Which Outer Banks Town Is Perfect For You? Here’s a look at 5 of the Barrier Islands’ tiny towns to see which one best fits YOUR vacation personality.
Whether you like to spend your vacation bouncing around from one excitement to the next, or you prefer to hide away from the world and immerse yourself in nature, look no further than the Outer Banks of North Carolina, where there is a little something to suit everyone.
Here we have put together an insider’s look at a few of the hottest beach towns on the East Coast to help you decide which town best fits your vacation personality.
Duck, North Carolina
Bejeweled with eclectic boutiques, coffee shops and unique restaurants, the quaint village of Duck best suits an easy-going travel temperament looking for a one-of-a-kind beach experience.
Constant outdoor events provide a nostalgic feel of a time when neighbors used to come together every weekend for a friendly BBQ. Rent a bike at one of the exclusive local surf shops and cruise leisurely around the small town, stopping along the way at any of the numerous gift, clothing and hobby shops or restaurants only found in Duck. The community is also a perfect beach getaway for dog lovers, as our four-legged friends are welcome practically everywhere, even in some restaurants, with convenient “doggy-drinking stations” set up in the park and along other walking paths.
A great thing to do when visiting is to grab a coffee at Duck Cottage, park your bike along one of the bike racks somewhere on the sound side in the center of town, and hop on the Duck Boardwalk, one of the most beautiful places to watch the sun set over the Currituck Sound. The .78 miles of walk way only takes about 15 minutes to complete from end to end, but you can stretch it out over an hour, anticipating twilight with a casual stroll. The boardwalk, which snakes along the sound’s edge, runs behind many of the town’s best shops, so peek into a few before staking claim of a bench or the steps of a boat launch to view the main event. You can even bring your pup here, too, to watch the sky change from blue to purple and then explode in a brilliant display of orange and red until the last light of the day slips into the sound in the distance.
One of the first townships you come to when entering the Outer Banks from the north is Kitty Hawk, a perfect choice if you’re looking for more access to the northern beaches of Corolla and Duck with the convenience of numerous restaurants and nightlife.
As an ideal home base if you’re planning to take a day trip up Highway 12 in search of wild ponies or The Whalehead Club, its Kitty Hawk’s legendary hidden food spots, however, that make it one of our favorite towns on the Outer Banks. If you park at the bathhouse at the first beach access, take a little stroll down the beach road heading south before you make your way over the dunes to the shore. A few minutes’ walk will lead you to an Outer Banks classic, a funky little place called John’s Drive-In. John’s is widely known for its milkshakes, a popular favorite is the peanut butter…vanilla ice cream with chunks of real creamy peanut butter so thick you have to eat it with a spoon. People have been known to drive for hours just for one of John’s milkshakes. And if you’re hungry, get the dolphin boat…also a local favorite. This basket of fried dolphin and crinkle fries has helped make the drive-in a treasured classic and a must-see for any Outer Banks vacation.
Kill Devil Hills
Centrally located and chocked full of restaurants and late-night hot spots, Kill Devil Hills is the town for you if you’re looking for a little history by day with the most happening nightlife on the beach.
Nestled in between Nags Head and Kitty Hawk, KDH is ideally located to offer a wide range of things to do and see if you become beached-out during the day (if there is such a thing!) and plenty to do when the sun goes down. The Wright Brothers National Memorial, built to commemorate Orville and Wilbur Wright and their world-famous first flight in 1903 is located at Milepost 7.5.
When looking for a place to go out at night, visitors often have a hard time figuring out where they can find the best spots for live music, entertainment and a fun crowd. The Outer Banks Brewing Station is one of the best nightlife scenes on the entire Outer Banks. Go for a late dinner and sit at the bar to enjoy one of their unique, homemade beers, and then stay for live music played on the stage in the dining room until 2 a.m. KDH restaurants and bars are where you’re going to find some of the best options on the island for nightlife and live music.
If you’re an active, adventure-seeking vacationer who loves to push the limits, then Nags Head is where we would send you.
Home to Jockey’s Ridge State Park, the East Coast’s tallest natural sand dune system, Nags Head’s unique attractions will provide you with more than just a day at the beach (but who can complain with just that, anyway?) Take a kite up to the top of Jockey’s Ridge or have a log roll race down the sandy hill. And if you’ve had enough sand for the day, head a couple of miles south to the First Flight Adventure Park, The Outer Banks’ first and only aerial ropes course of its kind. Strapped into a harness system 60-feet above the marshy banks of the Albemarle Sound, adventure-goers will maneuver across 48 different elements, including ladders, zip lines, cargo nets and more.
Since sunsets are a pretty spectacular thing around here, here’s a helpful tip: make a reservation for the later in the evening. You will have two hours to complete the course so if you plan your adventure just right, you will have the tallest vantage point of the sunset on the entire island, not to mention a 360 degree view of Nags Head, from the sound to the ocean.
For sportsmen and solitude-seeking travelers, the southern Outer Banks is where you belong. Hatteras, one of the 7 towns on Hatteras Island, is undoubtedly the town for you.
The vast, unscathed landscape gives the peace-seeking vacationer plenty of space, solitude, and some of Mother Nature’s greatest gifts, untouched by commercialization. A sportsman’s paradise, the cape of Hatteras attracts fisherman from all over the world to take advantage of the strategic spot located at the junction of North America’s two major currents, The Gulf Stream and the Labrador Current, producing an incomparable fishing experience.
The coast of Hatteras is not only swarming with fish, but with an underwater ghost flotilla as well, better known as The Graveyard of the Atlantic. Visitors can explore the history behind the myths and legends of the hundreds shipwrecks off of this single coastal location alone at the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum.
So whether you’re a local food connoisseur, a thrill seeker, or you’re just looking for some quiet R&R, one of these beach towns in the Outer Banks is sure to be the right fit for your beach vacation style.
About The Author: Abby Stewart grew up just miles from the Outer Banks of North Carolina and has spent many Outer Banks vacations exploring and relaxing on the barrier islands. She is an experienced writer with a degree in Professional Writing from the University of North Carolina, Wilmington.