30+ Best Things to Do in the Outer Banks (+ Top Attractions!)

The Outer Banks of North Carolina have become one of the best year-round destinations to see. It is quite a fantastic adventure at the OBX. The Outer Banks is a 175-mile stretch of barrier islands stretching across Virginia down the coast of North Carolina. These beaches are famed and along the route, you may encounter offer some unusual ecosystems including lots of seagrass and salt marshes. Several early American settlement sites are here and hundreds of ships have been buried here… this island is called the ‘Graveyard of the Atlantics’. Without a doubt, the Outer Banks are incredible to explore and are recommended for anyone that loves coastal living at its finest!

Explore all the Outer Banks Piers

Americans enjoy their docks and the Piers at the Outer Banks are a major attraction on the coast – seven of them are presently there. Five of the piers are in central Outer Banks; three are in Nags Head, one in Kitty Hawk, and the other in Kill Devil Hills.

Two more of the OBX piers are located on Hatteras Island; one at Rodanthe and one in Avon – the 400-feet deep Avon fishing boat Pier became Hatteras Island’s first.

Fishing piers on the Outer Banks at sunrise

One of the favorite places for anglers is the Outer Banks Fishermen Pier in Nags Head.

Don’t like to fish? No worries.

Fish Heads Bar & Grill on the pier has a menu loaded with some of the freshest seafood you could ever want. When you go, be sure to try the shrimp tacos or tuna bites… amazing! They also have a great selection of beers.

Go surfing

Can we make a wave? The Outer Bank has one of the most massive waves in the eastern part of the United States, well-known for surfing in all corners of the globe.

Because the OBX coastlines are unique as it receives swells in multiple directions some of the best surfing conditions on the East Coast.  The area attracts surfers from around the country for local surfing instruction and annual surfing tournaments.

Kill Devil Hills Beach and Kill Hawk Beach is famous for good wave surfing and skimboarding and generally have the strongest waves in the North Beach area.

What are considered the north beach areas on the Outer Banks?

There are seven distinct areas within the Northern Beaches region: Carova (the northernmost), Carolla, Duck, Southern Shores, Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, and Nags Head (the southernmost section).

Explore Manteo

The first stop we made on the Outer Banks came by driving from Raleigh to Manteo which definitely merits looking at. The place was quieter than other parts of OBX but had several interesting attractions. There are nice waterfronts where you can walk and the town stretches over Shallowbag Bay on East Roanoke Island.

Manteo North Carolina sunrise outer banks. things to do

In 1586, 117 British citizens came to Roanoke Island in search of the first British settlement. In 1590 the English returned and they found the island abandoned hence its nickname, the Lost Kingdom. The Lost Colony Drama is performed at the site and is one of the largest tourist attractions in the area. The 2023 Season of The Lost Colony runs June 2nd through August 26th, 2023, and marks the 86th edition of this production.

Jockey Ridge State Park

Outside the coast, vacation is mostly centered around the environment with nature experiences. We love exploring unique national parks. The Jockey Ridge State Park contains the largest sand dune system in the eastern United States.

Sand dunes at Jockey Ridge State Park North Carolina, Outer Banks, OBX

The dunes here vary in shape by wind but can climb 100 feet and provide breathtaking views of the coast of the Carolinas on one end and Roanoke Sound on the other. Start with the Visitor Center and Museum for information on ecology, and then go for an adventure on the gigantic dunes through a 450-foot boardwalk.

Go wild exploring the Outer Banks attractions

Pony (the famous Ocracoke Island attraction), Bear, Wolf, and Alligator bring the wild side into this Outer Bank. Birding at the Pea Island Sanctuary in Hatteras attracts travelers from across the country.

wild horses ocracoke island nc

Add in the fact that your island is surrounded by sounds filled with dolphins and fish and miles of undeveloped coastline encircling Mother Ocean and you will be enchanted.

Corolla bolsters its reputation as an important historical center for wildlife and a city garden and features numerous nature paths and beloved wild horses.

Cape Hatteras National Seashore

This 70-mile inland route from Bodie Island to Ocracoke Island has its national seawall. These regions have unique beach villages, historical lighthouses, and endless activities including beach fishing and windsurfing, swimming and kayaking as well as fishing on the beaches.

Bodie Island lighthouse Outer Banks

Visiting the region by bike or by foot is recommended. During our last trip, we didn’t spend too much time on the northern islands, but we stopped at Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and several beaches during our stay.

Duck Donuts

For the donut lovers in the crowd, and you know who you are, any Outer Banks visit must include a trip to the Duck Donut Shop in the town of Duck.

duck donuts duck nc

If you love customized donuts or made-to-order, this is the spot. The popular donut shop has grown to over 100 locations, but this is the place where it all started.

While the hours of each shop may vary, the hours of this store are 7 am to 1 pm, so plan accordingly. Since my crew are early birds, we can avoid their busiest time which is around 11 am. Great service, incredible sweets!

Outer Banks Brewing Station

We always want a good brewery, especially family-friendly, and the Outer Banks Brewery Station in Kill Devil Hills must be visited. This brewery is America’s first wind-powered brewery which is amazing. There’s a nice beer garden in the background that allows for the kids. The brewery’s selection of drafts is excellent and includes wine and a special cocktail. The food is above standard & the live music is amazing. This is a very popular spot. Visit the website to see what’s going on.

Watch a Sunrise by the Ocean

Sunrises are definitely worth the effort. Getting out of bed early during your holiday is hard for us to imagine. We can always feel thankful for this effort especially when we get rewarded by such spectacular sunrises at Kill Devil’s Hill beach. In truth, sunrise has become an extremely popular part of the day. This is quiet and our kids sleep normally but the day can be so busy.

sunrise atlantic ocean

TIP: When you stay at OBX and try somewhere close to ocean front so you can capture a few moments before you go to the beach or just sit on the deck watching all this happen!

See the OBX Lighthouses

One popular activity in the Outer Banks would be visiting iconic lighthouses. When referring to the OBX, the lighthouse is always in my mind. These people guard the shorelines of these islands for more than 200 years and have played a significant role in maritime history.

The region has also become known as the grave of the Atlantic for the ships that traverse its dangerous waters. The Cape Hatteras lighthouse is a very easily recognized lighthouse with black and white stripes that are spiraled.

Jennette’s Pier

Jennette’s Pier is located at Nags Head. It reaches over 1,000 feet out into the Atlantic Ocean and is a must-see Outer Bank pier during your vacation. Its most unique features on this pier include a small educational center and a windmill.

We made sure to visit this on Sunday morning and the view was breathtaking. This is one of the most interesting activities in Nags Head and is popular with fishermen or simply walking out and looking at the beautiful scenery around.

Play on the Outer Banks Beaches

If you love frolicking in the waves during the summer months, take a trip to a few of the many stunning Outer Bank beaches. The sand is pristine, the water keeps you cool in the summer heat, and they’re family-friendly. Previously, we stayed directly on Kill Devil Hills Beach we spent most of our time there. This past summer, we stayed in Corolla as the beach had gentle waves and was the perfect place for kids to go bodyboarding.

best beaches in outer banks. children playing in ocean

Best beaches in Outer Banks

1. Kill Devil Hills

The area around Kill Devil Hills is known for its waves and water sports. The fun will definitely be enhanced by big waves, so get ready to get wet! Along Highway 12, you’ll find a variety of public beach accesses and public bathhouses. Take a look at many of the Kill Devil Hills vacation rentals and find the perfect place to stay near the beach!

2. Kitty Hawk

A great deal of attention is paid to Kitty Hawk’s beach, which is well known for its beauty. Kitty Hawk enjoys some of the largest waves of all the Northern Beaches, along with Kill Devil Hills. Enjoy some excellent skimboarding and surfing at Kitty Hawk, as those are the most popular activities. Kitty Hawk Water Sports is a convenient place to rent surfboards and kayaks. There is also Kitty Hawk Woods, a 460-acre maritime forest reserve with walking trails where you can see wildlife in the area. A Kitty Hawk vacation rental with convenient beach access is a must-have if you enjoy surfing!

3. Nags Head

Nags Head is a popular beach in the Outer Banks due to its natural beauty and lively atmosphere. Enjoy the sunset from Jennette’s Pier, the state’s longest public pier, while you’re here. Take advantage of the excellent weather and the beautiful coastline in Nags Head, North Carolina! Take a trip to the Outer Banks and rent a vacation rental near Nags Head to enjoy a relaxing and activity-packed vacation!

4. Southern Shores

Located between the towns of Kitty Hawk and Duck, Southern Shores offers a sense of seclusion and tranquility. With stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean, exciting shopping centers, local markets, and more, Southern Shores is the perfect place to spend a day at the beach. Make sure to plan ahead when heading out for the day when parking is limited in this area. 

5. Duck

Whether you have a dog or a cat in your family, Duck is a fun place to visit!  It is one of the most pet-friendly beaches in the country, allowing dogs to run free on the sand and in the water. While you’re in the area, check out some of Duck’s best restaurants and shops.

6. Corolla

Corolla is a unique ocean community on the northern end of the Outer Banks, sitting just between the borders of the Atlantic Ocean and Currituck Sound. The tranquil location allows visitors easy access to waterways, in an area known for calmer waters. In addition to easy access to amazing ocean-side excursions, this area has plenty of great home rentals for large groups and families.

Go Stand Up Paddle Boarding

If you follow outdoor activity trends, standing paddleboarding has become a very popular family activity. Our family recently purchased the Body Glove inflatable board and was eager to have the paddleboard in the OBX. The locals suggested Corolla Beach for its soft waters and shallow seas and it proved to be a fantastic spot. Another popular place for kayaking is Corolla Park at the Whalehead Club with a public launch site for boats or a boat.

Breakfast at Art’s Place

We found the food at Art’s Place to be quite good. This local favorite breakfast spot is praised by several of our Instagram followers, especially for the pancakes that our kids love and our sausage cheese omelet was very tasty. The long-standing hamburger chain has views of the ocean from a rooftop and features live music and traditional American dishes.

soup and sandwich

Sunset Drinks at Miller’s Waterfront Restaurant

Looking for a great sunset? Not to worry. Miller’s Seafood and Steakhouse is an excellent restaurant with good reviews and we found to food to be right on point. We dined downstairs and next time we will try it upstairs at Sunset Bar & Grill. The location steals the show and at best comes to sunset drinks outside in front of a lawn and observes the magic, a traditional outer bank activity. This spot is currently closed for the winter but will reopen in March.

Wright Brothers National Memorial

The Wright Brothers were the pioneers of flying airplanes. This location is worth the time to visit and is not too far off the beaten path. If you have any interest in airplanes and modern history, this is a great tour. The Wright Brother’s monument is 60 ft in size and is located on a sand dune.

When to visit (Anytime)

Often people ask us when to visit the Outer Banks. The best time for an Outer Banks vacation is whenever you get a few days away. The Outer Banks attractions for plentiful for year-round travel.

As you may expect for a coastal vacation spot, the summer months command the highest room rental rates. This is also true for house rentals. When we travel it is mostly in the summer since our family really enjoys being in the water.

However, once Labor Day comes and goes, the rates drop considerably. The water actually stays warm through most of September. So if you have the time, this is a great to time to enjoy the area, with fewer people and much cheaper rates.

There are always things to do in Outer Banks NC, regardless of the time of year. Make it a point to come and see for yourself!

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