Published by Carl Hedinger. Last Updated on December 1, 2023.
Uncovering the best things to do in the Outer Banks should be on everyone’s NC bucket list, and we’ve been exploring this area for years! The Outer Banks has a fascinating history, many places to explore, great food, and beautiful scenery, and we cover it all in this NC travel guide.
Here’s how we’ve organized this guide because there’s a lot to unpack before your Outer Banks trip:
- Where are the Outer Banks?
- Quick Outer Banks Facts
- When to Visit (Anytime)
- Where to Stay
- Annual Events
- The Best Things to Do in the Outer Banks (Our Top OBX Attractions)
- More Outer Banks NC Things to Do
- Where to Eat (the Best OBX Restaurants)
- Outer Banks Breweries
- OBX Distilling
- More Things to Do in the OBX (NC Travel Guides)
You can skip to any of the sections mentioned above or keep reading for some quick geography, facts, and the best things to do in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
Where are the Outer Banks NC?
Before we cover the best things to do in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, we must understand where they’re located.
- The Outer Banks are a collection of barrier islands bordering the Atlantic Ocean and various sounds in Eastern North Carolina. There are a few different ideas on which parts of the coast are included.
- Some have declared the Outer Banks only include Currituck, Dare, and Hyde Counties.
- Others have expanded them south through Cape Lookout and the Bogue Banks (Atlantic Beach and Emerald Isle).
- Until we see an official declaration on borders, our definition of the Outer Banks of North Carolina remains as follows: from north to south, Carova Beach to Portsmouth Island and Cape Lookout.
- That means the Outer Banks includes the following towns and locations (organized mostly north to south):
Quick Outer Banks Facts
Here are a few Outer Banks facts that are not up for debate.
- The number of islands and inlets here constantly changes, due to severe storms opening some up and closing others.
- In fact (hey, that’s the name of this post!), the stretch that runs along the Outer Banks is so historically rough for sailors that it’s long been referred to as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic.” We’ll touch more on that later.
- The Outer Banks is also home to exciting history, including the first attempted English Colony on Roanoke Island, Blackbeard’s demise near Ocracoke Island, the first recorded air flight in Kill Devil Hills (then Kitty Hawk), and more.
When to Visit (Anytime)
We’ve often been asked, “When should you visit the Outer Banks” many times. Here’s a quick breakdown by season:
- Summer (High Season or Peak): You may be dead set on planning a summer Outer Banks vacation, and we’re with you. Everything is open, the water is at its warmest, and you’re at one of North Carolina’s best beaches for it all.
- Spring and Fall (Shoulder Season): Give the Outer Banks a chance during the spring or fall when the weather is still warm. The only issue with spring is cold temperatures occasionally return, and the fall is when hurricanes may still make their way to our coast.
- Winter (Off-Season): Of course, we agree, but what about during the off-season in the winter? We think the Outer Banks is among the best winter getaways in North Carolina. Some places may not be open, and temperatures may be lower than during the rest of the year, but the scenery won’t change much, and fewer people are vying for those incredible views. Give it a thought, and if you’ve ever visited the Outer Banks during winter, we’d love to know what you think.
If you’ve been to the area, we’d love to know your favorite time of year to visit the Outer Banks!
Where to Stay
- Hampton Inn in Corolla
- Sanderling Resort at the northern end of Duck, just south of Corolla
- TownePlace Suites by Marriott in Kill Devil Hills
- Ramada Plaza by Wyndham in Kill Devil Hills
- KOA campground in Rodanthe
- Blackbeard’s Lodge and the Pony Island Inn on Ocracoke Island
- KOA on the Currituck Sound in Coinjock.
Annual Events in the Outer Banks
These annual events are among the best things to do in the Outer Banks. Keep them on your calendar because you won’t want to miss out!
- June to August
- Lost Colony is a well-known play commemorating our first colonists’ events. It’s been in production for many years, and a plaque indicates President Franklin D Roosevelt once attended a show.
- Fourth of July (Throughout)
- Celebrate Ocracoke Island’s summer fig harvest with the Ocracoke Fig Festival. The fig-filled weekend is about the island’s fig picking, preserving, and cake-making traditions!
- The annual Duck Jazz Festival is free to the public, with events and promotions happening in and around this awesome Outer Banks town.
- OBX Brewtäg in Kill Devil Hills celebrates flight and beer in a unique way! Contestants compete to see who can launch an empty 1/6 keg barrel the farthest on an aircraft.
- Blackbeard’s Pirate Jamboree on Ocracoke Island is a unique October event, focused on the world’s most infamous pirate and his demise.
- November and December
- Christmas Parades, Christmas Villages, and Christmas Lights.
- More December OBX Events
- Anniversary of the Wright Brothers’ First Flight
- Duck Yuletide Celebration
- The Ocracoke Working Watermen’s Association Oyster Roast & Shrimp Boil
Do you know of any other events that we should add? Kindly let us know in the comments or by email!
List of Things to Do in the Outer Banks NC
*denotes an OBX attraction in our “Best of” section after this list.
- Airplane Rides
- Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge
- Arcades and Indoor Games
- Beach Accessibility
- Cape Hatteras National Seashore*
- Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station
- Oregon Inlet Life-Saving Station
- More Life-saving Stations
- Cape Lookout National Seashore*
- Portsmouth Island
- Shackelford Banks
- Duck Boardwalk
- Elizabethan Gardens (Manteo)
- H2OBX Waterpark*
- More Adventure Parks
- Jockey’s Ridge State Park*
- More OBX Hiking Trails
- Local Shopping
- Manteo Waterfront
- Mini Golf
- The Mother Vine
- Corolla Wild Horse Museum
- Fort Raleigh (Manteo)
- Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum
- Historic Corolla Village
- Island Farm
- Jennette’s Pier
- NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island
- Ocracoke Preservation Society
- Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education
- Roanoke Island Festival Park
- The Whalehead Club Historic House Museum
- The Wright Brothers National Memorial
- Ocracoke Village
- Sunrise and Sunset*
- Hiking Trails
- Bike Trails
- Boat Tours
- Boat Tours
- Equipment Rentals
- Tour Operators Listing
- Wild Horses*
The Best Things to Do in the Outer Banks NC (Our Personal Top OBX Attractions)
After years of exploring the OBX, here are the best things to do in the Outer Banks, regardless of when you visit (mostly). Remember that some activities could be closed for the season, so call ahead before you head out!
This section is for the hits throughout the barrier islands. We will cover unique Outer Banks attractions in specific towns shortly.
Outer Banks Beaches
There are so many Outer Banks beaches to explore. One thing to remember is that public parking can be limited in some places, especially on weekends.
- Atlantic Ocean OBX Beaches:
- Nags Head is one of the busiest beaches along the Atlantic Ocean, and you’ll see why. Its gorgeous wide spaces are the first indicator.
- Personal favorites also include the beaches of Kill Devil Hills, Kitty Hawk, and Duck.
- In our opinion, the best Outer Banks beach sits down on Hatteras Island, near Hatteras Lighthouse. We also think it’s one of the best beaches in North Carolina.
The first of many people’s things to do in the Outer Banks is to relax on the beachside, but don’t forget about the Pamlico Sound and Currituck Sound between the mainland and the barrier islands.
While there are no waves to surf on the sound side, we love that the sound’s waters are relatively calm and warmer than the beach.
- Soundside Beaches and Waters:
- Jockey’s Ridge State Park or the KOA in Coinjock are great spots to enjoy the sound waters.
- While it’s one continuous body of water, they’ve been divided into five named sounds, from the northern Currituck Sound down to the Pamlico Sound that meets the Pamlico River.
- We won’t include the Core Sound further because that area to the south is typically known as the Crystal Coast.
Accessibility and Outer Banks Beaches
Several organizations in the Outer Banks provide accessible and adaptive equipment. Below is a list, including contact information:
- Kitty Hawk Fire Department (252-261-2666)
- Kill Devil Hills Fire Department (252-480-4060)
- Jockey’s Ridge State Park (252-441-7132)
- Nags Head Fire Department (252-441-5909)
- Coquina Beach – Bodie Island Lighthouse Visitor Center (252-441-5711)
- Cape Hatteras National Seashore – Visitor Information Center (252-995-4474)
- Ocracoke National Seashore – Ocracoke Visitor Center (252-928-4531)
ADA-compliant access points on the Outer Banks include:
- Corolla Village Road Beach Access
- Ocean Bay Beach Access
- Jennette’s Pier
- Eight Street Beach Access
Cape Hatteras National Seashore
Protecting 70 miles of pristine Outer Banks shoreline, Cape Hatteras National Seashore was the first protected seashore in the United States!
In addition to protecting the Outer Banks, this national parks unit also includes the barrier islands of Bodie, Hatteras, and parts of Ocracoke.
Visit the islands’ historic lighthouses or hop on these Outer Banks hiking trails for some of the best birding and wildlife viewing in North Carolina!
Read More: 18 Unique Luxury Resorts in North Carolina
Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station
Address: 23645 North Carolina Hwy 12, Rodanthe, NC
While driving through Rodanthe on the Outer Banks Scenic Byway, you’ll come upon the Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station. Chicamacomico was the first life-saving station along North Carolina’s coast, commissioned in late 1874.
Here, you can learn about America’s only life-saving station crewed by African-Americans. It’s one of many important places to visit and learn about Black history in North Carolina.
One notable feat of heroism came in 1896 when the surfmen rescued all nine passengers of the ES Newman while battling a hurricane.
More OBX NC Life-Saving Stations
Beyond Chicamacomico, one of our favorite things to do in the OBX is to search for the other remaining life-saving stations. The fate of Oregon Inlet Lifesaving Station (pictured above) remains uncertain, but we’ve included it among those that you can visit today.
- Bodie Island Life-Saving Stations
- Little Kinnakeet Life Saving Station (Avon)
- Oregon Inlet Life-Saving Station (Pea Island, pictured above)
Outer Banks Scenic Byway
If you want to feel like you’re on the edge of the United States, drive down NC Highway 12 through Cape Hatteras National Seashore. It’s also known as the Outer Banks Scenic Byway, one of our favorite roads to drive in North Carolina.
Seeing the water on both sides of the road is a remarkable thing. There are some fun places to stop along the way, too.
Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge
After Bodie Island Lighthouse, Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge is one of the first things to do in the Outer Banks in Cape Hatteras National Seashore. It’s worth a stop for the short walk, with tons of bird-viewing opportunities and beautiful views awaiting.
Cape Lookout National Seashore
Cape Lookout National Seashore starts south of Ocracoke on Portsmouth Island, and is a 56-mile stretch of beaches and barrier islands. This is the only NC national park site requiring a boat ride to reach.
The beautiful Cape Lookout Lighthouse and Shackleford Banks are what brought us here. All the fishing and camping opportunities are among the best OBX things to do.
You can reach Cape Lookout from Beaufort, Harkers Island, and other coastal spots.
Portsmouth Island is south of Ocracoke and at the northern end of the Core Banks and Cape Lookout National Seashore. This was once an important port town, but Portsmouth is relatively isolated today.
You can take a boat from Ocracoke to reach Portsmouth Island.
Walk around and admire this uninhabited island’s historic structures and overall beauty. Just be sure to pack some bug spray and reapply as needed!
You can take your boat or book an Island Ferry Adventures tour. They’ll take you to either Cape Lookout Lighthouse, Shackelford Banks (home to wild horses), or both.
At Shackleford Banks, you’ll get to do some shelling and relax on the beach with wild horses nearby.
Typically, you’ll spend more than a few hours on the island, unless you want more time AND another boat is coming later.
Address: 8526 Caratoke Hwy, Powells Point, NC
Located on 20 acres along US 158, H2OBX Waterpark is in a convenient location for families looking for a day trip idea. Just three miles from the Wright Memorial Bridge, this place has something for every level of thrill-seeker.
From kiddie pools to category 5 waves, our little ones and we love splashing around at H2OBX. You can’t say you’ve been without at least one steep drop in a tube, raft, or on your back, though.
If you’re like me, test your fear of heights and venture to the park’s highest starting points, where you’ll speed down a mix of tubes and open-air slides. My adrenaline is pumping just remembering everything to do in the Outer Banks’ best waterpark.
More Adventure Parks
There are plenty of other ways to seek thrills during your OBX vacation! You will have an exciting time with climbing activities, go karts, and more fun for all skill levels and ages!
- Corolla Adventure Golf and Bumper Cars (808 Ocean Trail, Corolla, NC)
- Corolla Adventure Park (1215 Ponton Ln, Corolla, NC)
- First Flight Adventure Park (6716 S Croatan Hwy, Nags Head, NC)
- Frisco Mini Golf and Go-Karts (50212 Trent Lake Ln, Frisco, NC)
Do you know of any other adventure parks that rank among the best things to do in the Outer Banks? Let us know in the comments below or by email.
Jockey’s Ridge State Park
Address: 300 W Carolista Dr, Nags Head, NC
Jockey’s Ridge is home to the tallest natural sand dunes on the East Coast. Watching the wind blow over them will take you away to another planet.
A beautiful sunset from one of Jockey’s Ridge’s dunes will remind you that it’s still Earth. You can also fly kites or hang glide with Kitty Hawk Kites, another reason why Jockey’s Ridge is one of our favorite state parks.
More OBX Trails (Bike Trails and Hiking Trails)
Beyond the amazing Jockey’s Ridge State Park, plenty of other trails on the Outer Banks await. Some are also great for cycling, too!
Here are a few of them:
- Duck Trail (Bike-Friendly)
- Kitty Hawk Woods Coastal Reserve (Bike-Friendly)
- Nags Head Woods
- Sea Breeze Trail Through the Hatteras Village Park
- Springer’s Point Nature Preserve
- Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge
- More Here!
We’ve shared a few ways to enjoy this area beyond the beach but did you know that one of the best things to do in the Outer Banks is to visit one of these educational museums?
Corolla Wild Horse Museum
Address: 1130 E Corolla Village Rd, Corolla, NC
Whether it’s a rainy day or you want some respite from the heat, head to the Corolla Wild Horse Museum. It’s one of the best indoor activities in the Outer Banks.
The museum details the history of the Colonial Spanish Mustangs inhabiting the islands for nearly 500 years.
Donations fund the museum; all proceeds go to the Corolla Wild Horse Fund. This fund helps care for the horses in the event of medical intervention and much more!
Fort Raleigh National Historic Site
Address: 1401 National Park Dr, Manteo, NC
The Fort Raleigh National Historic Site preserves the attempted English colony of Roanoke. That was the first preserved English settlement in the US, founded in July 1587 by John White and sponsored by Sir Walter Raleigh.
Of course, the Roanoke Colony is famous for its mysterious disappearance in 1590.
Fort Raleigh National Historic Site commemorates the colony’s history through exhibits and preservation efforts. Nature trails throughout the complex allow you to follow in the footsteps of the disappeared settlers.
As long as you stay on the designated trail, you should have no problems.
Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum
Address: 59200 Museum Dr, Hatteras, NC
Before or after riding the Hatteras-Ocracoke Ferry, we suggest you spend some time at the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum. Exhibits inside honor the area’s maritime history and culture.
Wars, piracy, and ghost ships are just a few topics covered at one of our favorite museums in North Carolina.
Historic Corolla Village
Address: 1100 Hunt Club Dr, Corolla, NC
Corolla Village sits just a few miles south of the 4X4 beach access and where the wild horses roam. Walking around this historic collection of shops, residences, and the Currituck Beach Lighthouse is one of the best things to do in the Outer Banks.
Address: 1140 US-64, Manteo, NC
Island Farm is a living history site that tells the story of the farmers and the enslaved people that lived on Roanoke Island in the 1850s.
The island family that lived here experienced the impacts of the Civil War, performed rescues as members of the US Life-Saving Service, and assisted the Wright Brothers in their dream of achieving powered flight. They did this while feeding chickens, fishing the sounds, growing corn, and grinding it at the windmill.
Address: 7223 S Virginia Dare Trail, Nags Head, NC
We could name all the piers in the Outer Banks but want to give a shoutout to the ever-photogenic Jennette’s Pier. You can visit this famous pier for fishing and a stroll away from the shore.
A small aquarium (affiliated with NC Aquariums) is inside and shops for gear and souvenirs. You can hang out for hours, staring at the water or along the beach. Just make sure you get down to the beach and grab some photos of it.
More OBX NC Piers
Jennette’s Pier might be the most iconic pier on the barrier islands but here are some more to add to your Outer Banks itinerary:
- Avalon Pier (2111 N Virginia Dare Trail, Kill Devil Hills, NC)
- Bonner Bridge Pier (QF99+2W, Rodanthe, NC)
- Hatteras Island Fishing Pier (24251 Atlantic Dr, Rodanthe, NC)
- Kitty Hawk Pier (5353 N Virginia Dare Trail, Kitty Hawk, NC)
- Melvin R Daniels Bridge (7711 S Virginia Dare Trail, Nags Head, NC)
- Nags Head Fishing Pier (3335 S Virginia Dare Trail, Nags Head, NC)
- Nags Head Public Pier (7431 S Virginia Dare Trail, Kill Devil Hills, NC)
- Outer Banks Fishing Pier (8901 S Old Oregon Inlet Rd, Nags Head, NC)
- Rodanthe Pier Place (24251 Atlantic Dr, Rodanthe, NC)
NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island
Address: 374 Airport Rd, Manteo, NC
You might occasionally run into bad weather during your visit, but don’t worry! There are some great indoor places to go and things to do.
The NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island is where you should start, full of fun for families and anyone interested in learning about North Carolina’s aquatic wildlife and habitats.
Ocracoke Preservation Society Museum
Address: 49 Water Plant Rd, Ocracoke, NC
The Ocracoke Preservation Society Museum is housed in a restored 1900s house with many unique local stories.
Both permanent and rotating exhibits give visitors a glimpse into life on Ocracoke through time. Some focus on Blackbeard, but there is so much more to see inside beyond the infamous pirate.
We loved the exhibits on waterfowl carvings and the contributions of female islanders throughout the years.
The museum houses a vast book and photo collection if you are looking for deep research. Stop in the gift shop for history books and Ocracoke memorabilia that can be hard to find elsewhere!
Read More: Amazing Museums in North Carolina
Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education
Address: 1160 Village Lane, Corolla, NC
The Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education recognizes the area’s relationship with duck hunting, a popular activity at Whalehead for many years. They have a collection of 200-plus antique waterfowl decoys on display.
There is also a duck blind display that is set up in a simulated salt marsh. This will take you back to an era when Whalehead was one of the most exclusive hunting clubs.
Roanoke Island Festival Park
Address: Festival Park, Manteo, NC 27954, USA
Home to a re-created American Indian Town, Roanoke Island Festival Park also has a museum that takes a first-hand look at the life of the first English settlers.
To take things up a notch, the park also includes plenty of interactive exhibits inside the adventure museum, an excellent choice for those rare, rainy days.
The Whalehead Club Historic House Museum
Address: Whalehead Dr, Corolla, NC
Whalehead is a historic house museum that’s beautiful from a distance and even better up close. Its 21,000 square feet of luxurious interior and exterior look out on the Currituck Sound.
The Art Nouveau-style home is strikingly yellow and surrounded by large oaks.
Previously used as a winter home and hunting retreat for Edward Collings Knight and his wife Marie-Louise LeBel Knight, the house has been restored to its original 1920s luxury.
The Wright Brothers National Memorial
Address: 1000 N Croatan Hwy, Kill Devil Hills, NC
If you ever wondered why North Carolina license plates read “First in Flight,” the Wright Brothers National Memorial will show you why. You can walk outside and see where the “first flight” occurred.
There’s a reconstructed camp to show where and how the Wright Brothers lived and a monument commemorating this historic site.
The visitor’s center is also pretty lovely, with tributes to the Wright Brothers, their creations, and many other pioneers and trailblazers in the sky. Of all the OBX things to do, we keep this one pretty high on our list.
One of our favorite things to do in the OBX is to see the day start and end with beautiful sunrises and sunsets. Personally, we think the best place to watch the sunrise is from your balcony if you’ve booked a rental on the beach.
However, if you are staying somewhere without an ocean view, wake up early and venture to the closest beach access point for stunning sunrise views over the Atlantic Ocean.
If you can’t wake up early enough for a beach sunrise (it is vacation, after all!), then catch a sunset on the sound side. There are many Outer Banks sunset spots, including Duck Boardwalk, Miller’s Waterfront Restaurant in Nags Head, and anywhere on the sound side.
The variety of watersports in this area is impossible to top anywhere in NC. That’s why this is one of the best things to do in the OBX.
Depending on where you’re staying or where you can travel, you can join guided fishing tours, kayak tours, cruises, jet skis, parasailing, or just about any other form of watersports.
Not only can you stare at the water and enjoy the beaches here, but the Outer Banks is also an excellent spot for fishermen and -women. You can fish from piers, on the surf, or from a chartered boat and enjoy many more angling opportunities.
There are many beautiful opportunities to paddle via kayak and stand-up paddleboarding around the Outer Banks. You can join a tour with Kitty Hawk Kites or bring your own boat to explore!
People come from all over to surf in the Outer Banks. That’s largely thanks to some of the best waves on the East Coast. The Eastern Surfing Association also likes the waves here and hosts its Mid-Atlantic Regionals yearly in Nags Head.
Like guided tours, there are companies throughout the Outer Banks to help you with equipment rentals.
Here are some businesses that offer boat tours and equipment rentals for you to enjoy during your time on the Outer Banks:
- Captain Johnny’s Dolphin Tours
- Crystal Dawn Head Boat Fishing and Evening Cruises (252-473-5577)
- Duck Village Outfitters (252-261-7222 and 252-987-1222)
- Family Water Adventures (252-216-5683)
- Hatteras Island Surf & Sailing Rentals (252-987-2292)
- Kitty Hawk Kites (877-359-8447)
- Nags Head Dolphin Watch Tours (252-441-4124)
- Nor’Banks Sailing & Watersports (252-261-2900)
- OBX Pontoon Man (252-619-7987)
- Paradise Dolphin Cruises
- Risky Business Shrimping & Crabbing Charters (252-473-1475)
Do you know of any other businesses that we should list here? Let us know as much info as possible; we’ll be happy to look!
Outer Banks Lighthouses
There are seven coastal lighthouses in North Carolina and one replica.
- Currituck Beach Lighthouse
- Bodie Island Lighthouse
- Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
- Ocracoke Lighthouse
- Cape Lookout Lighthouse
- Old Baldy Lighthouse
- Oak Island Lighthouse
- Roanoke Marshes (replica)
These lighthouses are essential to maritime history in The Outer Banks, North Carolina, and the United States.
- Join a tour in Corolla.
- Drive to the Ocracoke Pony Pen. Don’t worry. They have plenty of space to roam. The National Parks Service protects the land.
- As mentioned, take a boat to Shackleford Banks. You can relax on the beach and watch the wild horses on a good day.
Important Note: Please don’t touch the horses if you see them.
More Outer Banks Things to Do
These are the best (of the rest) unique things to do in the Outer Banks towns.
Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge
Eastern North Carolina’s marshes are home to unique wildlife and wetlands. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services have marked off Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge to protect Pocosin Wetlands and the animals that reside there.
Stop at the visitor center and learn to spot everything from wild alligators to endangered Bobcats and Red wolves.
Arcades & Indoor Games
While we always cross our fingers for great weather, some days aren’t meant for outdoor adventures. Thankfully, there are plenty of rainy-day things to do in the OBX.
That includes these arcades, bowling alleys, and indoor game centers:
- Arcade Mania (813a Ocean Trail, Corolla, NC)
- Corolla Arcade (1159 Austin St Unit 107 A, Corolla, NC)
- Destination Fun Zone (1217 S Croatan Hwy, Kill Devil Hills, NC)
- Flippers Convenience and Arcade (6615 Caratoke Hwy, Grandy, NC)
- Jumpmasters Trampoline Park (728 US-64, Manteo, NC)
- OBX Bowling (200 W Satterfield Landing Rd, Nags Head, NC)
- OBX Laser Tag (2420 S Croatan Hwy, Nags Head, NC)
- OB-Xscape Rooms (1 Ocean Blvd Suite 108-111, Southern Shores, NC)
- Paradise Golf & Arcade (3300 N Croatan Hwy, Kill Devil Hills, NC)
- Turf’s Up OBX (3712 N Croatan Hwy suite e, Kitty Hawk, NC)
Thanks to an abundance of birds and waterfowl, the Outer Banks is one vast wildlife habitat. Terns, oyster skimmers, geese, pelicans, and ducks are the most frequent visiting birds.
Winter is an excellent time to watch birds migrating through our barrier islands, but any time of year is great for OBX birdwatching.
Duck and Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge are two of the best places to find birds, but you’ll find sweet spots throughout the Outer Banks.
Duck’s Sound-side boardwalk stretches about a mile along the Currituck Sound, with Duck Town Park at its center. Sunset is the best time to walk here, but you can enjoy gorgeous views throughout the day.
If you bring your boat or kayak, there are two slips at either end and one public kayak launch accessible near Duck Town Park.
There’s also a playground for the little ones, picnic spots, a theater for performances (including the Duck Jazz Festival), and more. Considering all this fun in one spot, you can see why this is one of the best things to do in the OBX.
Address: 1411 National Park Dr, Manteo, NC
The Elizabethan Gardens in the historic town of Manteo have been wowing crowds for more than 70 years. It’s located within the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, hosting an extensive collection of hydrangeas, camellias, historic herbs, and coastal species.
One highly regarded feature of this garden is a rose sent by HM Queen Elizabeth II from the rose garden at Windsor Castle. There’s also a live oak tree estimated to be alive since 1585.
We also love the Discovery Cottage, designed for kids to learn through play.
There are more than a few options for golf in Outer Banks. Book a tee time with friends or host your own tournament in one of the world’s most beautiful golf settings.
Here are a few that we think you should know about:
- The Carolina Club (127 Carolina Club Dr, Grandy, NC)
- Duck Woods (50 S Dogwood Trail, Southern Shores, NC)
- The Currituck Club (620 Currituck Clubhouse Dr)
- Sea Scape Golf Course (4724 N Croatan Hwy, Kitty Hawk, NC)
Local OBX Shopping
Even on not-rainy days in the Outer Banks, the area’s shops are flooded with people browsing and buying primarily local. Rainy days are the busiest, of course.
Here are some of the best places to go shopping on the Outer Banks:
- Buxton Village Books (47918 Highway 12 Buxton, NC)
- The Christmas Shop & General Store (621 South Highway 64, Manteo, NC)
- Hatteras Island Boardsports (41056 Highway 12, Avon, NC)
- Island Book Store (3712 N. Croatan Highway, Kitty Hawk, NC and 1177 Duck Road, Duck, NC)
- KDH Cooperative Gallery & Studios (502 South Croatan Highway, Kill Devil Hills, NC)
- Kinnakeet Clay Studio & Showroom (40462 N. End Road, Avon, NC)
- Kitty Hawk Kites (Multiple Locations, 877-359-8447)
- Nags Head Hammocks (252-295-0405)
- Osprey Landing Sound Front Shops (1190 Duck Rd, Duck, NC): Duck Donuts, OBX Sugar Shack, Discount T-Shirt Outlet, and more!
- Red Drum Pottery and Coffee (53561 Highway 12, Frisco, NC)
- Roanoke Island Artisans (3701 N. Croatan Hwy, Kitty Hawk, NC)
- Scarborough Faire Shopping Village (1177 Duck Rd, Duck, NC): Island Bookstore, Treehouse Coffee, Tar Heel Trading Co, and more!
- Seagreen Gallery (2404 S Virginia Dare Trail, Nags Head, NC)
- Seaworthy Gallery (58401 South Highway 12, Hatteras, NC)
- Silver Bonsai Gallery (905 Hwy 64, Manteo, NC)
- The Waterfront Shops (1240 Duck Rd, Duck, NC): Duck’s Cottage Coffee & Books, BARR-EE Station, Islands the Shop, and more!
Manteo is a nice change of pace from the rest of The Outer Banks, even though things aren’t too chaotic elsewhere.
We like coming here for the Waterfront, but the Roanoke Island Museum and the other places we’ve already mentioned make this a must-visit when staying in The Outer Banks.
Miniature golf is hands-down one of our favorite OBX things to do, thanks to the variety of courses in the area. Here are the best places to practice your short game along the Outer Banks:
- Frisco Mini Golf and Go Karts (50212 Trent Lake Ln, Frisco, NC)
- Galaxy Golf (2914 S Virginia Dare Trail, Nags Head, NC)
- The Grass Course (1024 Ocean Trail, Corolla, NC)
- Jurassic Putt (6926 S Croatan Hwy, Nags Head, NC)
- Lost Treasure Golf (1600 N Croatan Hwy, Kill Devil Hills, NC)
- Mutiny Bay Adventure Golf (6704 S Croatan Hwy, Nags Head, NC)
- Paradise Golf & Arcade (3300 N Croatan Hwy, Kill Devil Hills, NC)
- Pirate Island Golf & Corolla Arcade (1159 Austin St, Corolla, NC 27927)
The Mother Vine
Address: 263 Mother Vineyard Rd, Manteo, NC
The Mother Vine is believed to be the oldest grape vine in North America. Nobody knows who planted the vine, but either the Croatan Native Americans or Lost Colony settlers were responsible.
You can visit the 400-year old Mother Vine in Manteo, but be mindful that you are entering private property. Thankfully, the owners of the property are kind enough to allow visitors for now.
Ocracoke Beach Fires
A FREE National Parks Service fire permit is required to have a fire on the beach.
But if you book an experience with Ocracoke Beach Fires, they will take care of all the details for you! They’ll even set up the fire and chairs for you (and handle clean-up!), so all you have to worry about is keeping it going.
Of all the experiences we’ve enjoyed in North Carolina, a beachside oyster roast and s’mores for the kid is hard to top!
If you’re into spooky stories, Ocracoke Beach Fires also hosts Ghost Story Beach Fires during the summers where a local history guide will tell local ghost stories while you toast s’mores on the beach!
Ferry to Ocracoke Island from Hatteras. It’s free and takes about an hour. You should check out the beach and Ocracoke Lighthouse we mentioned on the island.
There are also fun places to eat on Ocracoke Island, including Smacnally’s and Eduardo’s, to name two of many.
Where to Eat (the Best Outer Banks Restaurants)
Some pretty incredible places to eat in The Outer Banks remain open throughout the year, no matter when you visit. Here are a few of our favorites listed by town:
- Pangea Tavern (41001 North Carolina Hwy 12, Avon, NC)
- Kitty Hawk
- Kill Devil Hills
- Nags Head
- Biscuits N’ P*rn (2112 S Croatan Hwy, Nags Head, NC)
Outer Banks Craft Breweries
The Outer Banks also has a few breweries worth any day of the week or weekend. Of course, you can find a few at any Brew-thru, but we think any NC beer lover should check them out in person.
- Lost Colony Brewery and Cafe (208 Queen Elizabeth Ave, Manteo, NC) in Manteo has fantastic food and an excellent selection of British and Irish-style beers.
- Outer Banks Brewing Station (600 S Croatan Hwy, Kill Devil Hills, NC) is the first wind-powered brewery in the US. Step inside and order from their massive tap list, food throughout the day and evening, and enjoy their jam-packed events calendar.
- Swells’a Brewing (1802 S Virginia Dare Trail, Kill Devil Hills, NC) is the newest brewery in the area, quickly becoming our favorite, too! They have a nice mix of hazy IPAs, lagers, and other styles. Grab a pint or flight and hang out or take a crowler or six-pack home with you.
- Weeping Radish (6810 Caratoke Hwy, Grandy, NC) is North Carolina’s oldest microbrewery, and its current location in Grandy is closed. In the meantime, founder and former owner Uli Bennewitz shared his story with us on NC Travel Chat from its beginnings to today.
Read More: The Best Breweries in North Carolina
Address: 510 Budleigh St, Manteo, NC
Learn about the rum’s history in the area at Outer Banks Distilling in Manteo during any week spent in the Outer Banks. The owners are genuinely great guys, too.
And hopefully, you’ll come away inspired to the tune of looking into following your passions as they did. So pick up a bottle of rum (aka Kill Devil. Hence the name “Kill Devil Hills”) and some candied pecans.
Outer Banks FAQ
What is the best month to go to the Outer Banks?
Personally, we love visiting in the shoulder seasons to avoid crowds. However, not all of the best restaurants and local businesses will be open, so summer is the ideal month to experience everything that the Outer Banks has to offer.
Do you need a car in the Outer Banks?
You must have a car to navigate the Outer Banks. Ridesharing services are available but will be much more expensive than traveling by car, even if you’re renting one.
Can you swim in the ocean in the Outer Banks?
The water is rougher in the Outer Banks than anywhere else in North Carolina. There are times when the water is calmer but others when the water is best for surfing. However, the soundside of the Outer Banks is home to much calmer waters that are more ideal for swimming.
Ready to Dig Into These Fun Things to Do in the Outer Banks?
So we’re hooked on this part of our state and can’t wait to return there. What are your favorites among the top OBX attractions?
Is it the beach, the fun things to do beyond the water, or something else? We’d love to know your favorite things to do in the Outer Banks.
If you haven’t visited yet, please feel free to share your first experience with us here or in our North Carolina Travel Facebook Group!
More Things to Do in the Outer Banks NC (Travel Guides)
We’ve created more NC travel guides that cover these things to do in the Outer Banks in greater detail. Here are a few of them.