Great Outer Banks Beach Towns for Families

Last updated on: Jul 16, 2020

(Last Updated On: July 16, 2020)

Due to their unique location as barrier islands fronting both the Atlantic Ocean and the Pamlico Sound, the Outer Banks offer some of the best beaches in North Carolina. But with so many Outer Banks beach towns and vacation rentals to choose, how do you decide where to go with your family? 👭🏾

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Northern Outer Banks Beach Towns 🏖

Given that most Outer Banks islands are actually uninhabited, the most frequented island is Hatteras Island, which has more than 100 miles of coastline and several wonderful northern and southern 🏠 island towns.

The most popular Outer Banks beach towns are Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, and Nags Head, which are home of the Wright Brothers National Memorial, Jockeys Ridge State Park, a few 🏌️‍♀️golf courses, and the majority of restaurants, entertainment venues, shops, big box stores, and clusters of accommodations in the Outer Banks.

In the far north of the Outer Banks are the beach towns of Carova, Southern Shores, Corolla, and Duck, which is the birthplace of beloved mid-Atlantic eatery 🍩 Duck Donuts. These four towns are slightly more dense than the southern towns and make a great place for those looking for locales that are not too big and not too small, although size is relative here.

Offering a beautiful boardwalk, Duck is the most popular of these four towns, while Corolla is the second most popular, and it’s where you’ll find the iconic wild horses.

Southern Outer Banks Beach Towns 🏖

Though each of the northern towns has much to offer, the best spot for an Outer Banks beach vacation for families is in the southern towns, particularly the Tri-Villages of Rodanthe, Waves, and Salvo.

The reason is that the southern towns offer a calmer, less crowded experience. This means that the same expanse of beachfront will be less crowded, parking 🚙 spaces will be less competitive wherever you go, and your accommodations will likely be quieter and less busy as well.

Aside from the Tri-Villages, the southern town of Avon, which has the largest population of year-round residents, and Buxton, which is known for having the tallest lighthouse in the US, should also be considered.

Each of these towns are in close enough proximity to each other and to the Tri-Villages that it’s easy to visit the amenities in each town.

The towns of Frisco and Hatteras, which are located at the very end of the island, are not as central to amenities and perhaps too far for a typical family vacation.

However, you can still visit them on a day trip. They offer 🎣 fishing spots, off-road driving on sand dunes, and access to the beautiful Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

Prior to COVID-19, during January 2020, Kill Devil Hills and Nags Head had the highest occupancies, followed by Duck, Kitty Hawk, Avon, and Southern Shores.

To see the gross occupancy numbers for each Outer Banks beach town, visit the OBX website.

Itinerary Tips & Things to Do 🚣🏿‍♀️

Spending a week at an Outer Banks beach provides ample time to explore and relax.

If you desire to stay in the more popular, northern beach towns, split your time between one of the northern beach towns and one of the southern beach towns. Otherwise, spend a week in a southern beach town.

Grocery stop

Before you arrive at your vacation rental, visit a grocery store or retailer to stock up on food items you enjoy, as it’s a lot more convenient, especially for breakfast, and can save time and money.

Every morning, I enjoyed sipping passion fruit tea ☕ while looking at the ocean. It was very relaxing.

Breakfast - Outer Banks Beach Vacation and Rentals
Sipping tea with a view

Beach time on the Atlantic Ocean

Plan to spend most days at the beach on either the Atlantic side or the Pamlico Sound side.

Most of our days were spent lounging on the beach and dipping our toes in the sand and 🌊 refreshing waves.

The cool ocean breeze and 🌞 sun rays never felt so good!

Outer Banks Beach - Outer Banks Vacation Rentals
A little fun in the sun in the Outer Banks

Beach time on the Pamlico Sound

If you want to spend time in beaches with fewer waves and shallower water, you should consider visiting one of the Pamlico Sound access points on the western side of the island.

Salvo Access Point - Outer Bank Beach
Salvo Access Point

Click here for a list of locations where you can visit one of the sound access points for Outer Banks beaches.

Riding bikes

The southern Outer Banks beach towns are a great place to ride bikes, as there are sidewalk paths along one side of the main road, which allows cyclists to ride through the towns.

My girls loved riding their bikes in the neighborhood.

Cycling at Outer Banks Beach
Riding bikes in the Outer Banks

Water activities

If you’re into activities on the water, the Outer Banks offers many options. Due to sustained winds, kite surfing and 🏄🏾‍♀️ surfing are popular, and the Pamlico Sound is an excellent place for kayaking.

Kite surfing - Outer Banks Beach
Kite surfing in Pamlico Sound

You can rent kite surfing and traditional surfing equipment at Real Sports at Watermen’s Bar and Grill.

Other places like Ocean Atlantic Rentals and Hatteras Watersports offer rentals of other equipment for the beach and water activities.

If you love 🎣 fishing, one of the best spots in the southern Outer Banks beach towns is Haulover/Canadian Hole, which is south of Avon.

Due to the pandemic, we chose to skip activities that required use of shared equipment.

A day of rest

There should be at least one day when you have no plans. If you choose to still do an activity, you can still do so.

However, it’s nice to just go with the flow and try something different, such as movie night, a spa party, 🧘🏾 yoga, cycling, or just relaxing.

Yoga - Outer Banks Beach - Vacation Rentals
Yoga on the patio

Watching a sunset

When visiting the Outer Banks, watching a sunset 🌅 or two is a must. At the end of every day, we spent hours on the house’s deck watching the colors of the sunset. It was a wonderful family bonding experience.

Where to stay 🛌🏾

Since the Outer Banks islands are only about one mile wide, you can book a vacation rental practically anywhere and either walk to the beach or park near the beach and walk.

One of the best Outer Banks vacation rentals can be found in Black Dog Harbor. Located in a small community with a few properties, our vacation rental was a four-bedroom house with a car port for up to six cars.

The 🏠 house had fabulous ocean views, was decorated in a modern, nautical style, and and every amenity you could want. We loved every minute of our stay!

Outer Banks Beach House

Because the island is very small, it doesn’t take long to get anywhere in the southern towns. For example, it takes 30 minutes to reach Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

Where to eat 😋

Hatteras Bowls is wonderful takeout spot serving healthy eats such as vegan ice cream and acai bowls.

Hatteras Bowls Menu - Outer Banks Beach

Oceanas Bistro is an establishment serving a variety of different foods with an emphasis on seafood. Due to the number of flies in the outdoor dining space, it’s best to order takeout.

Ketch 55 is a seafood grill serving a variety of specialties from shrimp and grits to clams. The restaurant does not offer outdoor seating, so it’s best to order takeout.

Uncle Franks OBX is a hot dog and barbecue joint serving a variety of hot dogs inspired by regions of the US as well as renowned Carolina barbecue.

Village Conery is a traditional ice cream shop offering a much needed treat during those hot summer days.

Watermen’s Bar & Grill has an adjacent hotel and one of the best restaurants in the southern towns. It also have a bar, outdoor seating, and wonderful views.

Getting there 🚙

To get the Outer Banks, you must travel via Highway 64, which crosses Roanoke Island or via Highway 158 at Point Harbor. Once on the island, there is only one road, Highway 12.

If you are traveling with a family, consider renting a large SUV, such as a Ford Expedition or a GMC Excursion, because renting a larger vehicle will provide ample space and make the journey more comfortable.

Since we were practicing social distancing, we rented a Ford Expedition so that we could bring more of our own items, such as beach toys, bicycles, beach chairs, and beach umbrellas. Doing so also saved us time, hassle, and money.

Have you taken an Outer Banks beach vacation with your family? Did you stay in one of the many Outer Banks vacation rentals? What was your experience?

Author Profile

Taryn White
With 75+ countries and all 50 U.S. states crossed off her list, Taryn's wanderlust and wanderlist continue to grow! She loves historic places, off-the-beaten paths, and beautiful beaches. Follow her pursuits on Instagram and www.tripwishlist.com.

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