Looking for a fun-filled beach vacation where you and your family can enjoy sun, surf, sand with a little history education mixed in? Look no further than the Outer Banks of North Carolina! Consistently voted as one of the best beach destinations in the U.S. because of the fun and daring things to do on the Outer Banks!
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Of course, when I traveled through the Outer Banks, it was really nothing but beach, lots of sand dunes and sparsely-placed wealthy summer homes along the long stretch of Outer Banks peninsula.
Outer Banks is also known to many simply as OBX, a shortened abbreviated term used since the 1990s when those white oval stickers with only the letters OBX started appearing.
Now, it’s been 40+ years since I’ve last been to the Outer Banks in North Carolina. Back when, barely out of my teens and a fresh green Coastie, I remember driving south from my duty station in Washington D.C. to visit a shipmate. I do recollect it not being much of a touristy area as it is today.
Today, the Outer Banks is much more populated and commercialized. It’s become a coastal vacation Mecca for the inlanders and out-of-staters who are wanting to get a little beach time. When you visit, the kids can have a little fun playing the license plate game.
Once you drive the causeway to get to the Outer Banks, you’ll no doubt, feel your blood pressure drop and stress escape your body. That’s why we love blue space destinations like the OBX. And we believe you and your family will enjoy The Banks too.
Top Attractions & Fun Things to Do on the Outer Banks
North Carolina – Atlantic Coast
Where are the Outer Banks located?
Also referred to as the Banks or OBX, Outer Banks is a chain of barrier islands that hugs the coast from Back Bay, Virginia heading southward down to Cape Lookout, North Carolina. The area takes in approximately 200 miles of Atlantic coast line while the width of the banks averages only about 1 mile wide.
What are the Outer Banks known for?
Outer Banks is situated on the outer most coast of North Carolina. The number one reason why people visit OBX is its’ 50 miles of incredible beachfront views; including the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. The ecosystem plays a big part of its’ magnificent beauty.
The Outer Banks is known for its’ rich maritime history, beautiful sand beaches, rolling sand dunes with tall beach grasses and unique ecosystems. But the Outer Banks is also known for its’ tall lighthouses that guide mariners to safe waters.
This seacoast landing place is where visitors and tourists can enjoy surf, sand and sun! It’s become the perfect coastal destination to relax, bask in the sun, build sandcastles and catch a wave or two.
But, that’s not all there is to do on the Outer Banks. There’s great outdoor recreation opportunities, lots of interesting history, and amazing wildlife to enjoy on the Banks.
Best time to visit the Outer Banks
The best time to visit the Outer Banks is in the Spring or Fall seasons.
First, the weather is simply amazing. It’s not hot and muggy or too cold to chase visitors into air conditioned buildings. While this popular tourist destination is located on the outermost Atlantic coast, expect it to be breezy at times. So, hold onto your hat and skip the umbrella.
But from tourist aspect, Springtime and Autumn are ideal seasons to visit Outer Banks as the crowds are minimal. And, since those months aren’t considered tourist season, lodging rates are more affordable.
Understandably though, most travelers and tourists may not have that flexibility because of school and work schedules.
So, if you’re going to be visiting Outer Banks in the summer, just make sure you pack quite a bit of patience and sense of humor.
Not only will it be a bit crowded with tourists and seasonal out-of-town property owners, but during the summer months, both temperatures and humidity are at their highest.
So, enough of all that, let’s talk about the amazing and fun things to do on Outer Banks! Regardless if you’re a solo traveler or large family, there’s something for everyone!
10 Fun Things to Do on Outer Banks
Visit the Wright Brothers National Memorial
1000 N Croatan Hwy, Kill Devil Hills, NC 27948
In Kitty Hawk, visitors will learn about the history of aviation and the first flight at the Wright Brothers National Monument. Explore the museum, walk through the reconstructed camp buildings, and see a replica of the Wright brothers’ plane.
If you don’t already have a National Park Pass, there is a small fee for individuals over the age of 16.
Don’t forget to bring your National Park Passport so you can stamp it inside the museum and gift store.
Search for the Wild Horses
The Outer Banks is home to a herd of wild horses that roam freely on the beaches and marshlands on the northernmost part of North Carolina’s barrier islands.
The feral Banker horses are thought to have been brought over in the 16th century by Spanish explorers. Though the centuries, generations of the horses survive the unforgiving weather of the Atlantic coastal region.
Today, they are protected and are very much an important part of the Outer Banks natural heritage. The wild horses are often seen grazing and walking in small herds along the beaches.
But, you can take a 2-hour guided tour via 4-wheel drive vehicle to view these majestic animals along the sand dunes.
On your tour, you’ll also hear about the history and ecology of the island, stop for photo ops of the horses and other points of interests, and gain private access to the Wild Horse Conservation Area.
Explore Jockey’s Ridge State Park
Jockey’s Ridge State Park is home to the largest sand dune system on the East Coast! With dunes that can reach up to 80 feet tall, this family friendly outdoor venue is the perfect place to let the kids run off that pent up energy.
Make sure you take a kite or two. OBX is one of the best places to fly a kite on the beach!
And speaking of flying, adults can take a hang-gliding lesson on the Outer Banks to enjoy some stunning aerial views.
Climb Five Lighthouses!
The Outer Banks is a 200-mile-long string of barrier islands off North Carolina’s Atlantic coast. There are 5 lighthouses on the Outer Banks that are open for public tours.
Each lighthouse may have other exhibits, interpretive displays to learn about their history and lightkeeper quarters to tour as well.
Visitors, who are in good health and physically capable, can climb the many of steps to the top of each tower. Just an FYI, some of lighthouses require all persons to be of a certain age and/or height for safety reasons. Also, tours may be affected by seasons and weather conditions.
Aside from the actual lighthouses, there are also various exhibits and artifacts at each lighthouse that show their rich history and significance to maritime navigation.
I highly recommend that lighthouse visitors check the hours and availability of each in advance and plan accordingly.
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse – 46379 Lighthouse Road, Buxton, NC 27920
Standing almost 200 feet tall painted with its’ recognizable black and white spiral stripes, Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is the iconic lighthouse of the Outer Banks. Located in the town of Buxton, it’s also the tallest brick lighthouse in the entire United States.
Bodie Island Lighthouse – 8210 Bodie Island Lighthouse Road, Nags Head, NC 27959
Bodie Island Lighthouse is located adjacent to the Cape Hatteras National Seashore just south of Nags Head. This Outer Banks lighthouse is maintained by the National Park Service. It’s open for tours in the summer, allowing visitors to climb to the top for incredible panoramic views of the surrounding area. Also, to learn about the maritime history and significance of the lighthouse.
Currituck Beach Lighthouse – 1101 Corolla Village Rd, Corolla, NC 27927
Currituck Beach Lighthouse is a historic lighthouse located on the northern end of the Outer Banks in Corolla. Maintained by the Outer Banks Conservationists, this lighthouse is also open for tours. And for capable step climbers, once you get to the top, enjoy spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean and Currituck Sound.
But if you’re not up to climbing the lighthouse, there are also scenic walking trails for visitors to learn about the history and ecology of the area.
Ocracoke Lighthouse – Lighthouse Road, Ocracoke, NC 27960
Ocracoke Lighthouse, located on Ocracoke Island was designed in the early 1800’s to guide mariners through the shoal waters of Ocracoke Inlet. Though this Outer Banks lighthouse is smaller, its’ significance is necessary even today. The light beacon is still maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard. It’s also surrounded by a scenic walking trail to allow visitors enjoyment of the island’s natural beauty.
Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse – 104 Fernando St, Manteo, NC 27954
Located in the town of Manteo, Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse is the youngest and smallest lighthouse on Outer Banks. This light is actually a replica modeled after a screw-pile lighthouse that was designed to guide mariners through the Roanoke Sound. The Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse, located across from the Maritime Museum, is open to the public for tours to learn of the maritime history of the area.
Visit the Chicamacomico Lifesaving Station & Museum
23645 North Carolina Hwy 12, Rodanthe, NC 27968
If you’ve never seen what our Coast Guard lifesaving predecessors did before modern day aluminum hulls, this is the place to visit. It really highlights the U.S. Coast Guard motto ‘you have to go out but you don’t have to come back’ to life.
The Chicamacomico U.S. Lifesaving Station Museum is dedicated to those who put their lives out to see so others may live.
It’s located in the village of Rodanthe between Bodie Island Light and Cape Hatteras Light at Mile Post 39. The museum is open from April to November.
The museum displays the historic lifesaving station, boat house with a period search and rescue boat, artifacts and records of perilous sea rescues that took place there from 1874 to 1911.
Definitely take time to watch the videos to learn about not only the Lifesaving Station (now the U.S. Coast Guard), but also the prominent generational Midgett family who served for many decades.
Visit the North Carolina Aquarium
374 Airport Road, Manteo, NC 27954
On Roanoke Island, the North Carolina Aquarium is definitely a must visit attraction on the Outer Banks. It’s the perfect place to take the kids to explore, discover and learn about all the cool marine life such as alligators, stingrays and even otters.
Also, check out the largest collection of sharks and see how they rehabilitate sea turtles through the Sea Turtle Assistance and Rehabilitation Center. They can also take part in the interactive exhibits and watch the live feedings.
Explore the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge
14500 NC Highway 12, Rodanthe, NC 27968
Since 1937, Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge has been protecting over 400 species of wildlife and migratory birds on the Outer Banks; including endangered species, sea turtles, water fowl and shorebirds. The wildlife sanctuary spans over 5800 acres of salt marshes, forests, beaches and sand dunes.
The Pea Island NWR visitor center offers educational programs, interpretative demonstrations, and wildlife observation. For recreation, visitors can enjoy fishing, bird watching and wildlife photography.
Take a Sunset Cruise
Watch the sun set over the ocean on a relaxing cruise. You can choose from a variety of options, including dolphin watching, dinner cruises, and pirate-themed cruises.
Kayaking or Paddle Boarding
Outer Banks was actually the place where we got to enjoy our very first kayaking experience! And since, we now seek out places similar to those in and around the Banks.
The Outer Banks has over 50 miles of incredible beaches to test your paddling abilities. But, there’s also plenty of calm waters and coves that are perfect for kayaking. Definitely take the time to explore the beautiful marshes and wildlife habitats up close.
Check out these highly-rated Outer Banks kayak rentals or tours and stand up paddleboard adventures:
✰✰ READ MORE ✰✰ Lifesaving Kayak Safety Tips for Beginners: Boating Safety
Relax on the Beaches
The Outer Banks has some of the most beautiful beaches in the country, with miles of soft, white sand and clear blue water. You can relax, sunbathe, swim, and enjoy a variety of water sports.
Or, if you’re really up to doing something unique and fun, you can learn to surf on the Outer Banks!
Fishing at the Banks
The Outer Banks is known for its’ excellent fishing. There’s plenty of opportunities for both deep-sea sport fishing and surf fishing on the beach. Anglers can catch a variety of fish, including red drum, bluefish, and flounder.
If you’re new at fishing, try your hand at some basic angling at the Avalon Fishing Pier. Learn which bait is best for different species of fish, fishing etiquette and how to properly catch and release.
Go on a Ghost Tour
Want to experience something really unusual while visiting the Banks? How about uncovering the spooky history of the Outer Banks as you embark on a walking ghost tour around downtown Manteo!
You’ll get to listen to tales about the Lost Colony and Blackbeard as you walk around stopping at landmarks including the Pioneer Theatre and Roanoke Lighthouse. Your guide will use an EMF detector to search for spirits just like they do on paranormal TV shows.
Enjoy Local Seafood
The Outer Banks is also known for its fresh, delicious abundance of seafood. There’s plenty of seafood restaurants on the Banks where you can try local specialties like shrimp and grits, clam chowder, and oysters on the half shell.
Our personal favorite places to eat on the Outer Banks:
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Wrapping up all the great things to do on the Outer Banks
After reading all of those amazing experience and things to do on the Outer Banks, doesn’t it make you want to start planning your vacation to this incredible beach paradise? OBX is the perfect destination to go solo, enjoy a couple’s romantic getaway or make it a family adventure the kids (or you) will be talking about it for years!
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