21 Sep 2022
There is no shortage of fun and amazing things to do when you visit the Outer Banks on vacation. Spend a day at the beach, enjoy some fresh, local North Carolina seafood, and relax in the comfort of your vacation rental! But while you’re enjoying this fantastic vacation destination, there are plenty of fun activities to do during your Outer Banks vacation that are unique to the Outer Banks. Keep reading for our list of top 10 fun and unique activities to do during your Outer Banks vacation for an OBX experience that you won’t soon forget.
1. Explore the History of Shipwrecks on the OBX at the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum
We’re going to start off our list of unique things to do during your Outer Banks vacation with a trip to the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum in Hatteras. Just off the coast of the Outer Banks lies an area of water known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic due to two thousand sunken ships having wrecked off the coast since the 16th century. At this quiet, out-of-the-way museum, you’ll find a slew of artifacts, exhibits, and tours that make learning a fun experience. One of the best parts of the museum is the fact that it holds artifacts from the USS Monitor, which was a Civil War battleship that sank 16 miles off the coast of Hatteras, Queen Anne’s Revenge, and the Metropolis. This will be a stop on your Outer Banks vacation that you’ll be thinking about for a while! And even better? Admission is free.
2. Find the Will to Believe at the Frisco Futuro House
Update October 20, 2022: Unfortunately, the town of Frisco and the entire Outer Banks lost a piece of history when the Frisco Futuro House was destroyed in a fire on the morning of October 20, 2022. This relic was an important part of the Outer Banks for decades and its memory will remain a fundamental part of the Outer Banks' past and architectural history around the world.
If you’re looking for something exciting, unique, and a little bit out of this world for your next Outer Banks vacation, head down to the previous site of North Carolina’s only Futuro House located in Frisco. Built in 1970, the Futuro House was one of a limited number of pre-fab homes built by Finnish Architect Matti Suuronen whose goal was to revolutionize the construction of portable homes. Guests and locals alike regularly stopped by to take a gander at a family of extra-terrestrials enjoying their own Outer Banks vacation and often saw aliens through the portholes. Many locals remember the home when it was a hotdog stand and have fond memories of a "real life" extraterrestrial coming out to take photos with visitors. This home was one of the few remaining Futuro homes left still standing. It was lost in a fire on the morning of October 20, 2022.
3. Take a Hike in Nags Head Woods
While most people think about surf and the sand when planning their OBX vacation, the Outer Banks is also home to a unique maritime ecosystem and multiple maritime forests that are ideal for a fun day hike. Nags Head Woods Preserve is one of these places and encompasses more than 1,400 acres of conservation land. There are multiple trails perfect for exploring the preserve and getting a unique look at this hidden side of the Outer Banks. Enjoy a hike surrounded by both brackish and freshwater ponds, over 550 plant species, and diverse wildlife that give you a glimpse into the untouched world of a maritime forest.
4. Go Windsurfing at Canadian Hole
A small, out-of-the-way beach located on Hatteras Island, Canadian Hole is an epic windsurfing location that is known for its wind and water conditions that make this an unparalleled spot for anyone searching for a windsurfing or kiteboarding adventure. Not only that, but Canadian Hole offers stunning sunset views, plenty of parking, restrooms, and public showers. For a day of adventure, you can’t miss these steady 10-25 mph winds during the spring and fall seasons that make for ideal watersport conditions.
5. Find the Winged Horse Statues
These beautiful pieces of art were erected during the 2003 Centennial of Flight celebration commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers’ first flight in Kill Devil Hills. 99 horses were installed during the Winged Horse Extravaganza and many of them are still standing outside of shops, schools, restaurants, and many different other places on the Outer Banks. The statues are shaped like horses with wings and are decorated in elaborate styles, with everything from lighthouses to glitter adorning these beautiful fixtures. There’s no official record of which horses are still standing and where they are located, but it’s hard to miss these fun, vibrant art pieces up and down the island. Try to find as many as you can and be sure to snap a picture since there’s no knowing when these statues might someday fly away.
6. Explore the Mystery of the Lost Colony
While many people think about Jamestown to the north when discussing their American history as the first permanent English settlement in America, it turns out that the actual honor of the first English settlement belongs to the Lost Colony of Roanoke Island. Between 1584 and 1587, Sir Walter Raleigh and Queen Elizabeth I made 3 attempts at settlement in what is present-day Manteo, only for the colony to disappear while its governor was gone to England on a supply run during the Anglo-Spanish War. Today, be sure to explore the history of the Lost Colony at the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, with multiple monuments, trails, and a small museum inside the visitor’s center. And be sure to stay and purchase tickets for The Lost Colony, America’s longest-running outdoor drama and recipient of multiple awards, in the famous Waterside Theater.
7. See the Corolla Wild Horses in Carova
This is one of those unique and unforgettable features of the Outer Banks that you just have to see to believe. Take a day to drive up to Corolla where you can get a glimpse of the Outer Banks Corolla Wild Horses. While the history of these wild mustangs is up for debate, there’s no doubt that visitors and locals alike are constantly enamored by the sight of these beautiful creatures that roam free in certain areas of Corolla and Carova. Be sure to look and not interact, as feeding, riding, petting, or approaching one of these animals is a crime. But be sure to take plenty of pictures for a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
8. See a Reenactment at the Chicamacomico Lifesaving Station
Known for its famous and unforgettable name, the Chicamacomico Lifesaving Station in Rodanthe is one of the most complete remaining lifesaving stations in the country and services as a museum open daily during the week. Take in the multiple exhibits and history of the lifesaving station with its many stories to tell and the legacy of what would eventually become the U.S. Coast Guard. Be sure to check the calendar during your stay because the lifesaving station also offers weekly reenactments and drills during the summer months, including conducting a life water rescue.
9. Visit the Monument To A Century of Flight in Kitty Hawk
In addition to visiting the Wright Brothers Memorial, be sure to stop by the Monument to a Century of Flight located in Kitty Hawk. Built to commemorate the 2003 Centennial of Flight, this monument features 14 stainless steel towers that are organized into an orbit of 120 feet, symbolizing the length of the historic first flight that took place just a few miles down the road. The monument also is made up of 100 markers highlighting the 100 most important events in aviation history between 1903 and 2003. Just off the highway at MP1, this monument is certainly something to behold and perfectly rounds out the history of aviation on the Outer Banks.
10. Take a Hang Gliding Lesson at Jockey’s Ridge
And in case reading about aviation isn’t enough for you, one of the most unique things you can do for fun during your Outer Banks vacation is to take a hang gliding lesson at Jockey’s Ridge State Park! Partner with Kitty Hawk Kites in Nags Head where you’ll make your way onto the giant dune that is Jockey’s Ridge where an instructor will teach you how to maneuver a hang glider before giving you the chance to try it yourself over the sand. This is an unparalleled experience that will make memories for you and your family that are sure to last a lifetime.
BONUS: 5 Hidden Gems - More to See!
With the unique location and unrivaled history of the Outer Banks, you didn’t think that was it, did you? Here are 5 “hidden gems” of the Outer Banks that are more than worth searching for.
1. See the Monument to the Freedmen’s Colony on Roanoke Island
While we’ve already mentioned that you should definitely visit Roanoke Island to explore the mysteries of the Lost Colony, Roanoke Island was also home to another type of “lost colony” that has only recently begun receiving recognition in the past few decades. Recognized in 2001 as a National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Site, Roanoke Island was home to a permanent Freedman’s Colony between 1862 and 1867. Take the path through the woods that are part of Fort Raleigh to find a commemorative park along the Croatan Sound and make this important historical monument a stop on your Outer Banks vacation.
2. See the Wright Brother’s Garage Monument
Add this one to your bucket list if you’re looking for a little bit of Outer Banks history that is off the beaten path. You’ll definitely want to visit the Wright Brothers Memorial and we’ve already mentioned the Monument to a Century of Flight, but what about the place where that famous Wright Flyer was actually built? Hidden away on Moor Shore Road in Kitty Hawk, you’ll find a monument dedicated to memorializing the place where the Wright Brothers stayed and are believed to have constructed their glider. Known as the Wright Brothers Garage Monument, this hidden gem is located in the front yard of a private home so please be respectful when you walk or drive by.
3. Tour the Whalehead Club in Corolla
Step back in time in Corolla and take a tour of this beautiful, 1920s-era Art Nouveau-style home that is open to the public for tours and events. The Whalehead Club, then known as “Corolla Island,” began construction in 1922 and included many state-of-the-art amenities for the period, including electricity, running water, and interior bathrooms. Take a walk around the property and enjoy the beautiful landscape by the sound as well as the classic Art Nouveau architecture and decor that has landed this home on the National Register of Historic Places.
4. Explore Springer's Point Preserve & Look for Blackbeard’s Ghost
And while you’re already on Ocracoke Island, be sure to check out this unbelievable area known as the Springer’s Point Preserve. This preserve is 122 acres of undeveloped maritime forest, marsh, and wetland on Ocracoke Island. Make your way through the preserve and down the 0.8-mile nature trail and you’ll find yourself at Teach’s Hole, the spooky place where Blackbeard, aka Edward Teach, was killed in 1718. Enjoy a fun day exploring this undeveloped area that has been settled since the early 1600s before spending the afternoon looking for Blackbeard’s ghost, which some people believe still haunts the area near Springer’s Point.
5. Visit the British Cemetery on Ocracoke
For the history buff in your group, you can’t miss a visit to the British Cemetery on Ocracoke Island. This small plot of land has been leased in perpetuity to the British Commonwealth and serves as the final resting place for 4 men who died on May 11, 1942, when a German U-Boat struck the HMT Bedfordshire with a torpedo, killing all 37 sailors on board, though apart from the 4 bodies that washed ashore, the other men were never found. During WWII, the waters off the coast of the Outer Banks were known as “Torpedo Alley” because of an influx of German U-Boats in the area. A memorial is held each year by representatives of the British Royal Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard to commemorate the sailors.
For an additional stop, visit the Hatteras Island British Cemetery in Buxton on your way back through. Here, you’ll find the graves of 2 unidentified British sailors who washed ashore on Buxton during WWII.
Book your Unique Outer Banks Vacation Today!
So whether you're looking for something fun to add to your Outer Banks itinerary or you prefer to spend your vacation enjoying the unique nature of the OBX, be sure to visit some or all of the sites on this list and take advantage of the best of what the Outer Banks has to offer. And the only thing better than finding the hidden gems of Outer Banks attractions is being able to come back to your own hidden gem of a vacation rental at the end of an exciting day! Take a look at our available rentals and book your Outer Banks vacation with Seaside Vacations today!
About the Author: Lauren is a mom, author, and travel enthusiast. She grew up on the Outer Banks and only left for a few years to get her degree at UNC-Chapel Hill and complete a tour in the Coast Guard before making her way back to the beach in 2017. When she isn’t writing for the Seaside Vacations Travel Blog, Lauren can usually be found with a book and cup of tea in hand, planning her next travel adventure.