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.

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



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

Hangin' With Santa
  • November 26th, 2021 - November 27th, 2021

Get a head start on the holiday season with this post-Thanksgiving event that offers a world of fun for visitors of all ages. Held at the flagship Kitty Hawk Kites store in Nags Head, this...

Kites With Lights
  • November 27th, 2021 4:00 PM - 7:00 PM

Ignite your holiday spirit with this special annual event that combines the natural beauty of the Outer Banks with twinkling Christmas lights for an unforgettable display and seasonal...

St Patrick's Day Parade
  • March 17th, 2022 1:00 PM

For an Outer Banks celebration that revolves around family fun, and encompasses the best of the Outer Banks' spirit, make plans to catch a good glimpse of the Outer Banks St. Patrick's Day...

ESA Mid-Atlantic Regional Surfing Championship
  • April 30th, 2022 - May 2nd, 2022

Head to the beach to catch an incredible live show that’s unlike any other on the Outer Banks with the ESA Mid-Atlantic Regional Surfing Championship. Known as a qualifier for the big...

OBX Shred Fest
  • May 14th, 2022

Now celebrating its fourth year, this family-friendly event is a collection of music, sports, and OBX fun, and features a full roster of activities and entertainment to keep...


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


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