If you’re looking for the best towns in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, you’ve come to the right place!
The Outer Banks is a stunning chain of barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina. Separated from the mainland by a string of shallow sounds, the towns of the Outer Banks should be near the top of everyone’s North Carolina bucket list!
The Outer Banks towns have a unique and fascinating history. The area off of the Outer Banks is known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic where more than 5,000 ships have gone down in the shallow waters.
During the 1600s and 1700s, the Outer Banks were the stomping grounds for Blackbeard and other famous pirates. The barrier islands are also famous for being home to the lost Roanoke Colony which is one of America’s biggest mysteries!
The Outer Banks is home to many lighthouses, amazing beaches, and the location of the Wright Brothers’ first flight.
You can find shops, delicious food, water sports, history, and much more on the Outer Banks!
Let’s look at the best cities in the Outer Banks, North Carolina!
Best Time to Visit Outer Banks Towns
If you are wondering when to plan your trip to the best towns in the OBX, here is a breakdown by season so you know what to expect.
If you want to avoid the crowds, then winter is the time to visit Outer Banks, NC. You will love the peace and quiet, but the solitude means many local restaurants and shops will be closed for the season.
You’ll have to pack a coat since the temps will be in the 40s and 50s F. However, it rarely snows. With water temps in the 30s and 40s F, you won’t be able to swim.
One of the best parts of visiting in the winter is the low prices. Hotels and vacation rentals drop in price, sometimes by half.
The Upside: No crowds, cheaper prices
The Downside: Chilly weather, cold water, many restaurants and shops are closed
In spring, the temps rise to the 60s and 70s F. As the season progresses, the water warms from the 40s to the 60s F.
While more crowded than in winter, the number of tourists remains low except for during spring break. If you want to avoid crowds, make sure to check the spring break schedule.
Attractions, restaurants, and shops will start to open up around Easter weekend so there will be more to do than in winter.
The Upside: Low crowds (outside of spring break), things start to open up, mild weather
The Downside: Water can still be chilly, spring break crowds
Summer is the hottest time to visit the OBX with daytime temps in the 80s F. With water in the 70s F, this is the best time to swim. This is also the beginning of hurricane season.
The great weather draws in the crowds and it is best to book accommodations in advance because things will book up.
Summer is a great time for water sports and there are many fun events such as the OBX Watermelon Festival and the Outer Banks Pirate Festival.
The Upside: Warm water, many fun events
The Downside: Very crowded, higher prices, hurricane season
In fall, the crowds begin to diminish and the temps gradually drop from the 80s to the 60s. The water temps go from the 70s to the 40s F. Hurricane season extends until the end of November.
There are also great fall festivals in the Outer Banks. You will love the Duck Jazz Festival and Outer Banks Seafood Festival.
Prices will also begin to drop.
The Upside: Low crowds, fun festivals, mild weather, cheaper prices
The Downside: Water temps drop late in the season, hurricane season
12 Best Towns In The Outer Banks, NC, You Must Visit
The town of Ocracoke is located on Ocracoke Island. The most popular way to get to Ocracoke Island is via a drive-on ferry from Hatteras.
The ferry ride is free and takes between 45 minutes to an hour. You can get out of your vehicle and walk around the ferry, head inside the air-conditioned interior where you can sit down and enjoy the views from the windows, or you can head up to the top of the ferry to get a view 360-degree view of the sand bars that surround the ferry!
Of the best beach towns in the Outer Banks, NC, Ocracoke has the most pirate history! In fact, just off the coast of the Ocracoke Village in Teach’s Hole is where Blackbeard met his demise!
If you love to lay on the beach you will find your own slice of heaven in Ocracoke. The Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach has been ranked the #2 beach in the country! Don’t forget to check out our list of the Best Islands In North Carolina if you want to explore!
You can also check out Ocracoke Lighthouse which holds the record for being the shortest in all of North Carolina at just 75 feet. It also holds the record of being the lighthouse that has been operating the longest in North Carolina!
Hatteras is one of the best OBX towns for water sports! Windsurfing, kite surfing, and stand-up paddle boarding are all popular in Hatteras.
If water sports aren’t your thing, you can still get out on the water on a fishing charter! This is truly one of the best beach towns in North Carolina!
A trip to Hatteras is all about enjoying nature! You can enjoy a walk through the salt marshes and maritime forest on the boardwalk in Hatteras Village Park. The Sea Breeze Trail will take you out over the water where you can see herons, osprey, and many other types of birds and wildlife.
The Hatteras Island Ocean Center is a must when in Hatteras! You can stop in for some ice cream or smoothies, see their turtle exhibits, and get a kayak tour of the winding wetlands that lead out into the Pamlico Sound.
The town of Hatteras is located on the southern end of Hatteras Island. The town is home to The Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum and the ferry terminal that will take you down to the popular Ocracoke Island.
Another one of the prettiest small beach towns in the Outer Banks is Manteo! Home to the mysterious Lost Colony, Manteo is an adorable little town located on Roanoke Island.
Its central location makes it one of the best places to vacation in the Outer Banks!
To learn about the fascinating history of Manteo, you can head to Roanoke Island Festival Park. At the park, you can check out the Adventure Museum, explore the American Indian Town and the Settlement Site, and see one of the English Merchant vessels that came to Roanoke in the 1500s!
Manteo is also home to a unique lighthouse called the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse. Unlike most lighthouses, the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse wasn’t used for guiding vessels in the ocean. It was there to guide vessels through the estuaries and wetlands around Roanoke.
You can walk out to the lighthouse which is at the end of a wooden pier. You can get amazing views from the wrap-around deck and there is even a free museum underneath the lighthouse for you to explore!
There are tons of clothing and souvenir stores, restaurants, candy shops, ice cream shops, and much more waiting for you in downtown Manteo! The downtown area is very walkable and full of history everywhere you look!
Rodanthe is home to the Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station. For years it was a station for maritime rescue. It has since been decommissioned and turned into a museum you can visit!
The Rodanthe Pier is a great place to stop by when you’re exploring the town. You can get snacks and drinks, rent fishing rods, and walk out to enjoy the views from the end of the pier!
Rodanthe is also home to parts of the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. The Wildlife Refuge has gorgeous beaches and houses more than 250 types of birds, making it a popular destination for bird watchers and photographers alike.
You can also explore a part of the Hatteras National Seashore in Rodanthe. During the summer months, sea turtles visit the Hatteras National Seashore and often lay their eggs on Outer Banks beaches!
If you are looking for one of the best family towns in the Outer Banks, NC, this is it!
Buxton is one of the most quaint Outer Banks towns! It’s located in the northern part of Hatteras Island. It’s in Buxton that you can find the popular Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.
The lighthouse measures nearly 200 feet tall and is the tallest in the United States! Its black and white stripes and red bottom are iconic.
You can park at the visitors center where you only have a short walk to the lighthouse or you can get there via the six-mile Buxton Woods Trail. It’s perfect for those who love to be in nature. The trail will take you along wooden boardwalks through marshes where you can see a variety of coastal wildlife!
Just north of Buxton is the narrowest stretch of the Outer Banks where the only thing separating the Pamlico Sound from the Atlantic Ocean is a sand bar that is 150 yards wide! Driving across this section of the Outer Banks is such a cool experience!
Windsurfing has been one of the most popular things to do in the Outer Banks for decades and the sport is still thriving to this day.
One of the most popular windsurfing locations is at Canadian Hole. The area got its name thanks to the thousands of Canadians that would make the long journey down to Buxton to experience the fantastic windsurfing conditions!
Like any awesome southern road trip, a trip to Buxton wouldn’t be complete without checking out the local cuisine. The Orange Blossom Cafe in Buxton is famous for its delicious “apple uglies” which are full of apples and cinnamon goodness! The cafe is a popular breakfast and lunch spot for locals and visitors.
If you are looking for the best towns in the Outer Banks where you can get out on the water to surf or kayak, Kitty Hawk is for you! There are so many fun things to do in Kitty Hawk!
Kitty Hawk has rental shops and tour guides galore where you can go on stand-up paddleboard, kayak, and surfing adventures!
If you would rather enjoy the water from afar, you can head to the Kitty Hawk Wood Reserve where you can take a walk through the maritime forest. Another great option is Sandy Run Park. At the park, you can walk along wooden boardwalks and see turtles, river otters, and other wildlife!
The Wright Brothers had their first flight in Kitty Hawk. You can learn about their first flight and other flight history at the Monument to a Century of Flight in Kitty Hawk.
While you are here, make sure to check out some of the best restaurants in the Outer Banks!
Kill Devil Hills
Located just south of Kitty Hawk is the town of Kill Devil Hills. For those traveling on a budget, Kill Devil Hills is one of the best towns in the Outer Banks to stay in!
The town has a very unique name that is said to come about in a number of ways. Some say the name came from a popular rum called Kill Devil Rum that was strong enough to “kill the devil.” Others say it got its name because the waters around the town were so rough to navigate!
You can explore the Outer Banks Arboretum and Teaching Garden in Kill Devil Hills. The arboretum is a free park where you can enjoy the beauty of being in nature!
If exploring nature is your thing, head to Run Hill State Natural Area. Here you can traverse over naturally formed sand dunes and get great views of the surrounding areas!
Kill Devil Hills is home to the Wright Brothers National Memorial where you can learn all about the life of the Wright Brothers.
You can also check out the Avalon Pier! The beach surrounding the pier is stunningly clean and expansive. Outside of the summer months, you can obtain a permit to drive your vehicle onto the beach!
Duck is located just 15 minutes north of Kitty Hawk next to the Currituck Sound. It is one of the best Outer Banks towns for families!
One of the coolest things to do in Duck is to walk along the Duck Town Boardwalk. The mile-long boardwalk is a great place to support local shops, stop for a bite to eat, grab some ice cream, or just enjoy the breathtaking views over the water!
There are several different types of boat tours that leave from Duck, including vineyard and sunset tours!
Visiting Duck Donuts is a must when you’re in Duck! They now have hundreds of locations, but it’s such a cool experience to grab some of their delicious donuts in the town where they were first established.
You can head inside to buy some of their sweet treats and enjoy them outside overlooking the water! Make sure to check out our list of the best restaurants in Duck you must visit!
Corolla is one of the northernmost Outer Banks towns. Loads of history and fun activities await you in Corolla!
A must-visit when in Corolla, the Currituck Beach Lighthouse is the northernmost lighthouse in the Outer Banks. The lighthouse stands more than 160 feet high. If you dare the more than 200 steps to the top, you will be greeted by incredible views of the sound and Historic Corolla Park.
The grounds of Historic Corolla Park are a beautiful place to walk around and explore the beauty of Corolla. You can launch kayaks and small boats, see the Whalehead Club, and walk over several beautiful wooden bridges in the park.
Make sure to take a walk out to the gazebo in the park for sunset and wildlife viewing!
Corolla is also famous for the wild horses that roam the beaches. You can take your own four-wheel drive vehicle out onto the beach to see the wild horses up close.
There are also places to rent four-wheel drive vehicles that you can take out onto the sand. If you would rather have someone take you out to see the horses, there are wild horse tours available as well!
If you want a unique experience, this is easily one of the best Outer Banks beach towns.
Another one of the best towns in the Outer Banks is Nags Head. It is near the center of the Outer Banks, making it a perfect jumping-off point for all your Outer Banks adventures!
Nags Head is home to the Bodie Island Lighthouse! The lighthouse is beautiful and on the grounds is a long wooden boardwalk over the grass and marsh that takes you up to a viewing platform. The views from the platform are seriously breathtaking and a must-see when visiting Nags Head!
One of the coolest things to do in Nags Head is to visit Jockey’s Ridge State Park! The state park is home to the largest living sand dune on the east coast of the United States.
It’s totally free and it’s a great place for flying kites, hang gliding, hiking, and watching the sunset or sunrise! If you’ve never been hang gliding, you can rent gliders and take lessons at the park.
If you want to enjoy the beach and swimming in the ocean while in Nags Head, head to the beach at Jeanette’s Pier. The pier is the prettiest in all of the Outer Banks and makes for a fantastic view while sunbathing!
Frisco is another town on Hatteras Island located between Buxton and Hatteras. This town in the OBX has a good mix of nature and history.
Stop by the Frisco Native American Museum & Natural History Center to learn about the tribes that originally made this area home. There are a ton of artifacts and cool exhibits.
Frisco Beach is a beautiful place for some fun in the sun! Build sandcastles or search for seashells in the sand. Head into the waves to cool off and swim.
The Frisco Pier has been left in shambles after being hit by hurricanes. The skeletal structure makes a great subject for photography.
When you aren’t having a beach day, bring the kids to Frisco Mini Golf & Go Karts.
The Frisco Campground is a great place for camping in the Outer Banks. There are 127 sites with easy assess to the beach.
Salvo is a quiet, family-friendly OBX town perfect for relaxation and water sports. This is a beautiful area for jet skiing, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, or kiteboarding.
The Salvo Day Use Area is a pretty, oceanside park with picnic tables, grills, and plenty of space to have fun. The beach is clean with shallow water, perfect for younger kids to explore.
This is also one of the best places to watch sunrise or sunset in the Outer Banks!
If you want to find some unique art to bring home, check out Pea Island Art Gallery or Returning Tide Giftshop.
Salvo is where to stay in the Outer Banks if you want to get away from the crowds of the more popular OBX towns.
The natural wonders, beaches, lighthouses, and wild horses of the Outer Banks play such a beautiful role in the history and the beauty of North Carolina.
The Outer Banks is one of the most popular weekend getaways in North Carolina! Whether you want to go lighthouse hunting, looking for amazing beaches in North Carolina, or just a tranquil place to sit by the water, the Outer Banks has you covered.
There are so many places to go in the Outer Banks, NC. Which of these pretty Outer Banks towns will you visit next?