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.
From rip currents, to animal encounters, to excessive heat, here are the safety risks that you need to be aware of before you head to the Outer Banks shoreline, as well as the simple and safe steps you can take to ensure your family has a wonderful, stress-free Outer Banks vacation from start to finish.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Perhaps the reason that this area of maritime forest goes unnoticed, (an area which in fact comprises the majority of Frisco Village), is simply because the oceanfront beaches just yards away are too alluring to ignore, and garner the lion's share of vacationers' interest. This is understandable, as when most folks think of an Outer Banks vacation, they envision miles of unspoiled beaches, refreshing ocean waves, and plenty of room to spread out a beach blanket, and Frisco's beaches have all of these attributes in spades.
The southernmost attraction on Hatteras Island is Hatteras Inlet, and fishermen, mariners, beachcombers, and island lovers all know this area of the Outer Banks shoreline very well. Located approximately half mile past the edge of the populated Hatteras village and the Hatteras/ Ocracoke ferry docks, Hatteras Inlet provides plenty of outdoor entertainment and simply incredible scenery for those who pull up a beach chair, or are just passing through en route to Ocracoke Island or the Gulf Stream.
The Outer Banks Seafood Festival is rapidly becoming one of the highlights of the fall season, with plenty of fresh seafood, storytelling, and activities to keep everyone fully entertained. This all-day event takes place at the waterfront Event Site in Nags Head, and is a family-friendly outing that will make anyone fall in love with this staple of the Outer Banks’ culinary cuisine.
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It's easy to see why vacationers fall in love with Carova. Located almost literally off the Outer Banks map, while other towns along the barrier islands of North Carolina grew and developed over the decades and became popular East Coast tourism destinations, Carova never really changed.
Home of the Crab Leg & Lobster Buffet for over 24 years! Jimmy’s Seafood Buffet is a great stop for an all you can eat affordable dinner extravaganza. The buffet offers over 100 different items. It even serves Jumbo Alaskan crab legs and Jumbo steamed shrimp, something you will not find on any other buffet in the OBX. The buffet offers a variety of seafood and non seafood options. Try some of Jimmy’s seafood options and load your plate with blackened tuna, Louisiana crawfish, steamed scallops and mussels, fried oysters and deviled crabs. Not in the mood for seafood? Fill your plate with steak, pineapple glazed ham, fried chicken, BBQ ribs, and fettuccini Alfredo to name a few. The buffet also offers a kid section. Let your kids load their plates with chicken tenders, mac and cheese, and corn dog nuggets. Don’t forget dessert! The buffet also offers soft serve ice cream and a plethora of baked goods.
It’s been 22 years since Jimmy’s Seafood Buffet opened its doors for the first time. Since that inaugural summer, the goal has remained the same: provide customers with a tasty, fresh array of seafood full of Caribbean flavor.
Elizabeth Dowless and her husband Jerry had always worked in restaurants in the Outer Banks, so when the opportunity to open Jimmy’s Seafood Buffet with a couple of friends arose, it was an easy yes. The Dowlesses bought out the business in 2003, excited to turn Jimmy’s into an Outer Banks staple. When Jerry passed away later that year, Dowless knew she wanted to continue pursuing their dream on her own.
Dowless went all in on the concept of a fresh, flavorful seafood buffet and her hard work paid off. Jimmy’s Seafood Buffet is a beloved fixture of Outer Banks dining, with customers returning year after year for the fresh fare.
“Customers keep in contact with me throughout the winter. I get people every day asking me when we’re opening for the season, and customers book their vacations around our opening,” Dowless says. “I absolutely love getting to see familiar faces come back to see us each year. I love seeing them lose their minds over the buffet! Their excitement is what I love most about my job.”
Looking to fly a kite on the beach or atop the spectacular dunes of Jockey’s Ridge State Park? Kitty Hawk Kites offers the largest selection of kites, wind art, flags, games, and toys on the Outer Banks, with experts on staff to get you flying … or playing … in no time! Always dreamed of being a mermaid? Kitty Hawk Kites carries Fin Fun Mermaid Tails and also offers Mermaid Swim Lessons too! Kitty Hawk Kites also produces more than 20 events annually, including several kite festivals on the Outer Banks.
Welcome to the home of the happy oyster where for over 35 years the oyster has been our world. The Outer Banks only authentic oyster bar is the place to enjoy sensational fare from the sea washed down with your favorite brew or cocktail. We serve by the peck, pound, and dozen, raw or steamed to perfection. Kicked back casual, down to earth friendly staff, and reasonable prices make Awful Arthur’s Oyster Bar the all-time favorite of locals and travelers alike.
The idea wasn’t to set out and establish a new concept restaurant on the Outer Banks, but that’s exactly what Awful Arthur’s owner Jo Whitehead and her late husband, Jay, accomplished more than 35 years ago when they opened the area’s first authentic oyster bar.
Awful Arthur’s opened in May 1984 on the Outer Banks. “We embraced the concept of an authentic copper top bar with the idea of it being a major drawing card and it still is,” explains Whitehead. “I get oysters wherever they are local. We follow the warm waters.”
Just across from the ocean, in Kill Devil Hills, oyster season is year-round at Awful Arthur’s. Diners can take a seat at the copper-topped bar to observe the staff shucking oysters, served raw or steamed, along with shrimp, crab legs and clams all steamed to perfection.
It’s not just the raw bar that’s earned Awful Arthur’s both local and national recognition, including being named one of America’s greatest oyster bars by Coastal Living magazine. The restaurant is a seafood-lover’s paradise, offering the freshest catches available.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
OuterBanks.com is the official website of the Outer Banks Visitors Guide Magazine. We're excited to share the best of the Outer Banks with your family!