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With plenty of beautiful beaches and rich history, the Outer Banks in North Carolina is a great choice for your next family getaway. Whether you visit in the summer or off-season, there’s plenty of stuff to do for the whole family.
The Outer Banks
The Outer Banks in North Carolina, aka OBX as you’ll see on many bumpers, is a 200-mile long strip of barrier islands. You’ll encounter towns with notable names such as Duck, Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, and Nags Head.
On the east sides of the islands you’ll find tons of pristine beaches to lounge on and splash in the Atlantic. On the other side of the islands you’ll find sounds with beautiful views and tons of water sports.
The Outer Banks boasts a rich history. Kill Devil Hills near Kitty Hawk is the location of the Wright Brothers’ famous 1903 flight. OBX is also home to the famous Roanoke Island, where the first English child, Virginia Dare, was born to the Roanoke Colony which disappeared and was given the name, “The Lost Colony.”
Stuff To Do
Play in the sand, swim in the Atlantic
There are many beaches to choose from. For a scenic beach off the beaten path that’s usually not too crowded even in high season, check out Coquina Beach. Named for the clams that inhabit the area, the beach is located south of Nags Head in the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. After a day at the beach, consider taking a walk on the sound side and catching the sunset over the water.
Catch the sunset over the sound
Try kite boarding
After you’ve had your fill of the ocean, hop on over to the sound side of the island for some kiteboarding. The breezy conditions of the Outer Banks make it a prime spot for this sport. Sound side waters tend to be shallow, making this a great activity for younger kids. For newbies to the sport, there are plenty of locations offering lessons for both kids and adults. The famous Kitty Hawk Kites shops offer kiteboarding equipment rental, lessons, and packages (as well as hang gliding, kayaking, parasailing, jet skiing, surfing, and many other adventure tours).
Climb a lighthouse
The famous lighthouses of OBX are a must-see and include the Currituck Beach Lighthouse, Bodie Island Lighthouse, Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, Ocracoke Lighthouse, and the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse. The Currituck Lighthouse is a great choice to visit and makes for a fun stop for families. Visitors can climb the 214 steps to the top for a spectacular view of the area. The lighthouse also has exhibits about its history.
Many kids will enjoy climbing to the top of the Currituck Lighthouse
A view from atop Currituck Lighthouse
Take in some history
For adults and kids that like history, visiting the Wright Brothers museum and memorial is a must. Kids can have fun walking along the four routes flown along Kill Devil Hill. Another great activity to include on the family itinerary (June-August) is The Lost Colony, an outdoor drama about the Roanoke Island Colony that’s been performed since 1937.
Enjoy the outdoors
Be sure to visit Jockey’s Ridge, the East Coast’s tallest sand dune. Located in Nags Head right off the coastal highway, the sand dunes are a wonderful place for a walk. Kids will love running up and down the giant dunes. Flying a kite is a popular activity and you can get yours right across the street at the souvenir shops. Animal lovers will enjoy a visit to Carova Beach in Corolla to catch a glimpse of the wild horses. You’ll need 4WD to navigate the beaches or you can take a guided wild horse tour.
Sand dunes at Jockey’s Ridge
Jockey’s Ridge also has many trails for a relaxing stroll in the evening
Do some shopping
On rainy days, the popular Tanger Outlet Mall is a good spot for shoppers looking for bargains at brand name stores. The local souvenir and gift shops are also fun to browse. The Ben Franklin store located in Nags Head has great, cheap beach gear and souvenirs.
Where To Stay
There are plenty of hotels and B&B’s to chose from, or you could even camp. Rentals are by far the most popular option and can be had either sound side or beach side. For stays more than a couple of days, renting a house with all the amenities provides the best experience. Duck is a great place for renting houses for large groups and special occasions.
The town of Duck has many great rentals with private access to the sound
When To Go
The Outer Banks is a popular tourist destination, so be prepared for busy restaurants and shops and lots of traffic during tourist season (June-August). Also be sure to book your accommodations well in advance. The islands are predisposed to hurricanes and Nor’easters.
Due to the moderating effects of the surrounding water, spring and summer temperatures tend to be slightly cooler and windier than inland. On the flipside, fall and winter tend to be slightly milder than inland. The shoulder seasons are a great time to visit. Young families with small babies can avoid the heat of the high summer. The wind generally picks up in the autumn months, so if kite surfing and other wind sports are on your radar, fall is the time to go.
If the ocean is too cool for your liking, you can still have fun on the beach by having bonfires, which are permitted on many of the beaches. If you’re looking for a low-key, relaxing vacation in the off-season, September and October is a great time to visit. In fact, Nags Head was rated among the top “sleepy beach towns” perfect for fall.
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Photo credits: The Whimsical Photographer