8 Mar 2023
Corolla. Avon. Rodanthe. With all these names, townships, and various local histories going back more than 400 years, the OBX can seem a little confusing if you haven't had the opportunity to explore it a bit. But once you get the hang of it, you'll find yourself falling in love with this beautiful barrier island paradise and sure to come back year after year for an amazing Outer Banks beach vacation. You'll find that it's not all that confusing once we offer some descriptions, details, and suggestions about where to stay on the Outer Banks from the people who've lived here a long time and can help you get a better idea of what to do and where to stay while you're here. And while you're planning for your next epic vacation on the Outer Banks, check out this map of the OBX and keep a copy of it is handy so that you can stay oriented the whole time you're here.
Where is the Best Place to Stay in Outer Banks?
There is no wrong answer to this question. Whether you're looking to stay somewhere more upscale with community amenities and a resort-style feel, or your dream OBX vacation is a beach box with direct access to the sand, you'll find that every area of the Outer Banks is awesome. There's something for everyone with plenty to do and see, making every spot on the Outer Banks the perfect place to come for vacation, a work retreat, a celebration, or a family escape. Each city has its own unique quirks and idiosyncrasies, so be sure to do your research before picking your favorite spot (or try them all out at different times of the year).
Fortunately, we're here to help make your OBX beach vacation fun, fulfilling, and hassle-free. Keep reading for our suggestions and see what you think. You can also give us a call at (800) 395-2525 to talk to one of our highly-trained Guest Service Specialists who are standing by and ready to help you pick not only the best town, but the best beach house for your next Outer Banks vacation.
If you're looking for upscale homes with lots of resort-style amenities, easy access to sight-seeing, and a more secluded environment, then you might want to consider the northernmost beach, Corolla. Corolla beaches tend to be a little bit less crowded throughout the year, though you will find that there are plenty of easily accessible beach accesses that span from Duck up to Carova, where you'll enter the 4x4 area. This is definitely the place to stay if you're looking for that out-of-the-way, modern feel while still enjoying the seclusion that comes with the Outer Banks. Many of our Corolla homes offer swimming pools and hot tubs as well as community amenities such as tennis and pickleball courts available for use during your stay.
Corolla is also a great place to stay if you're interested in easy access to shopping and restaurants, as there are plenty of walking paths and sidewalks to help you get to the shops and places to eat, meaning you won't even have to get in the car in many areas to enjoy a fun vacation experience. Check out the Timbuck II Shopping Center where you'll find more than 60 shops, activities, and restaurants overlooking the Currituck Sound. For sightseeing, definitely visit the Currituck Beach Lighthouse and take a Wild Horse Tour in the 4x4 area where the pavement meets the sand. Take a tour of the Whalehead Club and visit the Currituck Banks Reserve for even more adventure!
It takes a little bit of extra time to get to Corolla, especially during the summer months. Once you've made it into Dare County, you'll take a left at the first major intersection after you pass Home Depot (don't worry, it'll make sense once you get here). Just keep in mind that it's a two-lane road up to Corolla, so plan ahead for traffic and hit the bathrooms and fast-food steps before heading north. With a little bit of extra planning, though, it's certainly worth the drive! You'll be able to get a glimpse of Southern Shores and Duck as you head north, so make sure to take note of the exciting restaurants and shops to visit once you're all settled in. As the trees start to give way to sand dunes and beach grass, you'll know that you're on your way to luxury and seclusion in Corolla.
Though similar to Corolla in that it's a little more out-of-the-way than say Kitty Hawk or Nags Head, Duck is a quaint little village with a great town-center with fun local shops and restaurants that has a unique feel, setting it apart from the southern beaches. The highlight of Duck is definitely the Town Park and Boardwalk, both of which are easily accessible from many of our beach houses, townhomes, and condos in Duck. This is the place to stay if you're less concerned with sight-seeing and more focused on getting away from the fast-paced stresses of daily life in favor of gorgeous sunrises over the ocean and hypnotizing sunsets on the sound.
With lots of sidewalks and walking paths, Duck is a great town for bikers, runners, and walkers as well as shopping, with the gorgeous The Scarborough Faire Shopping Village. Also in Duck, The Waterfront Shops are home to more than 27 boutiques, restaurants, and other shops connected with a boardwalk that allows you an unbeatable view of the Currituck Sound. Walk to Duck Donuts in the morning for breakfast before enjoying an exciting jet skiing or kayak tour on the sound with Kitty Hawk Kites Watersports Center. Duck is ideal for families and people who want to feel like they're part of a small, coastal community during their stay.
There are no public beach accesses in Duck, so if you'll want to make sure that your vacation rental offers a beach access if you're not planning to drive. As a result, the beaches in Duck are clean, unpopulated, and a beautiful place to relax away from it all. Like Corolla, you'll take a left at the intersection in Kitty Hawk to head north on the two-lane road, so plan ahead for a little bit of traffic and waiting time before checking-in. The wait will definitely be worth it, though, as Duck truly is a unique place to make your home away from home.
Southern Shores is a quick stretch between Duck and Kitty Hawk and offers some relatively empty beaches because there are few public access/parking areas. If you're looking for easy access to some of the best that the OBX has to offer, this is a great place to stay because it's a quick ride to activities north or south. Southern Shores is a great place to stay if you want your OBX vacation to feel more like staying at home, just with access to the sound on one side and the beach at the other, as many of our OBX beach houses in this area are also part of quiet residential neighborhoods and communities. It's very easy to get to Southern Shorts, since you're techincally here as soon as you make it across the Wright Memorial Bridge, though keep in mind, you may still have to make that left turn past the Home Depot to get to your rental property (I promise, it'll make sense once you see it. Trust me), so plan for a little traffic during the summer, but it won't be too bad.
Southern Shores is great if you're wanting not only a residential vacation experience, but easy access to things like grocery stores and gas stations as well as parks and playgrounds. There are several parks throughout Southern Shores and northern Kitty Hawk, so it's easy to get the kiddos out and running around to let off some steam. You'll also find that the OB-Xscape Room is really close as is the Kitty Hawk Pier and The Marketplace and Southern Shores Crossing where you'll find Walmart, Harris Teeter, Food Lion, CVS, and several restaurants and fast-food places that make it easy to grab a meal on-the-go. Like Duck, there aren't any public beach access to the Southern Shore beaches, though many vacation rentals do offer parking passes and private accesses. If not, it's just a short drive to Kitty Hawk, less than a few minutes, where you'll find plenty of beach accesses, many with parking spaces and lifeguard stations.
Central Outer Banks Towns
If you're looking to spend your vacation right in the middle of the action, picking a vacation rental in Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, or Nags Head will be your best bet. These areas tend to be the busiest, with plenty of easily accessible beach access and the most options for restaurants, bars, shopping, and activities on the OBX. If you're wanting your Outer Banks vacation to be filled with sightseeing, adventure, and plenty of days at the beach, this is definitely where you'll want to stay for a more "traditional" beach vacation. The central beach towns were the first to start building up over the years and so you'll get more choices as to locations, types of beach houses, amenities, and activities. If you grew up coming to the Outer Banks and want to continue this tradition with your family, staying in Kill Devil Hills or Nags Head are more likely to bring back that 80's nostalgia of beach box houses, fishing piers, and days spent surfing or skimboarding with the added bonus of being close to grocery stores, doctors offices, and multiple shopping centers.
That being said, you'll still be able to find houses with community amenities, swimming pools, and hot tubs up and down the central Outer Banks, though the vibe is certainly a little more beachy laid-back in these areas. This also where you'll find many local hangout spots and lots of public beach accesses with a variety of amenities including bath houses and lifeguard stations. Don't forget restaurants and eateries! Since this strip of land goes for quite a while, you'll find plenty of amazing eateries both on the highway or the beach road (NC Hwy 12) depending on the atmosphere you're looking for. Don't be afraid to try something new and definitely get some fresh, local seafood while you're here.
When you're on your way in, traffic tends to break up a little after making it through the interaction, but you still might find yourself waiting a little while to get past that point. The main road is a four-lane road with a turning lane, so it's easy to get where you need any time of the year. These areas tend to be a little more populated but that also means there's a lot more to do, including visiting the Wright Brothers Memorial or spending a day at Jockey's Ridge. So enjoy the sunshine, get those toes in the sand, and be kind to the folks working at the many locally-owned resaurants, bars, and stores to let the good times roll.
If you're looking for a quiet, secluded beach vacation that gets you away from the hustle and bustle of a vacation town, the southern beaches (Rodanthe, Salvo, Waves, Hatteras, Ocracoke) should be on your radar. There are less shops and restaurants here, but the peace and quiet is amazing. Anyone who's lived here a certain amount of time will tell you that there is something special about South Nags Head and the areas around Hatteras Island & Ocracoke. This is where you're going to find lots of beautiful landscapes and wildlife, unique watersports experiences, and that peace and quiet that you can only get in a place that's untouched by modernization, all while still being just a short drive away from all the action in Kill Devil Hills and Nags Head.
Staying on the southern beaches also gives you spectacular access to the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, which offers a few benefits...
- First, great views of sunsets over the sound because there are no houses impeding the view.
- Without multiple rows of houses flooding to the closest beach, the beach tends to be a bit less crowded.
- One of my favorite local tips...you have easy access to Pea Island. Possibly the best beach on the Outer Banks. Head south over the Bonner Bridge and pull over on the side of the road. Then, you'll have to hoof it over the dunes (it's worth the effort), and enjoy the amazing Pea Island beach all to yourself. Oregon Inlet isn't too shabby either, you can drive your four wheel drive vehicle right out on the beach and enjoy an awesome day in the sand.
The southern beaches aren't entirely, remote, though, so you'll still be able to visit some amazing art galleries and local restaurants right in your backyard. The culture on Hatteras Island is very different than the rest of the Outer Banks. It's pleasant and slow, relishing in the laid-back beauty of everyday life and living life on tidal time. You'll find some amazing surfing and kiteboarding in Canadian Hole near the soundside and Roanoke Island and Manteo are just a short drive away. This means that if you're wanting to enjoy some history at Fort Raleigh National Park, see The Lost Colony production, or visit the NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island, there's no better place to be.
The only real draw-back is the drive down, though it's a pleasant and relaxing drive when you give yourself the chance to embrace untouched natural beauty. You'll see lots of beach grass and sand dunes that are home to lots of amazing wildlife, lighthouses, and some of the best stargazing skies in the world. You won't find as many options for grocery stores, so you may want to consider shopping before heading south. The tranquility of this area is unlike anything you'll find anywhere else, arguably, in the world. The same could be said for Ocracoke, where you can take a trip across the water to a remote island with ties to Blackbeard that ensure an unforgettable Outer Banks vacation.
BOOK YOUR STAY TODAY
So whether you're hoping to come for a short stay getaway or you're excited to introduce the kiddos to some important North Carolina history while recreating memories of your childhood beach vacation, we've got the perfect place for you to stay while you're in town. There really is no bad place to stay on the Outer Banks, so why not plan a yearly trip and maybe stay in a different town each time? You're sure to find your perfect spot.
Keep an eye on our specials and deals and book now before your dream Outer Banks beach house fills up for the summer. Give our wonderful Guest Services Team a call today at (866) 884-0267 or take a look at our available rentals to get started planning your next historic adventure to the Outer Banks. And don't forget about our layaway plan, which makes booking your dream vacation easier than ever. So don't wait. We're booking Outer Banks vacation rentals year round and we're excited to help you create memories to last a lifetime. We're here to help make your OBX vacation fun, exciting, and hassle-free. Give us a call today!
We'll see you at the beach.
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 degrees from UNC-Chapel Hill and the University of Nebraska-Kearney 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.