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The best Outer Banks towns to stay at during your beach vacation depend on what amenities you need and what types of activities you plan to do during your trip. So, we’ve created this helpful guide to Outer Banks beach communities, explaining what each offers along the 85 miles of North Carolina’s beautiful barrier island.
Best Towns in Outer Banks
Corolla For Spanish Horses
Corolla sits at the top of the Outer Banks and is popular with day trippers doing 4×4 tours to see the free-roaming Spanish horses.
Tours tend to start in Corolla and drive north to Currituck and Carova Beach, which are vast sandy areas only suitable for 4W drives with adjusted air in the tires.
While the iconic photography shots capture the horses on the beach, the reality is that they tend to be found hiding in the shade of a handful of rental properties in Carova, such as this 3-bed or this 5-bed with an outdoor pool.
If you like the idea of being this remote, pack all required provisions, as the trip to the closest store is around 30 30-minute drive.
An alternative option is to stay in Corolla and do a tour to see the horses.
Not only does it provide a safe form of transportation, but you also learn about how the majestic beasts live.
Plus, tour guides report horse sightings among each other, which pretty much guarantees a glimpse of the horses as they graze!
In the village of Corolla itself, there are a number of beaches with public access, Currituck Beach Lighthouse with its 220 steps, and the Whalehead Club, which was built between 1922 and 1925.
Visitors enjoy seafood at Mama Easley’s and Uncle Ike’s or sandwiches at Philly Steak Subs.
There’s a Food Lion for grocery shopping in Corolla, which means you can stock up before checking into your Outer Banks rental.
If you are collecting fire station t-shirts as souvenirs, station 61 is the number you are looking for in Corolla.
Accommodation in Corolla
- 6-bed with outdoor pool and direct private access to the beach – Check availability
- King or queen room at Hampton Inn & Suites Outer Banks Corolla – Check availability
Duck For Families and Pets
Duck is the best town in Outer Banks for families that require pedestrianized sidewalks for walking and biking; it is also great for dogs.
The road is lined with entertainment, restaurants, stores, and fresh produce trucks.
The only downside to Duck is that there is no public beach access, so be sure that your VRBO has private access.
Things to do in Duck include a leisurely walk along Duck Waterfront Shops or Boardwalk with a takeout coffee from Duck’s Cottage, a kayak tour, and catching the sunset over the Currituck Sound at Sunset Grille or Aqua.
These incredible sunsets make Duck one of the best places in the Outer Banks for romance too.
- 1-bed beachfront condo perfect for couples – Check availability
- 3-bed modern house, 2 minutes walk to the beach – Check availability
Southern Shores For Peace
South of Duck is a town called Southern Shores, which has a public access beach but limited parking.
You can see Kitty Hawk Pier in the distance!
It is also home to Duck Woods Country Club, which is a members’ recreational golf course that allows accompanied or unaccompanied guests to play.
Steamers Restaurant is a busy two-story restaurant specializing in seafood.
Southern Shores Accommodation
- 4-bed, 2-story rustic home close to the beach – Check availability
- 5-bed house with pool, 150 ft from shores – Check availability
Kitty Hawk For Entertainment
Kitty Hawk offers a nice mix of vacation rentals and residential homes, as well as a huge number of restaurants, making it one of the best places to stay in the Outer Banks.
Some of the public beach access points have parking, but like all lots in the OBX, you have to get there early to find a space.
Kitty Hawk Pier is a fishing spot; there is a small fee to access it regardless if you plan to fish or not.
If you have access to bikes, a cycle along the Wright Brothers’ Multi Use Path will take you by the Wright Brother’s Garage Monument and Kitty Hawk Bay, where we saw a poisonous snake swimming in the water!
Kitty Hawk is where you’ll also find the Wright Brothers National Memorial (ticketed), which you can see from the highway.
Food-wise, restaurants cater from breakfast through to dinner.
Check out Art’s Place, Stack Em High Pancakes, or The Spot for breakfast, Rundown Cafe, Barrier Island Bagels, or John’s Drive Inn for lunch, and be sure to reserve a table at Black Pelican Island Grill for dinner.
Logistics-wise, Kitty Hawk has a very busy highway, which is a bit stressful trying to navigate.
The North Virginia Dare Trail is a little quieter; I would personally choose accommodation on that side of town when staying in Kitty Hawk again, as it is closest to the ocean, which limits the need to cross the highway yet offers enough to do.
Read our guide on things to do in Kitty Hawk for more.
Kitty Hawk Accommodation
- Queen or king rooms at the Hilton Garden Inn Outer Banks/Kitty Hawk – Check availability
- 3-bed townhome with some ocean views – Check availability
- Garden cottage with private patio (we stayed here) – Check availability
Kill Devil Hills For Tourism
Similar to Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills sees plenty of footfall from visitors searching for beach access with comforts, such as restrooms and parking, which they get at Avalon Pier and Bar.
There’s also a miniature golf course at Lost Treasure Golf and R/C Kill Devil Hills Movies 10 for families.
Grocery shopping can be picked up at Publix Supermarket at First Flight Square.
Food-wise, start the day at Ashley’s Espresso Parlour, which offers indoor and garden seating, or Front Porch Cafe for house-roasted beans.
Kill Devil Hills offers every type of culinary, such as Ladles Soups, Country Deli, Kill Devil Grill, Dare Devi’s Pizza, and Thai Room.
Craft beer fans should check out Outer Banks Brewing Station and Swells Brewing Beer Company; the latter has a huge outdoor space with cornhole boards – lots of fun!
Live music from local artists and also sport on TV can be found at The Jolly Roger.
End the day with sunset over the bay at West Hayman Boulevard and Bay Drive!
Kill Devils Hills Accommodation
- Double, queen, king, and suites at Days Inn by Wyndham Kill Devil Hills Oceanfront – Check availability
- 3-bed, dog-friendly flat-top cottage steps from the beach – Check availability
Nags Head For Activity
A photographer’s favorite, the Unpainted Aristocracy Houses line the North Virginia Dare Trail in Nagshead, and it is also where you can try some of the best North Carolina BBQ in OBX at Sooeys!
The biggest attraction is Jockey’s Ridge State Park, which is well worth walking through to experience the beauty of the huge dunes and see visitors fly hand gliders.
There is also a large area of beach around Nags Head Fishing Pier, which is close to the trendy Lucky 12 Tavern and the athlete-owned Surfin’ Spoon Frozen Yogurt Bar.
The southern area of Nags Head near Janette’s Pier is still relatively quiet compared to Kill Devil Hills and Kitty Hawk.
Even more crowd-free is Coquina Beach, which is reached by 4X4 or on foot.
Nags Head is where Bodie Island Lighthouse, one of OBX’s five lighthouses, is located.
Plus, it is one of the best places in the Outer Banks for escaping over to residential Roanoke Island.
Nags Head Accommodation
- 4-bed ocean view rental with coastal vibes – Check availability
- 5-bed house with pool and hot tub close to the beach – Check availability
Rodanthe, Waves and Salvo
Moving south down to Hatteras Island, we have Rodanthe, the setting for the romantic novel Nights in Rodanthe by Nicholas Sparks.
Before reaching Rodanthe, park up at the Oregon Inlet Life Saving Station to see people fishing at the Marc Basnight Bridge (Bonner Bridge Replacement) and Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge to use the telescopes.
In Rodanthe, you’ll find the most populated area around the pier, which has a shop and ticketed parking.
There’s an array of accommodations around the pier, which makes access to the beach pretty easy.
Restaurants in Rodanthe include Taqueria Las Ahumaderas, Good Winds, and the Salty Cone.
Together, Rodanthe, Waves, and Salvo are known as the Tri-Villages, as all three blend into each other.
Waves is home to Mirror’s Cafe, which has a porch used by visitors with dogs, and Hatteras Island Surf Shop.
Salvo has an art gallery, gift store, and the secluded Salvo Day Use Area on the Clarks Bay side of the island, which has restrooms and parking onsite.
- 4-bed with hot tub on the patio and million-dollar view – Check availability
- 3-bed dog-friendly semi-oceanfront cottage – Check availability
Avon For Couples
Avon is one of the best places to stay in the Outer Banks for couples who prefer a bit of quiet but still want access to bars and restaurants on foot.
While it is the most populated area in the south, there is plenty of beach area to relax away from crowds.
While there are many smaller public beach access points, the most used to Avon Pier, as it has parking, a restroom, and Pangea Tavern for food.
If you want to try crab during your trip, get along to the Mad Crabber at opening time for reasonably market-priced legs!
Avon also has a handful of food trucks, a weekly farmers’ market, and a Food Lion.
- 1-bed renovated tailor close to bars and beach (personally stayed here) – Check availability
- 5-bed vacation home, dog-friendly – Check availability
Buxton For Sunsets
Just south of Avon is Buxton’s Haulover Day Use Area, which is worth adding to your itinerary for its intense sunsets over the Pamlico Sound.
The bays and sound side of the island are the best locations in the Outer Banks for daily sunsets.
Another reason for visiting Buxton is to see the tallest lighthouse in the US!
Early risers shouldn’t miss picking up some fresh Apple Uglies, a dense pastry with cinnamon and apple, from Orange Blossom Bakery.
- Cozy 3-bed with lake views – Check availability
- 1-bed private home with unique sunroom overlooking marsh – Check availability
Frisco For Camping
Frisco is a small community that offers campgrounds for budget travelers.
Don’t bypass Hatteras Sno-Balls for a unique snack stop decorated with interesting images.
Frisco is also home to the Native American Museum and 4X4 beach access.
- 1-bed tiny house less than 10 minutes walk to the beach – Check availability
- Frisco Campground – Check availability
Hatteras For 4×4 Driving Beaches
Hatteras is the last point on the Outer Banks map where visitors line up in cars to take the free transport ferry to Ocracoke.
It has a plaza with stores, restaurants, and bars and a harbor area with boats bobbing in the water.
On the ocean side, there is a public access beach and the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum.
Ocracoke For Remoteness
If your heart is set on visiting the charming island of Ocracoke, be prepared for an early rise to line up for one of the early morning ferries.
The ride takes over an hour, and there are restrooms on board.
Most people stay in their cars, but if traveling during sunrise, you might want to bundle up and see Hatteras disappear into the distance as you depart.
The main Ocracoke attractions are around a 10-minute drive from the ferry port and include Lifeguard Beach and the lighthouse.
For such a compact area, there are quite a few cafes, restaurants, and bars, such as Smacnalley’s, Ocracoke Coffee Company, and Howards’s.
Most people park their cars and hire golf carts or rent bikes; we did the latter.
- Double and queen rooms at The Ocracoke Harbor Inn – Check availability
- Queen, kings, suites, and apartments at Blackbeard’s Lodge – Check availability
We hope that you’ve found our guide to the best Outer Banks towns to stay in useful. Where will you choose? Tell us in the comments.