Published by Carl Hedinger. Last Updated on November 25, 2023.
If you think there aren’t plenty of shoulder season and off-season things to do in the Outer Banks, think again.
Sure, some places may not be open and the weather in fall, cool winter, and spring might be cooler (and windier) than the rest of the year, but it’s still an awesome place to visit throughout the year.
Plus, there are fewer people vying for those awesome views of the ocean. We’ve traveled there a few times and are more than happy to share our favorite ways to enjoy the supposed off-season in the Outer Banks.
Read More: Winter Getaways in North Carolina
Off-Season Things to Do in The Outer Banks (Shoulder Season, Too!)
Stay Close to the Beach for Less
You can find tons of off-season rentals and hotels offered at a discount during these times of the year. You can also book a last-minute stay with more ease, as demand goes down during the offseason and shoulder seasons.
Cooler weather means that it’s the perfect time for hiking and these Outer Banks trails are absolutely worth exploring. Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge and Jockeys Ridge State Park are two of the more popular spots for getting outside away from the beach.
If you’re looking for more reasons to get outside, here are a few more places to go:
Read More: Amazing Museums in North Carolina
And if the weather isn’t cooperating, you can always visit an aquarium. There’s the NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island, which showcases wildlife found in the “Seven Rivers,” wetlands, and ocean.
You can also learn about conservation at their Sea Turtle Assistance and Rehabilitation (STAR) Center. Many folks head to Jennette’s Pier for photo ops, but NC Aquariums hosts an interactive fish display, fishing events, and free programs for Title 1 schools.
Note: NC Aquariums do have membership reciprocity agreements in place with participating institutions throughout the US, and more info can be found here. Just be sure to bring your proof of membership and ID.
Eat at All-Season Restaurants
Thankfully, there are some awesome restaurants in The Outer Banks that stay open throughout many of the towns during the off-season. I’d recommend contacting places in advance before venturing out for your meal.
We’re big fans of Waverider’s and think you could easily spend your morning or afternoon there sipping coffee and digging into their delicious menu.
Barrier Island Bagels has the hookup for bagels (real ones, too!).
Food Dudes Kitchen mixes Caribbean flavors in with local seafood to create an awesome rotating menu.
We were told that we absolutely had to eat at Kill Devil Grill and in a word or four, it did not disappoint!
Drive Up and Down Highway 12
Continue south through Nags Head and the road is then known as the Outer Banks Scenic Byway. Drive all the way through Cape Hatteras National Seashore, where you can even ferry over to Ocracoke Island.
Speaking of lighthouses, Ocracoke Lighthouse (NC’s smallest) is worthy of a stop.
Springer’s Point Nature Preserve and the rest of Ocracoke Village are easy to fall in love with, as are the beaches that surround this wonderful island. Don’t forget about the awesome Ocracoke Island restaurants that await!
From there, NC 12 continues after ferrying from Ocracoke to Cedar Island (2-1/2 hours). The road will finally end around Morehead City and Atlantic Beach in Carteret County, where the Byway continues onto US 70.
Walk or Drive on the Beach
Of course, you could just hang out by the beach, especially if the weather is right. Walk alongside the water outside your hotels or rental and relax.
There are also tons of birding opportunities during the off-season and shoulder seasons, so bring your camera or binoculars along!
You can have more success while shelling since there aren’t as many crowds.
Also, you can drive out to one of the many 4WD-accessible beaches and really get away from it all.
Get in the Water
Yes, I said you can get in the water during the off-season and shoulder season, but not just for swimming. These times of year are especially great for fishing, but also for water sports.
Check for (Off)Seasonal Events
One of the best off-season things to do in The Outer Banks is partaking in annual events.
We have to start in March with North Carolina’s largest St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Nags Head. At the end of the month, Taste of the Beach is a massive food and wine festival that takes over the area.
For more foodie fun, there’s the Outer Banks Seafood Festival in October. As fall turns to winter, visitors will descend upon WinterLights at the Elizabethan Gardens on Roanoke Island (weather-dependent).
Is there an event that you’d like to add to the mix? Let us know in the comments section!
After all this exploring The Outer Banks, you’ll want to find a nice place to grab a drink. Lost Colony Brewery and Cafe will fill you up with good food and beer (hint: order wings).
Read More: The Best North Carolina Breweries
More Places to Drink in the Outer Banks
Just down the street from them, Outer Banks Distilling will show you around. They’ll share their expertise on the area and its spirits, plus a taste of their award-winning rum (and delicious pecans).
In Kitty Hawk, TRiO mixes a beer, wine, and cheese market with an inviting restaurant whose amazing lunch and dinner menus are worth multiple return trips.
Our Thoughts and Yours, Too!
Now that you see there are more than enough off-season things to do in The Outer Banks, what do you think now?
You know how we feel, but we’d love to know your thoughts. Also, if you’ve visited the Outer Banks during the not-busy spring, fall, or winter, we’d love to know what you thought of your time there.