The Outer Banks (also called OBX) of North Carolina is home to one of the most pristine swaths of coastline in the United States. Comprised of four barrier islands, each with its own unique beaches, dunes, piers, seclusion or amenities, and vibes, determining which one contains the best beach in the Outer Banks is no easy task.
With over 100 miles of crystal-clear beaches, the Outer Banks lays claim as “America’s First Beach.” Cape Hatteras National Seashore is the site of the USA’s first National Seashore, the coastal town of Manteo is the site of the first English colony, and Kitty Hawk was the site for the Wright Brothers’ first flight.
But don’t discount present-day culture either. The highly-popular TV series, Outer Banks, a mystery involving a group of teenagers from the wrong side of town who stumble upon a treasure map, has intrigued many new tourists to visit OBX.
Below are my eight favorite beaches on the Outer Banks. And if you are looking for things to do during your visit to the area, check these out:
8 Pamlico Sound
For a different kind of beach experience, head west to Pamlico Sound. Tranquil waters here lend themselves to excellent kayaking and SUP (stand up paddleboard) opportunities. It’s also here that you’ll find those blazing, Instagram-worthy sunsets.
7 Kitty Hawk
Kitty Hawk is well known for many things, including a beautiful beach. The beach has some of the largest waves in all of the Northern Beaches. Outdoor enthusiasts can partake in some excellent surfing and skimboarding here. Nearby is Kitty Hawk Woods, a 461-acre maritime forest reserve with walking trails where you can spot local wildlife. And of course, the nearby Wright Brothers National Memorial.
Related: Hang Gliding in Kitty Hawk
6 Cape Hatteras National Seashore
Stretching over 70 miles from Bodie Island in the north to Ocracoke Island in the south, the beaches along the Cape Hatteras National Seashore are perhaps the best known. Wave action in some sections makes it a favorite for families, while the dunes in other parts of this coast stretch down to calmer water for a more relaxed experience
Many of the beaches along the Hatteras Island National Seashore allow cars onto the beach, making it a popular spot.
5 Graveyard of the Atlantic
Part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, this part of the beach is a favorite for families. Waves here are perfect for boogie boarding enthusiasts.
The area got its notorious “Graveyard” moniker because of the deadly currents and storms causing a large number of shipwrecks just offshore. It’s a great place for a scuba diving adventure into the wrecks.
Pristine beaches without masses of vacationers can be elusive in the upper OBX. But Rodanthe, just a short jaunt from Nags Head and/or Kitty Hawk, is just such a place. The town is small and mostly residential, so this is where you’ll find wide beaches that are somewhat void of tourists. Visitors can pull into the parking lots just off Highway 12 and enjoy a quiet day at a crystal-clear blue beach. Rodanthe is also one of the Outer Banks’ best surf spots.
3 Nags Head
The natural beauty of Nags Head makes it one of the most popular beaches in the Outer Banks. Its claim to fame is that it was one of the first spots on the Outer Banks to become a beach community. There are many access points throughout the town, and a 12-mile beach nourishment program was recently completed, creating a wider sandy beach and making it less crowded. The long pier is lots of fun, with a totally different perspective from on the top boardwalk than underneath with the pilings.
2 Pea Island
Explore Hatteras Island at its natural best with a visit to the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. Less than an hour’s drive from the upper OBX, Pea Island is reminiscent of what the Outer Banks was before the tourist boom and development. Covering 13 miles of Cape Hatteras National Seashore land, visitors will find a completely undeveloped parcel of land, offering pristine beaches, sand dunes, gorgeous views, and tranquil nature trails.
Beginning at the south end of the Bonner Bridge, Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge is a thin strip of sand separating the Atlantic Ocean from the Pamlico Sound. It is a unique environment; due to the shifting nature of the barrier island system and how inlets open and close over time, Pea Island has (at times) been contiguous with the neighboring islands of Bodie Island or Hatteras Island.
Pea Island has some spectacular sand dunes on the ocean side, but they are not natural. They were created in the 1930s to help stabilize the shoreline. Even now, after heavy storms, they have to push the sand off the road and back onto the dunes.
Unlike some other beaches on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, beach driving at Pea Island is prohibited.
Of the many beaches strewn across the Outer Banks, Avon is hands-down my favorite. If you want to be close to amenities but still bask in sunny solitude, you will fall in love with Avon, too.
Shimmering turquoise waves crash underneath Avon Pier. Visitors can fish or simply take a stroll down the length for a spectacular view of the town. On the pier, you’ll find a convenience store, a tackle shop, and a gift shop.
Considered by many to be the “Center of Hatteras Island,” this charming coastal town is home to the island’s only chain grocery store, several delicious restaurants, a medical center, gift shops, a spa, a mini-golf course, and just enough amenities to entertained without distracting from the appeal of the unspoiled beaches.
Next to the beach is the Koru Beach Club. I loved sitting in the pool area while retro beach tunes blasted out from the beach bar, margarita in hand. Classic beach music bands such as The Embers make regular appearances at the oceanfront venue.
Disclosure: The author was honored to be the guest of Outer Banks Visitors Bureau during her stay, but as always, the opinions, reviews, and experiences are her own.
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About the Author
Patti Morrow is a freelance travel writer and founder of the award-winning international blog Luggage and Lipstick and southern travel blog Gone to Carolinas. TripAdvisor called her one of “20 Baby Boomer Travel Bloggers Having More Fun Than Millennials.” Patti is the author of the book “Girls Go Solo: Tips for Women Traveling Alone,” and has over 150 bylines in 40 print and online publications, including The Huffington Post, International Living Magazine, Washington Post Sunday Travel, Travel Girl, Travel Play Live Magazine, and Ladies Home Journal. She has traveled six continents looking for fabulous places and adventure activities for her Baby Boomer (and Gen X!) tribe.