Are you planning a trip to the Outer Banks and are looking for the best OBX beaches? This guide details twelve amazing Outer Banks beaches that will make you fall in love with this remote part of North Carolina and Virginia.
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What to Know About the Beaches in the Outer Banks
The Outer Banks are a chain of spits and barriers that stretches down the coast from Virginia to North Carolina. Lasting for around 200 miles, the islands perform a natural barrier between the wild Atlantic Ocean and the North Carolina coast.
Facing the Atlantic, the islands bear the brunt of ocean-borne storms as they work their way towards landfall, causing a shifting in sands. Heavy storms can cause smaller landmasses to disappear under the water and new ones to appear; this constant change means the chain is forever-changing, expanding, and contracting as storms hit the region.
And, one of the biggest draws is the rugged beaches that stretch down both the Atlantic and Sound sides.
The beaches of the Outer Banks have not been built up and retain their wild side. There are no boardwalks along the shores, just a few houses dotting the edges and a few entrance points to gain access to the miles of beachfront.
Once on the beaches, you can explore them as much as you want or simply find a place to relax and chill in the warm climate of North Carolina. There are two kinds of Outer Banks beaches- the Atlantic facing shores where the waters are rougher and unpredictable and the beaches facing the mainland that sit on the sound. These beaches offer much calmer waters, perfect for swimming with children and pets.
This guide will take you through the best beaches in the Outer Banks, situated both on the sound and on the Atlantic coast.
Best Time to Visit OBX Beaches
If you’re not concerned about budget, then the best time to visit the Outer Banks beaches is during the summer. There will be a lot of activities going on and all of the restaurants and businesses will be open.
However, if you are concerned about prices, opt for spring or fall but do realize that the tropics and hurricanes can occur during the later part of the year, putting a damper on your plans with short notice.
The Best Outer Banks Beaches
In no particular order…
The town of Rodanthe is the most eastern point of North Carolina and home to some of the best Outer Banks beaches. On the Atlantic Coast, the beaches stretch for miles and form part of Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
The extensive beaches offer plenty of room and privacy to enjoy the summer sun and the cool breezes coming in off the ocean. They are also famous amongst kite surfers and the area is often rated the best place to go kitesurfing in the United States.
The Atlantic side of Rodanthe offers rougher waters and breezes coming in from the open ocean. On the opposite side, the sound’s calm, flat waters provide a different type of kitesurfing experience, perfect for those looking for a more relaxing ride or to learn the sport.
Access to the main beach on the Atlantic Coast can be reached via Rodanthe Beach Access, where you will also find parking, showers, and a walkway to cross the dunes. Rodanthe is a sleepy town that closes during the offseason.
During the summer months, there are several restaurants and bars where you can unwind in the evening. The town is also home to the historical Life-Saving Center, one of the founding institutions of the modern-day US Coast Guard.
At the northern end of the Outer Banks is the small town of Sandbridge. While much of the Outer Banks is in North Carolina, Sandbridge sits in Virginia and is at the start of the island chain.
While most tourists head north to the vibrant city of Virginia Beach, Sandbridge offers 4.5 miles of secluded beaches and is one of the best beaches in Virginia. The long OBX beach faces the Atlantic Ocean and offers beachgoers the chance to relax away from the crowds in Virginia Beach and provide adventurous activities like surfing.
While the water is safe for swimming, there are usually two sections of the beach where lifeguards are stationed during the high season; these sections can be found at Sandbridge Market and Little Island Park.
The town is quiet and there are not hotels located there but there are several beach rentals along the oceanfront. Those looking for nightlife and a broad range of beachside restaurants will need to head north for 25 minutes to Virginia Beach.
False Cape State Park
False Cape State Park is the southernmost state park in Virginia, situated on the border with North Carolina and the final point of the Outer Banks in Virginia.
The 3,844-acre park is home to a 5.9-mile beach that stretches down the park’s entire length to the state border. The park is wild and is the polar opposite from the busy Virginia Beach, with a ban on motorized vehicles. One of the biggest draws to the park and the beach is the availability of real oceanfront camping with campsites located directly on the coast with no dunes for protection.
However, reaching these camping spots is not for the inexperienced, with miles of hiking or bike riding needing to be completed to get there. There are few better experiences than waking up to the sound of the waves crashing against the desolate beach.
Just a note- there are no amenities in the park, including running water, so you will need to bring everything with you. If you plan to go beachside camping, open fires are not allowed, so all food will need to be cooked on a gas stove.
If you’re seeking a place with more amenities and marked trails, opt for First Landing State Park up the Virginia coast a bit.
The town of Duck is one of the newest establishments in the Outer Banks and one of the most popular resort towns throughout the region.
During the summer, the population of Duck swells from less than 500 to 20,000 people. There is plenty to do within Duck, from fantastic food options, shopping plazas, and various cultural activities in the town and on the sound.
On the Atlantic coast, a beach stretches the length of Duck and it is regularly ranked as one of the best family beaches in the Outer Banks and all of the US. The beach in Duck is a public access beach and is open to everyone, however, there are no public access points, and the primary way to reach the beach is through rental properties and private access points. Attempting to access the beach otherwise will be difficult due to laws prohibiting walking on the dunes that separate the beaches and the land.
Corolla is a large resort town that attracts thousands of people each year to enjoy the Outer Banks town’s 15 beaches. The beaches lining the central part of Corolla are popular with vacationers looking to relax on the sand and enjoy the excellent summer weather. Many of these beaches also have lifeguard stands, making them perfect for families.
Given the extensive beach network, it is easy to find plenty of room to set up for the day. Corolla offers plenty of additional activities with restaurants, shopping, and educational centers open throughout the high season.
The biggest draw to Corolla is the beaches to the north, where there is a chance to spot the Banker wild horses that roam the rugged OBX beaches. On the northern beaches, it is also possible for 4WD owners to drive on the coast and head further north where the chance of seeing the horses is higher.
Kill Devil Hills
Kill Devil Hills is the most populated settlement in the Outer Banks and one of the most important sites for modern history.
KDH flew itself into the history books as the location where the Wright Brothers took their first engine-powered flight, paving the way for modern aviation. Each year, thousands of tourists flock to Kill Devil Hills to learn about history and enjoy the famous beach that lines the town.
There are 30 public access points to the Outer Banks beach dotted throughout the town, with various facilities including lifeguards, parking, and showers. There are no beachside restaurants, but there are several places where you can pick up refreshments and snacks within a short walk.
After spending time on the beach, there are plenty of things to do in the town that is known for its excellent restaurant scene. For people traveling to the town with dogs, it is essential to note that dogs are not allowed on the beach during the day during the summer months.
Nags Head was the first town in the Outer Banks to be developed for tourism back in the 19th-century. The beauty of the area and its accessibility was seen as an ideal spot for wealthy North Carolinians to relax.
An entrepreneur saw the potential in the area and started to develop seaside properties for rent before the start of the Civil War when development was halted. The rental development was completed after the Civil War finished and the oceanside properties are still used to this day.
The long beach is the main attraction in Nags Head, with over 40 public access points. Unlike many other Outer Banks beaches, bonfires are permitted with a valid license. In addition to its famed beaches, Nags Head is home to Jockey Ridge State Park, a vast living sand dune that continues to be on the move. It has already engulfed a miniature golf course and the dunes offer an array of activities from hand gliding to panoramic hikes where you can take in the jaw-dropping views of the outer banks.
Along with Kill Devil Hills, Kitty Hawk played an important part in US aviation history as it was the location where the Wright Brothers stayed and tested their plane before the flight at Kill Devil Hills.
The long beach is perfect for relaxing with multiple public access points dotted along the coast. On the sound side of Kitty Hawk is a large coastal reserve called the Kitty Hawk Woods Coastal Reserve where you can hike trails and keep an eye out for some of the area’s wildlife, such as migratory birds and otters.
Southern Shores is a quiet town to the south of Duck and Corolla and previously part of Kitty Hawk. The beaches along the edge of Southern Shores, while open to the public, are difficult to access. There are no public access points to these OBX beaches and you will need to be staying at one of the spacious rental locations in order to reach the shore.
Due to the limited entrance points, the beaches here tend to be emptier and more secluded. Alternatively, you can access the beaches by foot from Kitty Hawk, although it is important to note that each town has its own rules for beaches, and you will need to abide by the Southern Shore rules.
Hatteras village is the southernmost settlement on Hatteras Island and one of the best places in the Outer Banks for secluded beaches. The small settlement sits on the southernmost tip of the island and the beaches that line the town are part of Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
There are access points to the remote beaches throughout the town, although some can occasionally be closed during turtle and bird nesting periods.
On the Atlantic front, the beaches have some of the best surfing conditions on the east coast as currents converge while the sound side is perfect for genter water sports. There are also some of the best fishing opportunities from the shore, with the town holding an annual surf fishing tournament.
A fishing license is required and should be obtained before starting; these are available online or from most tackle shops.
Ocracoke has a wild and dangerous history, spending time as a safe haven for the region’s pirates and the infamous Blackbeard was killed on the island.
Ocracoke is home to some of the best beaches in the Outer Banks and the east coast, with Lifeguard Beach often being featured in the top 10. The ocean side beaches are rugged and can often be desolate, perfect for those looking to escape the crowds of people found in the more northern locations of the Outer Banks.
The beaches are all part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, and while they are public and free to access, they can be closed due to wildlife activities in the region. Off of the beach, there is plenty to do with beautiful hiking trails coursing through the island and an opportunity to see the wild horses that call the region home.
Buxton is the largest settlement on the island of Hatteras and is most known for the prolific Cape Hatteras Light lighthouse.
However, the beaches in this area are some of the best for watersports in the Outer Banks. The beaches on the Atlantic Coast are perfect for surfing and Old Lighthouse Beach hosts annual surfing competitions.
The beaches in Buxton are secluded and unlike other areas on the island, there are no beaches with lifeguards, so swimming is more advisable in the sound. The beaches are known for their excellent windsurfing and kiteboarding opportunities on the sound’s tranquil waters. Canadian Hole and Kite Point are unofficially separated into windsurfing and kiteboarding beaches, respectively. Buxton is one of the best Outer Banks beaches for adventurers.
If you’re seeking a trip to one of the Outer Banks beaches, hopefully, this guide will help you decide which beach is best for your desires and those that you are traveling with. Please leave a comment with your favorite beach in the Outer Banks below!
Outer Banks Travel Tips
If you’re planning on renting a beach house, start looking early! Many of the most popular places get rented by the same families year-after-year. Even our group of friends rented the same house more than once!
Don’t overthink it. Your accommodations and your access to the water are what will have the biggest impact on your stay. If you want to see Hatteras but you find the perfect rental in Nags Head, take it! You can always visit the other towns during your stay. I would rather have a great beach right outside and drive to a cute area then stay in a bad house to be closer.
Pick out a few historic sites or tours you know you want to visit. Once you get here and start relaxing, you might find the time escapes you! I’ve missed a thing or two that I wanted to see here.
Finally, plan for gas to be a considerable part of your budget. Even if you plan on just enjoying your rental and not getting out much, it’s almost impossible not to end up driving around more than you anticipated.
5 Things to Bring to the Outer Banks
Packing for a North Carolina beach vacation shouldn’t be stressful! Just make sure you bring these five things:
Explorer’s Guide North Carolina’s Outer Banks guidebook. It can be kind of a pain to find the major guidebooks once you land, or you’ll find them overpriced. I always like to pick mine up ahead of time.
Full-Sized Travel Towel This is the best travel towel in the world. It’s pretty enough for the beach, large enough that you forget it’s a microfibre towel, and quick-drying so you can enjoy it day after day.
A Go Pro for underwater and action photography. Why go all the way to the beach and not be able to capture some of the most exciting parts of your trip?
Backup Charging Bank for your cell phone since you’ll be using it as a camera, GPS, and general travel genie.
More North Carolina Travel Resources
If you’re heading to the Outer Banks, check out my overview of the best Outer Banks towns to help you decide where to stay!
Don’t Forget About Travel Insurance!
Before you leave for the Outer Banks make sure you have a valid Travel Insurance Policy because accidents happen on the road. I pay for World Nomads, and I happily recommend them. It’s especially important to get travel insurance if you’ll be hanging enjoying time at the beach. Accidents happen, after all!
I have been a paying customer of World Nomads for travel insurance for three years, and I happily recommend them. If you get sick, injured, or have your stuff stolen, you’ll be happy to have the ability to pay for your medical bills or replace what’s stolen or broken.
Pin this Guide to the Best Outer Banks Beaches to Help Plan Your Trip!