When I first moved to North Carolina back in 2001, I thought of the Outer Banks as a place to rent a beach house and enjoy the sand and surf. I had no idea there were so many incredible things to do at the Outer Banks!
Another thing I didn’t know back then is that the Outer Banks stretches for more than 100 miles from north to south. That’s a long stretch of barrier island beach! If you’re headed there for vacation, it helps to know the things to do at the Outer Banks by region: north, central, south.
Table of Contents
- 25 things to do at the Outer Banks
- North: Duck and Corolla
- Central: Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, and Nags Head
- Chow down at The original Duck Donuts
- Visit the Monument to a Century of Flight
- Fish at the Avalon Pier
- Explore Jockey’s Ridge State Park
- Soar with Kitty Hawk Kites
- Shop at Tanger Outlets Nags Head
- Climb at First Flight Adventure Park
- Visit the Bodie Island Lighthouse
- Discover wildlife at Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge
- Salute the Coast Guard at Chicamacomoco Life Saving Station
- Try kite boarding at REAL Watersports
- Shop for souvenirs at Pea Island Art Gallery
- South: Avon, Buxton and Hatteras Village
- Unwind at Koru Village
- Climb Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
- Go 4X4 Riding on the Beach
- Eat an Apple Uglie at the Orange Blossom Bakery
- Linger over a Sunset Dinner at Café Pamlico
- Go Deep Sea Fishing at Hatteras Harbor
- Enjoy a waterfront dinner at Breakwater Restaurant
- Ride the Hatteras-Ocracoke Ferry
- Tour Ocracoke Village
25 things to do at the Outer Banks
This guide of things to do at the Outer Banks is divided into sections. The first is the northern end, Duck and Corolla. Then, we share the things to do at the Outer Banks that most people visit, in the central area near Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills and Nags Head. Then, finally, we head to the south to share all the things to do at the Outer Banks near Hatteras Village.
Key: Free/no charge. $/under $25. $$/$25-$50. $$$/$50-$75. $$$$/over $75.
North: Duck and Corolla
Visit Currituck National Wildlife Refuge
The refuge is home to a number of endangered species and has a bird rookery at Monkey Island. Take photos or just take it in — connect with nature in Corolla. (Free)
See the wild Horses of Corolla.
Corolla’s famous wild horses call the Currituck National Wildlife Refuge home. People enjoy coming to here to watch the horses run free. Please, don’t feed or engage the horses. It’s against the law, but more importantly, it’s dangerous for the horses. (free)
Tour the Currituck Beach Lighthouse
The Currituck Beach Lighthouse, one of many historic lighthouses in North Carolina, stands 162′ high. It was built to help ships navigate the sound between the Outer Banks and Virginia.
Guests can climb the 220 steps to the top between Easter Weekend and the day before Thanksgiving, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Climbing can be difficult in the summer, when temperatures and humidity are high. ($)
Stroll and Shop the Duck Boardwalk
Duck’s boardwalk along the sound connects the Duck Town Park to local shops and restaurants. Relax on a park bench as you take in the views or go fishing or kayaking. Dogs are welcome! (free)
Central: Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, and Nags Head
Chow down at The original Duck Donuts
Located at 5230 N Virginia Dare Trail, Kitty Hawk, this is the original Duck Donuts…. Don’t worry, they have a Duck location too! When looking for iconic things to do at the Outer Banks, a breakfast of Duck Donuts certainly fits the bill! ($)
Visit the Monument to a Century of Flight
Located at the Aycock Brown Welcome Center, the Monument to a Century of Flight commemorates 100 years of flight. Beginning with the Wright Brothers’ historic first flight in 1903, the structure is made up of 14 wing-shaped pylons around a center bronze dome of the world. Visitors consistently rank it the best thing to see in Kitty Hawk. Allow 1-2 hours. (free)
Fish at the Avalon Pier
On the Atlantic Ocean, the Avalon Pier is one of the best places to fish on the OBX. Open summertime from 5 a.m. to 2 a.m., there’s plenty of time to fish. Wake up early for the best sunrise views on the OBX! ($)
Catch a movie at the R/C Kill Devil Hills Movies 10
Yep, I included a movie theater on this list. Rain is a part of life on the OBX, so you may as well have a plan to fight weather woes. Right? With 10 screens, you’re sure to find just the right movie for your family. ($$)
Explore Jockey’s Ridge State Park
Jockey’s Ridge is the tallest natural sand dune system in the eastern U.S. and is recognized worldwide. A 384-foot long boardwalk provides great views of the dunes, with information panels about native plants and animals along the way. Those with handicaps can call ahead (252-441-7132) for information about transportation to the lookout area and same day transportation cannot be guaranteed. Visit the website for important safety information and for park hours. (free)
Soar with Kitty Hawk Kites
Kite boarding, hang gliding over the dunes, paddling the sound… Kitty Hawk Kites the best place in Nags Head to tap into your adventurous side. Equipment rental and/or lessons are available. Advance reservations are recommended during the summer season. ($$-$$$$)
Shop at Tanger Outlets Nags Head
Bargain hunters will love a day shopping the 39 stores of Tanger Outlets located at 7100 S Croatan Highway, Nags Head, NC.
Climb at First Flight Adventure Park
Opened in 2014, this ropes adventure course has 42 obstacles from easy to challenging and 6 zip lines to entertain guests. Children must be a minimum of 6 years (no exceptions) and at least 45″ tall (under 5′ must climb with an adult). Advance reservations are highly recommended, especially from May-September. ($$)
Visit the Bodie Island Lighthouse
Bodie (pronounced “body”) Island Lighthouse, at Hwy 158 and Hwy 64 in Nags Head, guides ships through the shallow sound waters. Visitors can climb the 214 stairs to the top of this 156′ lighthouse. Climbing is difficult, especially on hot, humid summer days, so consider your health before climbing. ($)
Discover wildlife at Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge
Started in 1938 and named after a native wildflower, the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge exists primarily to protect native and migratory birds, sea turtles and other local wildlife. The refuge has a visitors’ center with binoculars for easy viewing of wildlife. Across the street, visitors can climb the dunes or search for shells on the beach.
Try to find the smokestack of the “Oriental,” a federal transport ship sunk just off the coast in 1862. Today, the “Oriental” acts as an artificial reef for fish. Visitors should plan ahead and bring water, bug repellant, hat and sunglasses. Please do not disturb the turtle nests! (free)
Salute the Coast Guard at Chicamacomoco Life Saving Station
Don’t let the unassuming structure fool you. The Chicamacomoco Life Saving Station is a preserved life-saving station, so important to North Carolina history, precursors to our modern Coast Guard. The heroes who worked here rescued boaters along the treacherous coast.
Since the Outer Banks area is known as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic” with more than 600 ships sunk through the ages, these workers put their lives on the line for others every day. The museum is open from mid-April to November. Of all the things I did at the OBX, this was the best! ($)
Try kite boarding at REAL Watersports
Kite boarding is all the rage at the OBX. With steady winds off the Atlantic and calm waters on the sound side, young children and grandparents alike can learn to do it. Adrenaline junkies can board the surf on the Atlantic. Other water activities include stand-up paddle boarding (SUP), surfing and skim boarding. Rental equipment is available. When you need a break, the Waterman’s Grill has great burgers, salads and wraps! ($-$$$$)
Shop for souvenirs at Pea Island Art Gallery
This gallery, at 27766 Hwy 12 in Salvo, featuring 100 artists, captures creativity inspired by the region. Paintings, sculpture, wood pieces, jewelry and cards are among the featured items. The shop owners are passionate about art and the Outer Banks. Take home a unique piece to remember your special vacation. Pea Island Art Gallery is open seasonally, April to October. ($-$$$$)
South: Avon, Buxton and Hatteras Village
Unwind at Koru Village
This shopping, dining and entertainment district, while small, offers just about everything you’d want to do at the OBX. Fish from the Avon Pier. Take a kayak or SUP tour. Enjoy the spa. Grab dinner at Pangea Tavern — start with the gravy fries! So good! Koru Village is open seasonally, generally April to October. ($-$$$$)
Climb Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
UPDATE 2024: The lighthouse tower is currently closed during an extensive restoration project, but the grounds and the shop are open during regular hours.
The most famous lighthouse on the Outer Banks, and one of the most famous in the world, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse stands 208′ tall. Its beacon can be seen 20 miles out in the Atlantic. Visitors climb the 257 steps to the top, learning OBX history and facts about the lighthouse along the way. The park ranger who took us up warns that those in poor health should not climb, especially on hot, humid summer days. The park is open April-October, but closes in bad weather. ($)
Go 4X4 Riding on the Beach
If you have a 4X4 vehicle, beaches all along the OBX allow riding on the sand. A permit is required (to ensure safety) and is widely available on the Outer Banks. ($)
Eat an Apple Uglie at the Orange Blossom Bakery
The Orange Blossom Bakery and Café on Hwy 12 in Buxton is famous for one thing, the apple uglie. Made since 1979, the “uglie” is simply doughnut dough mixed with apples and cinnamon, then deep fried and glazed. They make hundreds daily during the summer season, and usually sell out way before closing. They also serve sandwiches, other pastries and beverages, but really… trust me on the “uglie.” ($)
Linger over a Sunset Dinner at Café Pamlico
Wrap up your day in Buxton with a casual, upscale dinner at Café Pamlico. Located at the Inn on Pamlico Sound, wide windows and outdoor dining areas present perfect sunset views. The food’s really good too! Many of the herbs, fruits and vegetables are grown organically onsite. Reservations are strongly recommended. ($$-$$$$)
Go Deep Sea Fishing at Hatteras Harbor
The OBX is known for fresh fish. Catch your own on a deep sea fishing tour out of Hatteras Harbor. Get your fish cleaned on the dock, and take it home or have a local restaurant prepare dinner for you.
Enjoy a waterfront dinner at Breakwater Restaurant
Breakwater Restaurant at Hatteras Harbor is a great place to enjoy fresh caught fish as you dine overlooking the marina. You can even have your fresh catch prepared to your specifications (or trust the chef’s recommendation). ($$$$)
Ride the Hatteras-Ocracoke Ferry
The only way to visit Ocracoke is by ferry. Kids (adults, too, admit it) are mesmerized by unique modes of transportation. Ferries are not common throughout the US, so here’s a great chance to experience it. In summer months, ferry traffic is higher, so plan ahead. Ferry reservations can be made online! ($)
Tour Ocracoke Village
Measuring only one square mile, Ocracoke Village is easy to explore on foot. So, once you get here, park and wander! Kayak on the Pamlico Sound, explore the shops in town, take a sightseeing boat tour of the area, try your hand at crabbing, visit the Ocracoke Lighthouse or just relax on the uncrowded beaches. Enjoy the quiet, simple pace of this peaceful little village. (free-$$$$)
There you have it. From north to south, the 25 best things to do on the Outer Banks. Which will you do first?