The Outer Banks is a fairly popular summer destination. I’m from the Jersey shore (near Ocean City, NJ), so I’m no stranger to east coast shore towns. My perception of the Outer Banks before we visited was that it was similar to what I’d experienced in New Jersey and not worth the drive down. However, I was totally wrong and I completely fell in love with the Outer Banks when we did finally visit.
Outer Banks for Kids: When to Go
The summer months are the obvious choice, especially if you have kids in school. However, if you have a more flexible schedule, I’d recommend going down in the shoulder season.
We went twice in September and it was gorgeous. It’s always a gamble with hurricane season, but we lucked out with decent weather both trips. The prices on home rentals are significantly cheaper and the crowds are minimal, but it’s still busy enough that the majority of smaller stores and restaurants are still open.
Where to Stay in the Outer Banks with Kids
There are a lot of places to stay along the islands of the Outer Banks. We stayed in Kitty Hawk on our first trip and Kill Devil Hills on the second. This put us close to lots of stores and restaurants, which was great.
If we went back, I’d probably try staying in Nags Head, which is south of Kill Devil Hills. It would put us closer to the beaches of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
Things to do in OBX: Outer Banks Activities for Kids
There’s so much to do in the Outer Banks besides the beach. Here are my favorite things:
Things to do in OBX: Cape Hatteras National Seashore
My favorite thing to do, in general, is to go to the beach. We ventured down past the beaches of Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills and Nags Head to the protected areas that fall under the umbrella at Cape Hatteras National Seashore. It’s WORTH the drive for sure.
The beaches are more secluded, so you’ll to bring a picnic if you’re planning to stay all day. But to be honest, that’s what I loved about it. There were fewer people on the beach with us, so we really got to enjoy the peace and beauty of the ocean.
We went to Coquina Beach, but I imagine there are lots of great beaches to explore along Cape Hatteras National Seashore!
Outer Banks Activities: Wright Brothers Memorial
The famous Wright Brothers took their first flight in Kitty Hawk. We visited the Wright Brothers National Memorial on our first trip to the Outer Banks. It was definitely cool to see – they have a memorial at the top of the hill and markers that show the actual distance of some of the first test flights.
There was a model of the first plane and some interesting exhibits. However, I’d recommend saving this activity for a rainy or cloudy day, as there’s NO tree cover outside so it was super hot when we did the walk around.
It’s definitely worth a visit though, if you have some extra time, your kids are studying history at school or you’re just a major flight enthusiast!
Outer Banks Activities for Kids: Nags Head Woods Preserve
This forest preserve is part of the Nature Conservancy. We found it while we were looking for something to do on a cloudy day it was awesome.
There’s trails through the forest and a boardwalk trail through the marsh. You can spot some cool birds and frogs in the marsh!
Outer Banks for Kids: Jockeys Ridge State Park
Jockey Ridge State Park has the tallest active sand dune on the east coast. It’s a really cool place to explore – and it’s free of charge! They have an interactive visitor center, where you can learn about how sand dunes are formed as well as some of the history of the islands.
After the visitor center, you can walk along the boardwalk trail to the sand dunes. You can hike up the dunes and get some really beautiful views from there. It’s a great place for kids to explore.
OBX Activities: Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center
This is technically the visitor center for the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, but they have lots of information about the other refuges in the area. This is located on Roanoke Island, and it’s worth a trip to visit, even if you don’t visit the any refuges! It’s free, and they have a TON of interactive exhibits about the wildlife of North Carolina.
Things to do in OBX with Kids: Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge
Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge was a bit of a hike. We went to try to see black bears. There’s a small paved trail and a drive you can do through the refuge. Sometimes, you can see black bears walking around. We were not so lucky, but it might be worth checking out if you’re interested in black bears!
It’s inland, so you have to drive from the Outer Banks to Roanoke Island and from there, drive across another bridge to the mainland of North Carolina. In hindsight, I’m not sure if it was worth the drive, but it was definitely an adventure!
Outer Banks for Kids: Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge
Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge is part of the Outer Banks and it’s about 30 minutes south of Kitty Hawk. They have cool beach trails and an interactive visitor center.
Outer Banks Activities for Kids: Elizabethan Gardens on Roanoke Island
This beautiful garden is located within the borders of Fort Raleigh National Historic Park on Roanoke Island in Manteo, North Carolina. It’s reasonably priced and makes for a beautiful walk!
It’s not geared toward kids, but it’s definitely kid-friendly. It’s a fun thing to do if you need a break from the beach or the weather isn’t great.
Outer Banks for Kids: Visit Duck Donuts
This Donut shop originated in Duck, North Carolina (part of the Outer Banks), but it’s now a chain with many locations. It still makes for a unique and fun breakfast experience.
The donuts are made to order – you can pick your glazes and toppings and they make it right in front of you. (Note: These are not vegan)
Want more east coast family-friendly destinations?
See my posts on: