The Guide to Planning Your Outer Banks Vacation

Wood pier on sand and ocean with sunset and moon in background

The Outer Banks is a two hundred-mile stretch of barrier islands off the mainland of North Carolina. Commonly referred to as the OBX, this stretch of beaches provides a gorgeous backdrop for sun, fun, and plenty of recreational activities.

The Outer Banks islands are a popular vacation destination that starts at the Wright Brothers Bridge, continues through the state parks, and really takes hold in the shipwreck diving sites.

Looking at a North Carolina Nautical map, you will see the Outer Banks islands separate the Atlantic Ocean from the mainland of North Carolina. With hundreds of miles of pristine beaches, the area has become a popular vacation destination. Whether you seek sea glass, fresh seafood, or a history lesson, you will find the Outer Banks to be everything you hoped for and more.

Fabulous Things to Do in the Outer Banks

With miles of shoreline and bustling beach towns, your vacation in the Outer Banks will be full of fun in the sun. You can spend your days exploring historical sites or lounging on the beach, soaking up the island vibes. Either way, your time on the Outer Banks islands will be an adventure you will not soon forget.

Do Not Miss These OBX Attractions

  • Diving Sites
  • Kitty Hawk Kites
  • Wright Brothers National Memorial
  • Lighthouses
  • The Lost Colony Outdoor Drama 

Diving Sites

Girl in diving gear reaching out to camera

The waters off the Outer Banks islands have long been known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic. Heavily used in earlier days as a major trade route, this area could have as many as three thousand shipwrecks, creating a spectacular opportunity for scuba diving. So, whether you dive the “Triangle Wrecks” off Kill Devil Hills or the “Huron” off Nags Head, there is no better place on the east coast for a breathtaking scuba experience.

While shipwrecks off the coast of the Outer Banks islands are real, the popular depiction on Netflix called Outer Banks, sadly, is not. These hunks are searching for fictional treasure, very – very – loosely based on any of a number of wrecks in the cold Atlantic waters. The history may be inaccurate, but the actors make hunting for booty look good! 

Kitty Hawk Kites

Family on pontoon boat rental in ocean

This is the site of your next great adventure! With an amazing array of activities enjoyed on land, in the air, or on water, you are sure to find your next favorite thing or the epic experience that makes your heart skip a beat. Kitty Hawk Kites will complete your adventure itinerary in one stop with its bike rentals, skimboards, pontoon boats, and so much more!

Wright Brothers National Memorial

Wright Brothers airplane wing memorial

Be sure and set aside a few hours to immerse yourself in the dream of flight memorialized in the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills. This memorial celebrates the first successful flights in a craft that was “heavier-than-air.”

The bravery and brilliance of the two young men from Dayton, Ohio, is beautifully displayed in educational installations that will capture your attention and remind you how far the fantasy of flight has progressed. 

Lighthouses

Outer Banks Blue and White striped light house next to small house in field

There are five lighthouses on the barrier islands of the Outer Banks. Two of these lighthouses, Bodie Island Lighthouse and Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, are open seasonally for climbs. Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is the tallest brick lighthouse in the United States and is recognized for its black and white candy cane striped pattern.

Five Lighthouses on the Outer Banks

  • Currituck Beach Lighthouse
  • Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse
  • Bodie Island Lighthouse
  • Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
  • Ocracoke Island Lighthouse

The Lost Colony

The Lost Colony reenactment in Outer Banks

The Lost Colony outdoor drama is the longest-running outdoor symphonic drama in the country. It is the tale of the 117 men, women, and children who were the original settlers on Roanoke Island.

The story is told in heartbreakingly vivid detail, placing you in the center of the action. This play has continuously run since 1937 and provides the perfect amount of laughter, romance, music, and dance to keep audiences coming back season after season.

The Outer Banks islands have something for everyone. You will make quick study of a North Carolina nautical map and discover the exciting activities that surround the barrier islands. So, whether you are looking for a history lesson or to make history on an epic wild horse adventure, your trip to OBX will be one for the books. 

Stay in Style on the Outer Banks

There are a variety of Outer Banks vacation rentals that offer superb lodgings. You can choose a large chain hotel, or you can enjoy the charm of an off-the-beaten-path local inn. If the soundtrack of your vacation needs the soothing sound of crashing waves, you will not have to look far on your Outer Banks map to find the perfect lodging.

The Inn on Pamlico Sound

Cape Hatteras National Seashore

A full-service boutique hotel with stunning waterfront accommodations set in the natural beauty of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. The inn sits on a ridge between the Pamlico Sound and the Buxton Woods coastal preserve, guaranteeing unparalleled waterfront views.

The waters of Pamlico Sound, clearly seen on a wood chart, are best known for their recreational hot spots and life-sustaining ecosystems for salt-dependent wildlife.

The Lighthouse View Oceanfront Lodging

Looking up view at blue and white stripped swirl lighthouse

Your ultimate Outer Banks islands destination. From motel rooms to cottage homes, you will find the perfect home away from home while you spend your days on the shores of Cape Hatteras. Literally within the shadow of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, this location could not be any closer to the beach and exciting water sports to fill your days with delight.

Looking for a romantic get-away? Want to re-create those steamy nights from “The Nights in Rodanthe”? Whether you envision scenes from the book or the movie, a dreamy AirBnB in Rodanthe will provide the perfect backdrop for days spent lounging together on the sand and moonlit walks along the water’s edge.

Where to Eat in the Outer Banks

If you are looking for great seafood, eateries in the Outer Banks islands are legendary for the effort and passion of the local chefs. Standard local seafood favorites include yellowfin tuna, sea trout, and fresh oysters plucked from the cold waters of the Atlantic. No matter where you are on the barrier islands, consult your Outer Banks map and you will find that you do not have to go far to find locally sourced seafood.

The Outer Banks Boil Company in Corolla offers a creative take on the traditional crab boil. The beach custom of steaming up a pot of potatoes, corn, sausage, and shrimp to dump on a table and share with family and friends evolved into an epic opportunity for catering. So, bring the Boil Pot home with their deliciously simple “We Steam” or “You Steam” options and taste the freshness of local Outer Banks islands seafood.

Oyster platter with lemons and sauce

Harbor House Seafood knows that some nights you just want to put the freshest catch on your own grill. Operating as both a fish dealer and a retail fish market, Harbor House offers freshly caught seafood from local fishmongers and makes it available for locals and visitors alike. You will treasure an evening spent around a bonfire on the beach, cooking fresh favorites and enjoying local craft beer and wine.

To finish off your meal or for a cool treat during the day, you cannot miss the Surfin’ Spoon. A celebrated staple in Nags Head, the Surfin’ Spoon offers frozen yogurt with a side of community love. Created by a former surfer and his artist wife, this shop gives more than smiles to its customers.

Visitors are encouraged to stick quarters in the cracks of the ceiling as a donation to Surfing for Autism, a local organization supporting the needs of individuals with autism. This creative give-back program has donated over $18,000 so far, showing that fro-yo is more than just a refreshing treat.

With a great variety of dining options, visitors to the Outer Banks islands will not go hungry. Whether you are craving casual fare, fine dining, or a cook-out on the beach, you will find more than enough choices as you cruise through the beach towns of the OBX.

Points of Interest on an Outer Banks Map

Outer Banks North Carolina 3-D Nautical Wood Chart

The Outer Banks islands are known for their hundreds of miles of pristine beaches. There is no pier to spoil the natural beauty, and locals and visitors can access the beach and walk anywhere for free. Interesting towns with unique attractions dot the coastline.

Looking for wild horses? Ride into Corolla. Fancy some hand gliding? Slide into Nags Head. Your North Carolina nautical map will reveal the best areas to encounter water adventures. Whether you seek rest, seclusion and relaxation or adventure, outdoor activities, and excitement, the Outer Banks islands are your dream destination.

Cape Hatteras 

Home to the tallest brick lighthouse in the United States.  Unfortunately, the original Cape Hatteras Lighthouse was ineffective at warning sailors of the dangerous shores due to its height and weak light, requiring it to be deconstructed and replaced by the taller structure in 1870. The original keepers of the lighthouse made up to $800 a year in exchange for maintaining the lighthouse and light operations.

Hatteras Island 

Part of the Outer Banks barrier island between the Atlantic Ocean and the Pamlico Sound. This unique expanse of water creates the perfect playground for watersports such as:

Watersports on Hatteras Island

  • surf fishing
  • windsurfing
  • kiteboarding

The new and much-anticipated Basnight Bridge opened in 2019 to cross the Oregon Inlet, connecting Bodie Island with Hatteras Island. A 2.8 mile visually superior structure, this bridge serves as a vital hurricane evacuation route for the Outer Banks islands. 

Bodie Island 

Has two accepted origins for its name. The first story gives credit to the name of the island coming from the original settler, “Body” or “Boddy.” The second story offers a more intriguing legend, crediting the name to the many bodies that washed up on the shores from centuries of shipwrecks in the Outer Banks Graveyard of the Atlantic Ocean.

Boddy or bodies? You can discover your answer during your Outer Banks islands vacation.

Roanoke Island 

Roanoke Marsh Lighthouse

A barrier island roughly eight miles long. It is the site of the first English colony in the New World, Roanoke Colony. Roanoke Island is best known for the mystery of the disappearance of more than a hundred men, women, and children in 1590. This disappearance is addressed in the Lost Colony outdoor drama, America’s longest-running play.

Fort Raleigh 

A Natural Historic Site that protects the dramatic history of Roanoke Island. It preserves the cultural history of the island’s inhabitants, including Native Americans, European Americans, and African Americans. It preserves the island’s history between 1584 and 1590, which contains portions of the New World’s first known settlements.

Kitty Hawk Bay 

Was named “Chickenhauk” by the Algonquin-speaking tribes that first inhabited the land. Over time, the name evolved into Kitty Hawk, and the town became the site of the Wright Memorial Bridge in the 1930s. This bridge connected Kitty Hawk with the northern beaches of the Outer Banks and Currituck, creating the initial bridge to tourism that the Outer Banks islands enjoy today.

Kitty Hawk Pier

Kitty Hawk Pier in front of beautiful sunset

Built in 1953 and offered visitors that crossed the Wright Memorial Bridge their first exciting glimpse of life in the Outer Banks. The original pier, with its famous restaurant, was a top fishing destination. After being destroyed by Hurricane Isabel in 2003, the pier and pier house have been rebuilt and have come back better than ever!

With so much to see and do on the two-hundred-mile stretch of the Outer Banks islands, you will lose yourself in the adventures onshore and the depths of the waters. The Outer Banks wood chart is an elegant commemoration of the vacation and a perfect depiction of the waters where you dove to explore the shipwrecks.

After a beautiful vacation exploring the history and beauty of this barrier island, experiencing the friendliness of the locals, and falling in love with the casual beach town décor, you will return home with a new, nautical outlook on life. A high-quality wood chart of the Outer Banks islands will elevate your décor and bring that relaxed vacation vibe into your daily life.

There are so many reasons to visit the Outer Banks islands. Whether you want to soak up the sun, enjoy water sports, or explore the significant history of this renowned stretch of islands, this guide is only the beginning. Your adventure in the OBX begins the moment you cross the Wright Brothers Memorial Bridge. Where you go from there is the rest of your story!


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