If you've never been to the Outer Banks before, you're in for a treat!! The Outer Banks is like nowhere else in the world. And because of that, you might be in for a few surprises too. Here's what you need to know about the Outer Banks before you visit for the first time.
The Main area of the Outer Banks consists of seven towns; Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, Corolla, Duck, Nags Head, South Nags Head and Southern Shores. Kill Devil Hills, Kitty Hawk, Nags Head, and South Nags Head are called the 'Southern Beaches'. Duck, Corolla, and Southern Shores are called the Northern Beaches.
The Southern Beaches are more centralized, with more activities, chains, stores and things to do. The Southern Beaches are the recommended place to stay for first timers since they have more of everything.
The Northern Beaches are where you go if you want to get away from it all. They have fewer chains and fewer things to do than the Southern Beaches. However, if you love nature then the Northern Beaches are where you'll want to be.
The Outer Banks is known for it's beaches. Natural, uncrowded and unspolied. Don't be surprised if you see ghost crabs, turtles, and a myriad of shorebirds sharing the shore with you.
The sand is fine a sugar sand that can turn slightly pebbly after a storm. It's a great place to go beachcombing. You can find an assortment of shells, driftwood, sea glass and all kinds of things. It's also a great place to build sand castles but if you dig any holes, please be sure to fill them in to protect the wildlife (and beach goers).
The Two Bodies Of Water
The Outer Banks is surrounded by two bodies of water; the ocean and the sound. The Atlantic Ocean is on the east and is open water. It's a living ocean meaning it changes daily. Dolphins play in the surf, tidal pools, sand bars and drop offs can appear only for a few hours to disappear tomorrow. Rip tides come in and out while the waves crash on the beach. If you take a fishing charter, you can fish around wrecks or go all the way out to the Gulf Stream. Surfing, skim boarding, body surfing, boogie boarding and fishing are all favorite pastimes in the ocean. True, you do see some ocean kayaks or stand up paddleboards, but it's not common due to the constant wave action.
The Albemarle Sound is on the west side of the island. A sound is more like a bay or a lake. It is calm and shallow with a weak current and no threat of riptides. It's a great place to take the kids for an inshore charter. Though the fish are small, the waves are equally small, so there's less of a chance of getting seasick. The sound is the body of water of choice for dolphin tours, jet skiing, parasailing, kayaking, jet packing and stand up paddle boarding (unless you're a surfer.) it's also the best place to go crabbing.
The Two Roads
With the exception of South Nags Head, the Outer Banks Southern Beaches is bisected by two roads; the Beach Road and the Main Road, (AKA the Bypass.)
The Main Road (US 158) is a large, five lane highway complete with turning lane. It's recommended you don’t cross that road on foot. The Beach Road is a small two lane road built in the 70's with a 35 mph speed limit. It's common to cross this little road on foot.
When a vacation home is described as being 'Between the Highways' it means that you do have to cross the little road to get to the beach, but not the main road. A house that Fronts the Beach Road is considered a Semi Oceanfront.
If you're coming here for the first time on the recommendation of a friend, you've probably also hear the stories of the Summer traffic. On the main turnover day, which is Saturday, the traffic can resemble traffic in the major cities like Virginia, Washington DC and New York.
The rest of the time, the traffic moves swiftly and is not an impediment to getting to your destination. Tips for beating the traffic include arriving early. Just be aware that most check in times are not until late afternoon so plan your day accordingly. From there, plan to make a day of it; go the beach, the movies, to an escape room, to laser tag, to the harnessed adventure park. There are tons of ways to have fun before your house is ready at 4pm. You can even go H2OBX waterpark and have a splashtasitic time!!
The Outer Banks has a variety of groceries stores to choose from. Local stores include Tommy's Gourmet Market and Winks. Chain stores include Food Lion, Publix, Harris Teeter, a Fresh Market and even a Super Walmart. Every town has both a Food Lion and Harris Teeter nearby.
Grocery stores can get crowded on the Turnover days of Saturday and Sunday. It's best to go shopping after you've checked into your house rather than before. After all, check in is at 4pm for most rental companies with Early Check Ins at the earliest of 1pm. There's nothing worse than having ice cream melting in the car while waiting for your house to be cleaned and ready.
Another option is to have someone shop for you. Companies like At Your Service will go shopping for you and stuff your fridge full of food before you even arrive. It's an easy no aggravation way to get your groceries and start your vacation early.
Things To Do
The Outer Banks has plenty of stuff to do, but if you're looking for something akin to Myrtle Beach or the Boardwalk of the Jersey Shore, this might not be the right beach for you. However, there are tons of things to do, including a newly built waterpark-- H2OBX, pier fishing, charter fishing, laser tag, mini golf, children's museum, escape rooms, horse tours, dolphin tours, riding horses on the beach, visiting historic sites and more!
Licenses, Permits, And Beach Accesses
Going to the beach is free. Parking at the beach is free. Driving on the beach may or may not be free depending on where you go.
If you drive down to the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, you will need a driving permit. The park service has you watch an informative video on beach driving and explains the rules of driving on park service land. Pay for the permit, then you are off to drive on the beach.
Towns like Nags Head and Kill Devil Hills allow driving on the beach in the off season. You will need a permit for that. You can get those at thelocal Town Halls.
Corova Beach is a bit of a special case. Though unpaved, it's considered an extension of the Beach Road (NC 12), so you do not need special permission or licenses to drive on it. What you do need is a four wheel drive because all wheels get stuck in our soft fluffy sand.
Fishing on the beach requires a license, available at any tackle shop or online. Fishing off a pier or a charter boat comes with a blanket license.
Bonfires on the beach require a license. You get them from the fire department the day of the regular town and from the park service for the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
Fireworks (with the exception of sparklers) are banned on the Outer Banks.
In the towns of Nags Head, South Nags Head, Kill Devil Hills, Kitty Hawk, and Corolla have public beach access with parking (and sometimes bath houses with restrooms and showers) and are available all up and down the beach. Spaces fill up early to its best to get their early to get the best spot.
Though the beaches themselves are still public, the towns of Duck and Southern Shores have private accesses. You need to be staying nearby in order to access them as there is no public parking.
Additionally, there are many public Sound accesses for swimming, fishing, kayaking and more. You can find them in Nags Head, Manteo, Corolla, and Duck.
The Outer Banks is a very dog friendly place. Not only do we have several homes that allow dogs, many restaurants feature pet friendly outdoor dining. The beaches of Nags Head, Duck and Corolla allow dogs on the beach at all times year round. The towns of Kill Devil Hills, Kitty Hawk, and Southern Shores have restrictions on dogs on the beach during the day in the summer months, but allow them back on the beach at all times the rest of the year.
If it's your first time to the Outer Banks, you might not realize how vacation rental homes are different from hotels. Hotels usually provide basic toiletry items such as shampoo, paper products, and soap. However, vacation homes do not. True, you get a starter roll of toilet paper, but it's not enough to last a whole week. Also, be aware that many homes do not provide linens. You may choose to bring sheets and towels with you, or rent them. Linen packages are available upon request for an additional fee. They include beds made on arrival, and a set of towels for the number the home sleeps. Each set contains a hand towel, bath towel and washcloth. Kitchen towels and bath mats are also provided in the package.
Want to make your vacation even more fun (and stress free)?
Companies like Beachmasters offer full set up and take down of a beach equipment each and every day of your stay. A setup includes chairs, a canopy, wireless blender, a cooler of ice (refilled daily) and a speaker system for your phone's tunes. It's ready for you when you arrive to the beach in the morning, and it will be taken down at sunset. No muss or fuss for you.
Golf carts are the fun new trend that's hitting everywhere, and we have them too. The type of golf carts you use on the Outer Banks are called Low Speed Vehicles or LSVs. The LSVs are legal to go on any type of road where they can keep up with traffic. (So the beach road, Duck and backroads.) Of course you still have to find a place to park, but you park them in any spot made for a car.
You can rent things like baby equipment, beach equipment, and grills from Just For The Beach. They deliver and pick up. You also get two free beach chairs rentals from Just For The Beach from our Fun N Sun pass.
Have more questions? Call one of our helpful Vacation Planners today at 877-858-4795 or Webchat us!