Nags Head Guide Sections

Nags Head Listings

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.

Hang gliding lessons at Jockey's Ridge State Park

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:

Vacation Rentals

Hotels

Jenette's Pier in the late afternoon

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:

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

  • 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. Obtain a beach driving permit either from the Town of Kill Devil Hills or the Town of Nags Head. Through a reciprocal program, each town recognizes the beach driving permit issued by the other.
  • 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.

Climbers admire the view from the top of Bodie Island Lighthouse

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.

Sunrise at Jenette's Pier

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.

Hang gliders at Jockey's Ridge

The marsh walk at Bodie Island Lighthouse

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.

Bodie Island Lighthouse

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.

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.

Lots of dune climbing footprints at Jockey's Ridge

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.

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.

Many Fishing Charters leave from Oregon Inlet Fishing Center

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.

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.

4x4 Beach Access near Oregon Inlet

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.

Nags Head Photos

     Strolling along the Roanoke Sound at Jockey's Ridge State Park    Fishing boats lined up at Oregon Inlet Fishing Center  South Nags Head oceanfront homes Marsh observatory at Bodie Island Lighthouse  Miss Oregon Inlet Tours Headed out for a day of fishing   Coquina Beach access

Harris Teeter

Harris Teeter

Harris Teeter is a large supermarket with all the groceries you’ll need for your stay in the Outer Banks. Harris Teeter has meat, seafood, produce, deli and bakery, beer and wine, pharmacy, baby care, pet care and gift center departments. Harris Teeter is a popular spot for locals to pick up made-to-order sub sandwiches. If you need a lunch to pack for the beach, the sandwiches and sushi available at the deli/bakery section are the perfect choice.

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Corolla, NC

Corolla, NC

Corolla adds a touch of modern class to the classic Outer Banks vacation. Prized for both its seclusion and its abundance of upscale but funky shops and dining options, Corolla is the ideal vacation destination for families who are just as happy lounging on the beach in flip flops as they are indulging in an afternoon at the spa.

Scarborough Lane Shoppes

Scarborough Lane Shoppes

Scarborough Lane Shoppes entered the Duck NC shopping scene in the summer of 1995. Duck was already becoming known as the Rodeo Drive, so to speak, of Outer Banks shopping experiences by then, and we think our design, built around a garden in a grove of shady trees, was – and still is — the pinnacle. Our building was designed to resemble an old life-saving station because we value the history and heritage that make the Outer Banks of North Carolina such a special place and wanted to blend into that style. But that’s where the blending ended! From the beginning, we hand-picked our shops to entice and excite you.

Outer Banks Lighthouses

Outer Banks Lighthouses

You'll find five lighthouses between Corolla and Ocracoke Island. Three offer visitors the opportunity to climb to the light, and all are beautiful.

Timbuck II

Timbuck II

Timbuck II is a Corolla shopping destination featuring a wide variety of retail and restaurant experiences. Visitors will wander through a massive complex featuring over 60 venues ranging from art galleries and clothing stores to gift shops, realty companies and a video rental shop.

Ocracoke Island Lighthouse

Ocracoke Island Lighthouse

The Ocracoke Island Lighthouse may not be the most imposing of the Outer Banks lighthouses, but as North Carolina's oldest lighthouse in operation, (and the second oldest in the United States), it is certainly one of the most beloved. At just 65' ft. tall, it is by far the smallest lighthouse on the Outer Banks, but it still towers over the 4 square miles of Ocracoke Village, and its beacon can be spotted up to 14 miles into the Pamlico Sound and the Atlantic Ocean.

Jolly Roger

Jolly Roger

When you first catch sight of The Jolly Roger, you might be unsure exactly what to think of it. Since its conversion from a gas station/grocery store to a restaurant in 1972, The Jolly Roger has been anything but your ordinary Outer Banks restaurant. “We’re eclectic, it’s crazy. You’ll not find another Jolly Roger; there’s no rhyme or reason to this place—and that’s what people love about it,” says owner Carol
Ann Angelos.

Canadian Hole

Canadian Hole

Canadian Hole may be an unfamiliar term to the typical, laid-back Hatteras Islander vacationer, but to windsurfers around the world, the phrase invokes thoughts of an exact, postcard-perfect locale on the Outer Banks, where windsurfing and water sports conditions are truly at their global best, and any given day is a fantastic day to enjoy the ride.

Nags Head Dolphin Watch

Nags Head Dolphin Watch

Scientists run these dolphin tours as part of their research on these beloved aquatic animals, so you know this will be an interesting trip. Passengers will be able to see how researchers with the Outer Banks Center for Dolphin Research, a nonprofit organization,  conduct their research and hear about some of the discoveries from more than a decade of studies and monitoring. Some of the hundreds of Atlantic bottlenose dolphins in the area show up so frequently they’ve even been given names, like “Rake,” “Scarlet,” and “Onion.”  

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Kite Point

Kite Point

Ask any crowd of visiting kiteboarders about Kite Point, and they'll readily give you exact directions to this unmarked but internationally renowned soundside beach. Located in between Avon and Buxton villages abutting the Pamlico Sound, Kite Point literally went from deserted strip of sandy soundfront to world-class kiteboarding Mecca within the span of a decade.

Coastal Helicopters

Coastal Helicopters

Coastal Helicopters offers charter flights and scenic air tours of the spectacular Outer Banks coastline. With a reputation for high performance and reliability, Coastal’s Robinson 44 Raven II helicopter can accommodate three passengers with a smooth, safe and air-conditioned ride. Soaring over the ocean, you’ll get a bird’s eye view of its divergent sea life, often spotting schools of  dolphins, sea turtles and even whales. You’ll also be able to spot ruins of a few of the many historic shipwrecks that occurred along these once hard-to-navigate barrier islands.

Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge

Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge

Explore Hatteras Island at its natural best with a visit to the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. Covering 13 miles of Cape Hatteras National Seashore land, this attraction is hard to miss, although there aren't many giant signs, hotels or businesses to point the way. Instead, visitors will find a completely undeveloped parcel of land, that's well-stocked with gorgeous views and serene nature trails that are ideal for off-the-beaten path excursions.

Sun Realty

Sun Realty

The Best Selection of Vacation Rentals on the Outer Banks. Our large selection of Outer Banks rentals means you can choose from a wide range of amenities, including private swimming pools, hot tubs, theater rooms, game rooms, pet friendly lodging and more! Our properties span the entire OBX coast including Carova, Corolla, Duck, Southern Shores, Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, Nags Head, and South Nags Head. On Hatteras Island, we proudly offer beach cottages in Rodanthe, Waves, Salvo, Avon, Buxton, Frisco, and Hatteras Village.

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Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, with its black and white candy-cane stripes, is one of the most famous and recognizable lighthouses in the world. Protecting one of the most treacherous stretches of the Outer Banks, with a beam of light that spans 20 miles into the ocean, the lighthouse is also the world's tallest brick lighthouse at a staggering 208' ft. tall.