The Outer Banks is a beloved stretch of barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina. With over 200 miles of sandy shore, endless exciting exploration opportunities await you here.
There are 15 tiny towns each with a unique charm all their own. Below are the best things to do in the Outer Banks to enjoy all this scenic setting has to offer.
The Best Things to do in the Outer Banks (OBX)
Jockey’s Ridge State Park
This is the tallest living sand dune system, an otherworldly experience. Jockey Ridge offers sweeping views of both the sea and the Roanoke Sound and is one of the best things to do in the Outer Banks. If you stroll along the boardwalk and nature trail, it will take you through the ethereal ecology of the area as you explore wetlands and maritime thickets.
You can take in some of the most spectacular sunsets from the top of these dunes. Feeling nostalgic? This is one of the best North Carolina state parks to relive some simpler times and fly a kite.
For those feeling a bit more adventurous, fly with the kite and take a ride through the sky by hang gliding. Try your hand at a newer pass time and grab a board to soar down the sandy dunes.
Wright Brothers National Memorial
This historic monument is a celebration of the first ever successful airplane flight. Whether you’re an aviation aficionado or just a supporter of dreams, the Wright Brothers National Memorial site offers some beautiful inspiration to all. Visit the site where the Wright Brothers achieved a sustained, powered flight in a-heavier-than-air machine and changed the world forever.
You’ll find to-scale replicas and reproductions of the famed flyers themselves, the hangar where these dedicated self-taught inventors lived, and the wind tunnel they used for testing in their years of attempts before triumph.
Cape Hatteras National Seashore
70 miles of protected coastline serve to partially preserve the natural wonders of these beautiful barrier islands. This is the best stretch of shore to simply enjoy the beaches of the Outer Banks. Search for the perfect seashell, bask in the warm Carolina sunshine, and cool off in the salty waters.
These picturesque landscapes offer thriving and undisturbed habitats for a lot of native wildlife. It extends from the low tide line to the borders of the actual towns. This prevents both commercial and private development, meaning miles and miles of pristine public beach.
Currituck Beach Lighthouse
This iconic lighthouse is located in the small OBX town of Corolla. It’s a stalwart structure that stands tall at 162 feet, still working to prevent shipwrecks and protect the shores. Its light shines bright, stretching miles into the sea. It’s known for its distinctive red brick exterior – try to count how many were used.
It was built in 1872 and first went electric with a fresnel in 1933. You can view educational exhibits on the lighthouse landings, and the Victorian era renovated keeper’s quarters. If you climb all the 220 steps, you’ll be rewarded with unparalleled views of the Currituck Sound and Atlantic Ocean.
Jennette’s Pier is a favorite feature of Nags Head and one of the oldest attractions in the Outer Banks. If you’re looking for good views and great fishing, you’ve found the right place. It was built in the 1930s and has been a hotspot for local and visiting anglers ever since.
The entire pier has a blanket fishing license and a conveniently located tackle shop, so everything you need for a day of reeling them in. The ocean views are stunning as well, so feel free to sit and settle in to watch the waves and wait for the catch of the day.
The Lost Colony is an outdoor performing arts theater that is famous for celebrating the mystery and history of the Outer Banks. You can find it in charming Manteo, where a play has been put on every summer since 1933, the second longest running outdoor drama ever.
It’s a masterful piece of musical theater about Sir Walter Raliegh’s attempt to establish an English colony on Roanoke Island in 1508 and its subsequent disappearance. It’s an elaborate and high-quality production spanning over three stages and encompassing over 200 actors and technicians.
Wild Horses of Corolla
The natural wonders and native wildlife of the Outer Banks knows no bounds, and one of the most magical features are the roaming herds of wild horses. This population began in the 1500s when Spanish explorers brought them to these shores.
They are currently preserved and protected by a local non-profit organization. You can take a guided tour to learn more about these unique residents or you can wander the landscape and hope to get a glimpse on your own. Just remember they are truly untamed, so just admire their wild and free beauty from afar.
A stroll along this mile long wooden structure is a great way to spend the day exploring local storefronts. Duck is an upscale enclave of the Outer Banks, and its waterfront shopping is spectacular.
You’ll find an array of fine retail establishments and eateries. Appreciate the stunning scenery of the sound as you browse boutiques. Stop into Duck Cottage Coffee and Bookstore for a quick bite or beverage. Nearby you’ll find Duck Town Park, offering 11 acres of natural beauty to bask in.
Outer Banks Brewing Station is a vision of sustainable craft beer creation and one of the best breweries in North Carolina. Powered entirely by a wind turbine in their backyard beer garden, this brewery is the first one of its kind in the country. Their taps provide a range of styles, and they’re always using seasonal ingredients to create a rotating roster. They also offer upscale pub grub and live music to pair with your pints.
Lost Colony provides delicious craft creations in a charming and cool streetscape setting. They focus on British style beers, using imported English malt, hops, and yeast to concoct authentic and inventive flavors. They serve eclectic gastropub fares featuring fresh seafood.
The Blue Point is a laidback local haunt in Duck, serving fresh seasonal, and sustainable southern seafood favorites. Set right on the sound, the setting is scenic and retro chic. Tortuga’s Lie is famous among inhabitants and visitors alike. Creating classic Carribean cuisines in Nags Head – the atmosphere and the food are bright, vibrant, and beachy.
Kill Devil Grill makes traditional American dishes with an upscale twist. Dine out on derivatives of diner delicacies such as the cheese steak eggrolls. It’s a foodie favorite of the area for sure. There are so many OBX restaurants you have to try multiple when you are visiting!
Roanoke Island Maritime Museum
Set in the downtown waterfront of Manteo, this maritime museum focuses on the nautical heritage of the Carolina coast. It’s a functional boatshop that restores, preserves and constructs historic ships.
There are many educational and interpretive exhibits to engage with such as a replica of the vessel that brought the Lost Colony to Roanoke Island in 1587. It’s a quaint museum that celebrates the spirit of the town and boasts beautiful views of the bay.
These enchanting and elaborate gardens were designed in the English Elizabethan style, to honor the colonists of centuries ago. You’ll find native and ornamental plants along with perennials and historic herbs as you wander these lush walled landscapes.
They host many seasonal events and festivals and house an indoor butterfly garden. The grounds cover over 10 acres, see if you can spot the ancient live oak, and find a gazebo for a relaxing respite amongst the roses. This is one of the most romantic places to visit in North Carolina.
Graveyard of the Atlantic
The Outer Banks has been the host of over 2,000 shipwrecks. The Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum is set in Hatteras village and pays homage to these disasters throughout maritime history. There are extensive displays of artifacts recovered from these events often caused by piracy, war, or weather.
You’ll enjoy unique and enthralling exhibits such as the Evolution of Diving or one detailing the dramatic incident when a massive container washed ashore spilling thousands of Dorito bags onto the shores of Frisco.
Bodie Island Lighthouse
This OBX lighthouse is a historic structure was built in 1872 and has since gone through three iterations. It’s surrounded by gorgeous marshland and maritime forest making it beautiful land to meander through. Its frame is 156 feet tall with a light that reaches 19 miles out to sea.
You can climb all the way to the top to take in sweeping panoramas of the Atlantic Ocean and Pamlico Sound. The keeper’s quarters remain intact and now function as a ranger station and information center. Its striped black and white exterior has become a significant symbol of the area.
Oregon Inlet fishing
From this marina, you’ll find a fleet of over 50 ships waiting to whisk you out to sea. Charter any vessel and cast away inshore or in the sound. Head offshore for a full day out on the waters of the Gulf Stream.
You can hook a wide variety of species depending on the season, and angles travel from all over to test their skills in these parts. You don’t need your own license and tackle and bait are provided. If you’re not interested in a big catch, climb aboard a dolphin watching cruise instead.
Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge
This is a protected 13 mile stretch of pristine barrier island shoreline. The Pea Island visitors’ center gives a great informational overview about the ecology of the area and the best ways to traverse the trails. Enjoy the serene seclusion of the beaches here.
There is a lot of local wildlife providing plenty of places perfect for birdwatching in particular. Partake in other eco-friendly outdoor activities such as paddling. Be sure to take in the picturesque views overlooking the North Pond and the Salt Flats.
This expansive estate in historic Corolla overlooks the sparkling Currituck Sound and covers 39 acres. It’s a 1920s mansion admired for its art nouveau architecture and period decor. Restored to its former glory, it currently functions as a museum representing a bygone era.
You’ll find such opulent furnishings as Tiffany lights, a Steinway piano, and other antiques. Some even say the grounds are haunted, so enter for a self-guided tour at your own risk. It’s a beautiful way to enjoy a sunset on the waterfront as well.
This is the oldest lighthouse still operating in the whole state. Constructed in 1823, it’s walls are five-feet thick, and it reaches to 75 feet above sea level.
Though you cannot climb it currently, it’s still an exciting piece of Outer Banks history to explore. Its unique white color sets it apart and is made from a combination of lime, salt, rice, water, and glue. It’s a beautiful backdrop for some charming photo ops.
Frisco Native American Museum
The Frisco Native American Museum is an educational space honors the original inhabitants of the Outer Banks. It serves to preserve art and artifacts of local indigenous culture. You’ll discover baskets, headdresses, jewelry, and more.
They often host community events to teach about or engage with the practices of this heritage. The grounds feature several acres of nature trails that wind through maritime forest, streams, and ponds. The gift shop is filled with unique handmade crafts you won’t find anywhere else.
Surfing at Kitty Hawk
Kitty Hawk is one of the best spots for surfing on the East Coast. There are swells for seasoned surfers reaching heights up to four feet as well as for those just beginning to learn.
One such spot is locally known as Laundromat, most likely for its rough waves which break closer to shore sending surfers into the wash. Check near the Avalon Pier for some gnarly barrels. Even if you don’t feel brave enough to paddle out, grab a sandy spot and watch the hang tens in action.
Island Farm is a living museum that offers a whole host of immersive attractions, from live interpreters to period costumes and hands-on skills workshops. Take a trip back in time to the mid-1800s and get a peek at what life was like back then.
They lived on the bounty of the surrounding waters and often farmed to feed their families as well. It was a simple existence for these hardy islanders. Enjoy demonstrations of traditional blacksmithing, weaving, and cooking.
In the Galleries of the Outer Banks there is an eclectic selection of art available, from high-end oil paintings to handcrafted jewelry. Hang 12 Art offers an open studio space for engagement through an array of workshops.
Kill Devil Hills Co-op is an artist operated gallery featuring works in a wide variety of mediums from metal to acrylic. Sea Green Gallery in Nags Head is chock full of funky art recycled from antiques and found objects.
The Mother Vine Manteo
This is believed to be the oldest grape vine in all of North America. Estimated at 400 years old, it’s a twisted knot of tangled branches that takes up a total 120 feet. You can visit a tasting room in downtown Manteo at The Mothervine as well, to enjoy a glass of sweet yet mildly acidic red made from this majestic mother vine.
Probably planted by Croatian Native Americans or the settlers of the Lost Colony, it’s often referred to as the origin for all Scuppernong Grapes, the state fruit, helping to produce wine for centuries. It’s one of the most unique historic attractions in the banks.
Watersports in Waves
Waves is one of the small villages on the northern end of Hatteras Island, and a haven for getting active out on the water. It offers the largest selection of watersports in the area. It’s a great way to enjoy the natural playground of the Outer Banks.
Kitty Hawk Kites and REAL Watersports are just a couple of the bigger outlets available to get you equipped and enjoying the waves. Try stand up paddleboarding, jet skiing, parasailing, kayaking, sailing, diving, windsurfing, or kiteboarding.
This uninhabited island is a rugged and remote escape from reality. Wander the secluded shores for a slice of pristine wilderness. It’s one of the last undeveloped islands anywhere along this coast and one the best spots for shelling.
The village is a ghost town, once a thriving community in the 1700s and since abandoned over the course of hundreds of years as the economy shifted. Get a taste of old island life by visiting the restored church, school house, and coast guard station.
There are few things as fascinating as shipwrecks and there are plenty of places to explore the nautical remains of a few marine disasters when visiting the Outer Banks.
These treacherous waters have been the site of many disasters over the years, and the carnage is still visible today if you know where to look. Among the most popular to discover are the Metropolis Shipwreck in Corolla, the Huron Shipwreck in Nags Head, and the Oriental Shipwreck in Pea Island.
The Nags Head Woods Preserve
The Nags Head Woods Preserve is a great place to spend a day in the Outer Banks. There are miles of trails to explore, and you can see a variety of species of plant and animal life. You can also learn about the history of the area and see how the natural environment has changed over time.
The preserve is open year-round, and there is no entrance fee. The preserve is well-maintained, and the staff are always happy to answer any questions you may have. So whether you’re looking for a place to hike, bird watch, or just enjoy nature, the Nags Head Woods Preserve is definitely worth a stop.
- Address: 701 W Ocean Acres Dr, Kill Devil Hills (GPS)
- Hours: Monday – Sunday :6:00 am – 6:30 pm
North Carolina Aquarium
The North Carolina Aquarium is a great place to go for a fun-filled day of learning. There are plenty of exhibits to explore, including a coral reef, a shipwreck, and a touch tank where you can get up close and personal with some of the resident creatures.
In addition, there are daily programs and events, such as animal feedings and behind-the-scenes tours, that offer a unique opportunity to learn about these adorable and fascinating marine inhabitants. Don’t forget to stop by the gift shop on your way out; it’s stocked with souvenirs and educational materials that are sure to please any fish enthusiast.
- Address: multiiple address
- Cost of Admission: For ticket prices, click here.
Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum
The Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum investigates the history of all the infamous shipwrecks that have occurred in the Outer Banks over the years. There are a wide variety of exhibits to explore, including a dive bell, rescued artifacts from the wrecks, and a working lighthouse.
The museum also offers a variety of educational programs, including classes on maritime history and boatbuilding. There is also a research center that’s open to the public with a library, archives, and a laboratory.
- Address: 59200 Museum Dr, Hatteras (GPS)
- Hours: Monday – Saturday: 10:00 am – 4:00 pm
If you’ve never seen a house that looks exactly like a UFO, this is the stop for you. The Futuro House is a unique structure that was designed in the 1960s by Finnish architect Matti Suuronen as a winter ski chalet. However, its popularity waned in the 1970s, and today there are only a handful of these abodes that remain in the world.
This rare structure is located just off Route 12 and offers visitors a chance to step back in time and experience a fascinating piece of architecture. You can explore the interior and learn about its history on a guided tour. There’s also a small gift shop on site selling souvenirs and local handicrafts.
- Address: 52186 Morriss Ln, Frisco (GPS)
Fort Raleigh National Historic Site
Set in Manteo, the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site is an ideal attraction for both nature lovers and history buffs. It’s located on the scenic and culturally significant Roanoke Island. The site is home to the remains of the first English settlement in America, which infamously existed from 1584 to 1590.
Visitors can explore the archaeological remains of the fort, visit the on-site museum, and even take a ranger-led tour. The grounds also feature a beautiful nature trail, making it the perfect place to get some fresh air and enjoy the stunning seafront scenery.
- Address: 1401 National Park Dr, Manteo (GPS)
- Hours: Monday – Sunday: 9:00 am -5:00 pm
- Cost of Admission: Opens 24 hrs
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is one of many iconic nautical structures in the Outer Banks. If you can, it’s best to see them all! This is one of the tallest lighthouses in the entire country, standing at over 200 feet high. It was first built in 1803 to help guide ships through the dangerous waters off the enchanting coast of North Carolina.
Today, it is a popular spot for tourists to visit and take photos. There are also several hiking trails nearby, as well as a museum that tells the history of the lighthouse and its keepers. You can even climb to the top of the lighthouse for an amazing view of the surrounding area.
- Address: 46379 Lighthouse Rd, Buxton (GPS)
- Hours: 24 hrs
Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse
The Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse is situated on the edge of the eponymous Sound. This towering seaside facade offers stunning panoramas looking out over the water and marshes. There are also a variety of outdoor activities to enjoy such as hiking, biking, and kayaking.
In addition, the lighthouse is home to a number of historical sites, including the remains of a Civil War fort. The Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse is a must-see for anyone spending time in the Outer Banks.
- Address: 104 Fernando St, Manteo (GPS)
- Hours: Monday – Saturday : 8:30 am – 5:30 pm, Saturday- Sunday : Closed
Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge
Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge is a great place to visit if you’re looking to see some of the state’s unique wildlife. The refuge is full of natural wonders and home to a variety of native fauna, including alligators, bears, deer, and otters.
You can also go kayaking, fishing, and hiking in the refuge. The best time to visit Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge is between March and November since the weather is cooler and the animals are more active.
- Address: 100 conservation Way, Manteo (GPS)
- Hours: Monday – Saturday : 9:00 am, Sunday: 12:00 pm -4:00 pm,
The Pioneer Theater is widely considered to be a historic landmark in the Outer Banks. This hidden gem is located in Manteo and boasts a retro old school charm that’s hard to find elsewhere. It’s the oldest family operated theater in the whole country!
The English Tudor-style architecture makes it way more interesting than your average cinema going experience. Some of the interiors have been remodeled in recent years and you can see modern flicks at an affordable price.
- Address: 113 Budleigh St, Manteo (GPS)
- Hours: Starts at 7:00 pm per event schedule
- Cost of Admission: $7 each
The Avalon Pier is another historic OBX attraction. The charming wooden structure was built back in the early 20th century. Today it’s a popular spot for fishing, swimming, and simply taking in the stunning views. It is also one of the best spots on the Outer Banks for watching the sunset!
The pier is located in the town of Avalon, which is just a short drive from the main town of Duck. It always provides a super fun and relaxing way to spend a day on the Outer Banks.
- Address: 2111 N Virginia Dare Trail, Kill Devil Hills (GPS)
- Hours: Monday – Sunday : 6:00 am – 12:00 am
Outer Banks Comedy Club
The Outer Banks Comedy Club is a great place to check out when you’re looking for a good laugh. Located in Kill Devil Hills, the club features a variety of comedians who will have you rolling in the aisle. In addition to the comedy shows, the club also hosts a number of special events throughout the year, including open mic nights and charity fundraisers.
If you’re interested in learning more about the club’s history, be sure to check out the on-site museum, which contains a wealth of information about the club’s founding and early years, plus all the most famous performers that have graced their historic stage.
- Address: 1601 S Virginia Dare Trail, Kill Devil Hills (GPS)
Currituck Banks Reserve
If you’re searching for the perfect place to get away from it all and enjoy some natural beauty, the Currituck Banks Reserve is definitely worth a visit. This particular reserve is home to miles of sandy beaches, dunes, marshes and maritime forest.
There’s plenty to see and do here, from exploring the nature trails to indulging in a picnic on the beach. If you’re interested in the area’s history, you can also discover more about its unique maritime culture at the Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education.
- Address: Corolla, NC (GPS)
- Hours: Year -round
For some fun in the sun away from the sand and the waves, head to the iconic H2OBX Waterpark. It’s a great place to cool off and go on a thrill ride or two. Daredevils and leisure seekers alike can rejoice with over 30 rides and attractions, including a wave pool, lazy river, and wild water slides.
There are also a variety of food options available, as well as a gift shop. It’s an affordable way to entertain the whole family while in the Outer Banks.
- Address: 8526 Caratoke Hwy, Powells Point (GPS)
- Hours: Monday – Sunday : 10:00 am- 6:00 pm
- Cost of Admission: For tickets and passes informations, click here.
The Rodanthe Pier is a popular pick for both tourists and locals in the Outer Banks. It is located on the sound side of the island, and offers stunning views of sparkling waterways everywhere you look.
Visitors can wander down the pier, relax on the beach, or sit back and watch the waves. The pier also has a rich history dating back to the early 1800s, when it was built as a wharf for loading and unloading ships. Today, it is one of the most popular spots for general fishing, which includes catching flounder, bluefish, and stripers.
- Address: 24251 Atlantic Dr, Rodanthe (GPS)
- Hours: Monday – Sunday :6:00 am – 12:00 am
If you’re looking for a fun activity to do while you’re in the Outer Banks, consider playing putt putt! Mini golf is a great way to have some outdoor fun with friends or family, and there are plenty of kitschy courses to choose from. Each spot has its own unique beachy character, full of whimsical artwork, elaborate themes, and delicious concession stands.
- Address: Lost Treasure Golf- 1600 N Croatan Hwy, Kill Devil Hills (GPS)
- Hours: Monday – Sunday : 9:00 am – 11:00 pm
- Cost of Admission: For ticket prices, click here.
Outer Banks Scenic Byway
Whether you’re coming, going, or hopping from town to town, there’s no better way to travel than the Outer Banks Scenic Byway. It’s a 2.5-mile winding road that takes you through some of the most beautiful scenery on the East Coast. You’ll see the Atlantic Ocean on the east side and the spectacular Pamlico Sound on the west.
In the north it starts at Whalebone Junction and ends on NC 12 in Nags Head. Along the byway, you’ll see stunning views of the ocean, marshes, and dunes. You’ll also have the opportunity to stop at several different parks, nature reserves, golf courses, or scenic overlooks while driving all your worries away.
- Address: North Carolina (GPS)
The Outer Banks is often a popular vacation destination because there’s always something to do here! Each year a variety of festivals take place to celebrate local coastal culture, including everything from fresh seafood to maritime history. Crowds flock from all over to participate in these annual events.
There’s always an elaborate community party for every holiday, plus quirkier gatherings such as the Ocracoke Fig Festival, Duck Jazz Festival, or the OBX Brewtag. For a truly unique experience, be sure to check out the Blackbeard Festival. Named for the notorious pirate who called the Outer Banks home, the festival features a reenactment of Blackbeard’s final battle, as well as a number of other pirate-themed activities.
- Address: 1200 Duck Rd, Kitty Hawk (GPS)
Outer Banks Distillery
The Outer Banks Distillery is located in Manteo, North Carolina, and is open for tours and tastings seven days a week. The distillery produces small-batch rum, vodka, and gin using all locally sourced ingredients. The rum is distilled from sugar cane molasses, while the vodka is made from sweet potatoes. The gin is flavored with juniper berries, coriander, and orange peel.
All of the spirits are aged in American oak barrels. The state-of-the-art facilities also feature a tasting room and retail shop. You can try a flight of the three spirits or hand-crafted cocktails made with them.
- Address: 510 Budleigh St, Manteo (GPS)
- Hours: Tuesday – Saturday: 10:00 am -9:00 pm, Sunday – Monday : Closed
Chicamacomico Life Saving Station
Located in Rodanthe, the Chicamacomico Life Saving Station is a legendary landmark worth having a look at. It was first built way back in 1874 and is composed of two stations and five outbuildings. It’s famous for being the only facility of its kind crewed by African Americans at the time.
It’s one of the many important places you can learn more about Black history in North Carolina. It’s also well known as the site where the heroic feat of rescuing all nine passengers from the sinking ES Newman during a destructive hurricane occured. Today you can walk through the partially preserved space and visit the on-site museum to learn more.
- Address: 23645 North Carolina Hwy 12, Rodanthe (GPS)
- Hours: Monday – Friday : 10:00 am – 5:00pm ,Saturday & Sunday: Closed
- Cost of Admission: $8 General Admission, $7 Senior (65+) and Student rate, $6 Youth (ages 4-17), Free Kids under 4