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

 

Fishing from Outer Banks Fishing Pier

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

Beach Guidelines

  • 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 online here. 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. Canopies and tents must be placed no closer than 10 feet apart. Tents and canopies cannot be larger than 12x12 and stand no higher than 9 feet above the sand when erected. 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.

Upcoming Events in Nags Head

Outer Banks Skim Jam
  • July 16th, 2022 - July 17th, 2022 8:30 AM - 4:00 PM

Spectators and active watersports fans alike are welcome to head out to the beach near Jennette’s Pier to catch a spectacular on-the-water show by some of the best skimboarders on the...

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Outer Banks Watermelon Festival
  • August 4th, 2022 10:00 AM - 4:00 PM

Celebrate summer with Kitty Hawk Kites and support the Outer Banks Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Coalition at the annual OBX Watermelon Festival. This beloved local celebration that’s...

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Outer Banks Pirate Festival
  • August 10th, 2022 - August 11th, 2022 10:00 AM - 4:00 PM

Get ready for a pirate invasion on the Outer Banks, courtesy of the two-day Outer Banks Pirate Festival. This festival that will be held next to Jockey’s Ridge State Park in the...

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Outer Banks Kite Festival
  • September 9th, 2022 - September 11th, 2022 10:00 AM - 4:00 PM

Enjoy a thrilling scene along the towering sand dunes of Jockey’s Ridge State Park as giant kites and stunt kite pilots wow the crowd at the engaging and family-friendly Outer Banks...

more
 

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.

Heading out to watch the sun set 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.

Frequently Asked Questions

Where is Nags Head, NC?

Nags Head is located in the central Outer Banks. It’s bordered by the Cape Hatteras National Seashore and Hatteras Island to the south, and the town of Kill Devil Hills to the north.

How do you get to Nags Head, NC?

Visitors from the north can reach Nags Head via US 158, also known as the Beach Bypass. From the southern and eastern regions, Nags Head can be reached via US 64 and / or NC Highway 12.

What is there to do in Nags Head, NC?

Nags Head has miles of beaches, which are the star attraction, as well as plenty of off-the-sand activities and landmarks. The town is home to several fishing piers, the Jockey’s Ridge State Park, the Nags Head Golf Links, and a wide array of shops and restaurants. In addition, the town is a popular spot for soundfront and oceanfront watersports, including surfing, kiteboarding, SUP, and kayaking, and it is close to the Bodie Island Lighthouse and the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

Where did the name Nags Head come from?

Legend has it that the name “Nags Head” originated from a method that local pirates used to lure in unsuspecting ships. As the story goes, the pirates would tie a lantern around a nag’s head, and walk the nag along the dunes of Jockey’s Ridge. Captains would be fooled into thinking that this was an indication of a safe harbor, and their ships would be plundered. While there is no concrete evidence that this story is true, it lingers on, and many shops and stores sell gifts and shirts that feature the famous nag.

What is the difference between Nags Head and South Nags Head?

Nags Head is more developed and is located along the Beach Bypass. South Nags Head begins where the Beach Bypass / US 158 ends, and is a collection of homes that are up to two blocks away from the ocean. There are far more stores, restaurants, and businesses in Nags Head than South Nags Head, however the southern region features great beaches and a fishing pier.

What are the special events in Nags Head?

Nags Head hosts a wide array of special events at local venues including the new Soundfront Event Site and Jockey’s Ridge State Park. Popular annual events include the Outer Banks Seafood Festival in October, the Wright Kite Festival in July, and the Independence Day celebration with fireworks over the ocean.

Where are the beach accesses in Nags Head, NC?

Nags Head has more than 40 public beach accesses which may include parking, restrooms and showers, and handicapped accessible facilities. Nags Head and South Nags Head access points with parking are located at the following sites, which are listed from north to south:

  • Albatross Street
  • Gallery Row
  • Abalone Street
  • Baltic Street
  • Barnes Street
  • Blackman Street
  • Bonnett Street
  • Bittern Street
  • Bladen Street
  • Bainbridge Street
  • Curlew Street
  • Hollowell Street
  • Conch Street
  • Enterprise Street
  • Loggerhead Street
  • Town Hall
  • Epstein Access
  • Forrest Street
  • Gidden Street
  • Gull Street
  • Gray Eagle Street
  • Jennette’s Pier
  • Gulfstream Street
  • Governor Street
  • Huron Street
  • Holden Street
  • Hargrove Street
  • Ida Street
  • Isabella Street
  • Indigo Street
  • Jay Street
  • June Street
  • Juncos Street
  • Limulis Drive
  • Coquina Beach

Does it cost any money to park at the Nags Head public beach accesses?

It is free to park at all of the Nags Head beach accesses.

Are there lifeguards in Nags Head?

The Nags Head beaches are patrolled by Ocean Rescue personnel on ATVS throughout the summertime. In addition, fixed lifeguard stands are found at the following public beach access locations from Memorial Day to Labor Day:

  • Albatross Street
  • Abalone Street
  • Bonnett Street
  • Hollowell Street
  • Enterprise Street
  • Town Hall
  • Epstein Access
  • Forrest Street
  • Grey Eagle Street
  • Gulfstream Street
  • Hargrove Street
  • Ida Street
  • Indigo Street
  • Juncos Street
  • Limulus Drive

What are the attractions in Nags Head, NC?

Nags Head is home to the Jockey’s Ridge State Park, which is the site of the tallest natural sand dunes on the East Coast. The town also has three fishing piers, (including the historic Jennette’s Pier), an 18-hole golf course, “Gallery Row” which features a collection of art galleries, and a number of historic beach homes.

Are there shops and restaurants in Nags Head, NC?

Nags Head has many shops and restaurants, which includes an outlet shopping center and several shopping plazas.

Where do you stay in Nags Head, NC?

Nags Head features a wide array of vacation rental homes and condos, as well as roughly a dozen hotels and motels. Camping is also available nearby, in Kill Devil Hills and within the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

What can you do on a rainy day in Nags Head, NC?

Nags Head has a number of shops which includes an outlet shopping center, beach stores and boutiques, and “Gallery Row,” which features a collection of art galleries. In addition, the town is close to indoor amusement centers and central OBX attractions, like the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island.

Are pets allowed on the beach in Nags Head, NC?

Dogs are allowed on the beaches year-round in Nags Head, but must be on a leash that is 10 ft. long or less.

Can I drive on the beach in Nags Head, NC?

Driving on the beach in Nags Head is allowed from October through April. A beach permit from the Town of Nags Head is required, and can be obtained at the Nags Head Town Hall, the Kill Devil Hills Town Hall, and at local Nags Head tackle shops.

Are there shells in Nags Head, NC?

South Nags Head and northern areas of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, like Coquina Beach, are popular destinations for shelling, due to their isolation. However, any area of Nags Head can be a good shelling destination after a storm or passing hurricane. 

Are beach bonfires allowed in Nags Head?

Beach bonfires are not allowed in Nags Head. They are allowed within the Cape Hatteras National Seashore with a permit, which is located just south of the town’s borders.

When is the best time to visit Nags Head?

Nags Head is most popular in the summer months, especially July and August. However, many businesses stay open year-round, and the town hosts a number of festivals throughout the year such as the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, the Kites with Lights celebration during the holidays, and the Outer Banks Seafood Festival in October.

What are the air temperatures each month in Nags Head?

January - high: 52°, low: 36°F 

February - high: 54°, low: 38°F 

March - high: 60°, low: 43°F 

April - high: 69°, low: 52°F 

May - high: 77°, low: 59°F 

June - high: 84°, low: 69°F 

July - high: 88°, low: 73°F 

August - high: 86°, low: 72°F 

September - high: 81°, low: 68°F 

October - high: 72°, low: 58°F 

November - high: 64°, low: 49°F 

December - high: 56°, low: 40°F 

Nags Head Photos

Bodie Island Lighthouse and the Moon

A soundside dock behind a Nags Head neighborhood at sunset

House in Nags Head over the sound at sunset

     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

Nags Head oceanfront homes

Nags Head Outlets

Nags Head, NC - Fish Heads bar and grill

Kitty Hawk Kites in Nags Head, NC

 

Awful Arthur's Oyster Bar

Awful Arthur's Oyster Bar

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.

Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum
Corolla Classic Vacations
Nor'Banks Sailing & Watersports

Nor'Banks Sailing & Watersports

Nor'Banks Sailing & Watersports beautiful location and top-of-the-line equipment, together with a friendly and professional staff make it one of the premier water sports centers on the Outer Banks. Nor'Banks' sound front location has a huge grassy lawn, restrooms, showers, a 200 foot pier and plenty of room for you to spend the day.

 

Since 1979 Nor'Banks has been one of the finest sailing operations on the East Coast offering Flying Scots, Hobie Cats and quality private sailing instruction for all ages. Their custom private lessons are excellent for sailors looking to brush up on their skills, those new to the sport and for families that want to share time on the water together.

 

Nor’ Banks has continued to expand over the years and now offers one of the most complete water sports centers on the Outer Banks. This is truly one-stop shopping for water sports! Nor'Banks boasts new equipment every year and a strong commitment to your fun and safety.

You can rent the latest WaveRunners from Yamaha or explore a giant labyrinth of marsh islands and cruise the secluded shores of Dew's Island in search of wild Spanish mustangs on an epic WaveRunner Tour.

 

Captain James and crew are back aboard Icarus II, Nor'Banks' big yellow parasail boat, and Captains Ken and Sean are guaranteed to put a smile on the faces of participants and spectators alike on their private wake boarding, waterskiing and tubing charters.

 

Stand-up paddle boarding (SUP) has become one of the most popular and fastest growing water sports in the country and Nor'Banks is a great place to paddle. With shallow, warm water and a sandy bottom, their location is an ideal spot to learn. Nor'Banks offers SUP rentals and clinics, as well as double and single kayaks rentals as well as the new Hobie Mirage Eclipse SUP and Mirage Drive kayaks. New for 2017, Nor'Banks even has high-end fiberglass and epoxy surfboard rentals.

Hatteras Realty
American Pie

American Pie

Discover the best homemade ice cream and authentic made-from-scratch New York Style pizza the Outer Banks has to offer at American Pie in Kill Devil Hills. An Outer Banks favorite for lunch, dinner or a delicious scoop of scrumptious ice cream after a day at the beach.

 

It was 1978 when Eddie and Lou Miller first opened Miller’s Seafood and Steakhouse. As a teenager, their son Brian spent his summers working in the restaurant, getting familiar with the family business. After college, Brian and his wife Beth came back to Kill Devil Hills and began working together at Miller’s. Brian and Beth officially purchased the restaurant from Eddie and Lou in 2007. A few years later they opened American Pie together, and both restaurants now carry on the Miller family tradition of quality, excellence and hospitality.

 

“I learned everything about the restaurant business from my parents,” Miller says. “They ran the business together for all those years, and now my wife and I are doing the same. “Throughout the summer, we’re feeding around 2,000 people a day in our two restaurants. It’s a challenge we embrace every season, and we get a lot of fulfillment from making it all work.”

 

The Millers focus on two main specialties: high quality foods and unparalleled service. Seafood at Miller’s is fresh and locally caught, and they serve high-quality Angus beef, fresh pastas and homemade desserts. At American Pie, guests enjoy hand-tossed pizzas and homemade ice cream.

 

“We put a lot of time and effort into ensuring the products we bring in are top-notch,” Miller says. “Our customers know that when they visit our restaurants, they’ll be getting the quality and consistency they’ve come to know and love.”

Surf Fishing Guide