12 Family Friendly Outer Banks Towns You Will Love

If you’re planning a trip to North Carolina, you are going to want to check out these Outer Banks towns! The Outer Banks are a chain of barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina that are insanely beautiful. The Outer Banks are known for being the site where the Wright Brothers had their first successful flight and so much more. These islands have a history that is complete with a lost colony, more than 5,000 shipwrecks off of their coasts, and intriguing pirate stories. 

When you are trying to decide which towns to visit in the Outer Banks, you will want to consider what it is you are actually looking for on your trip. Are you looking for the best beaches in the Outer Banks? Maybe you want to spend your time hopping between the best lighthouses in the Outer Banks. Or perhaps, you are a foodie at heart and you are most concerned with visiting the best restaurants in the Outer Banks. No matter what you’re looking for, you are sure to find a town that fits your needs. 

These little coastal towns are full of both coastal and southern charm. You can try your hand at kite surfing or paragliding off of the tallest sand dune on the East Coast, explore pirate history on the most remote island in North Carolina, and drive on the narrowest part of the banks that span only 150 yards in width. So, what do you say? Are you ready to visit some of the best towns in the Outer Banks?

small lighthouse over water at sunset

First, let’s answer some of your most asked questions about the Outer Banks. Then, we will take a look at the best towns in the Outer Banks!

What Is So Special About The Outer Banks?

What is so special about the Outer Banks? For most people, the natural beauty and the unique circumstances of the OBX is very appealing.

There are wild horses, beaches ranked among the top ten in the country, pirate history, and islands that are absolutely dreamy to drive on as some parts of the islands are very narrow and you can see water on both sides as you drive down Highway 12.

It’s a super interesting place and you are sure to enjoy the laid-back east coast island atmosphere. 

Can You Swim In The Outer Banks?

Yup! The Outer Banks has many highly ranked beaches. Just be sure to check for flags on the beach. Like most beaches in the U.S., there will be flags raised on the beach if there are sharks, stinging creatures, rip currents, or anything else that would prevent you from swimming.

How Were The Outer Banks Created?

If you are wondering if the Outer Banks are man-made, the answer is no. The Outer Banks are fairly young, geologically. The islands were formed by a change in sea level. The waves deposit sand next to the shoreline and over time the islands grew.

Although the islands are natural, the sand dune that runs alongside the road on much of Highway 12 is manmade. 

Is The Outer Banks Kid-Friendly?

Totally! Traveling the Outer Banks with kids has been a blast! You can find kid-centric activities and just a load of fun things to do in the Outer Banks. Plus, you can’t go wrong with just setting your little ones loose to play on a soft sandy beach.

What Part Of The Outer Banks Is Best

For Kids?

This depends on your kid’s age. If your kids are older you may want to take part in more adventurous outdoor activities. In this case, Nags Head may be a good choice for you. 

If you are traveling with younger kids, you really can’t go wrong in any part of the Outer Banks. Even taking a ferry to the most remote part of North Carolina is possible with young kids. 

What is The Nicest Town In The Outer Banks?

If you have been wondering which Outer Banks town is the nicest, you aren’t alone. Listen, this chain of barrier islands is stunning and each town has its own charm and advantages.

It depends on if you are looking for the best beaches, best kite surfing conditions, or maybe the best restaurants in the Outer Banks. Keep reading to see which of these Outer Banks towns is best for you!

aerial photos over the outer banks

12 Stunning Outer Banks Towns You Will Fall In Love With

Hatteras Village

You can find Hatteras Village on Hatteras Island in the southern part of the Outer Banks. You will hear the town simply called “Hatteras” most of the time. Be sure not to get confused between Hatteras Island and the town of Hatteras. Hatteras Island is home to the towns of Hatteras Village, Waves, Rodanthe, Salvo, Buxton, and Avon. 

Hatteras has a lot of great restaurants and fun things to do. You should be sure to check out the Hatteras Island Ocean Center where you can explore the nature center and go for a marsh walk. Hatteras is also home to the Graveyard of The Atlantic Museum. This museum is dedicated to the more than 5,000 ships that have wrecked off the coast of the Outer Banks.

These ships went down due to the dangerous rocks and deceptive sand shoals off the coast of the islands. Due to all of the wrecks off the coast of the islands, many Outer Banks lighthouses were constructed. Due to all of the shipwrecks, the Graveyard of The Atlantic is one of the very best places to scuba dive on the East Coast. 

If you like spending peaceful time out in nature, you should check out Hatteras Village Park. It is a beautiful area where you can explore the OBX marshlands and walk out over the water on wooden boardwalks. This is a super beautiful area that is worth checking out when you are in Hatteras.

You will also have an amazing selection of places to eat at while you are in Hatteras as they have some of the best restaurants in the Outer Banks! They have pizza, American, deli, and seafood places to choose from, some of which are waterfront restaurants. Hatteras also has a ferry port where ferries leave Hatteras Island for Ocracoke Island, the most remote part of North Carolina. The variety of places to eat, things to do, and the location make Hatteras Village one of the best Outer Banks that you can visit!

aerial photo above the outer banks

Ocracoke

Ocracoke is, by far, at the top of the list of best Outer Banks towns. Ocracoke Island can only be reached by plane or boat. The most common way to reach the island is via the free Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry. The ferry departs from the Hatteras Village port and takes about an hour to reach Ocracoke Island. While you are on the ferry you can stay in your vehicle or get out and explore or sit at the tables inside. We enjoy taking the ferry from Hatteras to Ocracoke! 

Once you arrive on the island, Highway 12 continues and you need to drive about 13 miles before you arrive at Ocracoke Village. Ocracoke is one of the coolest Outer Banks towns thanks to its unique history with pirates. The island was settled in 1585 by the English. In the 1600s and 1700s, pirates were a big problem on the island. 

The pirates caused havoc on Ocracoke Island. They boarded and robbed ships in the water, murdering passengers and crews. The notorious Blackbeard was one of the worst pirates and the Outer Banks was his stomping grounds, more specifically, Ocracoke Island. He and other pirates like Anne Bonny and Robert Deal, all terrorized the island.

There are tons of cool things to do in Ocracoke! You can check out the Ocracoke Lighthouse, visit the highly ranked Lifeguard and Ocracoke Beaches, see the descendants of the wild ponies that used to roam the island, and eat at one of the best restaurants in the Outer Banks, Howard’s Pub. This island truly is remote and the majority of it is just as rugged and uninhabited as it was back in the 1500s when seven English ships reached its coast. 

lighthouse in front of building surrounded by fence and trees

Nags Head

Nags Head is one of the most popular and well-known Outer Banks towns. It is located in the central part of the OBX and wears the crown of being the oldest tourist destination in the United States. Nags Head has been drawing in tourists ever since the 1800s when summer homes and hotels began to pop up all throughout the town. This lovely town is also home to one of the oldest restaurants in the Outer Banks, Sam + Ollie’s. The restaurant has been around since 1937 and they serve up amazing southern breakfast food, and of course, seafood for lunch and dinner as well. 

You will find tons of things to do in Nags Head! The most popular is, Jockey’s Ridge State Park. This park is home to the tallest sand dune on the East Coast! You will fall in love with the dunes and beauty in the park. You have opportunities to learn to paraglide while you are visiting. You can take lessons and be brave by taking a run-and-go off of one of the dunes and soaring in the air above them! It kind of makes you feel like you are walking in the Wright Brothers’ footsteps, huh?

Nags Head is home to the Bodie Island Lighthouse. This lighthouse is iconic and is one of the best things to do in the Outer Banks! There are wooden boardwalks that lead to the lighthouse and it is open for visitors to climb. Another thing that you should be sure to check out when you are visiting Nags Head is Jennette’s Pier. It was built in 1939 and stood on the coast until 2003 when it was destroyed by Hurricane Isabel. It was rebuilt in 2011 is now the prettiest piers in the Outer Banks!

famous lighthouse behind wooden boardwalk over marshland

Kill Devil Hills

Kill Devil Hills is located just south of the popular town of Kitty Hawk. It’s one of the most beautiful towns in the Outer Banks! You may be wondering, how did such a beautiful coastal town get such an… interesting name? Well, there is a lot of debate about this but one of the most popular theories suggests that it gets its name from the Killdeer birds that lived in the area. Saying “Killdeer hills” quickly morphed into Kill Devil Hills. 

What’s interesting about this town is that it wasn’t like other OBX towns that were experiencing booms in tourism, it was unincorporated until the 1900s. The most well-known fact about the town is that the Wright Brothers from Dayton, Ohio used the dunes in Kill Devil Hills as their practice grounds. While you are visiting, you will find tons of things to do in Kill Devil Hills!

One of the most popular attractions in Kill Devil Hills is the Wright Brother National Memorial. It is there that you can see the iconic location where the brother took off for their first successful flight. You may also want to check out the Avon Fishing Pier and the Run Hill State Natural Area. Now, it’s no Jockey’s Ridge, but the Run Hill Natural Area is a super beautiful area in Kill Devil Hills where you can hike, get great views, and see deer and other wildlife. 

When looking for the best Outer Banks towns you will want to be sure to consider the restaurants in the equation. You can find many oceanfront restaurants in Kill Devil Hills that will tickle your fancy. One of the most common foods you will see on menus in Kill Devil Hills is oysters on the half shell. Of course, you can find sweet, American fare, other seafood dishes, and Asian food as well. 

pier over crashing waves at sunset

Kitty Hawk

Just north of Kill Devil Hills is the popular town of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Kitty Hawk is a very small town of just over eight square miles in area. Another town that didn’t receive immediate recognition and interest as a tourist destination, Kitty Hawk was made popular by the Wright Brothers. Many people think that Kitty Hawk was the location of the Wright Brothers’ first flight, but the information was only telegraphed from Kitty Hawk, the first flight was actually in the neighboring town of Kill Devil Hills. 

Kitty Hawk got its name from the Algonquin-speaking tribes who lived in the area. They called it Chickenhauk, but over the years ended up morphing into Kitty Hawk. While you are in the Outer Banks you will probably find yourself looking for the best things to do in Kitty Hawk. The town is home to the Monument To a Century of Flight and has a plethora of water activities. 

You can rent a kayak or paddleboard for some water fun while you’re in town, spend time in the great outdoors on one of the beaches or at Sandy Run Park, go camping, take surf lessons, and more as there are so many fun things to do in Kitty Hawk! If you find yourself with a sweet tooth while you’re there, check out Candy and Corks, Stack Em’ High Pancakes, or Mom’s Sweet Shop to get your sweet fix! 

pier over the ocean

Corolla

In the northern part of the Outer Banks, you will find the beautiful town of Corolla. This town was primarily rugged and wild for a long time and only accessible by boat. After years of inhabitants working and making a living off the land, Corolla became lowly populated and overgrown as the lighthouse no longer needed to be manned. The Whalehead Club, church, and school sat empty. In the 1970s, only around fifteen people lived in Corolla, and only a few adventurous travelers would come to stay in this gorgeous town with its wild horses and grassy dunes. 

Today, Corolla has everything that we have come to expect from a great U.S. travel destination: cute little sweet shops, idyllic beachfront views, desirable restaurants, museums, and attractions. But, arguably, the single most incredible part of Corolla is the wild horses. Wild horse tours are plentiful, and you can also drive out on the beach in your four-wheel drive vehicle after you obtain a permit to drive on the sand.

Corolla is also home to the Currituck Beach Lighthouse. It is a bit different from all of the other lighthouses in the Outer Banks as it is made of red brick as opposed to the standard white and black colors we have all grown to expect from North Carolina lighthouses. They also have the Historic Whalehead Club, which is a 1920s home that was built facing the Currituck Sound. The home is beautiful and is an excellent example of Art Nouveau. You can take guided tours of the house or enjoy it from the exterior in Historic Corolla Park. 

You can find tons of great things to do in Corolla. Be sure that you check out some of the places to eat in Corolla as well as they have some of the best restaurants in the Outer Banks!

horse in grassy dunes

Manteo

If you have been wondering where to stay in the Outer Banks, Manteo is perfect for a lot of travelers. Of course, staying from the top to the bottom of the OBX is wonderful, but if you are looking for a home base so to speak, Manteo works! This is one of the cutest Outer Banks towns. It is located on Roanoke Island and has a lot to offer its visitors. 

If you are looking for free things to do on Roanoke Island, you will want to visit the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse. This lighthouse doesn’t like most of the lighthouses on the Outer Banks. It’s very short and is used to guide vessels through the marshes.  There is a museum underneath the lighthouse that will show you the history of the lighthouse and a bit of history about the Outer Banks as well. Despite its small size, the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse is still one of the best lighthouses in North Carolina. 

While you are in Manteo you will want to check out Fort Raleigh National Historic Site and the Elizabethan Gardens at the site. This site was the location of the mysterious Lost Colony. In the 1500s, a group of English settlers settled in Manteo but seemingly disappeared without a trace. You can explore the site, watch time period demonstrations, and explore the beautiful Elizabethan Gardens.

In Manteo, you also have the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. This is a huge wetland habitat where you can explore wildlife trails, walk over boardwalks and check out the views from the observation platforms. This is a great place to stay active and appreciate nature. It’s actually one of the coolest things to do in the Outer Banks as you have a chance to see black bears which is cool to see so close to the coast.

Downtown Manteo is a great place to be. You can find cute little shops, restaurants, and a generally wonderful ambiance near the water. You can check out the unique sweets at the Laughing Lollipop, browse for locally made products and souvenirs in the shops, and eat at one of the best restaurants in the Outer Banks, Blue Water Grill & Raw Bar. 

lighthouse at end of wooden boardwalk

Buxton

Buxton is a town that carries tons of maritime history. For years, Buxton was a fishing community and by the beginning of the 1900s, it was a thriving town with public buildings and an increasing population. Today, it is as beautiful as ever and is one of the best Outer Banks towns to explore!

When we talk about things to do in Buxton, we have to talk about the Orange Blossom Cafe. They have the most delicious treats that you can find in the Outer Banks! They are popular with residents and visitors so you will typically see people standing out on the porch and inside the restaurant during open hours.

They are famous for one item, in particular, their Apple Uglies. When you first see the Apple Uglies, they look like a huge hunk of mess. But, inside, they are full of apple goodness. Once you sink your teeth into one of these sugary pastries filled with cinnamon and apples, you will understand why they are so popular. If you decide to go to Buxton, please be sure to stop by the Orange Blossom Cafe, you won’t regret it!

When you are trying to decide on things to do in Buxton, a visit to the Hatteras Island Lighthouse should be at the top of your bucket list! This lighthouse has iconic black and white stripes and a red base. It is the tallest of the lighthouses in the Outer Banks standing at more than 200 feet high! If you are looking for something adventurous to do, consider trying your hand at kitesurfing or windsurfing. The most popular place to do this is at Canadian Hole in Buxton. 

super tall lighthouse

Duck

Duck is a lovely town just north of Kitty Hawk and south of Corolla. Duck wasn’t incorporated as a town in North Carolina until 2002! This can be kind of crazy to think about as it is now such a beloved place in the OBX. Duck unsurprisingly got its name from the waterfowl that were plentiful in the area for decades. 

One of the most popular things to have come from this town is Duck Donuts. This sweet shop was created when a family visited the Outer Banks and they realized that they didn’t have a lot of options when it came to places where they could grab a quick breakfast or snack. In 2007, Duck Donuts was opened and to this day their donuts are making people’s mouths water all across the state of North Carolina and it all started right there in Duck. You can find unique donut flavors like peanut butter pie, blueberry lemonade, strawberry fudge, and bacon in the sun. They also have coffee, espresso, milkshakes, and bagel sandwiches. 

If you like to shop when you travel, Duck is the place for you! The Duck Town Park Boardwalk is a mile long and runs along the sound. The boardwalk is over the water, you look to one side and you have water views, look to the other side you have a row of restaurants and shops for you to browse. When it comes to restaurants in Duck, you have a lot of options. You can find coffee houses with small menus, seafood joints, pub food, raw bars, waterfront views, and more!

wooden boardwalk over the water
source: Joe Benning shutterstock.com

Southern Shores

Southern Shores can be found snugly sandwiched between Duck and Kitty Hawk. It was originally a part of the Kitty Hawk community. For quite a long time Southern Shores was only accessible via two sand roads. Today, anyone heading south from the top of the Outer Banks will pass through Southern Shores on their way down to Kitty Hawk. 

If you find yourself visiting the Outer Banks during winter or when it is raining, Southern Shores is a great place to be, especially when traveling with kids. They are home to Escape Room on OBX. When the weather doesn’t cooperate we all start googling things to do in the Outer Banks when it rains. The escape rooms are one of the best things to do! Another exciting thing to do in Southern Shores is Ghost Crab Quest. You can go on scavenger hunts and go on crab quests. Ghost crab quests involve going on a crab catching adventure and this adventure is highly educational, making it one of the best things to do in the Outer Banks with kids!

If you want to head to the beach while in Southern Shores, you have your choice of four seasonal beaches, each of which has lifeguard stands. You can access them on Hillcrest Drive, Chicahauk Trail, East Dogwood Trail, and Ocean Boulevard. If you are traveling with a furry friend, they are welcome on the beach from time to time. From May 15 to September 15 dogs are allowed on the beaches before 9 am and after 6 pm. So, if you love a good sunrise or sunset walk, your puppers can come along with you!

Frisco

Frisco, North Carolina was known as Trent by the first English settlers to the area. According to archeologists, this small village was once the home to around 5,000 Native Americans. Although the town is mostly residential, there are great beaches and a few attractions that you should check out while you are in the Outer Banks!

You can take art classes, join a yoga session, go go-carting, enjoy live music, go kayaking, and more! The best thing to do in Frisco is to visit the Frisco Native American Museum & Natural History Museum. This museum has tons of information and artifacts about the native inhabitants of the land and the Outer Banks themselves. For the kids, there are a few things that they will be particularly interested in. 

The Future House is a home that looks like an alien ship. This is a great place for a photo-op when in the Outer Banks and it’s something that will intrigue kids. Head to Frisco Mini Golf & Go Karts for some family fun in the ocean air or just spend your day relaxing on Frisco Beach. This beach is open for you to drive on if you have a permit and a four-wheel drive vehicle. It’s a wide sandy beach that has plenty of room for everyone. 

ufo house
source: digidreamgrafix shutterstock.com

Rodanthe

Lastly, we have the town of Rodanthe. This is the easternmost point in North Carolina and is a part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. It has seriously exceptional oceanfront rentals available so if you want to be blown away by your OBX rental, consider Rodanthe! For those looking for outdoor adventures, this is one of the best Outer Banks towns to visit.

It is a popular destination for swimming, windsurfing, kite surfing, fishing, and just generally spending time out on the sandy shore. The name of the town is derived from the Greek girl’s name which means rosebud. It is fitting that such a beautiful name would be given to one of the prettiest towns in the Outer Banks. 

The movie, Nights In Rodanthe was filmed in Rodanthe and as such, you can explore some of the filming locations while you are visiting. You will want to be sure to check out the Rodanthe Pier, Chicmacmico Life-Saving Station, as well as Rodanthe Beach. When it comes time for some grub, you can rest assured knowing that Rodanthe is home to some of the best restaurants in the Outer Banks, including Lisa’s Pizzeria, Neptunes Kitchen, and The Dough Shack!

homes near the water

As you can see, the Outer Banks is home to many pretty towns and exciting things to do! Which of these stunning Outer Banks towns will you visit during your OBX adventure?

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