Outer Banks Vacation Ideas (2024)

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Plan a trip to the Outer Banks with our complete guide! We cover where to stay at the Outer Banks, what attractions you’ll find along the way, and restaurants at the Outer Banks from north to south.

Planning a trip to the Outer Banks of North Carolina is a popular choice for families who want to enjoy sun, sand and sea. To make it easy to plan your trip, we’ll walk you through everything you need for a wonderful Outer Banks family vacation.

When you know all the amazing Outer Banks vacation ideas, you’ll be ready to grab your beach bag full of beach bag essentials and head there today!

Sea grass in the foreground with the Atlantic Ocean beyond, just one of the relaxing Outer Banks vacation ideas

How to plan a trip to the Outer Banks

The islands of the Outer Banks stretch for more than 100 miles, all connected by one road — NC HWY 12. That’s about the same distance you’d drive from Cleveland to Pittsburgh! You wouldn’t book lodging in Pittsburgh for a Cleveland vacation, so when you plan a trip to the Outer Banks, our first tip is stay where your favorite activities will be!

If you’re not sure how to narrow that down, read our post on how to make a vacation bucket list!

Once you know which Outer Banks vacation ideas you want to do, the next step to plan a trip to the Outer Banks is picking the lodging that’s best for your vacation needs.

And, of course, no Outer Banks family vacation is complete without a list of great restaurants to enjoy. The final section of this post includes a guide to local restaurants — organized from North to South like the attractions!

Things to do at the Outer Banks

When you plan a trip to the Outer Banks, there sure is a lot to do!

The first step is to make a list of your Outer Banks vacation ideas first — what do you want to see or do on vacation? Then, pick lodging closest to the majority of activities.

Remember, the islands of the Outer Banks stretch for 100 miles! If you want to see the wild horses of Corolla, it is inconvenient to book one of the hotels in Hatteras, NC. Hatteras is 93 miles (or 2.5 hours one way) from the Corolla wild ponies!

So, for planning a trip to the Outer Banks, choose your favorite attractions, then pick lodging that fits your space and budget needs closest to what you want to do.

The sun sets over Currituck Sound in Duck at the OBX
Sunset on Currituck Sound near Duck, North Carolina

This article arranges the Outer Banks vacation ideas and activities from north to south. If you find that you’re most interested in the attractions in one area, choose lodging near there. If you like it all, look for lodging someplace in the middle!

North End: Corolla and Duck

The northern end of the Outer Banks includes the idyllic towns of Duck and Corolla, home to the famous wild horses of Corolla. Vacation rentals here tend toward the upscale with resort-like amenities, spas and fine dining.

Things to do in Corolla

Besides the wild horses of Corolla, there are many things to do in the small village of Corolla on Currituck Sound.

Things to do in Duck, NC

Duck is another quiet town at the northern end of the Outer Banks, North Carolina.

The most popular area is the Duck Town Park & Boardwalk which offers incredible views of Currituck Sound and an easy way to visit the shops and restaurants.

If traveling in October, attend the Duck Jazz Festival.

These are the highlights in Duck:

Central area: Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills and Nags Head

The central part of the Outer Banks is the most populated, with more lodging options, restaurant choices and things to do. When people talk about vacationing in the Outer Banks, most people mean the Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills and Nags Head.

In my personal opinion, an Outer Banks family vacation here is the best option. There are so many activities for kids, and if you want to go to Corolla or Hatteras for the day, it’s a fairly short drive.

Things to do in Kitty Hawk

Things to do in Kill Devil Hills

Things to do in Nags Head

Bodie Island lighthouse at the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Black and white horizontal stripe lighthouse behind the white keepers house and museum
Bodie Island Lighthouse

Southern End: Avon, Buxton and Hatteras Village

Travel south from Kill Devil Hills, past Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, to the towns of Avon, Buxton and Hatteras Village. This area is more populated than Duck and Corolla, but quieter than the central region.

Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge at the Outer Banks of North Carolina, marsh and bridge showing
Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge

When planning a trip to the Outer Banks, this region is a great one to consider — especially for family reunions. There is a lot to do, and vacation homes in Avon and Buxton tend to be grand with lots of space and wide porches offering stunning ocean views.

If you want to plan a trip to the Outer Banks to relax in spacious accommodations, this area is a good fit.

Things to do in Avon when vacationing in the Outer Banks

Avon, like all the towns on the Outer Banks, has many water activities.

  • Go fly a kite with Kitty Hawk Kites — as in hang gliding, parasailing and kite boarding on the water,
  • Fish on the Avon Pier in Koru Village, which offers kids’ fishing competitions during the summer months,
  • Savor coffee while making your own beaded souvenir at Beads & Grinds, a coffee shop and bead craft shop,
  • Shop at coastal art galleries featuring local and regional artists for unique keepsakes,
  • Tour the Oregon Inlet Life-Saving Station in Rodanthe,
  • Learn the history of the US Coast Guard at the Chicamacomico Historic Site (one of my personal favorites),
  • Unwind with a spa treatment at Koru Village Spa,
  • Enjoy water sports like paddle boarding, kite boarding, surfing and biking.

Things to do in Buxton

Buxton is home to the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, one of the most recognizable lighthouses in the United States. It’s the main attraction in the Buxton area, but there’s more to do!

  • Visit Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, which is open for tours seasonally. The views at the top are stunning,
  • Go windsurfing at Canadian Hole, a beach on the sound side between Avon and Buxton,
  • Discover the maritime forest of Buxton Woods Nature Trail near the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse,
  • Go horseback riding on the beach with Equine Adventures.
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in Buxton, at the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Black and white diagonally striped light house with red brick base
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in Buxton, NC

Things to do in Hatteras Village

Beach house rentals at the OBX are great options for groups
Spacious Beach House in Avon, NC at the Outer Banks

Where to stay at the Outer Banks

Outer Banks lodging options include traditional hotel accommodations, as well as house and condominium rentals.

For family travel on a budget, remember the closer you are to the water, the more expensive your accommodations will be.

When vacationing in the Outer Banks, consider these factors before booking your rental!

  • For short stays, a hotel is probably best. During the summer travel season, most Outer Banks rentals require a weeklong stay.
  • For large families and reunion getaways, we recommend rental homes. Most have 4+ bedrooms and sleeping lofts to accommodate large groups. They have laundry, and wide, open living spaces with ample seating and huge kitchens. Divvying up the cost of the house by family makes this an easy vacation focused on sun, sand, sea and family.
  • Smaller families might prefer condo rentals for an Outer Banks family vacation. These are a bit less expensive than OBX house rentals. They usually include beach condo amenities like pools, tennis, bike rentals and more for easy vacationing in the Outer Banks.
  • Couples might prefer a hotel stay. If you only have a few days, Outer Banks hotels, oceanfront especially, might be best. Resort hotels at the Outer Banks have onsite dining, beach chairs rentals, fabulous pools, fire pits, spas and bars to turn a weekend into a luxury beach vacation.

Lodging options in Duck and Corolla on the Outer Banks

Duck and Corolla offer mostly Outer Banks family vacation homes suitable for families, reunions and groups. If you prefer a hotel, check out these options: Sanderling Resort in Duck, The Inn at Corolla Lighthouse, and Hampton Inn and Suites Outer Banks.

Luxurious accommodations at the Sanderling Resort in Duck, NC
Sanderling Resort and Spa in Duck, NC

Use this interactive map of Duck and Corolla with many Outer Banks vacation ideas and attractions marked to help you find vacation accommodations that fit your Outer Banks vacation goals.

Where to stay in Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills and Nags Head

When vacationing in the Outer Banks, it helps to understand how rental costs are set in this area. Rental homes in Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills and Nags Head are categorized by location: facing the Albemarle Sound, Oceanside along the Beach Road, and “between the highways,” aka HWY 12 and HWY 158.

For family travel on a budget, “between the highways” is most affordable — and furthest from the water.

Outer Banks family vacation lodging options are plentiful in this area.

You’ll find large Outer Banks oceanfront rentals for large families, Outer Banks condo rentals on both the beach and sound side of the islands and a number of hotels. With so many chain hotels in this area, select one that has the hotel perks you want.

READ MORE: Hotel Perks: Beyond the free breakfast

Where to stay in Avon, Buxton and Hatteras Village

Vacation homes and cottages make up the bulk of lodging options in Avon and Buxton.

For family reunion vacations and group travel, these large oceanfront vacation homes often offer multiple master bedrooms, game rooms and other amenities for a relaxing vacation.

This area has many independent hotels and motels at a lower price point for family travel on a budget.

Restaurants at the Outer Banks

Dining on the northern end: Duck and Corolla

Both Corolla and Duck have several seafood restaurants and a few independent pizza and burger restaurants. Other than Duck Donuts, you’re unlikely to find any chain restaurants.

Some popular dining options for your Outer Banks vacation ideas include:

  • Lifesaving Station at the Sanderling Resort — Serving Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner with a kids menu available. Attire is resort casual. Reservations accepted.
  • Duck Deli — Serving lunch and dinner, hours vary seasonally. This casual restaurant serves deli sandwiches, burgers and BBQ.
  • Upside Eat & Drink — The only restaurant in Corolla overlooking the water, serving lunch and dinner. Open seasonally, they serve creative coastal cuisine.
  • Agave Roja — Corolla’s Modern Mexican restaurant with an expansive tequila menu. Limited hours in winter.
  • Corolla Cantina — Serving Mexican cuisine with a coastal flair, this one makes our list because of its relaxed family atmosphere that welcomes dogs, too.
  • Paper Canoe — Award winning seafood restaurant in Duck, featuring locally sourced ingredients and a waterfront setting. Gluten Free options available!

Dining in the central area: Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills and Nags Head

You’ll find plenty of local restaurants to choose from in this area for your Outer Banks family vacation.

There are also fast food restaurants and quick serve chain restaurants up and down Hwy 12 and Hwy 158.

And, when considering Outer Banks vacation ideas, this area has several full grocery stores, especially handy for families staying in Outer Banks rental homes.

Some restaurants to consider:

  • High Cotton BBQ — serving Eastern Carolina barbecue and fried chicken, true flavors of North Carolina,
  • Hurricane Mo’s — serving beachside food: shrimp, wings and tacos — sunset is free!
  • Art’s Place — serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, they were voted best burger on the beach.
  • Snow Bird’s Burgers & Cones — serving, you guessed it, burgers and ice cream. They have hot dogs, fries and snow cones, too.
  • Stack ‘Em High — Pancakes are the specialty, but this breakfast place has something for everyone.
  • American Pie — A local pizza joint.
  • Nags Head Cafe — Open for breakfast and lunch, where flavor and local history combine.

Dining in Avon, Buxton and Hatteras Village

Restaurant options are more limited at the southern end of the Outer Banks, so keep that in mind as you plan a trip to the Outer Banks.

If you plan a fishing charter, the restaurants near Hatteras Harbor will cook your fresh catch to your specifications.

Popular restaurants in this area include:

More tools to plan a trip to the Outer Banks

When you consider all the Outer Banks vacation ideas, it’s easy to see why this is such a popular vacation destination! As you’re planning a trip to the Outer Banks, we hope these travel planning tools will make it an enjoyable experience!

Frequently asked questions about the OBX

When is the best time to visit the Outer Banks?

For beach vacations, the best time to visit the Outer Banks is in the summer. This is also the most expensive time to visit. Visiting in the shoulder season (September and October) is also a good choice and more budget friendly.

How many days is enough to visit the Outer Banks?

With a carefully planned itinerary, you can see most attractions at the Outer Banks in 3-4 days. For the best value, a weeklong vacation rental allows the most time to explore and enjoy the beaches here.

What’s the best place to stay on the Outer Banks for families?

Kitty Hawk is centrally located and the best place for families on the Outer Banks. It’s got more attractions, indoor activities and good public beaches than other parts of the OBX.