Last fall, I was invited by the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau on one of the best press trips I’ve ever been on to date. I had planned on publishing this guide in mid-March for the upcoming summer travel season, and then…well, I think we all know what happened in mid-March this year!
Now that things are starting to reopen, and folks are starting to plan quick socially distanced vacations this summer, I figured that now would be a great time to publish this guide. Please note that these photos are from October 2019. I highly encourage you to research any travel advisories before planning a trip, and to take all of the necessary safety precautions while traveling!
We all know that the Outer Banks is famous for its beaches, but what else can you do in the area beyond the beach? OBX is much more than a beach destination. It’s a coastal paradise that is full of rich history and culture and incredible food. Here are some places to eat and things to do in the Outer Banks!
The Best Places to Eat and Things to do in the Outer Banks
Getting There and Getting Around
I would highly recommend either driving your own car to the Outer Banks or renting a car to get there. The closest major airport to OBX is the Norfolk International Airport. From Norfolk, it is an 80-mile, 1.5-hour drive to the tip of the Outer Banks: Southern Shores, NC.
There’s also a lot to do and see in the Outer Banks, and you’ll likely hop from town to town in order to take in all that the area has to offer. Having a car made getting around a lot easier. Uber and Lyft are available, and I would encourage them for any night out on the town, but the towns/islands of the Outer Banks are a bit spread out, so you’re going to want to drive on your own during the day.
Where to Stay
The Outer Banks is a great place to visit with your family or a group of friends. OBX is known for its large beach house rentals. There are also some hotels and inns available if you’re traveling solo or with one other person, but renting a beach house is one of the best ways to experience the area. Plus, we loved having a kitchen to cook meals and a cozy spot to watch movies and hang out in on the days when the weather wasn’t ideal!
We stayed at Resort Realty’s Landfall II house in Nags Head during our visit, and we were blown away by this property. It has eight bedrooms, 8.5 bathrooms, a pool, and an elevator, and it can sleep 18 people. It also had a pool table and arcade area in the basement, a life-sized chessboard in the backyard, and was only a few blocks away from the beach. It also has an elevator, which is fantastic for accessibility.
Resort Realty made the check-in and check-out process super easy. The entire process was contactless and super simple. Plus, you’re welcome to bring your own linens if that makes you more comfortable!
Things to Do
- Visit the Wright Brothers National Memorial. Did you know that the first successful airplane flight took place in the Outer Banks? In 1903, the Wright Brothers achieved the feat in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. The Wright Brothers National Memorial is a great museum to visit to learn more about the scientific experiments that led to the first successful flight. Also, don’t forget to snap a photo at the top of Kill Devil Hill with the sculpture!
- Hike the Nags Head Woods Preserve. Craving a bit more nature? At the Nags Head Woods Preserve, you can do a bit of hiking, jogging, bird watching, and bowhunting in one of the largest remaining maritime forests on the East Coast.
This extensive ecological preserve protects a remarkable range of unique habitats, including forested dunes, interdune ponds, marshes, and wetlands.
- Climb the Bodie Island Lighthouse. The Bodie Island Lighthouse is one of the most picturesque sights in the area, but it also has a rich history that dates back 175+ years. The lighthouse was most recently restored in 2013 and is open to the public for tours. A note: pre-COVID, you were able to climb the lighthouse, but the lighthouse climbing Iis currently closed. It’s still a beautiful sight to view from afar if you’re up for it!
- Visit Jockey’s Ridge State Park. Hands down, this was my favorite thing we did on the trip. Jockey’s Ridge State Park is a 426-acre park that has the tallest and largest natural sand dune system in the Eastern United States. It is absolutely stunning, and a must-visit in the area!
There are two self-guided trails and nature programs available year-round. In addition to hiking, you can also partake in hang gliding, kite flying, and use their picnic facilities for a fun day out with a group.
- Go Crabbing with OBX Crabbing and Shrimping Charters. Shrimping and crabbing are two important parts of the culture of the Outer Banks. With OBX Crabbing and Shrimping Charters, you can learn how to catch fresh seafood, and you’ll often spot dolphins, osprey, pelicans, and all types of marine life on your charter as well!
Where to Eat and Drink
Breakfast & Brunch:
- Duck Donuts: Ok yes — Duck Donuts is a chain, and currently the fastest-growing donut shop in the U.S. However, it was founded in Duck, NC, so I wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit one of their original locations! They create fresh donuts daily and have some of the most delicious seasonal donut flavors as well.
- Pier House Restaurant: Breakfast and a view? I’m sold! Pier House is located on the Nags Head Fishing Pier, and if you dine at their restaurant, you’ll also get a pass to walk on the pier as well. They serve classic, American-style dishes with a Carolina twist.
- Waveriders Coffee & Deli: If you’re looking for a quick, delicious breakfast, or a casual brunch option, this is the spot for you. They offer incredible coffee, sandwiches with fresh ingredients, mimosa flights, and more. Plus, their outdoor dining areas are pet-friendly!
Lunch & Dinner:
- Cravings: We visited Coastal Provisions Oyster Bar & Wine Bar Café, Cravings’ sister restaurant last year, and we loved it. Sadly it has closed, but Cravings is run by the same team and is a great casual place to get seafood, steaks, drinks, and enjoy live entertainment.
- The Roadside Bar & Grill: The Roadside Bar & Grill is another great, casual spot that serves coastal cuisine and hand-crafted cocktails. Both locals and visitors adore this spot!
- The Landing Grill: For all of my seafood lovers, this is the spot for you! The Landing Grill is located right on the water in Wanchese Marina and offers some of the freshest seafood that the area has to offer. You can order steamed local seafood, classic Southern cuisine, North Carolina BBQ, and more!
- The Blue Point: If you’re looking for an upscale dining experience, The Blue Point is right up your alley. They recently celebrated their 30th anniversary, and they offer fresh-baked bread, biscuits, and desserts, and a menu crafted with the best seasonal, local produce and sustainable North Carolina seafood.
- 1587 Restaurant: 1587 is one of the most acclaimed restaurants in the area, and offers an elevated dining experience. Not only do they create exquisite steak and seafood dishes, but they also have an incredible wine list and an exceptional cocktail program. Try getting a reservation here after the sun goes down — the views of the moonrise on the water from this restaurant are incredible!
- Mulligan’s Grille: If you’re looking for a laid back dinner, this is your spot. Mulligan’s Grille is known for having the “Best Burger on the Beach” for over 20 years, and they have a “Farm to Fork” philosophy: their Green-tail Shrimp and Oysters come right from the waters of the Pamlico Sound, and their produce is grown on farms in Currituck County.
- Kill Devil Rum (Outer Banks Distilling Company): The Outer Banks Distilling Company was founded by four friends who were working at a local brewery, and decided to create their own craft distillery. They offer several types of rum, and their products are sold at stores across North Carolina, Virginia, and D.C. Pre-COVID, you could take a tour of the facility. However, nowadays they’re still offering samples of the product.
- Lost Colony Brewery & Café: Located in downtown Manteo, Lost Colony is a great casual brewery that offers homemade, award-winning beers and fresh food. It’s a great, casual spot to hang out, with incredible service.
Have you ever visited the Outer Banks? Which of these things to do in the Outer Banks looks most fun to you? Let me know in the comments!
Photos by Tom McGovern
Thank you to the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau for hosting me on a wonderful FAM trip in October 2019! All thoughts and opinions are my own.