Beautiful wide sandy beaches, ample activities and attractions and the area's unique history explain why the Outer Banks are a popular vacation destinations for all ages. Today, families love the Outer Banks for the scenic beauty, quaint villages, terrific water sports, great golf, wild horses, and photogenic lighthouses. From north to south, here's where to stay in the Outer Banks for a classic East Coast beach vacation.
Above: Wright Brothers Memorial. Outer Banks, NC
24 miles of tranquil shoreline make a favorite vacation spot for the families. If you spot magnificent wild horses running along the shore then you are seeing a glimpse of history.
They are descendants of Spanish Mustangs, perhaps from 16th century shipwrecks as you'll find out at the Corolla Wild Horse Museum. If you enjoy off-road four-wheel driving you'll love Corolla's 4x4 beach.
For panoramic views, climb the 214 steps to the observation deck of Currituck Beach Lighthouse in Corolla. Don't miss the historic Whalehead Club, a grand 1920s Art Nouveau mansion which also offers ghost tours as well as special tours for kids like "Discovering Winnie the Pooh and "Mystery of the Old House." Add in golf, water activities and great dining and shopping and families will find plenty to do and enjoy in Corolla.
Above: Wild Horses. Corolla, NC
Named for the plentiful waterfowl quacking around the area since 1800s, the resort town of Duck is bound to charm.
Wide beaches scattered with shells ensure a classic vacation that the kids will remember forever; there is no public access to the beach but Duck residents and vacation renters enjoy access.
Water sports include kayaking and jet skiing, and music lovers will tap their toes to the annual free Duck Jazz Festival in October. Great restaurants and shopping along the Duck Trail and an old-fashioned boardwalk through Duck Town Park add to the joys of a vacation in this family-friendly resort.
Above: Sunrise. Outer Banks, NC
Whether the town of Kitty Hawk is named after a Native American word for a place to hunt geese or an old English name for a dragonfly, people love this beach community for its natural beauty and friendly character.
History fans know that the Wright Brothers experimented with their flying machines in Kitty Hawk before making the first powered flight four miles south at what is now Kill Devil Hills.
Take a full moon kayak tour with Kitty Hawk Kayaks or rent a bike from Kitty Hawk Cycle Company and meander along the raised walkways of Sandy Run Park, or along the shady tree-lined trails of Kitty Hawk Maritime Woods Reserve.
Above: Kitty Hawk, NC
With 11 miles of ocean front and pristine beaches, Nags Head offers plenty of leisure options for everyone.
Old cedar shake beach cottages in the Historic District set the picturesque scene while Gallery Row appeals to art lovers. The bold black and white horizontal stripes of the 150-foot-high Bodie Island Lighthouse make a great photo opportunity! Go fishing from one of the piers, tee off from the Nags Head Golf Links championship course, or hit the hiking and bird-watching trails in Nags Head Woods Preserve.
Jockey's Ridge State Park gives you a chance to clamber across the tallest natural sand dunes in the Eastern United States. The wind atop the dunes make it an exhilarating place to fly a kite or go hang-gliding! From Nags Head it's easy to cross to the attractions of Roanoke Island including the North Carolina Aquarium which has the largest collection of sharks in the state. The aquarium and the nearby Fort Raleigh National Historic Site are both about 12 miles from Nags Head.
Above: Beach homes. Nags Head, NC
Kill Devil Hills
Kill Devil Hills earned its place in history as the place where Wilbur and Orville Wright achieved the world's first successful airplane flight on a cold December day in 1903.
The Wright Brothers National Memorial celebrates the fact with a 60-foot granite monument on top of Big Kill Devil Hill and a visitor center that grabs the attention of kids of all ages. Kill Devil Hills beaches are an invitation to surf, hunt for crabs, or go fishing by boat or from Avalon Pier. There are several legends about how Kill Devil Hills got its name. Ask a local and sit back for a story about pirates or shipwrecks!
Above: Wright Brothers National Memorial. Kill Devill, NC
Cape Hatteras is a treasure trove for people who enjoy nature.
More than 400 species of birds fly through The Cape Hatteras National Seashore, white-tail deer can be seen in Buxton Woods and the unpolluted dark night skies make this a prime spot for star-gazing. The sparkling sands of Cape Hatteras also attract fans of water sports from surfing and wind surfing to scuba diving while the long sandbar of Buxton's Cape Point is a popular surf fishing destination.
Cape Hatteras is also home to America's tallest brick lighthouse, the 208-foot-high Cape Hatteras Lighthouse which can be seen from as far as 20 miles out to sea. The black and white striped lighthouse looks impressive close up too. Visitors with enough puff can climb up its 257 steps from the end of April through Columbus Day. The treacherous off-shore waters are called the Graveyard of the Atlantic due to more than 600 ships wrecked over the centuries. After a storm, some of the old shipwrecks are sometimes uncovered. Cape Hatteras vacation rentals include the villages of Buxton, Avon, Frisco, Hatteras, Rodanthe, Salvo and Waves.
Above: Bodie Island Lighthouse. Hatteras Island, NC
A family visit to secluded Ocracoke Island is memorable right from the moment you board the free car ferry ride to reach the island!
Ocracoke's broad sandy beach is an idyllic place to relax, or enjoy parasailing, paragliding, surfing and kiteboarding. Ocracoke Lighthouseis the oldest operating lighthouse in North Carolina, built in 1868. Blackbeard the Pirate had his camp nearby and he is now rumored to haunt the island. Learn more about him at the Teach's Hole pirate exhibit. Rent a bike to explore the shops and Victorian houses in pretty Ocracoke Village, or join a boat tour to uninhabited Portsmouth Island with its old ghost town.