Your next perfect family beach vacation in the Outer Banks awaits! The Outer Banks in North Carolina comprise nearly 200 miles of barrier islands alongside the Atlantic Ocean. It offers numerous outposts for a family beach vacation. Popular resort towns start with Corolla and Duck in the north. Then, continue to the southernmost points of Ocracoke and Portsmouth Island. Where you stay will depend on what type of vacation your family prefers, from non-stop adventures to relaxing afternoons on the beach. To craft your perfect escape, I’ve compiled suggestions on accommodations, restaurants, and things to do in the Outer Banks based on my own personal experiences visiting with my family. It’s everything you’ll need to plan A Perfect Family Beach Vacation In The Outer Banks. Keep reading to get inspired for your future family getaway!
Where to Stay in the Outer Banks with Kids
Two-hundred miles covers a lot of ground! Before booking your accommodations in the Outer Banks, you should familiarize yourself with its different areas. In the northernmost towns of Corolla, Duck, and Southern Shores are the newest areas developed for tourism. The centrally located towns of Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, Nags Head are more populated. Thus, offering more local restaurants, shops, and attractions. To the south, on Hatteras Island, quaint towns like Buxton and Avon offer more tranquil, simple pleasures.
Not only do you need to pick a town, but you also have to determine whether you want to stay in a rental home or a resort. Rental homes are more prevalent. Some of the major agencies include Twiddy and OBX Lodging. Though, there are more than 50 local agencies in addition to sites like Airbnb and VRBO. That being said, resorts such as the Sanderling Resort, Oasis Suites Hotel, TownPlace Suites Kill Devil Hills, and Hilton Garden Inn Kitty Hawk all put your room steps from the beach in a more traditional hotel setting.
For our first stay in the Outer Banks as a family, we decided on Duck – it had a smaller-town feel compared to some of the more expansive areas to the south, offering a house walkable to both the beach and the center of town, and is the home of the original Duck Donuts, which is a family favorite! We found many rental houses that had kid-friendly amenities (in our case a swing set and a sandbox) as the Outer Banks caters to families.
What to Eat in the Outer Banks with Kids
Finding kid-friendly food options shouldn’t be hard in the Outer Banks. If you have a rental home, chances are you will enjoy at least some meals there. While many beachgoers bring food for their stay, there is plenty of flexibility to hit the grocery store during your vacation or even have groceries delivered. In Duck, we tried to experience as many eateries as we could. To name a few, The Village Table and Tavern, The Blue Point, and Coastal Cantina offered dining on the Currituck Sound – famous for its sunset views. Places like Red Sky Café, Coastal Cravings, and Tullio’s Bakery lacked a view, but made up for it with yummy food to start or end our day. And we visited Growlers to Go more than once to taste local craft beers.
There was no shortage of treats for kids to enjoy, which isn’t surprising in a beach town! Our first stop was, naturally, the original Duck Donuts. As it was during the COVID-19 pandemic, we needed to order well ahead, so check out that option before visiting. There are plenty of other spots to indulge in and enjoy local candy, bakery treats, and ice cream. The most unique ice cream spot was Donutz On a Stick Ice Cream – its name explains the offerings quite well! I promise you’ll eat well on your family beach vacation in the Outer Banks!
Things to Do in the Outer Banks with Kids
Now that you’ve got your accommodations and restaurant reservations squared out, it’s time to talk about the best things to do in the Outer Banks with kids! From relaxing on the beach to getting a dose of history at local memorials, here are our family-favorite options.
Spend a Day at the Beach
Our Outer Banks trip involved a lot of time near water, as we were steps from the beach and rented a house with a pool. Several companies offer gear rentals if your house doesn’t include beach gear and you decide not to bring any. Depending on the type of beach vacation you want, you can choose from a variety of family-friendly options. Corolla Beach is known for its calm waters perfect for kayaking or swimming, for example, while Kitty Hawk Beach and Kill Devil Hills Beach have big waves ideal for surfing. Families will also love the pet-friendly Duck Beach or catching the sunset at Nags Head Beach and its adjacent Jennette’s Pier. One unique beach activity my family enjoyed was watching the sand crabs come out at night. These critters would scurry across the beach, and we used flashlights to help catch them in the act!
Visit the Wright Brothers National Memorial
When you want to take a break from the water, visit one of the Outer Banks’ historical attractions. My family opted for a trip to the Wright Brothers National Memorial, which is located in Kill Devil Hills. The visitor’s center includes general information about the memorial and more about the Wright Brothers’ legacy. Kids will love exploring the site of the first airplane flight, where they can walk through the Wright Brothers’ flight path and see markers showing how long their flights lasted. Families can also peek inside their reconstructed living quarters at the camp buildings and admire a sculpture of the Wright Brothers’ plane (which kids are free to touch!) To reach the monument, drive or take a short walk and then hike to the top for beautiful views.
See A Local Lighthouse
From Corolla to Ocracoke Island, the Outer Banks showcases a total of five lighthouses families can explore. Though it’s possible to visit all five in one day, they’re on opposite ends of the Outer Banks, so narrow down your choices to spend more time at each. Located just south of Nagshead, the Bodie Island Lighthouse is a popular option for travelers. You could admire it from a distance, but you’ll get the best view climbing up. (Remember tickets are required!) The Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse is often overlooked, tucked inside a quiet corner of the Manteo waterfront. While it’s smaller than other lighthouses in the Outer Banks, it houses a quaint museum with interesting maritime exhibits. Other lighthouses include the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, the Currituck Beach Lighthouse, or the Ocracoke Island Lighthouse, which isn’t open to climbers but provides a nice photo opportunity.
Slide Down Sand at Jockey’s Ridge State Park
Families can slide down the tallest sand dune on the Atlantic Coast at Jockey’s Ridge State Park. Located in Nags Head, it offers hang-gliding, sandboarding, and other kid-friendly adventures. Upon arrival, you’ll see the visitor’s center, which has a 360-boardwalk with incredible views and a small history about the park. Hike the Tracks In The Sand to the top of the dunes for even better panoramas over Roanoke Sound and the Atlantic. Kids can also take hang-gliding lessons from Kitty Hawk Kites or rent sandboards to soar down the dunes. If you’re in the mood to relax, the park also has a sound side beach for sunbathing, swimming, and paddling. Need an easy hike for little ones? Try the nearby Soundside Nature Trail, a flat, one-mile-loop through salt marshes, wetlands, and grassy dunes emptying into a scenic outlook. Remember to bring bug spray during the summer months!
Enjoy Family Fun at Paradise Golf & Arcade
Paradise Golf & Arcade is a one-stop-shop for non-stop family fun! Located in Kill Devil Hills just west of the highway, this kid-friendly Outer Banks attraction features a variety of activities ranging from bumper cars to arcade games. As such, it’s a perfect place for families to take a break from the beach. Two different mini-golf courses provide challenges for all skill levels, so both adults and kids can have a blast here. Prices aren’t too steep either, between $6-$10 depending on if you play half the course of the full length. Kids will also love riding go-karts, which include double karts so parents can ride together with younger children. Bumper cars can only hold one person, however, so those would be better for older children. Just keep in mind a lot of the attractions require separate tickets.
Take a 4×4 Tour
Corolla is known for its wild horse population that dates back to Spanish Mustangs brought over by early explorers. Many of these creatures can still be seen roaming free on remote areas of the beach. Families can appreciate these horses from a distance on a 4×4 with companies like Corolla Wild Horse Tours, Wild Horse Adventure Tours, and Bob’s Wild Horse Tours. The exact duration varies, but each company offers tours of around two or three hours, covering dozens of miles of terrain. A knowledgeable narrator will detail the history of the horses as well as information about Corolla and the Outer Banks. Though kids can’t pet or feed the horses, it’ll still be a memorable experience for the entire family!
Spot Animals at Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge
If you want to splot more wildlife in the Outer Banks, head to the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. Located on Pea Island, this kid-friendly attraction puts families up close with 365 species of birds, 25 species of mammals, 24 species of reptiles, and 5 species of amphibians. While the visitor center is currently closed, and the program schedule is being updated for 2021, historically, families have been able to experience the park’s stunning nature in a variety of ways. Take a tram or van tour, for example, and you’ll be able to get a broad overview of the refuge. There are also canoe outings, kid-friendly scavenger hunts, and nature programs. From March to November, keep an eye out for loggerhead sea turtles hatching! Refer to the Things to See and Do page for more updates on things to do with kids in Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge.
We hope this article on A Perfect Family Beach Vacation In The Outer Banks helps inspire your next family adventure! From gorgeous beaches to great food and family fun, it’s the perfect place to make memories together. Enjoy the Outer Banks with your kids!
Unless otherwise noted, all images were taken by and are courtesy of Megan Tucker.
*Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some of the locations in this article may be temporarily closed or may have reduced services. Please ensure availability before making your decision and embarking on your family beach vacation in the Outer Banks.
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