The Outer Banks, located in North Carolina, encompasses fifteen towns that have a unique culture in the heart of the East Coast. These barrier islands stretch over 100 miles (160km)! We’ve been visiting for years and there is always something new to discover while visiting. I’d have to say that these barrier islands are some of the best places to visit in North Carolina.
The Outer Banks towns have been listed in order from north to south, and a map has been provided for reference. Learn about each town to figure out which one is the best one for your Outer Banks vacation!
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The 15 Towns of the Outer Banks (North to South)
Corolla is situated in the Outer Banks, between the ocean and the sound. It’s where we spend a week every year (so I may be a bit biased in this post haha), but really, there are so many things to do in Corolla.
On the beach, there are Colonial Spanish Mustangs that are unique to the island. They are wild horses and live in harmony with the Corolla residents. You can do a guided tour to see them or drive along the beach yourself (there is an air pump to remove air from your tires before you get on the beach). Learn more about seeing the wild horses of OBX.
Visitors can explore North Carolina’s rich biodiversity at the Center for Wildlife Education or participate in outdoor activities such as surfing, kiteboarding, water skiing, or kayaking in the ocean. Adventure seekers can also enjoy a thrilling day at Corolla Adventure Park.
Experience the full scope of the Outer Banks by ascending to the summit of the stunning Currituck Beach Lighthouse, part of the Historic Corolla Park. Learn about the history of the area at the Whalehead Club and Maritime Museums in the park as well.
Duck is a small town that packs a lot in it – perfect for a great vacation.
This town, situated on the border of Currituck Sound and the Atlantic, has a history of waterfowl hunting dating back to the 1800s (hence the name). It also provides a suitable location for water sports.
There’s quite a variety of fine dining restaurants and shopping available in Duck. One gem that we always visit in the Outer Banks is Duck Donuts. There are a few locations on the barrier islands. Freshly made decadent donuts are the perfect reason to remember that calories don’t count on vacation!
Throughout the year, Duck offers a variety of special events in Duck Town Park including a Jazz Festival and a Yuletide Celebration. So be sure to check out their calendar of events (link).
For a unique tour of the town (and more towns of the Outer Banks) take a jet ski tour! It was such a cool experience to see the towns from the water. We also got to see the hunting huts in the water. Don’t worry, they’re no longer used.
Southern Shores is one of the smallest towns in the Outer Banks. Since it’s smaller than Duck and Kitty Hawk, it offers a peaceful vacation spot for those seeking to get away from the crowds.
Southern Shores is a town known for its natural beauty featuring beautiful landscapes, uncrowded beaches, biking trails, marinas, boutique stores, sports courts (such as tennis and pickleball), and a variety of restaurants.
The town has a peaceful atmosphere during dusk, but it’s also nearby other towns in the Outer Banks that offer various entertainment options, so you can still enjoy a night out while having peace and quiet at home.
Kitty Hawk is one of the most famous and popular towns in the Outer Banks. It’s more centrally located on the islands and is relatively easy to get to.
Kitty Hawk Woods Coastal Reserve offers visitors the opportunity to explore the distinctive landscapes of the Outer Banks. You can learn about the diverse flora of the area. Walk along the natural trails in the maritime forests to observe the region’s exceptional wildlife.
The town’s architecture is in harmony with nature giving the town a distinct feel from other towns. There are many shopping options available for those travelers who enjoy coming home with the perfect souvenir! For those looking to get out on the water, be sure to take some surf lessons in Kitty Hawk!
This city offers a diverse selection of fine-dining restaurants for food enthusiasts. Additionally, numerous events are held throughout the year, including the Flying Pirate Half Marathon, art festivals including the OBX Arts & Crafts Festival, and tasting events, to provide entertainment options.
Kill Devil Hills
Kill Devil Hills is the oldest town on the Outer Banks and has plenty of things to do to impress visitors.
Visitors should take the opportunity to explore the Wright Brothers National Memorial. Even though I’m not a history person, it was really cool to learn about the brothers’ path to the first flight. The museum showcases their journey, why they chose Kill Devils Hill, and even has a life-size replica of the first-ever airplane. You can also go out to the field and see how far the first flight truly was. The Memorial is a must-do for anyone visiting!
Avalon Fishing Pier offers amenities such as food and drink options, fishing gear shops, and space for fishing on the pier.
Nags Head, situated in the heart of the Outer Banks, is a town where history and modern living converge. The Historic District offers a glimpse of the town’s distinctive architectural style. Be sure to put on your comfortable shoes so you can enjoy a walk around town.
Visitors can enjoy a peaceful walk along the untouched 7-mile shoreline and pass by modern cottages with traditional Nags Head architecture.
Jockey’s Ridge State Park is the main attraction of the city, offering the largest sand dunes, hiking trails, a visitor’s center and museum, a gift shop, and a variety of water sports for beachgoers.
The town has two fishing piers, the Nags Head and Outer Banks Fishing Piers, that provide enjoyable fishing opportunities and the chance to catch some exciting fish. Try your luck catching Surf Bluefish or Striped bass! A great way to discover Nags Head is through a scavenger hunt!
Another famous town in the Outer Banks, Manteo is actually located on Roanoke Island.
The downtown area offers a variety of waterfront restaurants, shops, and art galleries featuring both antique and modern exhibits, historic homes, and other attractions.
One can experience the views of the Outer Banks from the water by taking a boat tour departing from Manteo Waterfront Marina. This is a great way to get a new perspective of the area.
Visitors can learn about the region’s history by visiting Fort Raleigh National Historic Site or Roanoke Island Festival Park, as well as experiencing historical sites such as the Elizabethan Gardens or Island Farm. There are even ghost tours to take where you can learn about the history of Manteo and the Outer Banks.
The Roanoke Island Maritime Museum offers a chance to view unique artisanal work and also functions as a boat shop near the lighthouse. Any boat lover would enjoy visiting this museum!
Rodanthe, one of the Tri-Villages, is known for its tranquil and unspoiled beaches and was formerly renowned as the top lifesaving station on the East Coast.
The Chicamacomico Live-Saving Station, located in Rodante, is a museum that features rescue missions. It was previously used as a base for one of the first life-saving stations in the Outer Banks so it has a variety of impressive stories!
Pamlico Sound offers visitors the opportunity to engage in a range of water sports, including windsurfing, kiteboarding, kayaking, and swimming in clear waters. With fewer crowds than most places in OBX, it’s a great way to have your own space in the water.
The Rodanthe Fishing Pier is a popular destination for fishing enthusiasts.
Waves is situated on the northern part of Hatteras Island and is one of the Tri-Villages. It offers beautiful beaches and oceanfront rentals and is known for its extensive range of water sports activities.
Visitors can also explore the nearby Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, which is home to a diverse range of wildlife, including more than 400 species of birds. The refuge offers opportunities for hiking, birdwatching, and photography.
Finally, Waves is known for its excellent seafood and local cuisine. Visitors can enjoy fresh, locally caught seafood at a variety of restaurants, including famous Outer Banks-style barbecue and seafood shacks. Avoid the crowds of the more popular towns and head to Waves for a delicious meal. There are also several art galleries and unique shops, offering visitors a chance to experience the local culture and community.
Salvo is the southernmost of the Tri-Villages and offers family-friendly activities in a peaceful environment.
The OBX town is similar to other towns in the area and has many beach house rentals and calm beaches for sunbathing. The Salvo Day Use Area is a popular attraction, featuring pristine beaches, picnic facilities, and restrooms. You can also get a great view of sunrises and sunsets. So if you’re not staying in OBX this is a great place to use for a day trip to the beach!
The city is located near Rodanthe Pier and has the original replica of the US’s smallest post office.
Avon is located in the center of Hatteras Island with plenty of beautiful beaches to appease any visitor.
The town’s primary attraction is Avon Pier, which offers a snack bar and convenience store for fishing needs. Additionally, the Koru Beach Club provides entertainment for those who prefer nighttime activities.
Kinnakeet Village offers visitors the opportunity to view the oldest houses with coastal gardens and stunning scenery. Avon Harbor offers stunning views of both sunrises and sunsets, as well as miles of undeveloped beaches.
Buxton is a small town located next to Avon that offers a variety of activities. Cape Point, which is situated on Hatteras Island, is renowned for its popular beach ramp and exceptional fishing opportunities.
Visitors can enjoy a panoramic view of Outer Banks town from the top of the famous Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. You can explore the history of the area at the nearby Keeper’s house museum.
Canadian Hole and Kite Point are popular locations for windsurfing and kiteboarding, which is not allowed on most other beaches. Visitors can also hike in Buxton Woods Coastal Reserve to observe the maritime forests and wildlife.
Frisco, located on Hatteras Island, is known for its peaceful atmosphere and is a popular choice for those seeking a relaxing beach getaway.
The Outer Banks town has unspoiled beaches and two campgrounds. Visitors can learn about the region’s history at the Frisco Native American Museum, which has countless artifacts on display!
The Frisco Pier was once a popular spot to enjoy ocean views and sunrises/sunsets, but it now stands as only a skeleton due to storms. It’s a sad sight but a powerful reminder of the strength of Mother Nature.
The city has a variety of restaurants and shops, as well as an amusement center that features the island’s only go-kart track.
Hatteras is a popular place for those who enjoy fishing and the beach, as it is located along the border of Hatteras Inlet.
The location is known for its beaches, fishing opportunities, and regular fishing events.
Hatteras Landing offers a variety of stores and restaurants, as well as live music in a peaceful environment. The Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum showcases Hatteras’ distinctive maritime history. Learn all about the dangers of sailing a ship along the coastline. You can also see Bodie Island Lighthouse at the north end of Hatteras.
Consider taking the Hatteras/Ocracoke Ferry for scenic views of the Outer Banks or for a day trip to Ocracoke Island.
Ocracoke is a town located on the Outer Banks of North Carolina with over TEN miles of beaches, making it a popular destination for those seeking a peaceful and quiet atmosphere. There’s no need to worry about being crowded on the beach in Ocracoke!
The town is small and has numerous historical sites to explore, such as the Ocracoke Island Lighthouse, which is the oldest in the state, and the Ocracoke Preservation Museum which is devoted to preserving the area’s history.
You can learn about the unique Ocracoke Banker Ponies at the Pony Pen. These ponies are a distinct breed of Spanish mustangs, similar to the ponies in Corolla. You can also go bird-watching at Springer’s Point Preserve. It’s a significant natural heritage area because of the maritime forest which is home to colonial water birds.
Ocracoke Village offers a variety of dining and shopping options, as well as opportunities for boating and fishing, ensuring a memorable stay.
While my family loves Corolla, it’s truly impossible to determine the best Outer Banks Towns (even for families)! It all depends on you and what you’re looking for. I hope this guide to the towns of the Outer Banks helps you determine which one is perfect for your vacation! If you decide to vacation here, let me know in the comments which one you stayed at.