Subscribe to our weekly newsletter and we'll send you a FREE Printable NC Waterfalls Checklist!

15 Outer Banks Towns to Make Your Perfect Beach Vacation

Published by Christina Riley. Last Updated on February 29, 2024.

Disclaimer: This site uses demographic data, email opt-ins, display advertising, and affiliate links. Please visit our Disclosure and Privacy Policy pages for further explanation.

The Outer Banks towns that dot North Carolina’s most famous stretch of barrier islands are the perfect complement to the beaches, coastal lighthouses, and more iconic attractions that you’ll find.

You may already know your spot and have that perfect rental lined up for that week (or more) you spend enjoying this coastal wonderland. Even if you do, we hope you’ve ventured beyond your happy place to explore all that the Outer Banks has to offer.

There are no big cities in the Outer Banks, but a number of small towns bring an interesting story and are filled with great food, fun, and their own patches of sand.

Any of these 15 OBX towns will make your beach vacation perfect, but let’s dig into each one, see what makes them special, and understand why they belong on your bucket list.

Read More: The NC Bucket List Book

Whether you’re a new resident, a frequent visitor, or a local, we’re leaving no detail behind. If you live in the Outer Banks area and are wondering, “What are the best small towns near me?” we think this NC travel guide will help you out!

Outer Banks Towns

In this guide to the best towns to stay in the Outer Banks, we’ve organized places from north to south, starting with Corolla and ending with Ocracoke Village.

We’ve also included public beach accesses (parking lots) in towns that allow them.

As you’ll see, most are found in either Kill Devil Hills, Nags Head, or Hatteras Island along US-12 (the Outer Banks Scenic Byway).

Read More: Small Towns in North Carolina


A wild horse standing on a sand bank in Corolla

We start our journey through the best areas in the Outer Banks with Corolla. This unincorporated Currituck County community and Duck to the south are the two most recent additions to the Outer Banks vacation rental scene.

Because of this, both towns are a bit more upscale. You’ll find oceanfront mansions, gated communities, and wide-open beaches. Corolla is also home to the Currituck Beach Lighthouse, the Whalehead Historic House Museum, and the Corolla wild horses.

These natural beauties are protected by the Corolla Wild Horse Fund and are only accessible via four-wheel drive.

Read More: The Best Things to Do in the Outer Banks

Corolla Public Beach Accesses

  • Bonito St
  • Corolla Village Rd
  • Shad St
  • Sturgeon Walkway
  • Perch St
  • Sailfish Walkway
  • Yaupon Ln


a boardwalk with the Duck water tower in the distance.

Duck is the home of Duck Donuts but is known for much more than that amazing franchise.

The town offers seven miles of wide, uncrowded beaches and a sound side boardwalk that connects many of the town’s shops and restaurants. In fact, the Duck Town Park Boardwalk is one of the best places to catch the sunset while in the Outer Banks!

And speaking of food, a meal at either the Roadside or Coastal Cravings is a good move any time of day.

Sanderling Resort is also in Duck, just up the road from the main section of town. Enjoy spacious rooms and great on-site meals at Sanderling.

You can also kayak, paddleboard, or get a spa treatment at this amazing resort.

This is truly a chill and laidback Outer Banks town and perfect for young families and couples alike.

There are no public beach accesses in Duck, at the time of writing.

Read More: 25 Amazing Outer Banks Restaurants for Your Next Beach Trip!

Southern Shores

If you’re driving from the north, Southern Shores will be the first of the Outer Banks towns that await after crossing the Wright Memorial Bridge.

This is primarily a residential community. So, to access these beaches, you will need to live or vacation there. As one of the first planned developments on the Outer Banks, Southern Shores is a beautiful place to visit.

Some of the most popular things to do in Southern Shores are playing a round of golf at Duck Woods and waterskiing.

Bonus Tip: For those folks driving from northern spots to the Outer Banks, make a pit stop in Grandy at Weeping Radish. It’s North Carolina’s oldest microbrewery, and they make some pretty amazing food to go along with an IPA, stout, or whatever style you like! We interviewed owner Uli Bennewitz for NC Travel Chat and learned all about his story (and more).

As with Duck, there are no public beach accesses in Southern Shores at the time of writing.

Read More: 30+ Amazing NC Coastal Towns (+ Things to Do in Each One!)

Kitty Hawk

a scenic marsh at Kitty Hawk Woods Reserve

Known for the place where the world first took flight (that’s a fact!), Kitty Hawk is one of the oldest Outer Banks towns. You can read more about the Wright Brothers below in Kill Devil Hills.

You won’t find a shortage of places to eat or shops in Kitty Hawk. These locally owned businesses complement the beachfront cottages that you’ll find here.

Of course, there are plenty of things to do in Kitty Hawk beyond the beach. That includes the 1,877-acre hiking trails at Kitty Hawk Woods to the 18-hole Sea Scape Golf Course.

Read More: Map of Outer Banks NC Attractions (175+ Great Places Listed!)

Kitty Hawk Public Beach Accesses

  • Balchen St
  • Bennett St
  • Bleriot St
  • Byrd St
  • Eckner St
  • Fonck St
  • Hawks St
  • Kitty Hawk Bath House
  • Lillian St
  • Luke St
  • Maynard St
  • Wilkins St

Kill Devil Hills

Visiting the Wright Brothers Memorial is one of many reasons Kill Devil Hills is among our favorite Outer Banks towns.

The name Kill Devil Hills comes from sunken ships during the Outer Banks’ heyday as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic.” Rum barrels would wash ashore from those ships, and it was so strong that it could “kill the devil.” and the name stuck.

This place is also the site of some debate for lovers of history. The Wright Brothers first took flight in Kitty Hawk, but Kill Devil Hills was the site of their first powered flights.

That’s why the Wright Brothers National Memorial sits in Kill Devil Hills. You can find markers and exhibits there to learn more about North Carolina’s contributions to aviation history.

a boardwalk in the Nags Head Woods in the Outer Banks of North Carolina

Beyond that fun history, Kill Devil Hills is the largest town of the Outer Banks. It’s centrally located with plenty of chains and locally run businesses.

If you want to spend some time in the maritime forests, start with Nags Head Woods Ecological Preserve, which is located in Kill Devil Hills.

Kill Devil Hills Public Beach Accesses

  • 1st St
  • 2nd St
  • 3rd St
  • 4th St
  • 5th St
  • 8th St
  • Arch St
  • Asheville Dr
  • Atlantic St
  • Avalon Dr
  • Calvin St
  • Carlow Ave
  • Clark St
  • Carlton Ave
  • Chowan St
  • Ferris Ave
  • Glenmere Ave
  • Helga St
  • Hayman Blvd
  • Lake Dr
  • Martin St
  • Ocean Bay Blvd
  • Oregon Ave
  • Pinehurst Ave
  • Prospect Ave
  • Raleigh Ave
  • Sutton Ave
  • Walker St
  • Woodmere Ave

Nags Head

a man standing in the distance with his hands up at Nag's Head in the Outer Banks

Nags Head is one of the most popular Outer Banks vacation spots as its oldest resort area. Plenty of water sports outfitters, mini-golf, and the largest concentration of public beach accesses make Nags Head one extremely popular Outer Banks town.

Jockey’s Ridge State Park is one of the most popular things to do in Nags Head, away from the ocean. This state park protects land with the largest sand dune on the East Coast.

You can hike the trails or see if you can find the mini-golf castle that’s buried under the sand across from Kitty Hawk Kites.

Nags Head is also home to three fishing piers (including Jennette’s), which are all perfect for vacationers to stare out into the ocean or back at the beach. You can also catch something fresh for dinner!

a small boardwalk leading out to Bodie Island Lighthouse

Bodie Island Lighthouse sits south of town on Cape Hatteras National Seashore but has a Nags Head address. Standing 156 feet tall on the Roanoke Sound, visiting this lighthouse is one of the most popular things to do in the Outer Banks.

Nags Head Public Beach Accesses

  • Abalone St
  • Admiral St
  • Albatross St
  • Bainbridge St
  • Baltic St
  • Barnes St
  • Bittern St
  • Blackman St
  • Bladen St
  • Bonnett St
  • Conch St
  • Coquina Beach
  • Curlew St
  • Enterprise St
  • Epstein St
  • Forrest St
  • Gallery Row
  • Glidden St
  • Governor St
  • Gray Eagle St
  • Grouse St
  • Gulfstream St
  • Gull St
  • Hargrove St
  • Holden St
  • Hollowell St
  • Huron St
  • Ida St
  • Indigo St
  • Isabella St
  • Islington St
  • Jacob St
  • James St
  • Jay St
  • Jennette’s Pier
  • Juncos St
  • June St
  • Limulus Dr
  • Loggerhead St
  • OB Pier
  • Surfside Dr
  • Town Hall


a close up of a field and a boardwalk near the town of Manteo in Nag's Head

If you’re driving to the Outer Banks from the south or west, you’ll pass through the historic town of Manteo before driving to Nags Head.

Manteo has been the Dare County seat since 1870 and before that, was the site of the Roanoke Colony that disappeared under mysterious circumstances. The Lost Colony commemorates this each year, and Fort Raleigh preserves the areas that we know housed those first colonists.

Today, visitors come to Manteo for a quieter, small-town feel. Plenty of bed and breakfasts are here, quaint shops, and a beautiful waterfront boardwalk.

Manteo is also home to the Dare County Arts Council and hosts a number of galleries, including the New World Festival of the Arts in August.

the production facility at Kill Devil Rum distillery

While you’re in Manteo, stop and say “hello” to our friends at Outer Banks Distilling and pick up a bottle of their delicious Kill Devil Rum! We featured them among our favorite North Carolina distilleries for several reasons!

Now, Manteo gets lumped in with all of Roanoke Island, but that’s because it’s the only incorporated town on the island. On the other end of the island is Wanchese, known for its seafood and boat-building industries.

Read More: How to Enjoy the NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island (7 Important Tips!)

Hatteras Island Towns (and Beach Access)

Until we reach Ocracoke, these towns sit on Hatteras Island. You can access beaches via numbered ramps along Highway 12, also known as the Outer Banks Scenic Byway. This is one of our favorite scenic roads in North Carolina, by the way!

Each ramp will indicate whether an off-road vehicle is necessary. Check here for a map of the ramps along Hatteras.


The sign for Chicamacomico lifesaving Station in front of a blue house

Rodanthe and Waves were once one village, and today, they’ve split into two Outer Banks towns. Although the former lies on the northern end of Hatteras Island, Rodanthe was formally known as Chicamacomico. It’s an Algonquin word that means “sinking sand.”

A popular area for camping, there aren’t any large grocery stores but plenty of locally-owned fishing tackle shops and seafood markets.

Notable places in Rodanthe include the Chicamacomico Station, the first life-saving station on the Outer Banks, and the famed Nicholas Spark’s Nights of Rodanthe house. You can learn some important history here, especially Black history, with a telling of the Pea Island Lifesaving Station’s African-American crew.

Much of the movie adaptation was filmed in and around Rodanthe, and today the house has transformed into an inn where vacationers can stay.

Read More: 7 Wonderful Aquariums in North Carolina and How to Visit them All!


As mentioned above, Waves was once a part of Rodanthe and only became its own town in 1939 when a post office was erected here. And as the name might suggest, Waves is popular for surfing.

Kiteboarding is also popular along the shore, as the southern winds here are perfect.


Salvo is mostly residential, but you can still book a rental here. And other than beautiful homes, you have relaxation and quiet beaches in this Outer Banks town.

The sound side is a great spot for families because the water there is relatively calm and shallow.


The largest and most populated of the Outer Banks towns on Hatteras Island is Avon, historically known as Kinnakeet. There are plenty of shops, art galleries, and outdoor sporting retailers to enjoy here.

Windsurfing and kiteboarding along the shores of Avon are popular, particularly at a spot known as The Haulover (or Canadian Hole).


black and white lighthouse at Cape Hatteras, North Carolina

Buxton is where you’ll find Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, the largest lighthouse in the United States. Each year, it brings thousands of tourists to Buxton.

Near the lighthouse, you’ll also find one of the best beaches in North Carolina.

Just around the corner from Hatteras Lighthouse is the oldest and largest maritime forest in the Outer Banks, Buxton Woods. It’s a lovely spot for a hike or walk, especially in the morning.

a massive donut from Orange Blossom Bakery

Of course, we can’t talk about Buxton without mentioning those Apple Uglies from Orange Blossom Bakery. They serve other things for breakfast, but these huge, doughy, and sweet apple uglies alone are worth the wait in line!


Another primarily residential area of Hatteras Island is Frisco. This is a largely quiet, undisturbed strip of land.

If you want to stay in Frisco, your only real options are the campgrounds, which are very popular in the summer!

For things to do, the Frisco Native American Museum is a great start. It tells the story of Native American life and culture on the island before Europeans arrived.


a platform for looking at the lake along Sea Breeze Trail

Hatteras is one of the largest ports in the state and is still known for its offshore charter fishing. In fact, fishing (offshore and inshore) is one of Hatteras’s major outdoor sporting draws.

Duck hunting is also very popular, and if you’d like a beautiful spot to escape for a walk, check out the Sea Breeze Trail at Hatteras Village! It’s one of our favorite kid-friendly hikes in the Outer Banks.

Hatteras is also home to the North Carolina Maritime Museum, also known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum. Here, you’ll learn the history of the ocean around these barrier islands, as well as the shipwrecks and pirates that have made this area so intriguing.

If you want to keep moving beyond Hatteras, you can catch the free ferry to Ocracoke!


a white house with a small tree out front and a small boardwalk leading to the lighthouse

The last of our Outer Banks towns in this guide is Ocracoke Village. The only way to reach it is by boat, either privately owned or by ferry.

Ferries leave from Hatteras (One Hour), but also Swan Quarter (2 Hours 40 Minutes) and Cedar Island (2 Hours 10 Minutes).

And when you arrive, you’ll find pristine beaches, great restaurants, untouched maritime forests, and more things to do. Rent a bike or a golf cart and explore the village, visit Ocracoke Lighthouse, drive out to the Pony Pen, and fall in love with this island.

Blackbeard is a figure that looms over the island, considering he was killed in the waters near Springer’s Point Nature Preserve.

Ocracoke’s laidback and quiet vibe is one that you won’t find on the other barrier islands.

Read More: Portsmouth Island (How to See this Beautiful Uninhabited Place)

Which of these Outer Banks Towns is Your Favorite?

Every time we start toward the coast, we’re always looking forward to the beach, but also the food and fun found in these Outer Banks towns. As we mentioned initially, you might already have your favorite, and we’d love to know about it. Let us know in the comments section.

And if you’ve never visited the Outer Banks, we want to know which one you plan to visit the first time you come!

More Things to Do in These Outer Banks Towns (NC Travel Guides)

We’ve featured these OBX towns in many of our North Carolina Travel Guides. Here are a few of them.

3 thoughts on “15 Outer Banks Towns to Make Your Perfect Beach Vacation”

  1. Lovely bookshops too in Buxton and Manteo. Thousands of books, calendars, etc. to choose from, including fiction and non-fiction centered upon the Outer Banks. Relaxed vibe and nice way to find a good beach read!

    • Hi Khaled, thanks for the question and for the compliments! The Hatteras Ferry is primarily for cars since it’s a drive from Ocracoke Village. You don’t need a car in the village, as it’s easily walkable. I do suggest a car if you want to go from Ocracoke to Hatteras. Public transport is nonexistent and I’d imagine an Uber or rideshare would be crazy expensive getting around. Hope that helps and hope you enjoy the Outer Banks!


Leave a Comment