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Why Go To Outer Banks

History drips from the Outer Banks: Here, aviators Orville and Wilbur Wright took their famous first flight (at Kill Devil Hills), the pirate Blackbeard fought his last battle (at Ocracoke) and the mysterious Lost Colony disappeared (exactly where is anyone's guess, but last seen on Roanoke Island near Manteo). But this chain of barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina – affectionately dubbed OBX – isn't just for history buffs. Fishing, windsurfing and wildlife watching attract adventurous types, not to mention the roughly 3,000 shipwrecks you can explore by snorkel and scuba diving. Families gravitate toward the beaches, mini-golf courses and the North Carolina Aquarium at Roanoke Island.

Each island has its own charm: The old lighthouses, rugged dunes and secluded beaches in the south coupled with vacation rentals, water sports and kitschy beach shops in the north, all form a unique seaside destination. OBX is ideal for those looking to skip overly developed touristy towns and head straight for the unspoiled beaches. You won't find big nightlife, but you will find an abundance of natural beauty. Beaches are more populated during the summer months, but with so many destinations spread out along the barrier islands, you likely won't experience big crowds. 

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Rankings

The U.S. News & World Report travel rankings are based on analysis of expert and user opinions. Read more about how we rank vacation destinations.

Best of Outer Banks

Outer Banks Travel Tips

Best Months to Visit

The best time to visit the Outer Banks is March to May or September to November, when rates drop and crowds dissipate. Most locals and out-of-towners arrive during the summer months when the temperatures are the warmest. Similar to other parts of the Southeast, the temperatures stay relatively warm and humid – with average highs hitting the upper 80s in the summer – until the winter months, when the weather dips into the 40s and 50s. Keep in mind that during the offseason some attractions, as well as restaurants and shops, may close or operate under more limited hours. 

Weather in Outer Banks

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Average Temperature (°F)
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74
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44
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Average Precipitation (in)
0.21
0.14
0.18
0.13
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0.16
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0.21
0.18
0.19
0.19
0.17
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See details for When to Visit Outer Banks

Data sourced from the National Climatic Data Center

What You Need to Know

  • Off-roading Four-wheel drive vehicles are allowed on some of the shoreline, just remember to obtain a permit and drive at a slow and steady pace (the speed limit is 15 mph).
  • Know the swim code If the red flag is flying, the tides are too strong for swimming. Also stroke clear of the surfing areas; otherwise, you'll be a danger to the surfers and yourself.
  • Prepare for Saturdays Traffic is at its peak on Saturdays (most travelers choose to start or end their vacations on Saturdays). Consider arranging to arrive on a different day of the week or use an alternate route to avoid getting stuck on the small two-lane roads. The OBX tourism board offers helpful driving tips on its website.

How to Save Money in Outer Banks

  • Skip the summer Lodging prices jump sky-high to take advantage of the summer crowds, so plan an offseason visit instead. Most attractions will still be open – even the outdoor spots. 
  • Pass up the hotel Save money and get a more authentic experience by securing a rental cottage or a beachfront house. The National Park Service also reserves camping spots for around $20 to $30 a night if you feel like roughing it.
  • Skim the site The Outer Banks Visitors Bureau posts local deals on lodging, travel packages and business specials, so check out the website as you plan. 

What to Eat

Many families who rent homes for their vacation make a trip to the local grocery stores and seafood markets and cook most meals at home (the Dockside N' Duck is a good place to start). When you do venture out, you'll find that fresh seafood with a southern twist is an Outer Banks specialty. Most establishments are independent and locally-owned like Blue Moon Beach Grill in Nags Head and the cleverly named I Got Your Crabs Seafood Market & Steam Bar in Kitty Hawk. More casual and quick service establishments are also scattered around the barrier islands and all are generally reasonably priced, ranging from sandwich shops like Bros Sandwich Shack in Avon on Hatteras Island to Eduardo's Taco Stand in Ocracoke. If you're looking for something a little more upscale, The Blue Point in Duck is popular for its waterfront location.

A local favorite for sweet treats is Duck Donuts, which has multiple locations in the Outer Banks, including one in Duck, where it borrows its namesake from. Originally established in OBX, the chain has expanded to other locations up the mid-Atlantic coast. You'll find a bigger selection of restaurants in more tourist-oriented communities like Nags Head and Kitty Hawk, just be mindful that some establishments close or operate under more limited hours outside of the peak summer season. 

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Safety

Only swim in the Outer Banks when a lifeguard is present (here's a chart of where lifeguard stations are). Also pay close attention to any warnings that may be raised about the water conditions. If a red flag is flying, you're prohibited from entering the water; you can even be fined for trying to do so. If there are surfers nearby, make sure that you do not swim too close to them, as this could be dangerous to both you and the surfer. Jellyfish are sometimes a problem in OBX waters. If you are stung, you might want to try a couple of home remedies, such as sprinkling vinegar or meat tenderizer on the affected area.

Crime is low at the beach and in town, but still, use common sense. Keep valuables close to you or locked away.

Getting Around Outer Banks

The best way to get around the Outer Banks is by car. The North Carolina Department of Transportation runs a ferry service, but we strongly recommend renting a car or driving your own vehicle. Most attractions are spread out and the ferries can get crowded, especially during the peak season. The closest major airports are Norfolk International Airport (ORF) about 120 miles north and Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU) about 230 miles west. Both airports offer car rental agencies on-site. 

Learn about Neighborhoods in Outer Banks

Photos

Outer Banks
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With more than 100 miles of shoreline to choose from, the beaches here are rarely overcrowded.

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