The Outer Banks is a chain of barrier islands on the United States east coast in North Carolina. You can find various sandy beaches, each with its own unique vibe and activities. In this guide, we’re going to share the best Outer Banks beaches so you can find your ideal seaside destination!
North Carolina has a ton of natural beauty, but there’s no place quite like the Outer Banks, also known as the OBX. It offers a much-needed respite from the hustle and bustle.
Some beaches along the Outer Banks offer expansive shorelines with lots of space to enjoy the ocean by yourself, while other areas are bustling with locals and travelers. Whether you’re looking to relax, participate in water sports, go surf fishing, or a mix of it all – there’s something for everyone in the OBX.
Let’s take a look at the best Outer Banks beaches and get answers to common questions about your next beach adventure, from the best fishing spot and pet-friendly beaches to when to visit and travel tips.
Where are the Outer Banks?
The Outer Banks are a string of barrier islands that divide the Atlantic Ocean from the mainland in North Carolina. They’re located in Dare County and consists of three main islands: Hatteras Island, Roanoke Island & Dare Mainland, and Northern Beaches.
The shoreline spans over 100 miles, offering something for everyone! Surrounding the Outer Banks beaches are many areas that attract tourists. You can find various seaside villages and vibrant beach towns.
8 Best Outer Banks Beaches
Lining most of North Carolina’s east coast, there are many beaches to visit along the Outer Banks. Here are 8 of our favorites!
- Nag’s Head
- Kitty Hawk Beach
- Hatteras Island
- Duck Beach
- Ocracoke Island
- Kill Devil Hills
- Corolla Beach
- Coquina Beach
With aquariums, piers, restaurants, and scenery, each beach offers its own look, vibe, and activities. Whether you’re looking for an adventurous beach trip, a relaxing weekend, or a fun family vacation, you’ll find it at one of these Outer Banks beaches.
1. Nags Head
With 12 miles of stunning shoreline, Nags Head has a reputation for being the best beach in North Carolina. It’s also incredibly easy to access as it’s located at the end of the bridge across the Roanoke Sound. It also has more than 30 public beach accesses.
Thanks to the immaculate beaches and tons of seaside amenities, Nags Head is one of the most renowned beach destinations in the OBX. There’s a little bit of everything for your enjoyment! You can also find plenty of parking, restrooms, and lifeguard stands on most areas of the beaches.
Visitors enjoy watersports like swimming, kayaking, and jet skiing at the beach. There’s also tons of space for sand sports and sunbathing. Jennette’s Pier is also a great spot to see the scenery and take photos. The 1870s Bodie Island Lighthouse is a neat landmark worth checking out, too!
After you’ve hung out on the beach, you can head over to Nags Head Wood Preserve to appreciate the wildlife and nature trails. For an exciting adventure, check out off-roading on the dunes at Jockey’s Ridge State Park. There are also mini-golf, ice cream shops, and go-kart tracks throughout the city of Nags Head.
2. Kitty Hawk Beach
Kitty Hawk Beach is another top-notch destination located in the northern Outer Banks. It’s a great vacation spot all year long and gets especially lively during the summer.
The beach is long and wide, and there’s access via various boardwalks beyond the sand dunes – 12 boardwalks, to be exact! The two most popular boardwalks are Duck and Manteo, where you can enjoy the views, dining, shops, and more.
Note: The Kitty Hawk Pier used to be a popular place to hang out, but it’s now private to only guests at the Hilton Hotel, which offers excellent accommodation in an even better location.
At Kitty Hawk Beach, people enjoy kiteboarding, kayaking, surfing, and swimming. You can also find trails that go through Kitty Hawk Woods Coastal Reserve and lead to nature paths and local wildlife viewing.
The city of Kitty Hawk is a great place to spend some time for a beach vacation. You can find many accommodations, local restaurants, miniature golf, surf shops, and grocery stores.
Learn more about parking, lifeguard stands, and other amenities at Kitty Hawk Beach here.
3. Hatteras Island
Hatteras Island, or Cape Hatteras, is known for its immaculate 70-mile long shoreline along North Carolina’s coastline. Whether you’re looking for a secluded spot on the beach or an area that’s more vibrant, you can find it on Cape Hatteras.
Cape Hatteras is also a part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, featuring pristine beaches, maritime forests, and marshlands. It’s also home to a deep history and the iconic Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.
At the beach, you can go shelling, surfing, and birding. It’s also one of the only beaches in OBX, NC that allows beach bonfires.
If you enjoy fishing, you’re in luck! There are many fishing spots along Cape Hatteras. Cape Point Beach is one of the best spots for these activities. But, there are also many other gems along this stretch of sandy shores, including more deserted destinations.
Fun fact: Cape Hatteras National Seashore is one of the only beaches on the east coast where you can explore miles of beachfront on the sand in a 4WD!
When it comes to entertainment and shopping on Hatteras Island, you’ll find that there are 7 villages throughout the island. Each one offers opportunities for shopping, dining, and sightseeing. Hatteras Village is one the most popular for tourists.
4. Duck Beach
Duck Beach is quickly becoming another favored Outer Banks Beach. It’s unique in that the city of Duck has beaches on the sound side and the ocean side, allowing visitors to enjoy two beautiful bodies of water. Duck is located close to Kitty Hawk, just on the other side of Southern Shores, so it’s easy to check both of these out if you’re looking to hang out on various beachfronts.
Duck Beach is the ideal place to visit if you’re looking to book a beachfront vacation rental. There are no public beaches, which is exactly why the shores aren’t crowded. With that said, there is an expansive public boardwalk that offers various activities and amazing views.
Many visitors appreciate the small-town charm and flawless scenery due to the lack of development. The beaches are tranquil, and it’s not rare to only hear the peaceful sounds of waves crashing against the shore.
Beachgoers appreciate shelling at the nearly untouched sands along the beach. The water is perfect for jet skiing, windsurfing, surfing, and all kinds of other watersports. Pets are welcome to hang out on the beach, too!
There are also many local shops, family-owned restaurants, and live music venues along the beach. Town Park is a must-visit attraction, which features trails, a boardwalk, picnic areas, and more.
Local tip: Duck holds a really fun annual Jazz Festival every Columbus Day weekend!
5. Ocracoke Island
Ocracoke Island is home to historic villages and beautiful unspoiled coastlines. If you enjoy remote beaches, then this island is perfect for you. Although the southernmost section of the Outer Banks is challenging to reach, it’s worthwhile. With 15 miles of shoreline, you might even find stretches all to yourself.
This island can only be accessed by public ferry, and it has a small community of people in the Ocracoke Village. You can expect to find long stretches of beaches and a few simple activities. It’s the perfect place for beach bums to kick back and relax! Beachgoers also enjoy fishing, surfing, and kiteboarding.
Ocracoke is also a part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. After you reach the island, you’ll be able to find many beach access points. One of the most visited beaches in the area is Ocracoke Pony Pen, situated in the center of the island. Families love this spot due to the comfort of lifeguards on duty.
You can find various attractions around the beaches: Springer’s Point Nature Reserve, Ocracoke Island Lighthouse, and the Ocracoke Wild Horses. The Village of Ocracoke has a few quaint grocery stores, restaurants, and shops.
6. Kill Devil Hills Beach
While the name might make you question it, Kill Devil Hills’ beach is easily one of the best Outer Banks beaches for families. The city is home to miles of gorgeous sandy shorelines. Head to the beach access point at Ocean Bay Blvd for tons of amenities, sandy shores, and beautiful views.
At the beach, visitors enjoy water sports from fishing and swimming to snorkeling and surfing. It’s also a great place to build sandcastles and sunbathe. There are a ton of amenities, making it a convenient spot to hang out for the day – lifeguards, restrooms, showers, beach chairs and other gear rentals, etc.
Within town limits, you can find various activities. Paradise Fun Park is a go-to spot for families with mini-golf, bumper cars, and more. There are also many hotels, restaurants, ice cream stands, coffee shops, and more just past the sand dunes. The Wright Brothers National Memorial is an iconic site, and The Avalon Pier also has fun attractions and fishing spots.
So, how did a cool vacation spot get such a name? Locals debate how the name came to be, but a rumor says it’s a result of the local rum being so strong that it could literally “kill the devil.” Over time Kill Devil Hill’s name stuck.
7. Corolla Beach
If you’re looking for more of a hidden gem in the OBX, Corolla Beach is the place to go. It boasts pristine, gentle waters and wild horses that roam the beach. Best of all, there are few crowds at Corolla Beach!
Corolla Beach offers unique experiences, including horseback riding on the beach and 4wD accessible shores. The Currituck Sound is a great place to rent kayaks and explore the waters. You can also lay out a towel and spend the day sunbathing, having picnics, and reading a good book.
Explore more of Corolla’s wildlife, cultural heritage, natural history with the Center for Wildlife Education. They also offer horseback riding opportunities.
Should you decide to take a break from the beach, there’s no shortage of attractions around Corolla. From historic sites like the Whalehead Club mansion and the Currituck Beach Lighthouse to nature trails and golf courses, there’s the perfect activity for all kinds of travelers.
You can also find shopping centers, ice cream shops, waterfront restaurants, and accommodations in the area.
8. Coquina Beach
If you’re dreaming of a beach paradise, Coquina Beach is the Outer Banks beach for you! This undeveloped section of Cape Hatteras National Seashore is a protected slice of shore with an unmatched natural beauty.
The beach got its name from the colorful and bright coquina clams that you can find under the water during spring and summer. A shipwreck also occurred in 1921, and you’re free to go snorkeling to explore the wreckage left behind. Coquina is also a great place to go surfing, too.
At Coquina Beach, visitors appreciate surf fishing, plentiful seashells, and local wildlife. One of the best experiences at the beach is to take a charter boat tour for an incredible fishing experience. You’ll come across bluefish, mullet, and more.
With public beach access, you can drive a 4×4 along the beach road on the shore. To do this, you’ll need a beach driving permit. There’s also public parking at the beach, and you can easily walk to shore.
Outer Bank Beaches FAQs
Have some questions about the best Outer Banks beaches? We’re happy to answer them!
What is so special about the Outer Banks?
OBX, NC is unique because it offers an unexpected tropical paradise vibe. It’s a little slice of paradise in the city. Unlike many other beach vacation destinations, there aren’t busy theme parks or boardwalks, not many skyrise hotels and clubs, but boasts natural beauty instead.
Our favorite things about the best Outer Banks beaches are their protected charm, tranquil setting, and pristine waters.
What is the nicest beach in the Outer Banks?
If we had to pick our top three OBX beaches, they would be: Corolla Beach, Kitty Hawk, and Nags Head. And, truth be told, each Outer Banks beach on our list is incredibly nice, and it’s tough to go wrong with any of them!
Where is the clearest water in the Outer Banks?
During Summer and Spring, most Outer Banks beaches feature clear water. In fact, the OBX has some of the cleanest waters along the east coast. With that said, the waters can get a little sandy in fall and winter.
What are the best Outer Banks beaches for families?
Kill Devil Hills and Coquina Beach are the best beaches for families in OBX, NC. Kills Devil Hill is a more popular spot with tons of family-friendly activities on and off the water. Meanwhile, Coquina Beach is a more laid-back family vacation destination, with calm waters and fewer crowds.
Are beaches crowded in the Outer Banks?
In the summer, many of the best Outer Banks beaches are busy! Popular shores that attract a lot of tourists include: Kill Devil Hills, Kitty Hawk, Nags Head, and Duck.
If you’re looking for secluded beaches, check out Ocracoke Island or Corolla Beach. These have fewer crowds and tons of space for privacy on the shore.
Can you swim in the Outer Banks?
Yes, swimming in the Outer Banks is safe. Most beaches in the area have very low risks when playing in the water. With that said, you always want to be aware of water conditions.
The best Outer Banks beach for swimming is Coquina Beach, where you can find designated swimming areas, calm waters, and lifeguards. With that said, all destinations on our list above are great beaches for swimming and have lifeguards on duty.
Is the Outer Banks pet-friendly?
Yes! Many OBX beaches are pet-friendly, including Kitty Hawk, Duck, Kill Devil Hills, Nags Head, and Corolla. Different beachfronts have various rules regarding times furry beachgoers can visit, leash rules, etc.
Learn more here about pet-friendly shores and which ones allow for off-leash dogs.
Where is the best surf fishing in the Outer Banks?
Cape Point Beach, Hatteras Island’s easternmost beach, offers the best surf fishing in the Outer Banks. In fact, the North Carolina coast features some of the country’s best fishing spots, hence why many anglers flock to the area!
Tip: All anglers that fish at North Carolina’s beaches, sounds, or any other bodies of water must obtain a Coastal Recreational Fishing License (or saltwater fishing license). These are easy to purchase online here!
What is the best month to visit the Outer Banks?
OBX is awesome all year, but different times of year offer various experiences. Here’s a quick guide to help you choose the best time to visit:
- For warm weather and water, visit between May and August. This is OBX’s peak-season is best for enjoying all the beach and touristy activities.
- For nice weather, fewer crowds, lower rates, and local events, visit in April or May.
- For pleasant weather, fewer crowds, lower rates, and a low-key vibe, visit between September and Novemeber.
- For chilly (but not too cold) weather, the lowest rates, and very few crowds, visit between December and March.
Note: Some restaurants and tourist attractions close during the off-season (early fall to late spring).
What airport is closest to the Outer Banks?
The closest airport to OBX, NC is The Norfolk International Airport. It’s 82 miles north of the Outer Banks. Further away is the Raleigh-Durham Intl. Airport, which is about 192 miles west.
The good news about driving to the best Outer Banks beaches from the airport is that there’s a scenic route and fun stops to make along the way. It’s always nice to take the Outerbanks National Scenic Byway as you drive down from the airport.
Enjoy Visiting the Best Outer Banks Beaches
The Outer Banks offers some of the most gorgeous shores along the Atlantic Ocean. Whether you’re looking to get away from the hustle and relax, participate in water adventures, or some of both, you’re sure to find it at the best beaches in the Outer Banks.
With pristine water, sandy shores, wild horses, water sports, and so much more, Outer Banks coastlines are some of the best in the world!