The Outer Banks glows after dark with beachy bars, late night shows, wide-open piers, and a canopy of thousands of stars overhead. Granted, among the beaches on the East Coast, the Outer Banks has the reputation of being a family-friendly vacation destination, and not necessarily a party-town, but stay awake after hours and you're sure to find plenty to do both on and off the beach.
The nightlife on the Outer Banks can range from a family ghost crab walk to an evening of Monday Night Football with the guys, and virtually every town has its own unique line-up of local bars, evening-only attractions, and natural nighttime hot spots.
After relaxing away a warm summer beach day, just wait until dark and discover a whole new spin on the Outer Banks that only comes out at night.
Karaoke, Live Music and Dancing
The adults in your group may crave a little late-night entertainment, and thankfully, there are avenues available in every area of the Outer Banks.
Most all communities, including Corolla, Kill Devil hills, Nags Head, Hatteras Island and Ocracoke, have latched onto a local late night craze that visitors love and locals adore - karaoke. Most every town has a karaoke bar nearby, or a restaurant that doubles as a karaoke bar after dark, allowing the stars in your group to shine on the Outer Banks stage.
The great thing about karaoke is that there is generally no cover charge, and even the kids in your group can hop on board. Several restaurants that have karaoke nights also allow kids to grab a microphone before a designated hour, (generally 10 p.m.)
Alan Ross Karaoke is the biggest singing road show, encouraging patrons that "the more you drink, the better you think you sound." Remember, with karaoke, talent and vocal ability is never a pre-requisite - being able to pick out a great song everyone can dance to, however, is.
Some night owls may prefer to hear professional singers, and luckily the unique and quirky atmosphere that attracts artists of all mediums attracts musical artists as well. There is no lack of talent on the Outer Banks, and visitors can unwind and listen to local acoustic-guitar playing folk musicians, reggae bands, cover bands and jazz, and even the occasional big-name musical group that swings by the Outer Banks for a one or two-night appearance.
In fact, in recent years the renowned beach music band The Embers have made frequent appearances to the Outer Banks, usually at the Kinnakeet Shores Beach Club in Avon, a spacious outdoor pavilion with plenty of room to dance. Other acts of note include Southern Culture on the Skids, Sol Expression, The Little Kings, and many other underground or local favorites.
Most bands perform at larger restaurants on the Outer Banks, like Kelly's, the Outer Banks Brewing Station, and the Port O' Call Restaurant, all located in the central Outer Banks towns of Nags Head and Kill Devil Hills. While most live music performances are at their peak in the summer season, with a wide array of multiple bands at multiple venues, the winter season also features live music, generally on the weekends.
For a more mellow show, a number of restaurants and local bars also offer dinner-time music, generally with a small ensemble or acoustic performance, to entertain dinner patrons and bar patrons alike. Look for restaurants with expansive waterfront dining areas, like the Inn on Pamlico Sound in Buxton or the Jolly Rodger in Ocracoke, for a completely relaxing music scene. With the guitar jamming and the soundfront waves lapping, you'll surely enjoy an experience that is truly Outer Banks.
Of course, if all you want to do is let off a little steam off with a night of dancing, the Outer Banks has you covered there too. Many of the same bigger-name establishments also have dance nights, or even Ladies Nights for a cover-charge free girls' night out. Most schedules of upcoming bands, karaoke nights, and dance nights can be found online at various restaurants' websites, so you can plan your late night adventures well in advance.
Above all else, if you plan to have a few cocktails during your evening out, be sure and either have a designated driver or the number to a local cab handy. Local police officers are trained to be on the lookout for after-hours fans who have had a few too many, and a cab will ensure a night of smooth sailing. The central Outer Banks towns of Nags Head, Kill Devil Hills and Kitty Hawk has dozens of cabs in operation, and even in less populated areas, like Hatteras Island, there are several cab companies available every night of the week. Simply ask your bartender or server for a recommendation and a number.
Movies and Shows
For another later-nigh alternative, head to the movies or a local show. The Outer Banks has a movie theater in Nags Head, and Manteo has its own small theater, the Pioneer Theater in historic downtown, which is the oldest movie theater in the state. Popular in the summertime, a night at the movies is the perfect way to get out after dark and take in a summer blockbuster.
For live fare, head to the Comedy Club of the Outer Banks, located in Kill Devil Hills. Established for more than a quarter of a century, Comedy Club of the Outer Banks is the longest running seasonal comedy club in the nation. In season, they offer lots of laughs with multiple weekly shows and several PG16-rated shows.
The Lost Colony
The biggest live show on the Outer Banks, however, is the seasonal nightly performance of The Lost Colony. This stunning event performed by a company of over 100 professional actors and dancers, and written by Pulitzer-prize winning playwright Paul Green, is the longest running outdoor drama in the United States.
The spectacle begins with the theater itself, a stunning dome adjacent to the Roanoke Sound in Manteo. (Summer patrons take note - bug spray may come in useful on muggy summer nights without a breeze.)
The drama only escalates from there, with fire displays, dancing, singing, and the historic and enthralling story of a colony that settled in Manteo and then disappeared from the face of the earth. After the show, attendees can meet and mingle with the characters - still in part and in full regalia - to learn a little more about the history of the Lost Colony.
The live drama has become so popular with Outer Banks visitors, that it has even spawned legendary careers, like the famous and beloved late Manteo local Andy Griffith, who performed in the Lost Colony as a young man.
The show generally runs nightly from Memorial Day until Labor Day, and tickets can be booked well in advance of your vacation online. A family-friendly event, everyone in your vacation group will love the outdoor extravaganza, and relish in the choreographed fight scenes, Native American dances, and fascinating true story of the Lost Colony.
In the fall, the number-one question that local hotel clerks, reservationists and bartenders hear is "Where can I watch the game?"
Thankfully, there are plenty of local restaurants and bars that pony up for the special Sunday Ticket access to all broadcasted football games, so visitors can pony up to the bar and start cheering.
Many of these establishments have separate bar or lounge areas with plenty of big-screen and /or flat-screen TVs, with appetizer or grub specials on game days. Chances are there's a bar nearby to catch your team in action.
Over the years, local establishments have also extended their hours of operation well into the off-season, until Thanksgiving week or even later, ensuring that even Football Sunday in the latter part of the season can be celebrated.
A number of local sports bars also offer pool tables, dart boards, and even sporting tournaments for visitors who don't just want to watch a game, but play one as well. One of the most famous is Howard's Pub in Ocracoke. Ocracoke's oldest restaurant, which prides itself on being open 365 days a year, has a separate outdoor gaming area with pool, darts, video games, and air hockey, ideal for late-night vacationers who want to have a little fun.
Night (or Pier) Fishing
Outside of the hopping local restaurants and bars, the Outer Banks offers a world of more natural nighttime fun.
Dedicated fishermen can be spotted along the beaches and the local piers well into the wee hours, as some of the Outer Banks most popular catches, like Puppy Drum, Pompano, Mullet, and even Cobia, tend to be night owls.
Because of the insomniac nature of the local game species of fish, most piers along the Outer Banks stay open until midnight in the summer season, with a handful open 24 hours a day for the die-hard fishermen. Admission to the local piers is minimal at best, generally ranging from about $5-$10 for a full day (and night) of fishing, and most pier houses have convenience stores, for snacks, drinks, or bait, that stay open as late as the pier itself.
Couples who want to enjoy a romantic moonlight stroll will find no better option that their local pier. With non-fishing access to the piers generally priced at $2 or less, folks are free to wander down the length of the pier, find an oceanside bench, and soak in the radiant moonlit views and thousands of stars. For a little romance that's practically free, the pier is the perfect spot for a late-night date.
Local Outer Banks piers are located from Kitty Hawk to Avon Village, and generally stay open seasonally, from March until Thanksgiving week. Several pier houses also sell extensive bait as well as fishing gear, grub, and supplies, although late-night fishermen are advised to bring a cooler or two along, both for refreshments and to tote home their catches. Deemed by some locals as "The best local bar on the beach," the pier at night is a great and family-friendly opportunity to meet some fellow anglers, and catch a fresh seafood dinner for the following day.
Moonlight Cape Hatteras Lighthouse Tours
For visitors who adore the local attractions and would love to see them in an entirely new light, (or lack thereof), several big Outer Banks attractions offer seasonal evening tours. The North Carolina Aquarium, for example, has several evening events throughout the year, such as the annual "Trick or Treat Under the Sea," a kid-friendly evening Halloween Festival held every October.
Perhaps the best example of this practice is the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in Buxton. This black and white candy-caned striped lighthouse is the largest brick lighthouse in the country, and attracts almost a million visitors every year.
Once a month, however, the lighthouse is open to select groups of visitors for "full-moon" tours. These guided tours take place during the full-moon, from 7:00 p.m. until 8:30 p.m. A National Park Service guide leads visitors up the winding and disorienting 268 steps to the top, where the Fresnel light is in full force, illuminating the coast for a radius of up to 20 nautical miles. The roughly hour long tour allows visitors to enjoy the aerial view of Hatteras Island that daytime visitors get to enjoy on a daily basis, but with only the stars, the moon, and the slowly rotating light to guide the way.
Full-moon tours are only available during the prime visitor season, generally from March until November, and are subject to change based on weather and lighting conditions. Tickets can be purchased as the tours are announced at the National Park Service's website, or at the local Hatteras Island park stations, particularly the station bordering the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. If your vacation happens to fall within a North Carolina full-moon, this tour is definitely a nighttime family adventure worth pursuing.
Bonfires and Ghost Crabs
For families whose dream of beach nightlife revolved around a cuddly campfire, the Outer Banks certainly delivers. Unlike many other resort destinations, campfires and small bonfires are allowed on most Outer Banks beaches, provided they are small, family organized events.
As a guideline, visitors are encouraged to stick to the criteria for bonfires laid out by the National Park Service. Be sure your fire is below the high tide line, generally 10-20 yards from the ocean but far from the sea oats and sand dunes. Ensure your fire is extinguished by the time you leave the beach, and do not throw glass bottles or any glass containers into the fire, as this will simply leave painful shards for the next beach goer. Also, be sure and recognize any local noise ordinances, as a bawdy beach fire is generally unwelcome in most quiet neighborhoods.
Otherwise, break out the coolers and s'mores and enjoy. A family beach fire is an ideal nighttime activity for vacationing Outer Bankers, and so long as the wind is gentle and the sky is full of stars, a beach bonfire night is an activity that can be enjoyed throughout the year.
Families can also embark on a nighttime ghost crab hunt, as these skittish and almost translucent crabs come out in droves on the Outer Banks at night, and the only instrument required to "catch one" is a flashlight. Bring a camera along, as these crabs will certainly get up-close and personal making for some fantastic photo opts, and be sure and keep your toes and fingers clear of their path. They are generally harmless, and prefer to stick to the uncrowded beaches, however they can still pinch if they feel a little threatened.
The Outer Banks truly shines after dark, with a host of activities and events that can cater to every Night Owl's palette. For family activities, take in a show at the Roanoke Island Festival Park, or have a movie night, or climb to the top of the lighthouse for an out-of-this-world view. For adults-only nights out, the array of bars, restaurants and clubs on the Outer Banks welcomes visitors with open arms and nights filled with live music, live bands, and plenty of dancing.
A long beach day can certainly wear you out, but during your next Outer Banks vacation, be sure and keep your eyes open for the amazing recreational activities that are only available after-hours.