Plan a trip Close to home with a sense of being far away.
Picture over 100 miles of shoreline, charming seaside villages, walkable waterfront vacation rentals—all within driving distance from home. If you are looking to escape crowded cities and overrun tourist spots, head to the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
The chain of barrier islands is remote yet easy to get to. Linked by coastal highway NC 12, the four islands consist of six towns and 12 villages, each offering a wide mix of romance, nature, and history only steps away from the ocean.
Summer, Spring or Fall
Though mainly known as a family summer destination, mild temperatures and cool sea breezes make the Outer Banks a great option to visit any time of the year. Most shops and restaurants are open from after Easter until the end of December. Snowless winters offer solitude, and the beaches are empty yet enjoyable.
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Fly or Drive
The Outer Banks (aka OBX) is easily accessible from Norfolk International Airport (82 miles north) in Virginia or Raleigh Durham International Airport (192 miles west) in North Carolina. The best way to explore the islands is by renting a car, and you can even drive in from most states on the East Coast.
Plan a Stay
Each of the towns in OBX has a unique personality, so make sure to split your time staying in a few different areas or at least driving around for a few days. There are a number of hotels, motels, vacation rental homes, and B&Bs to choose from for every budget.
Duck is the most affluent of the OBX towns, with boutique shops, fine dining restaurants and extravagant vacation homes. The Sanderling Resort in Duck is one of the few luxury resorts with a private beach, spa, swimming pool and restaurants.
The Lifesaving Station restaurant at Sanderling is an original rescue station from the 1870s that serves Carolina-sourced seafood delicacies such as blue crab and corn chowder, jumbo shrimp cocktail and pan-seared sea scallops. Spend time walking along the boardwalk, maritime forest and Duck Town Park. Rent a jet ski or simply hang out at the white sand beaches.
Pay a visit to the neighboring town of Kill Devil Hills, a landmark in aviation history. This is where the famous Wright brothers flew the world’s first heavier-than-air powered controlled flight in 1903. Next door to the Wright Brothers National Memorial is Outer Banks Brewing Station, the oldest wind-powered brewery in the U.S., which also serves local food.
Sand dunes, souvenir shops, dreamy lighthouses, and casual restaurants make up Nags Head, another popular OBX town. At Jockey’s Ridge State Park, you can not only see the tallest and largest natural dune system in the eastern U.S., you can even fly over them. Hang gliding and kite flying are popular sports here, which are safe and fun for all ages.
If you prefer something less adventurous, climb the 156-foot Bodie Island Lighthouse and watch the birdlife along the marshes. Or gallop through meadows and expansive beaches on a family-friendly Equine Adventures Horseback Tour.
No visit to the Outer Banks is complete without a day out in the water. Head over to Kitty Hawk, the largest adventure outfitter in OBX, to rent bikes, paddles, surfboards, kayaks, hang gliders and parasails.
Watch the Wildlife
Having a car allows you to explore the islands from Duck to Hatteras Island at your own pace. Travel through a distance of 83 miles, stopping to explore the rugged natural beauty of the island. Fishing boats pull into Hatteras Harbor and Cape Hatteras Lighthouse—the tallest in the United States. Grab a lunch of sustainably caught grouper and tuna sandwiches at one of the many family-owned restaurants along the way.
The Pea Island National Refuge at mile marker 31 offers a great opportunity to spot native birds, reptiles, mammals and amphibians.
Relax in Town
End your trip to the Outer Banks on Roanoke Island or the walkable waterfront downtown of Manteo. This is where you can slow down the pace, strolling through Elizabethan Gardens, charming downtown cafes and picturesque neighborhoods, and take a sunset sail through Roanoke and Albemarle Sounds.
When you are ready to travel, there are endless undeveloped coastlines, preserved wildlife, great fishing, and historic landmarks in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, making it an ideal close-to-home getaway.
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