The Outer Banks are barrier islands off the US coast of North Carolina. Popularly known as the OBX, the destination has become a hot tourist spot with its rich heritage and beautiful scenery. It is the perfect destination for a holiday with its wide beaches and diverse cuisines.
However, if you are a first-time visitor to the OBX, exploring and navigating the expansive coastline could seem daunting. To streamline your vacation, we have prepared the perfect Outer Banks vacation guide for you.
The perfect OBX experience is incomplete without understanding the rich heritage it offers.
The islands were separated from the rest of the country for generations, up until the 1930s when the first bridges were completed. This isolation helped to preserve the distinct coastal culture and the distinctive “brogue” dialect, which is most comparable to the English language.
Popular as the place where the Wright Brothers realized their dream of flying, the Outer Banks has been a hotspot of important historical events. Dating back to the 16th century, European settlers established a colony here under the orders of Sir Walter Raleigh. With its stunning coastline and beautiful beaches, this destination has also become an attraction for water sports and family vacations.
Covering all of the Outer Banks in just one visit is quite impossible. However, certain attractions and activities should be given priority for the quintessential Outer Banks experience. Here is a list of all the tourist attractions and activities that will make your vacation a memorable event.
Northern Outer Banks
Some of the most famous landmarks you can visit in the northern Outer Banks are the Whalehead, the Currituck Beach House, and the beaches of Corolla. Corolla’s Currituck Beach Lighthouse was built to address the “blind gap” between Cape Henry and Bodie Island for ships passing the North Carolina coast. The lighthouse still guides approaching boats with an unpainted exterior that still has its original exposed brick.
Whalehead is a 1920s-era home-turned-museum. In addition to learning about the history of the Outer Banks region, visitors can see some of the best-maintained art nouveau buildings and vintage furnishings in the nation.
The famous wild horses of Corolla are a must see as well! This popular attraction is one that you won’t soon forget. A 4×4 vehicle is required to access the beaches where the horses roam free or you can book a guided tour with a local tour agency.
Central Outer Banks
A must-see historical attraction, the Wright Brothers National Memorial pays respect to the two brothers and their first flight. A 60-foot monument in the form of an airplane tail now commemorates this important flight.
Visitors can view exhibits at the Wright Brothers Visitor Center that describe the brothers’ lives in the Outer Banks and their failures before the momentous first flight. For a more local experience, you can also explore the historic town of Manteo.
The Roanoke Island Festival Park, which is in Manteo, transports guests to the 1500s and the founding of Roanoke. You can tour the Settlement Site to see how the early colony appeared inside the park and visit American Indian Town, where displays describe how coastal Algonquins lived in the late 16th century. The park also features a docudrama and a history museum.
The Bodie Island Lighthouse is yet another tourist attraction worth exploring as well as the many local piers like the ever-popular Jannette’s Pier. Or head over to Jockey Ridge State Park and take in the beauty of an OBX sunset atop the rolling sand dunes.
Southern Outer Banks
The more than 70-mile-long Cape Hatteras National Seashore entices tourists with its well-kept sands, charming lighthouses, and crashing surf. While many visitors travel to the coast to enjoy the sun along the dunes of the Atlantic, you should set aside some time to explore the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, the highest traditional lighthouse in the United States.
For a gloomy and dark historical experience, you can visit the Graveyard of the Atlantic, by Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. The tourist spot gets its name after the several shipwrecks the coast witnessed. Cape Point is one of the most famous beaches, with several hiking trails.
You can also visit Ocracoke to see wild horses and learn about the 400 species of birds in Pea Island National Refuge. Southern Outer Banks also offers visitors some of the best adventure water sports.
Water And Adventure Sports
With expansive beaches and tantalizing nature, Outer Banks is also home to some of the most exciting water and adventure sports. You can find several companies offering a range of sports to engage in. While experiencing them all may not be feasible, here are some popular water and adventure sports you should participate in.
Kayaking is among the most popular water activities in the Outer Banks. Open to visitors of all ages, you can discover the bays, torrents, and waterways that line North Carolina’s coast. Kayak rentals are also widely available in Nags Head and Manteo!
At numerous Outer Banks beaches, you’ll see a tonne of kiteboarders flying up and down the shoreline. If you’re an experienced kiteboarder, you can simply rent from one of the many local water sports businesses. For beginners, instructors and trainers will provide thorough guidance and support for a safe and secure kiteboarding experience.
Riding a jet ski is the ideal way to explore the Old North State’s seas. With so many stunning bodies of water spread out across the state, North Carolina is undoubtedly a jet skiing paradise. The tranquil waters of Roanoke Sound are perfect for jet skiing though. When visiting the Outer Banks, consider renting a single or a double for a heart-pounding water sports excursion.
One of the top surfing spots on the East Coast is the Outer Banks. Given the abundance of surfing opportunities at numerous local beaches, this spectacular water sport is a must-do if you’re in the area. Fantastic locations to catch waves include Nags Head, Kitty Hawk, and Kill Devil Hills.
Although golf is not an adventure sport, it is called a gentlemen’s game for a reason. Golfers can effortlessly swing a club all year long due to the pleasant weather on the Outer Banks. There are several 18-hole golf courses with difficult designs, ocean breezes, and beautiful scenery to enjoy the game.
Accommodation And Food
Lodgings and food are two primary factors that can make or break a vacation. For an immersive local experience, you should consider renting properties like vacation homes instead of hotels. Vacation homes, like Carolina Designs, in the Outer Banks offer an immersive experience for a truly memorable experience.
Another must on your to-do list should be to explore the plethora of local restaurants and cafes for a diverse cuisine and dining experience. Duck Town, in particular, is home to some great restaurants and food and is one of the most popular destinations on the Outer Banks.
Final Thoughts on Your Trip to the Outer Banks
While our guide can help you streamline your vacation, it cannot cover the expansive heritage and attractions that Outer Banks offers. Researching before setting out can also help you prioritize the places you wish to visit. From thrilling adventure sports to enticing locations with a rich history, Outer Banks has so much to offer.