Outer Banks newcomers are often surprised at the number and variety of weekly vacation rentals throughout the beaches, from Carova to Ocracoke Island. Vacation rentals are, in fact, the predominant accommodations available to vacationers, and visitors will find that the sheer number of rentals available allows them to find an ideal retreat to fit their Outer Banks crew, from quiet condo complexes to brightly colored oceanfront sand castles.
It might seem tricky to fit in all the attractions, historical sites, and fun activities off the beach into an Outer Banks vacation, and still have plenty of time left over to just lounge on the sand. That said, there are a number of attractions up and down the North Carolina coastline that any new visitor would be remiss to miss.
One of the reasons so many vacationers flock to the Outer Banks is the thrill of driving on the beach, a rare privilege that few East Coast beach vacation destinations can offer. On the Outer Banks, beach driving enthusiasts will find miles of shoreline to explore, from the uninhabited shoreline along Ocracoke Island to the solely 4WD accessible beaches of Carova, north of Corolla.
Like an unexpected gift, the sighting of dolphins along the Outer Banks delights and amuses many summer visitors. Many people view these chance encounters as a treasured highlight to a relaxing vacation and will happily spend hours observing the dolphins' antics. What few people realize is that they are likely viewing the same group of dolphins, day after day and summer after summer. Some bottlenose dolphins will spend their summers in the waters of the Outer Banks and then migrate south for the winter only to return again in the early summer the next year. This early migration has led some people to call them the "Retirees of the Sea."
The Outer Banks coastline is beautiful, but it is also incredibly fragile. Storms, high winds and tidal changes all contribute to beach erosion. In an effort to restore and preserve this fragile coastline, Dare County—as well as the towns of Duck, Southern Shores, Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills and Nags Head—will all perform important beach nourishment projects that are critical to the future of our communities in 2022.
Find your perfect beach, amenities, beach guidelines, and more. The Outer Banks is unique in that every beach community along the skinny chain of barrier islands is distinctive, with its own enticing atmosphere and long list of perks. From lifeguard stations in some of the most popular spots in town, to desolate shorelines where visitors won’t see another person for miles, it’s easy to pick a beach destination along the Outer Banks that perfectly suits a family’s vacationing style.
The Outer Banks has its fair share of attractions for vacationers, including the Wright Brothers Memorial, 4 famous North Carolina lighthouses, the NC Aquarium, the Lost Colony, and enough shopping and dining to keep any family entertained for a week-long vacation. But the biggest attraction that draws seasoned Outer Banks vacationers back every year are the miles and miles of pristine beaches.
Jockey's Ridge State Park is an unmistakable landmark for Nags Head vacationers and virtually everyone passing through along the main beach bypass, US 158. This park is marked by its towering sand dunes, which reach 80' - 100' feet tall and look more at home in a vast dessert than in a coastal beach town. These dues are barren, and made up of nothing but Outer Banks sand, providing an incredible playground for hang gliders, sand boarders, and anyone who doesn't mind a long hike and some incredible island-spanning views.
Visitors to the 4WD accessible beaches just north of Carova may experience a truly remarkable encounter with the area's oldest and most beloved residents, the Wild Colonial Spanish Mustangs. Stranded on the Outer Banks for centuries, but still enjoying the laid-back beach lifestyle, these feral and wild creatures are tolerant of the visitors who visit their beaches for the warm sun, cool waves, and miles of space.
Most vacationers consider their pet to be a part of their family, and as a result, thousands of Outer Banks visitors bring their furry family members in tow year after year. While planning a vacation that includes everyone in the family, including a beloved dog or other pet, can initially seem a little daunting, on the Outer Banks, it's actually an easy affair.
Flight takes many forms on the Outer Banks, from the thousands of migratory birds that travel along these barrier islands to and from their winter destinations, to aviation pioneers like the Wright Brothers who launched the world's first airplane off the sand dunes of Kill Devil Hills. Visitors can also experience the Outer Banks' inherent love of all things aerial by taking flight themselves with a day of Hang Gliding.
Once you have your coastal recreational fishing license in hand, it’s time to start thinking about gear. Anglers will find tons of options when it comes to equipment for casting into the surf, from custom designed rods and reels at local tackle shops, to name brand varieties that are designed for multiple areas along the coastline. Here are just a few of the most popular gear options for surf fishermen. Keep in mind that there are endless options available, and your local bait and tackle store staff will be happy to point you in the right direction if you have any questions about what you’ll need for successful surf fishing in any given area along the North Carolina coastline.
The Currituck Beach Lighthouse, located in the heart of Corolla, borders the historic Whalehead in Historic Corolla and still functions as a guide for passing mariners. At 162' feet tall, the lighthouse's First Order Fresnel light, (the largest size available for American lighthouses), can be seen for 18 nautical miles as the light rotates in 20 second increments.
Forget Hawaii and California - on the East Coast, the best place for surf is on the Outer Banks, and this region is renowned as one of the best surfing destinations from New York to Florida. Surfers from all over the country and the world flock to the Outer Banks for the annual ESA tournament, or just after a storm swell, to paddle out to the Atlantic and enjoy some of the best waves on the coast.
An experience not to be missed! The 2023 Season of The Lost Colony offers a refreshed production of Paul Green's original symphonic drama. Set on the soundfront on Roanoke Island, enjoy this 86 year-old musical under the stars. Become immersed in the story of the discovery of a new world with newly enhanced musical and theatrical direction and dynamically stunning choreography. Witness the pageantry of Queen Elizabeth I and her court and celebrate the birth of Virginia Dare, the first English child born in America all while preserving the historical importance of America's oldest mystery. An Outer Banks experience not to be missed!
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If you know where to look, the Outer Banks can be a beachcomber's paradise. With miles of shoreline to explore, hidden beaches that are relatively untouched, and literally piles of shells washing up on the beaches after a storm, shelling on the OBX beaches is simply a matter of timing and area expertise.
Discover Historic Corolla ParkWith its wide open green spaces and scenic views, Historic Corolla Park is the heart of Currituck County in Northeastern North Carolina. It’s a great place to take in a seasonal event or simply take a walk, and is home to three unique landmarks — The Currituck Beach Lighthouse, Whalehead in Historic Corolla, the Currituck Maritime Museum and the Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education. Outdoor activities such as fishing, crabbing and kayaking the Currituck Sound are welcomed, as are bicycles, kites and leashed pets.
Stop by Nags Head's Ben Franklin at Mile Post 10 on the Bypass where you will find everything you need for the beach! From Clothing, T-shirts and Swimwear to Boards, Chairs, Umbrellas and Tackle. You'll find it all…and of course, we have the best selection of Souvenirs anywhere on the Outer Banks. Enjoy your vacation! Independently owned by a member of one of the Outer Banks’ oldest families, the Ben Franklin store is stocked with just about everything a visitor would need to go to the beach.
Ben Franklin stores were once part of a five-and-dime retail empire, with about 2,500 locations across the country in its heyday. As decades passed and the times and customers began to change, many closed their doors, leading to fewer than 150 of these nostalgic shops. Nags Head Ben Franklin, however, has withstood the test of time and adapted to the needs of its customers to provide a memorable shopping experience on the Outer Banks.
Debbie Terry Tolson, manager of the Ben Franklin location in Nags Head, recalls working with former owner Tommie Daniels. Daniels’ father, Moncie Daniels, started the business in downtown Manteo in the early 1900s. The Daniels family has been a longstanding fixture in the Outer Banks business community—Moncie even sold gas to the Wright brothers in 1903.
Tommie, with an excellent business mind, saw the opportunity the new Bypass presented and, in 1977, he opened the Nags Head location of Ben Franklin. He was one of the first businesses on the Bypass,” Tolson says.In addition to a new location, the Ben Franklin store saw a new group of customers.
“People would come from all around because Tommie had a little bit of everything—it was more like a five and 10 then,” Tolson explains. “As he went to the beach, he began to get more tourists, so he started catering more and more to visitors.”
Today, the 21,000-square-foot souvenir shop quickly catches the attention of anyone driving by thanks to the ocean-themed mural that decorates the façade of the building, painted by local artist Rob Snyder. This Ben Franklin location has become the must-stop shop for both first-time visitors to the area and generations of families who escape to the Outer Banks annually.
Tolson credits the great prices and friendly customer service to the success of the location, which keeps families returning.“People come in all the time and tell me, ‘my grandmother or my grandfather used to bring me here and now I’m bringing my children,’” she shares. “One of my favorite parts about working here is seeing the people come back year after year.”
The Outer Banks is a 100-mile long chain of barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina known for its wide sandy beaches, lighthouses, and historical landmarks. Our islands are a popular vacation destination, with a range of activities available including swimming, surfing, fishing, and birdwatching. The Outer Banks are also home to the Wright Brothers National Memorial, commemorating the first successful powered airplane flight. The region has a humid subtropical climate, with hot summers and mild winters.
Unlike many beach destinations, lodging options on the Outer Banks are dominated by vacation rental homes.Part of the charm of the Outer Banks is the unique experience each town offers. You can view our overview of each town on our Outer Banks Vacation Planning Guide. Virtually every town offers waterfront rental homes and a great assortment of activities & attractions.
Vacation Rentals - We have a list of the best vacation rental companies here. There are several thousand vacation rental homes in the Outer Banks. In fact, vacation rental homes are the most popular accommodation. We have indexed thousands of rental homes that you can't find on any of the national search sites.
Hotels - The Outer Banks also has several hotels (many oceanfront) from Corolla to Ocracoke. Check out our list here.
Campgrounds - Camping opportunities exist on Hatteras Island in the tri-villages, Frisco, and Buxton, and on Ocracoke Island.
Summer is the Outer Banks'' most popular season, but there are great reasons to visit all year.
Spring - April brings a warmer average 69 degree temperatures. Seasonal shops, restaurants and activity companies begin opening. Vacation rental homes are still a bargain, with lower rates until late May. The ocean remains brisk at around 60 degrees. Bird watching and fishing are popular activities in the early Spring.
Summer - High season - the most popular time of year. Book your accommodations early! As school lets out, families fill the Outer Banks for Summer vacation. Most vacation rental homes rent weekly and turn over on weekends. All restaurants, shops and activities are running full schedules, and the area is abuzz with activity. The #1 Outer Banks attraction is the beach, but it isn't densely crowded like hotel-heavy resort areas. Average high temperatures hover in the mid to high 80's. The ocean is refreshing, but not cold in the upper 70's.
Fall - September and October are fantastic in the Outer Banks. Most shops and restaurants are open. Temperatures hover in the mid 70's. Vacation rental homes and hotel pricing drops. Nothing is crowded. This is a popular time for wind surfers and kiteboarders, as well as nature enthusiasts and visitors seeking a relaxing retreat.
Winter - Winter is perfect for those wanting relaxation, seclusion and quiet. Core amenities like grocery stores remain open. The central towns of Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills and Nags Head offer the best opportunities for dining, shopping and entertainment. Carova, Corolla, Duck, Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands offer the most solitude. Hotel and rental home rates are generally the least expensive. Expect high temperatures in the mid 50's.
The Outer Banks offers activities for everyone. Here is a brief list of some of our favorites.
The Beach - The beach is the #1 attraction for Outer Banks visitors. Check out our Beaches Guide, Driving on the beach guide, and beach regulations guide.
Events - The Outer Banks is home to several music festivals, running events, water sports competitions, fishing tournaments, foodie festivals and parades. Check out our events calendar.
Amusements - Spend the day at a water park. Try a great miniature golf course. Play video games and sports. Try a rope course. Go karting.
Educational Activities - Learn to surf, wind surf, kiteboard, sail, paddleboard, kayak or ride a horse. Take a tour to see the wild Spanish mustangs of Carova. See dolphins in their natural habitat. Visit the NC aquarium to learn about local aquatic life.
Tours - Have a local expert show you around. See wild horses or dolphins. Kayak to a wildlife refuge. Ride a horse along the beach. Parasail above the Currituck Sound. Try a deep sea fishing charter.
Parks - Climb a lighthouse, visit the Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education and see the sunset at Historic Corolla Park. Spend an afternoon climbing dunes or hang gliding at Jockey's Ridge State Park in Nags Head. Tour the beautiful Elizabethan Gardens in Manteo. Visit the grounds of the Wright Brother's National Memorial. Walk along the Currituck sound on the famous Duck Town Park boardwalk.
Fishing piers - Take a walk out over the ocean from one of the Outer Banks fishing piers. Try your luck with some pier fishing.
Lighthouses - Climb one of the Outer Banks' famous lighthouses. Currituck Beach Lighthouse, Bodie Island Lighthouse and Cape Hatteras Lighthouse all offer seasonal self-guided climbing tours.
Spend time in nature - We recommend the Elizabeth Gardens, Jockey's Ridge State Park, Pea Island Wildlife Refuge, and the boardwalk at the Currituck Banks Coastal Estuarine Reserve in Corolla.
Learn the local history - Great spots include the Wright Brother's National Memorial, Outer Banks History Center, Roanoke Island Festival Park, Fort Raleigh, Chicamacomico Lifesaving Station, Frisco Native American Museum, one of the local lighthouses, the Club at Whalehead and the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum in Hatteras Village.
Shop - The Outer Banks is home to hundreds of charming, boutique shops. Find that special item you can't find anywhere else. Highlights include Timbuck II in Corolla, the Waterfront Shops in Duck, and Outlets Nags Head.
Eat Fresh and Local - Many Outer Banks seafood restaurants serve today's local catch. It doesn't get any fresher. And don't miss out on our local NC produce. Or, have it delivered to your rental home. You're sure to have an unforgettable meal.
For your rental home - Some rental homes include linens. Others do not. Check to see whether you'll need to bring your own bedding and towels. As for general supplies, we recommend packing (or buying locally upon arrival) soap, toilet paper, paper towels, food, snacks and condiments to get started. We also recommend a laptop or tablet so you can keep coming back to OuterBanks.com for more great ideas.
For the Beach - Check out our list of favorite beach umbrellas, carts and favorite beach games. If you are going to drive on the beaches, check out our 4x4 driving on the beach guide.
For everybody - Don't forget to pack sunscreen, sunglasses, a camera and your sense of adventure! Also, don't forget to check out our coupons page. Print or bookmark several offers and save money during your visit.
Don't bring it.. RENT it!- Multiple equipment rental companies offer everything from bicycles, kayaks, carts, strollers, umbrellas, beach chairs, golf carts, grills, surf boards, body boards, paddleboards, linens, towels, and more!
Are you looking for filming location information on the popular Outer Banks series by Netflix? Although Outer Banks is set in a coastal Outer Banks town, it isn't filmed on the Outer Banks. Most of Netflix's filming locations for the series are in the Shem Creek and Mount Pleasant areas of South Carolina, adjacent to Charleston.
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