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Where are the Outer Banks, North Carolina?
The Outer Banks (frequently abbreviated OBX) is a string of barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina, USA. Known for its expansive sandy beaches the OBX is a popular vacation destination. It is a family-friendly area with plenty of activities for children and adults. Visit the Outer Banks with kids and you will not be disappointed by the selection of things to do. From relaxing in the sun on the beautiful beaches, or enjoying the large selection of outdoor activities and sports, to lighthouses, museums, family amusements, and more. There is something for the whole family when visiting the Outer Banks.
This quaint group of coastal towns separates the Atlantic Ocean to the east, from the mainland to the west, with a series of shallow sounds. The Outer Banks starts at the Virginia border and stretches over 175 miles from Corolla in the north, down to Ocracoke in the south.
In this post, we will highlight when is the best time to visit the Outer Banks, our Outer Banks family vacation experience, and what makes it a family-friendly vacation destination. As well as covering what there is to do in the OBX and the most popular things to do in the Outer Banks with kids.
When is the Best time to visit the Outer Banks?
The most popular time to visit the Outer Banks is during the warmer summer months, from May to September. This is the time it will be most busy with visitors. If you want fewer crowds and lower accommodation rates then consider visiting off-season. Therefore, a better time to visit the OBX would be March to May, or September to November.
I have always visited the Outer Banks during the summer months. The traffic can be very heavy on the weekends, especially Saturday’s when many visitors are arriving or departing their vacation rental. If your schedule allows it is worth looking for a vacation rental that begins and ends on Friday or possibly Sunday.
Visit the northern OBX
The northern barrier islands of the Outer Banks are separated from the mainland of North Carolina by the Currituck Sound. If you are headed to the north of the Outer Banks, to visit the town of Duck or Corolla, then be aware that it is a narrow two-lane road. On the weekends during the summer months be prepared to sit in crawling traffic. There is no alternative route, it is one road in and one road out. If you have to travel on Saturday then I would recommend arriving early in the day (before lunch) to try and avoid the lines of traffic.
Our Outer Banks family vacation experience with kids
Use our beach vacation packing list to simplify the packing for your Outer Banks family vacation. This vacation checklist will help ensure you remember to pack everything your family needs. I print the beach packing list, put it on a clipboard, and then check-off the items as I pack them.
We travel from Western North Carolina which is around a 7-8 hours drive to the Outer Banks. Typically we will leave home on Friday and make the majority of the road trip with kids that day. We usually spend the night in a hotel about 2.5 hours from the coast, around the towns of Wilson, NC, or Rocky Mount, NC which are east of Raleigh. Then we can get up on Saturday morning and hit the road. We like to arrive on the Outer Banks before lunchtime to beat the crowds.
Our family likes to explore the Nags Head / Kitty Hawk / Kill Devil Hills area and enjoy lunch at one of the delicious OBX family-friendly restaurants. We bring an empty cooler and then head to the grocery store to stock up on food and these beach essentials for our week at the beach. There is a Walmart and Harris Teeter on N Croatan Hwy in Kitty Hawk, near the Wright Memorial Bridge.
Then we are ready to head towards the north of the Outer Banks, get checked into our beach house rental, and start enjoying our family beach vacation. We typically stay in the town of Duck because there are so many fun things to do in Duck, NC with kids.
Use Road Trip Activities when driving to the OBX with Kids
Some families prefer to drive through the night so they can travel while the kids sleep. Our children don’t sleep well in the car, so we typically travel while they are awake. To entertain kids in the car we always bring the best road trip snacks and the BE Family Kids Car Seat Travel Tray packed with a wide selection of travel activities for kids age 4-8, or road trip activities for kids age 9-12. If you are traveling with younger children then check out these essential toddler travel toys or the best travel toys for a baby.
Is the Outer Banks a family-friendly vacation destination?
When planning a family beach vacation with children it is important to choose a destination that is suitable for the whole family. This is especially true for multi-generational vacations where you are traveling with grandparents, parents, and kids. It takes a lot of effort to travel with kids. Therefore, you want to make sure the vacation destination is really worth all the stress of getting there.
We always rent a beach house for our family vacation in the Outer Banks. There are many vacation rental companies on the OBX. We have been very happy with our experience of booking vacation rentals through Sun Realty. Whether you’re looking for an oceanfront home for the best spot on the beach, a pet-friendly home to include your furry family member in your vacation, or a home with a pool. Sun Realty makes it easy to find the best vacation rental for your needs.
When you visit the Outer Banks with kids there is a wide variety of family-friendly activities suitable for your entire group (young and old). If you prefer a slower pace, and fewer crowds, but still want a variety of activities for the whole family then I recommend the Outer Banks as the ideal family vacation destination.
What is there to do in the Outer Banks with Kids?
Families decide to visit the Outer Banks with children because there is a variety of activities to choose from, but many people also enjoy the slower pace of life that the OBX offers. These barrier islands could be considered a hidden gem because they have maintained much of their natural beauty and rich history.
This is a contrast to some other beach destinations along the Atlantic coast, such as Myrtle Beach, SC, which is much more commercial and visited by many more people.
The Outer Banks is a relaxing and peaceful family-friendly vacation destination. The coast is lined with beautiful sandy beaches, many with private beach access, ideal for relaxing in the sun and an abundance of shell collecting. The OBX has an excellent reputation for outdoor adventure, watersports, family amusements, and eclectic shopping. There is a vast selection of open-air dining at local restaurants. Visit museums, monuments, and lighthouses to learn more about the Outer Banks’ history.
The 22 Most Popular Things to do in Outer Banks with Kids
Here is our round-up of the most popular activities to do in OBX with kids. We have separated this into three categories: Sports and Outdoor Activities; Historical and Educational Destinations; and Kids Activities and Amusements for a Family Vacation on the Outer Banks, NC.
There is more than enough to do here during a week at the beach to entertain the children (and the adults) on your Outer Banks family vacation. Be aware that many OBX family attractions are seasonal. Please contact the location directly before your visit to confirm opening times, and any admission fees or Covid-19 restrictions.
Every Kid Outdoors
Do you know about Every Kid Outdoors? This special federal initiative for fourth-grade students allows every fourth-grade student and his or her family to visit over 2,000 federal lands for FREE for an entire year!
See America’s natural wonders and historic sites such as national parks, national forests, and national wildlife refuges. For additional information, and to print off a paper pass, visit the Every Kid Outdoors website.
Bring your paper pass to historic sites on the Outer Banks and you can exchange it for a more durable and wearable plastic access pass.
Sports and Outdoor Activities for Families in the Outer Banks
The Outer Banks is popular for offering a wide selection of sports and outdoor activities. Families visiting the Outer Banks with kids love the beaches, fishing, bike riding, kayaking, hiking, and walking. There are many outdoor destinations to explore with kids in the Outer Banks. Plan to visit Jockey’s Ridge, the Corolla Wild Horses, the Elizabethan Gardens, or the abundance of OBX playgrounds.
1. OBX Beaches
The Outer Banks of North Carolina are lined with beautiful sandy beaches that are quiet, ideal for recreation and outdoor fun. This includes swimming in the Atlantic Ocean, surfing, sea kayaking, fishing, walking along the sand, collecting shells, or relaxing in the sunshine.
Beach Accesses within the town limits of Southern Shores and Duck are available to residents and guests only. Make sure to check with the homeowners’ association for your vacation home or with your rental company for the closest appropriate beach access for your vacation rental house.
2. Fishing in OBX
There are several ways for your family to go fishing in the Outer Banks with kids. Those with experience can set off on their own to surf fish in the ocean, cast off in the sound, or drop a line from one of the nearby Outer Banks fishing piers. There are Fishing and Crabbing Areas with boardwalk access. If you are new to fishing and you want more help then choose from head boats, off-shore charters, or private guides to introduce you to fishing in Outer Banks.
To go fishing in the Outer Banks then purchasing an N.C. Coastal Recreational Fishing License may be required, except for children under age 16. But you may not need the license to fish on a certain pier or charter boat so be sure to ask. One of the local tackle shops can advise you about the best ways to go fishing in the Outer Banks. To learn more or buy fishing supplies visit Bob’s Bait & Tackle. You may consider taking a kid-friendly fishing trip, so contact FishinFannatic to arrange a local fishing excursion in the OBX.
3. Bike Riding
As you plan activities to do in the Outer Banks with kids, then bike rentals should be at the top of your list. The OBX is incredibly bike-friendly and boasts 105 miles of bike paths for you to enjoy. As well as many scenic bike paths, wide shoulders and safe places to ride or park your beach cruiser rental bike. The landscape is almost entirely flat with the exception being a few bridges, and there is almost always a breeze blowing in your face regardless of the direction you’re heading. There are lots of rental stores in the Outer Banks to rent bikes, beach and vacation equipment. Rental store choices include Ocean Atlantic Rentals, Duck Village Outfitters, Kitty Hawk Kites, Hatteras Island Bike, or Just For The Beach Rentals, and many more.
The Outer Banks is a spectacular place to kayak or canoe and to explore the area by water. There are multiple access points where you can launch your vessel into the sound or take to the ocean for sea kayaking. Seeing the marshland wildlife, and exploring the area’s waterways with a paddle in hand is one of the essential things to do in the Outer Banks with kids. Plan your kayaking trip in the Currituck sound at sunset to experience one of the best sunset views on the Outer Banks. There are companies that offer private tours or group tours with kayaks or paddleboards. Ideal for those families who would feel safer and more comfortable with a guide.
5. Walking or Hiking
The Outer Banks has plenty of trails available for running, walking, or hiking. Trails are open from dawn to dusk year-round, offering great views of sand dunes, ponds, marshes, and history. The Town of Duck is walkable and ideal for families visiting the Outer Banks with kids. There is also the 1-mile long Boardwalk in Duck with spectacular views of the Currituck Sound. The Outer Banks has many nature preserves, wildlife refuges, and other reserves, where families can spend hours hiking and exploring this wonderful coastline.
6. Jockey’s Ridge
Jockey’s Ridge State Park is an unmistakable landmark that is located in Nags Head, North Carolina. This 426-acre park has the tallest living sand dune on the Atlantic coast has a view stretching from the ocean to Roanoke Sound. It is a premier location for kites, enjoying the outdoors, sightseeing and sunsets. There is a visitor center with a museum and a 360-foot boardwalk with exhibits that explain the dune’s ecology. Jockey’s Ridge is an ideal outdoor destination for families visiting the Outer Banks with kids. And for the more adventurous hang gliding lessons are available in the park.
7. Corolla Wild Horses
Consider a day trip to the beaches north of Corolla to catch a glimpse of the Wild Colonial Spanish Mustangs. You may be able to spot a small herd of wild horses wandering along the oceanfront or grazing in the sand dunes. These feral and wild horses have been stranded on the Outer Banks for centuries. You can choose to take a guided or self-guided tour of the 4×4 off-road area. Seeing the Corolla Wild Horses is sure to be a highlight of any family vacation to the Outer Banks with kids. There is also the option to support the non-profit Corolla Wild Horse Fund, which protects and preserves the wild horses, by visiting their museum or gift shop.
8. Outer Banks Playgrounds
If you’re looking for free things to do with toddlers in the Outer Banks or activities for kids then check out one of the playgrounds. Taking your child to a playground is a safe and fun way for kids to explore, use their imagination and run off their energy. There are over 20 playgrounds in the OBX. Outer Banks playgrounds can be found in town parks, recreational parks, gyms, and even some museums. Some of the playgrounds in parks are also pet-friendly.
Here is a list of some of the most popular Outer Banks Playgrounds for your family to visit:
- Duck Town Park – with playground, grassy areas, nature walkways.
- Sandy Run Park – in Kitty Hawk – picnic/grilling area, basketball, marsh and coastal preserve walkways.
- Paul Pruitt Park – in Kitty Hawk – playground, picnic tables, bicycle/jogging path.
- Meekins Field – Kill Devil Hills – playground, tennis courts, baseball field.
- Hayman Street Park – Kill Devil Hills – playground, grassy area, picnic/grilling area.
- Whalebone Park – Nags Head – maritime-themed playground with accessible features, a picnic shelter and volleyball/horseshoe courts.
- Dowdy Park – Nags Head – a full playground for kids to enjoy with picnic area, fitness trail, restrooms, basketball courts and more. This is the newest of the parks on the OBX.
9. Elizabethan Gardens
The Elizabethan Gardens are located in Manteo, NC within the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site. The 10 acre botanical gardens are next to the Lost Colony waterside theatre (see below for more details). This Outer Banks kid-friendly destination attracts many visitors year-round with the seasonal changes of the flowering plants, shrubs, and trees. The Elizabethan Gardens is a safe place for children visiting the OBX to run and explore. And, don’t forget to stop by the gift shop and nursery during your visit.
Historical and Educational Destinations on the OBX
The Outer Banks is rich with history and educational experiences including historical sites, the aquarium, and lighthouses. Here is a round-up of the most popular kid-friendly activities to do during your Outer Banks vacation.
Sidenote: There are many historical and educational sites where families of a 4th grader can receive free access. Learn more about the Every Kid Outdoors program. Be sure to contact the site to verify admission ahead of your visit.
10. The Lost Colony on Roanoke
While visiting the Outer Banks with kids you should head across the Sound to Roanoke Island. The Fort Raleigh National Historic Site protects and preserves the location of Roanoke Colony. This saw the first attempts at permanent English settlements in North America. The Lost Colony is an outdoor historical drama that is a great way for children to learn more about history. The Lost Colony on Roanoke is a waterfront theatrical experience for the whole family. The performance is produced by a non-profit, the Roanoke Island Historical Association (RIHA), whose mission is to celebrate the history of the first English colonies on Roanoke Island, North Carolina.
11. Roanoke Island Festival Park
History comes alive and learning is fun at Festival Park, which is an interactive family attraction that celebrates the first English settlement in America. The 25-acre park is across from the Manteo NC waterfront. A highlight for children visiting the Outer Banks is climbing aboard the Elizabeth II, a recreated 16th-century sailing ship. This is a representation of one of the seven English ships from the Roanoke Voyage of 1585.
In addition, there are living history demonstrators, a museum, and a variety of performing and visual arts. It also features opportunities for guests to learn about the vital and vibrant heritage and traditions of the American Indians in the region. The Roanoke Island Festival Park is fascinating, providing educational experiences and fun for all ages. As well as summer concerts that can be heard in the Outdoor Pavilion.
12. Wright Brothers National Memorial
North Carolina is known for First in Flight. The Wright Brothers came to the remote Outer Banks between 1900 and 1903 because of the area’s steady winds. The Wright Brothers National Memorial is located in Kill Devil Hills, NC. The 60′ granite monument commemorates the site of the first flight of a successful heavier-than-air powered aircraft.
When looking for things to do in the OBX the Wright Brothers National Memorial is a must-see attraction for families who are visiting the Outer Banks with kids. This Outer Banks kid-friendly activity is also popular with the aviation enthusiast or history lover.
The Visitor Center is home to a museum featuring models and actual tools and machines used by the Wright brothers during their flight experiments. This National Park site has plenty to explore for children who are visiting the OBX. Children can investigate the site along with the activities. And be sworn in as a junior ranger once they’ve learned all about the Wright brothers.
13. North Carolina Aquarium
The North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island has live animal encounters, feedings, a 285,000-gallon shark tank, interactive exhibits, films, and more. The Aquarium is an educational attraction that is fun for the whole family. Their mission is focused on inspiring appreciation and conservation of our aquatic environments. Families visiting the Outer Banks with children can interact with scuba divers and see an alligator. Learn about sea turtles, touch the stingrays, and watch the playful river otters.
The NC Aquarium also offer programs for fishing, kayaking, paddle boarding, and crabbing. Most visitors can tour the Aquarium in approximately 2 hours. However, allow more time if you plan to participate in Aquarium programs, dig for shark teeth in the fossil pit, or visit the gift shop.
14. Outer Banks Lighthouses
For more than two centuries, lighthouses have guarded the Outer Banks coast and always guided the way. Spanning from Corolla to Ocracoke Island, the Outer Banks features five unmistakable lighthouses. The Outer Banks lighthouses attract thousands of visitors each year. The OBX lighthouses include Currituck Beach Lighthouse, Bodie Island Light Station (pronounced “Body”, see photograph below), the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse, Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, and Ocracoke Island Lighthouse. When planning your Outer Banks family vacation make sure to include a visit to the lighthouse(s). During your stay on the OBX experience the history and charm of these iconic landmarks.
Outer Banks Kids Activities and Amusements for Family Vacation
During your OBX vacation, there is a wide selection of outdoor amusements for kids to choose from. As well as indoor activities suitable for the whole family. Outer Banks kid-friendly activities include water parks, mini-golf, go-carts, trampolines and ax-throwing, bowling, and laser tag.
15. H2OBX Waterpark
Visit the H2OBX Waterpark for tons of water fun with kids. There are more than 30 rides, slides, and attractions for families at the newest waterpark on the Outer Banks. The interactive play structures, exciting slides, and splashing attractions will keep your kids and toddlers entertained all day long! This theme park has water slides for the whole family and thrill-seekers. There is a lazy river, wave pools, and shaded cabanas for families who want to relax. Plus, there are many on-site dining options with kid-friendly food for casual eats. And don’t forget to visit the shop for H2OBX keepsakes.
16. Outer Banks Family YMCA Water Park
The Outer Banks Family YMCA Water Park is located in Nags Head. This OBX Water Park has two large outdoor pools that offer fun for the whole family. One pool with a waterslide has water cannons and other water toys for younger children to enjoy. The other pool is 12 feet deep and has a springboard dive board for older children and adults. Daily and weekly passes are also available. Ask about membership access with your rental property or other accommodations.
17. Mini Golf
One of the best activities for family groups to enjoy in the Outer Banks is mini-golf. Suitable for all ages, putt-putt is the perfect Outer Banks family vacation activity. There is a vast selection of OBX mini-golf courses for kids and adults, many with themes to their 9 holes. Depending on where you are staying on the Outer Banks with kids, check out Corolla Adventure Golf, Lost Treasure Golf, or Mutiny Bay Adventure Golf. If you want to play putt-putt and race go-carts then Paradise Golf & Arcade or Frisco Mini Golf & Karts can provide both activities for families visiting the OBX.
18. Go Carts
You’ve got the need for speed, and want one-stop family fun during your Outer Banks vacation. At the raceways and speedways sprinkled throughout the beach, you and your family can speed and ram your way to victory. Check out the Outer Banks go-cart including Corolla Raceway, or Full Throttle Speedway. Remember that Paradise Golf & Arcade or Frisco Mini Golf & Karts can provide both go-cart racing and mini golf during your Outer Banks family vacation.
Indoor Family Activities in OBX
19. Jumpmasters Trampoline Park
The Jumpmaster Trampoline Park is located in Manteo, NC. This Outer Banks kid-friendly activity is the perfect rainy day thing to do on the OBX. Jumpmasters OBX has attractions the entire family will enjoy, including a Ninja Warrior Course, Battle Beam, Dodgeball Arena, 3D Climbing wall, Extreme-Sports style Airbag, and the Open Jump Area.
20. OBX Axe Throwing
OBX Axe Throwing is the latest trend in active entertainment. Experience the thrill of victory and rush of adrenaline you get when you sink a bullseye. Whether it is raining or the sun is shinning this is a popular OBX thing to do. Suitable for children age 10 plus. Located in the same facility as Jumpmasters Trampoline Park.
21. OBX Bowling Center
The OBX Bowling Center offers indoor fun and excitement for families in Nags Head, NC. Looking for an kid-friendly activity to do indoors, to escape the heat or rain, during your Outer Banks family vacation? Visit the OBX Bowling Center with kids to enjoy the bowling alley, an updated arcade and café.
22. OBX Laser Tag
The OBX Laser Tag & Arcade located in Nags Head, is the largest two level laser tag arena in the Outer Banks. With over 20 different laser tag games to play, this is an indoor entertainment activity when visiting the Outer Banks with kids.
Visit the Outer Banks with Kids Wrap-Up
Overall, the Outer Banks is an ideal family vacation destination. There is a wide selection of OBX kid-friendly activities to choose from. Whether young or old there is something to do for everyone in this charming beach area. I would recommend visiting the Outer Banks with kids and know you won’t be disappointed if you choose the OBX for your next family vacation.
And remember, let’s BE Family so you can enjoy the journey.
Until next time,
For more about family travel check out these posts:
Family-Friendly Things to do in Duck NC with Kids
What are the Beach Essentials for Kids?
Ultimate Guide & Packing Lists for a Family Beach Vacation
How to Start Savings for a Vacation with Kids
How to Pack Your Car for a Family Road Trip
Simplify A Road Trip with Kids