a gorgeous view of the sound. Try the flavorful celery soup for $7. Catfish fried in cornmeal with zucchini slaw on the side will set you back $25. The Roadside Raw Bar & Grill (252-261-5729), near Duck's town square, lacks the view but has fine fare and live music most nights.
The Sanderling Inn's Lifesaving Station restaurant (252-449-6654), in a restored 1899 sea-rescue building, is more casual and less costly than the inn's other restaurants. A terrific chowder followed by shrimp, andouille sausage and grits go for $31, roughly 40% less than the fare at the Sanderling's elegant Left Bank restaurant.