Updated: Apr 23, 2022
Outer Banks is filled with cute towns to visit. Each offers its own unique setting to enjoy the stunning beaches of North Carolina. With a ton of different options for where to stay, where to go, beaches, etc. you’ve gotta get the details on the best ones….
Below I’ll outline some of my favorites so you can get an idea of where you might want to go on your Outer Banks vacation!
Okay, so to start off here is a full list of towns from North to South in Outer Banks: Corolla, Duck, Southern Shores, Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, Nags Head, Manteo, Rodanthe, Waves, Salvo, Avon, Buxton, Frisco, Hatteras, and Ocracoke.
With that out of the way – find out the best towns in Outer Banks below.
Best Towns for History
If you’re a history lover like me you’ll find a surprising amount of history in the Outer Banks! The history of Outer Banks dates back before American’s settled here with surprising stories of Native Americans, the first settlements by the English in America, the first airplane flight, and more.
Manteo is located on Roanoke Island, which is sandwiched in between the central Outer Banks beaches and the eastern North Carolina mainland. Roanoke Island is home to the mysterious settlement of Jamestown that completely disappeared and was never found when people returned to the site in 1587 two years after it was settled. You’ll also find the Elizabeth II, a replica of a 16th-century sailing ship similar to what the colonists arrived in 400 years before, was constructed on a site at the Manteo waterfront. You’ll find all of this and more in Manteo.
Plus, Manteo is seriously charming! It’s home to a cute little lighthouse, tons of local shops, and great parks. It is a fun place to add to your Outer Banks vacation.
Cape Hatteras: Hatteras, Avon, Buxton, Frisco
Cape Hatteras was originally home to the Croatoan Tribe and has a long history! Pirates (Black Beard was a regular visitor), military battles (Civil War), and boaters have been visiting the island for centuries. It has a beautiful lighthouse and is quite remote.
Cape Hatteras has been a deadly trap for sailors that have entered over the centuries. The stretch of shore is home to more than 600 shipwrecks off the shifting sandbars of the Hatteras Islands. It’s a legendary spot full of stories and history worth exploring!
Best Towns for Beach Days
There are so many beautiful beaches in Outer Banks! The beaches have really pretty water and can provide the perfect spot for surfing if you’re up for it.
If you’re looking for a beach with plenty of easy access from free parking lots and space for a full day of relaxing, Kitty Hawk is where to go. Waves further north tend to be smaller as well making the area more for swimming and less for surfing. White sand and open access throughout, it’s a great spot for you to check out the beach.
As I mentioned in the history above, Cape Hatteras is famous for its waves. At Buxton, which is where Cape Hatteras is located, there is a sharp bend to the southeast. That configuration means there is almost always a wind condition helping to create something to ride and, depending on where the swell is generated, there are almost always going to be waves for good surfing in the area.
Best Towns for Shopping
If you love buying local and finding fun, unique things then you’ll love the shopping on Outer Banks! There are so many cute local shops to explore in every town but below are two towns that stand out as the best towns in Outer Banks for shopping.
Nags Head is home to the Nags Head Outlets where you can shop all the major retailers. Nags Head also has several different shops for home goods, local book stores, boutiques, and more throughout the town.
Downtown Manteo is home to many different cute boutiques to shop at. You can walk from shop to shop and be sure you’ll find something worth buying! We loved all the local art and photography we found in shops there.
Best Towns for Privacy
When on a beach vacation, privacy is something we can all value! Beaches can get really crowded during peak season so here are some areas to visit to avoid those crowds, even in high season.
Ocracoke is located at the most southern tip of Outer Banks. It’s only accessible by ferry which means there are very few people that are on the island. It’s beautiful and you can spend lots of time relaxing and to yourself there. It’s full of nature
Located at the northern tip of Outer Banks, Corolla homes are more spread out with fewer people making the drive north to get there. The houses being spaced out and fewer spots for public beach access will give you added privacy that you might want. It’s also where you’ll find the wild horses that live on Outer Banks and in the offseason, you’re able to drive on the beach there!
Best Towns to Stay In
On my most recent trip to Outer Banks, we stayed in Nags Head and I’m so glad we did. Nags Head is right in the middle of everything. You’re basically a 15-minute drive from everything you might want to do on Outer Banks, besides Cape Hatteras, and so you’ve got access to pretty much everything close by. I do mean everything – restaurants, beaches, lighthouses, bars, state parks.
We stayed at an Airbnb that was really adorable with the ability to walk to the beach and Jockey’s Ridge State Park. I couldn’t recommend it enough!
Duck is another town that offers access to a lot of different things to do. It’s known as a very family-friendly area with plenty of restaurants, beaches, and things to do that you can walk to. There is a local surf shop, Duck Village Outfitters (DVO), that offers bike rentals along with surfboard and paddleboard rentals. Duck also has lots of cute shops and restaurants that make it a good spot for a family or group trip.
I hope this list helps you narrow down the best towns in Outer Banks for your trip! With so many wonderful options, it’s hard to go wrong.