Nags Head Guide Sections

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Nags Head is arguably one of the Outer Banks' most established tourism destinations, and the area remains popular with visitors today for its wealth of amenities, sprawling ocean and soundfront views, and classic Outer Banks style. In Nags Head, a beach-loving vacationer can find virtually anything to make an OBX vacation perfect, including some of the area's favorite restaurants, natural and historical attractions, and miles of fun. Visitors come here year after year for the fantastic Outer Banks beaches and ample entertainment, and have been doing so for generations. An ideal mix of on-the-beach relaxation and off-the-beach amusements, Nags Head remains one of the Outer Banks' most loved vacation destinations.

Where to Stay in Nags Head

Not sure where to stay in Nags Head? The town offers tons of possibilities from nationally recognized oceanfront hotels to well-loved local motels that have been in business for decades. The majority of visitors opt to stay in vacation rental homes, which can be impeccable modern oceanfront mansions, to historic classic cottages, to quiet and hidden Nags Head Woods retreats. Your vacation rental company can help steer you in the right direction to finding the vacation rental home that best suits your family's needs.

It's no surprise that vacation rental homes are Nags Head's most popular accomodations. Homes range in size and amenities. Top vacation-rental companies offering homes in Nags Head include the following:

Nags Head Attractions

The Beach - The beach in Nags Head is the area's #1 attraction. Most visitors come to Nags Head for some hard-earned rest and relaxation on the sandy shore. Here are some guidelines you should know:

  • Nags Head beaches are pet friendly. Dogs are allowed on the beach year-round. They must remain on a leash 10ft or shorter.
  • Fireworks are prohibited. Bonfires are allowed on the beach with a permit. Permits are issued by Nags Head Fire and Rescue between 5pm - 9pm on a daily basis. Permit locations are Station 16 at Milepost 14.5 (252-441-5909) and Station 21 at milepost 18 (252-441-2910). Permits are based on current wind and fire danger conditions.
  • Beer is allowed on the beach. Wine and liquor are not officially permitted. Please drink responsibly.
  • Metal detecting is allowed.
  • Red flags = no swimming. When you see red flags flying, dangerous conditions are present and swimming is prohibited.
  • Please stay off sand dunes.
  • It is illegal to dig large holes. Holes in the sand can be a hazard.
  • Be mindful of Noise. Most communities consider a violation of the noise ordinance to be any sound that can be heard from inside a nearby residence, and any load noise after approximately 11:00 p.m.
  • No glass on the beach. Be mindful of glass bottles. Alcohol is allowed on all beaches, but if at all possible, stick to cans and plastic to save future beach-goers from any bare foot injuries.
  • Surf fishing is allowed. A fishing license is required in North Carolina and can be obtained before your vacation via the NC Marine Fisheries and Wildlife website, or a fishing license can be purchased at most any tackle shop on the Outer Banks.
  • 4x4 Driving on the Beach - Driving on the beach is permitted October 1 - April 30. A permit is required, and may be purchased at the Nags Head town hall, Jennette's Pier and many local tackle shops during business hours.
  • Leaving equipment on the beach unattended from 8 pm-7 am each day is prohibited. Beach equipment cannot obstruct the line of sight of a lifeguard to the sand and cannot obstruct the passage of public works or emergency vehicles.

Modern vacationers can enjoy go-kart tracks, a handful of mini-golf courses, a number of ice cream shops, and restaurants located both on the quiet oceanside beach road as well as along the busy Highway 158 bypass. In addition, Nags Head vacationers will also enjoy close proximity to movie theatres, pool halls, and the Outer Banks' only bowling alley.

Bodie Island Lighthouse - The Bodie Island Lighthouse, (pronounced "Body") is located just south of the town of Nags Head and Whalebone Junction, where Highway 158, Highway 64, and NC Highway 12 intersect. Visitors can view the lighthouse year-round, and climbing the 156' tower is a new option during the Summer months.

Jennette's Pier - Not too far on the oceanfront lies the newly remodeled Jennette's Pier. This historic local pier was first constructed in 1939, but by the early 2000s, had an uncertain fate after decades of devastating hurricanes, cumulating with Hurricane Isabel in 2003, which, initially, looked like it had destroyed the pier for good.

Luckily, the state of North Carolina, as well as local and national organizations, took an interest in the fate of the historic pier and today, after an extensive remodel, the pier is better than ever and serves a multitude of purposes. In addition to the exceptional "in-shore" fishing, the pier is also home to an educational center including a small museum and research center. This center serves as a launching point for a number of kid-friendly learning activities, from primers on local species and pier fishing to tutorials on how local wind turbines work. Programs are available throughout the year, with the majority of seminars, sessions and classes offered during the summer months of June, July and August Ideal for all ages and all interests, Jennette's Pier is a fantastic attraction for visiting Nags Head fishermen, budding scientists, and anyone who wants to learn a little more about the Outer Banks' ecosystems.

Outer Banks Pier - The Outer Banks Pier, is located just a couple miles south in picturesque South Nags Head. This area may be located just south of Nags Head, right where the bypass ends and divulges into US Highway 64 and the southern side of NC Highway 12, but it can seem worlds away from the busy central Nags Head area.

Jockey's Ridge State Park - For sports and nature lovers, one of the biggest Nags Head attractions is the Jockey's Ridge State Park, located on the soundside of the Highway 158 bypass and clearly recognized by its towering mountains of bare sand. The sand hill portion of this park is the launching ground for hang gliding adventures, seasonal sand castle building contests, as well as adventurous treks for vista lovers who want a panoramic view of Nags Head from the ocean to the sound.

Events

Taste of the Beach - Each year in March, the Outer Banks Restaurant Association hosts a fantastic sampling of fare from local restaurants. This festival includes opportunities to taste wine, attend cooking classes, enjoy special multi-course menus, brewery tours, tapas crawls, cook-offs, and more.

Nags Head Bike Week - Motorcyclists flock to Nags Head in mid April for a week of bike shows, poker runs, tours, tattoo and bikini contests, live concerts, a pig pickin and more.

Hang Gliding Spectacular and Air Show - Mid May at Jockey's Ridge State Park. Watch professional hang gliders compete in the world's longest running Hang Gliding competition. Free for the public.

Rogallo Kite Festival - Early June at Jockey's Ridge State Park. Experience two days of kit flying to honor NASA scientist Francis Rogallo, inventor of the flexible wing. Activities include large kite displays, kite flying lessons, kitemaking and more. Free to the Public.

Outer Banks Seafood Festival - Mid October. Celebrate the Outer Banks local fishing heritage with fresh seafood. A small admission fee buys inclusion to live music, cooking demos, boat exhibits and storytelling.

Nags Head History

Like most of the Outer Banks, Nags Head's earliest residents were local Native Americans, until it became known as the area's first "tourist colony." The town was reportedly named by these earliest visitors in a Harper's New Monthly Magazine article, which heralded the pirates and local residents who roamed the beach with a lantern tied to an old horse's neck to light their way. By the time the town was officially incorporated in 1949, it had held the name of "Nags Head" for well over a hundred years.

Visitors first discovered Nags Head in the early 1830s. A mixture of local inland plantation owners, wealthy businessmen, and their families, these vacationers were the first visitors to the new North Carolina tourist colony. The area was remote, beautiful, but a relatively short trek from their business back home in eastern NC. During this time period, a cleaver entrepreneur and frequent visitor decided to buy over 200 acres of oceanfront land in the hopes that more people would be attracted to the quiet beach landscape.

Clearly, the gamble paid off. By the mid-19th century, Nags Head had over two dozen vacation cottages, its own collection of shops, a bowling alley, and even a church for vacationers to frequent on non-beach-going Sundays.

Chairs on Nags Head fishing pier

Development was stalled during the Civil War, but renewed again in the late 1800s and early 1900s with a collection of new oceanfront rentals for wealthy vacationers to enjoy. The vast majority of these homes are still available to rent today (for visitors of all budgets) along Nags Head's original "Millionaire's Row." This section of homes is unmistakable for its' weathered cedar shakes, multi-colored storm shutters, and wraparound decks that provided pre-air conditioning vacationers a shady spot to enjoy the breeze, no matter what time of day or year. This collection of homes is even listed on the National Register of Historic Places, though because of their constant and careful upkeep, few vacationers would ever guess they were well over 100 years old.

By the 1960s, the Nags Head beach scene was in full swing with a healthy handful of locally run motels, restaurants, shops, and all the other conveniences a vacationer needs, regardless of the area. As a result of this early ingenuity, the town of Nags Head is also home to some of the oldest restaurants on the Outer Banks, many of which still boast their original cedar floor boards and wainscoting, dating back to the 1940s.

Nags Head Today

Today, Nags Head retains plenty of that classic beach charm of wide, wraparound porches and classic locals-favorite restaurants, but in the past few decades, the areas has introduced a number of new attractions as well.

Visitors climb Bodie Island Lighthouse

Past the sand dunes, visitors will find a series of hidden nature trails that wind through patches of undeveloped maritime forest, leading eventually to the Roanoke Sound. Here, water lovers will find a second parking area as well as a launching point for a number of Outer Banks water sports, including kayaking, kiteboarding, windsurfing, stand-up-paddle boarding and even wave runner adventures. The sound beaches in the park are also perfect for the youngest of vacationers, as the gentle waves and gradual slopes of the sound waters make perfect playing grounds for the little ones in the group. Open year-round and offering new attractions in any season, from white-tailed deer and foxes who frequent the area in the winter to the kiteboarders and kayakers who rule the water in the summer, Jockey's Ridge is a must see for outdoor lovers of all varieties.

Unlike the northern area of Nags Head, which is a collection of hotels, motels, renowned golf courses, shops, and restaurants, South Nags Head is comprised primarily of vacation rental homes that are a block or two away from the oceanfront. This area is ideal for vacationers who want to "get away from it all" but still be within a few miles of the central Outer Banks' abundance of local attractions and amenities.

Kitty Hawk Kites

Nags Head, after all, has all the lures that have reeled in Outer Banks vacationers from the 1830s. Vacationers are free to explore, lounge, and play with a number of state parks, amusements, restaurants, shopping centers, and other attractions that are just waiting to be discovered.

The star attraction, of course, is the beach, and Nags Head vacationers will find no qualms in this arena as well, as even on the busiest summer days, the beaches are relatively uncrowded and boast miles of shoreline to explore. Several public accesses along the beach road are lifeguarded from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and a well-tended red flag system alerts vacationers of impending bad swimming conditions. Like all towns in the central Outer Banks, vacationers should pay close attention to local beach rules, such as keeping your dog on a leash at all times, and no beach driving during the late spring to early fall months.

In addition to the multitude of attractions and amenities, Nags Head is also home to a number of instrumental services, including several chain grocery stores, medical centers, and the Outer Banks Hospital, which serves all of Dare County and the Currituck Beaches. The small hospital is recognized as one of the best hospitals in the state, and offers top-notch emergency and medical care, so Nags Head and Outer Banks vacationers can rest assured that professional medical facilities are nearby, just in case.

Nags Head has a long history of being a much-loved vacationers' paradise, and the sentiment is as true today as it was in the mid-1800s. With a world of fun just waiting around every beach block, as well as miles of privacy if a vacationer so chooses, Nags Head comprises the very best the Outer Banks has to offer. Vacationers of all ages and eras will appreciate the attractions, restaurants, shopping, wildlife, and fabulous beaches that the town features in spades. After a vacation here, most folks completely understand the beachy appeal that has spanned generations, and will surely continue to do so for generations to come.

Photos of Nags Head

Hang gliding lessons at Jockey's Ridge State Park

Jenette's Pier in the late afternoon

A view of the Nags Head beach from Jenette's Pier

Lots of dune climbing footprints at Jockey's Ridge

Hang gliders at Jockey's Ridge

Strolling along the Roanoke Sound at Jockey's Ridge State Park

Spectacular sunsets at Jockey's Ridge State Park

The marsh walk at Bodie Island Lighthouse

Climbers admire the view from the top of Bodie Island Lighthouse

Fishing boats lined up at Oregon Inlet Fishing Center

Many Fishing Charters leave from Oregon Inlet Fishing Center