The Outer Banks is one of those places that I can never get sick of. Me and my family have been going there since I was born – including a trip every year for the past few years with friends for me – and I always seem to find new places to explore and new things that I want to do. I also love being able to go back to my favorite places that hold such great memories and truly embrace the idea of summer.
When planning this trip I knew we were lucky enough to have a full week to enjoy the island. My friend Lydia was also coming with our family so I knew she’d be excited to travel and try new things! However, I couldn’t really find a guide online to ‘hidden gems’ on the island – so I knew I wanted to create one to share with those who either love the area just as much, or would like to go one day.
Here are my top five things to do while visiting the Outer Banks…
The Outer Banks is such a fun place since each area of the island chain has its own character and personality. We stayed down in Hatteras (which is the southernmost part of the chain) so we took a trip to the island of Ocracoke for one of the days. Ocracoke is a small island on the outskirts of Hatteras that can only be reached via ferry or private plane/boat. We took the public ferry (which is also free) and took the hour-long boat ride over to the island – which is one of the best parts! The waters are gorgeous and go as far as the eye can see. It’s also really fun to see all of the fishermen and enjoy the ocean breeze. The island itself is full of tiny little shops, restaurants, and historical sights – which you can even see by renting a golf cart or a horse (yes, a horse). If you’re on the other side of the island try a day in Corolla or even a tour of the light houses. Just get out of your niche and there’s so much to explore!
My favorite spots in Ocracoke:
- The Ocracoke Wild Horses – You can see them on the way down Route 12
- Ocracoke Coffee Co – Try the “Nuts and Bolts”; a delicious frozen blend of espresso, bananas, and chocolate. Still craving this!
- Ocracoke Island Lighthouse – A smaller lighthouse in OBX but it has the history of being the oldest running one in NC.
- Ride The Wind Surf Shop – A fun surf shop that just screams summer and carries all authentic gear.
- The Jolly Roger Pub & Marina – Right on the water and carries the most delicious drinks. It’s a perfect way to refresh after the hot day!
- Howard’s Pub – One of my all-time favorite restaurants. They don’t take reservations, so get there early, but the eclectic look and great food will keep you there. Try the oyster shooters (you get to keep the shot glass), hush puppies, and blackened mahi mahi sandwich.
Thankfully we were blessed with sunshine for our trip, but it came with a heavy dose of humidity. It was really difficult to spend an entire day laying out on the beach so we peppered in some daytime activities to cool off. Even better was that these activities all took place in the beautiful NC waters! One of my favorite days was spent out on a chartered fishing boat. The boat ride itself was amazing – we got to see flying fish and the entire coast – and I caught a shark and Trigger fish to bring home for dinner. We also went Jetskiing which was kind of terrifying if you’ve never done it before. It can also be super pricey so make sure to research the place ahead of time! Me and Lydia had big dreams of riding our own jetski but ended up sharing just one – which was probably better with our fears of speed.
My favorite water-based activities:
- Fishing on a Charter Boat – We went out on the Miss Hatteras and they have 1/2 and full-day trips depending on your skills. They also are super helpful if you don’t know what you’re doing and clean the fish for a super small fee.
- Jetskiing – I’ll admit that the place we went was a little ‘edgy’ so I won’t link them here but Kitty Hawk Watersports has amazing reviews!
- Stand-Up Paddleboarding – The perfect way to get your a.m. workout while staying in island mode. A lot of watersport shops offer SUP and are usually fairly inexpensive.
Lets be real, this is the best part of vacation. The amount I ate during this trip was unreal. Part of being at the beach is embracing the full beauty of summer and what the seashore has to offer. For me it was lots of frozen treats (and drinks), amazing seafood, and fried deliciousness. We usually cook all of our meals at the house so most of my OBX eats were focused on midday treats.
My favorite spots to grab a treat:
- Hatteras Sno-Balls (Frisco) – This place has always been one of my favorites and has up to 50 flavors! You can even get your snowball “Hatteras Style” with a scoop of ice cream. The bright exterior and “If you are not barefoot then you’re overdressed” slogan on the steps completely drew me in!
- Island Time Cups & Cones (Avon) – We passed this hot pink and orange building towards the beginning of the week and knew we just HAD to go. Thankfully we did, since I had some of the best cotton candy ice cream of my life! They also offer nightly outdoor movies to view while you nom on your delicious cones.
- Duck Donuts (Corolla, Duck, Kill Devil Hills, Kitty Hawk) – This seems to be an OBX staple and the franchise has locations all across VA and the East Coast. You get to choose your own icing and topping to create the ultimate breakfast treat! Mine would have strawberry icing with rainbow sprinkles, yum.
- Kill Devil’s Frozen Custard & Beach Fries (Kill Devil Hills) – This is usually the first stop we hit on the island and it’s for good reasons! Their frozen custard is so so good – especially the key lime flavor – and so are their beach fries with cheese.
- Bonus: The Blue Whale (Salvo) – This is more of a grocery store than anything, but it has the best marinades and hot sauces. My two favorites are the _________ and _______, which went perfect with our happy hour chips and dip time.
- Bonus: Brew Thru (Corolla, Kill Devil Hills, Kitty Hawk, Nags Head) – The ultimate convenience store. You don’t even need to get out of your car to get your beach beers, and really, what’s better than that?
The best part of a long day at the beach is heading back for the evening sunset – and the Outer Banks has some good ones. Whether we saw the sunset back on the beach (with the surfers catching the last waves) or back at the house while playing cornhole, they were always spectacular.
You’re on vacation! My favorite moments were spent after dinner just kicking up our feet in the rocking chairs on our balcony. Add in some good conversation or your favorite novel (plus a glass of white wine) and enjoy the quietness.
BRB: having major vacation FOMO again.
What are your favorite OBX spots? Have you been to any of these? Let me know in the comments!