History drips from the Outer Banks: Here, aviators Orville and Wilbur Wright took their famous first flight (at Kill Devil Hills), the pirate Blackbeard fought his last battle (at Ocracoke) and the mysterious Lost Colony disappeared (where is anyone's guess). But this chain of barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina – affectionately dubbed OBX – isn't just for history buffs. Fishing, windsurfing and wildlife watching attract adventurous types, not to mention the 3,000 shipwrecks you can explore by scuba diving. Families gravitate toward the beaches, mini-golf courses and the North Carolina Aquarium at Roanoke Island.
Each island has its own charm: The old lighthouses, rugged dunes and secluded beaches in the south couple with vacation rentals, water sports and kitschy beach shops, such as the Stop-N-Shop Beach Shop, in the north, all to form a unique seaside destination. If you come to the Outer Banks expecting action, you'll be disappointed. OBX is ideal for those looking to skip the overly touristy attractions and head straight for the unspoiled beaches. You won't find big nightlife, but you will find an abundance of natural beauty. Beaches are more populated during the summer months, but with so many destinations spread out along the barrier islands, you likely won't experience big crowds. Vacation to the Outer Banks, continue reading our Outer Banks Travel Guide and plan your vacation here. For more beautiful East Coast Beaches, visit here.
Weather – When to Visit the Outer Banks
Most locals and out-of-towners arrive during the summer months when the temperatures are the warmest. But the best times to visit the Outer Banks are from March to May or September to November, when rates drop and crowds dissipate. Similar to other parts of the Southeast, the temperatures stay relatively warm and humid – with average highs hitting the upper 80s in the summer – until the winter months, when the weather dips into the 40s and 50s. Keep in mind that during the offseason some attractions, as well as restaurants and shops, may close or operate under more limited hours.
What Should You Pack?
When figuring out what to pack for the beach, there are two tips to keep in mind. First, forgetting an item isn’t the end of the world. Unless you’re heading for a remote, deserted island, chances are you can find a store where you can pick up the extras. Second, don’t stress out over making a packing list when there’s a stress-free beach travel essentials list for you below:
- Sunglasses and hats offer much-needed sunscreen and flip flops are perfect for navigating hot, sandy beaches. Go pack them now so you’re not kicking yourself later.
- What about those little items that make beach visits so much more enjoyable? For a little extra comfort on your trip, make sure you pack: Lip balm, sunscreen, bug spray.
- Beach toys and goggles are a must for kids. Building sandcastles and viewing the underwater wonders are perennial favorites.
- Take a first-aid kit with you. Hopefully you’ll only have to worry about a few minor scrapes from seashells, but having your own kit handy is a good precaution.
- Beach Bag – Your beach bag will likely contain a few of the items mentioned above. For a well-rounded bag, consider tossing in sunscreen, lip balm, bug spray, first-aid kit and water-proof baggies.
- Beach Gear – No matter who’s supplying the gear, look to have the following items on hand: beach bag, beach chairs, beach towels, beach umbrella or tent, beach cart and a cooler.
- Remember: Don’t wait until you’re parched to drink. When you’re out in the heat and sun, it’s important to stay hydrated by drinking regularly. So take along a water bottle as well.
Outer Banks Attractions
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
The most recognized symbol of the Outer Banks is certainly the black and white candy striped lighthouse in Buxton. The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is the same height as a 12-story building and is the tallest lighthouse in the United States! For 2009, the lighthouse is open to visitors from April 17th – October 12th. You may climb to the top, but be forewarned – it's not an easy journey! Be prepared to climb up 248 iron steps with no air conditioning. However, the view from the top is so worth the effort!
North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island
While the otters tend to steal the show, the aquarium also offers a touch tank, a shark exhibit, gift shop, and programs for kids. Special programs include dive shows, live animal encounters, and animal feeding activities. The Roanoke Island Aquarium is open 9:00-5:00 daily, and tickets are $8 and less.
No trip to Nags Head is complete without climbing to the top of Jockey's Ridge! Located in Nags Head at Mile Post 12, it is the tallest natural sand dune system on the east coast. The fragile system of dunes constantly changes in response to the wind and weather. Visitors will find a 1.5 mile self-guided trail, a 360 foot boardwalk, and a 1 mile soundside nature trail. You'll see many families flying colorful kites, and kids having fun rolling down the dunes.
Located on historic Roanoke Island, these breathtaking gardens offer flowers, shrubs, and trees. Marvel at ancient live oaks, smell the herb garden, and delight in the endless array of blooms. The Elizabethan Gardens are open 7 days a week, year-round.
Wright Brothers Memorial
You simply can't talk about Outer Banks history without mentioning Orville and Wilbur Wright's famous 1903 flight. Visit the exhibits, including a replica of the Wright's “flying machine.” Be sure to climb Kill Devil Hill where the 60 foot pylon stands – you'll find stunning views of both the ocean and sound from the top.
Things to do in the Outer Banks
Nor'Banks Sailing & Watersports
Nor'Banks offers the most complete water sports center on the OBX, with Wave runners, Parasailing, Wake Boarding, Water skiing, Tubing, Kayaks, SUP, Tours, Pontoon Boat Rentals and Sailing (Rentals, Lessons, Youth Camps and Sales). Telephone: 252-261-2900 Web: Nor'Banks Sailing & Watersports
Outer Banks Kayak Adventures
Outer Banks Kayak Adventures provides quality, affordable, and relaxing kayak and stand up paddle board (SUP) eco-tours. Join them for an unforgettable family adventure and see a more natural side of the Outer Banks. Their guided kayak and stand up paddle board (SUP) tours offer exciting and educational opportunities for all ages. Telephone: 252-489-8146 Web: Outer Banks Kayak Adventures
Back Country Safari Tours
Custom open-air Safari Beach Cruisers take you & your family on off-road explorations of the Outer Banks northern beaches. Telephone: 252-581-0104 Web: Back Country Safari Tours
Wild Horse Adventure Tours
See the wild horses of the Outer Banks and whip through beach, dune, and forest trails with Hummer Adventure Tours. Discover some of the most unique sights the Outer Banks has to offer. Their friendly and knowledgeable tour guides take you onto pristine northern beaches that are accessible only with a 4×4 off-road vehicle. Telephone: 252-489-2020 Web: Wild Horse Adventure Tours
They offer tours of the historic Wright Brothers memorial, Bodie Island, Hatteras or Currituck lighthouses, and of course the scenic beaches which the Outer Banks is famous for. Have you ever dreamed of becoming a pilot?? They also offer extensive pilot training for all levels. Telephone: 252-489-8165 Web: OBX Airplanes
Best Restaurants – Outer Banks
$-Inexpensive $$-Moderate $$$-Pricey $$$$-Ultra High End
$$ – $$$ Barefoot Bernie's
The diverse menu blends together cuisines as varied as Asian and Caribbean, Mediterranean and down-home American with ease, using fresh ingredients with a unique touch. The amount of options and variation ensures every member of your family will leave satisfied. Telephone: 252-261-1008 Web: Barefoot Bernie's
$ Art's Place
Art's Place has been the Outer Banks' biggest kept secret for thirty years serving the best burger on the beach. Not only are their burgers fantastic, they also make our own fresh hand cut fries. Weekly homemade meals made with love and care. Telephone: 252-261-3233 Web: Art's Place
$$$$ The Blue Point
At The Blue Point, their menus change seasonally but always lean toward local and sustainable seafood. From their famous crab cakes to fresh fish, beef or pork, pasta or gnocchi to their salads, small plates and desserts, their philosophy has remained the same – keep our dishes simple and consistent with strong roots in Southern cooking. Telephone: 252-261-8090 Web: The Blue Point
$$ – $$$ The Kill Devil Grill
Here’s a reason to make a long weekend of it. Take Friday off and arrive at The Kill Devil Grill as close to the 11:30 a.m. opening time as possible. That way you won’t have the heartbreak of the Southern Fried Chicken “blue plate” special selling out before you get some. It’s half a chicken, crisp on the outside, moist on the inside and served with potato salad and pickled cukes for $9. Believe me, you’ll need to beat the locals. Telephone: 252-449-8181 Web: The Kill Devil Grill
$$ – $$$ Coastal Provisions Oyster Bar & Wine Café
A gourmet market turned award-winning full service restaurant with one of the best selections of oysters on the East Coast, extensive wine selection, wine bar, oyster bar, take out and retail goods to go. Telephone: 252-480-0023 Web: Coastal Provisions Oyster Bar & Wine Cafe
Best Nightlife – Outer Banks
Off The Wall Tap House
Off the Wall Tap House has an innovative beer wall technology that allows you to personalize your experience and try over 20 craft beers. Taste test just an ounce, fill a pint, or choose anything in between. Not into beer? Have a drink from the wine and cocktail menu! Their food puts new spins on old favorites and introduces a few beachy originals. Get your seafood fix. Share nachos with friends. Enjoy a burger. Telephone: 252-489-5114 Web: Off The Wall Tap House
This gastropub features an outdoor beer garden, delicious innovative food choices, and an extensive selection of local craft beers on tap make this a must-visit while you’re relaxing in The Outer Banks. Also, this place is just steps from the beach and with the largest selection of craft beers on tap on Hatteras Island. Pangea Tavern is a favorite of locals and visitors alike. Telephone: 252-995-3800 Web: Pangea Tavern
Basnight's Lone Cedar Cafe
Considered one of the premier restaurants in the Outer Banks, Basnight's also plays host to romantic, waterside nightlife. Guests can enjoy their favorite cocktail while gazing at the Roanoke Sound from anywhere in the restaurant, including the bar. Telephone: 252-441-4505 Web: Basnight's Lone Cedar Cafe
Lucky 12 Tavern
With its selection of old-school pinball machines, vintage billiard tables, and plenty of flat-screen TV's, this beach bar attracts a diverse customer base. Young and old, locals and vacationers, bikers and surfers all flock to the fun-filled atmosphere of Lucky 12 for lunch, dinner and fun. Once there, they can enjoy a great selection of beers on tap and a kitchen that stays open late. DJ's also frequent the tavern. Telephone: 252-255-5825 Web: Lucky 12 Tavern
Mama Kwan's Tiki Bar & Grill
By day, Mama Kwan's is one of the top lunch and dinner spots on the Outer Banks – thanks in part to its famous fish taco. By night, the zesty island flare and modest prices attract customers for festive nightlife. Mama Kwan's draws a healthy crowd of college students, locals, and late-nighters who gather not only for the cheap food and drink, but also for frequent live music during the summer. This beach bar often hosts rock and reggae bands. Telephone: 252-441-7889 Web: Mama Kwan's Tiki Bar & Grill
Best Outer Banks Hotels
The Inn on Pamlico Sound
The Inn on Pamlico Sound is a full service boutique hotel offering world class waterfront accommodations, fine dining, event hosting and gourmet catering on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. The three acre facility sits on a ridge between the banks of the Pamlico Sound, one of North America’s largest estuaries, and the Buxton Woods coastal preserve, one of North America’s largest maritime forests. For more information, pricing, or to reserve your room visit The Inn on Pamlico Sound.
Oasis Suites Hotel
Located on the beautiful Roanoke Sound, they are the only boutique hotel in Nags Head. Their 17-suite hotel was designed and decorated to offer all the comforts and amenities of home. Here you will find Honeymoon, Executive, Family and Handicap Accessible suites. Each suite offers a full kitchen, jet spa-inspired tub with a separate shower, a private master bedroom, a private balcony and beautifully appointed furnishings. For more information, pricing, or to reserve your room visit the Oasis Suites Hotel.
Surf Side Hotel
This Outer Banks hotel offers oceanfront and ocean view hotel rooms where guests can relax and enjoy the sunrise over the water. A variety of accommodations are available, including efficiency rooms, loft rooms, double queen and single king bed rooms, and full honeymoon suits. In addition to the gorgeous view, they also offer a great selection of amenities to their guests, including hot tubs, indoor and outdoor pools, private balconies and a free continental breakfast. For more information, pricing, or to reserve your room visit the Surf Side Hotel.
Hilton Garden Inn Outer Banks
Make yourself at home in one of the 180 air-conditioned rooms featuring refrigerators and microwaves. Grab a bite to eat at the hotel's restaurant, which features a bar, or stay in and take advantage of room service (during limited hours). Quench your thirst with your favorite drink at a bar/lounge. Buffet breakfasts are available daily. Enjoy a range of recreational amenities, including an indoor pool, a spa tub, and a fitness center. Additional amenities at this hotel include complimentary wireless Internet access, an arcade/game room, and wedding services. For more information, pricing, or to reserve your room visit the Hilton Garden Inn Outer Banks.
Cape Pines Motel
With a stay at Cape Pines Motel, you'll be centrally located in Buxton, steps from Cape Hatteras National Seashore and within a 5-minute drive of Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. This motel is 1.2 mi from Buxton Woods Nature Trail and 3.5 mi from Frisco Mini Golf and Go Karts. Take advantage of recreation opportunities such as an outdoor pool, or other amenities including complimentary wireless Internet access and a picnic area. Additional amenities at this motel include barbecue grills and a vending machine. For more information, pricing, or to reserve your room visit the Cape Pines Motel.