OBX with Kids: 25 Things To Do in the Outer Banks, NC

There are so many kid-friendly beaches in the Outer Banks. Photo by Patty King, via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
There are so many kid-friendly beaches in the Outer Banks. Photo by Patty King, via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
6/11/23 - By Meredith Kiryakov

The Outer Banks, NC is a favorite summer getaway for DC families that's well worth the six-hour drive. The Outer Banks (also referred to as the OBX) is a series of beautiful barrier islands, with the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the calm Pamlico Sound on the other. My family has been traveling to the Outer Banks every summer for over 40 years, and it’s the perfect laid-back family vacation. From the gorgeous beaches to the amazing wildlife (sea turtles and dolphins!), fresh seafood, and fun activities, there is something for everyone to enjoy at a wide range of prices.

Here are 25 great things to do with kids in the OBX, including water sports, lighthouses, and delicious local seafood restaurants. For other great family vacations at beaches near DC, check out our list of family-friendly beaches near DC, including our guides to Virginia Beach and the Delaware beaches.


Things To Do in the Outer Banks, NC: The Beach
Relax on miles and miles of beautiful OBX coastline. Photo courtesy of Visit Raleigh

Best Outdoor Things To Do in the Outer Banks, NC with Kids

1. Hit the Beach

The miles and miles of gorgeous beaches are the main reason families flock to the Outer Banks, NC, and they all have something unique to offer. Corolla Beach's calm waters are perfect for swimming, wading, and kayaking. The beaches in Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hills have bigger waves and are near plentiful restaurants and shops. Duck Beach is pet-friendly, and kids love the 3,000-gallon aquarium on Jennette's Pier at Nags Head Beach.

Our family especially loves the Cape Hatteras National Seashore in the southern part of the OBX. It's been protected from development, so there are no boardwalks—just beautiful, wide sandy beaches bordered by dunes. Build a sandcastle, go boogie boarding, look for sea turtle nests roped off by rangers, and splash in a tide pool. Just keep a close eye on kids in the surf—there are rip tides in the Outer Banks and no lifeguards in most areas of the beach.

2. Jockey's Ridge State Park — Nags Head

This state park is home to the tallest living sand dune system on the east coast, and it’s the perfect place to fly a kite. For older kids and adults looking for more adventure, Jockey’s Ridge also offers hang gliding and sandboarding. Visitors can also go hiking, paddling, kiteboarding, or windsurfing on the Roanoke Sound.

RELATED: Top 10 North Carolina Beaches for Families

Things To Do in the Outer Banks, NC: Wild Horses
Share the sand with some wild horses. Photo by Don Sniegowski, via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

3. See Wild Horses on Carova Beach

There are approximately 100 wild mustangs that live on the northern end of the Outer Banks at Carova Beach. Anyone with a four-wheel-drive vehicle may drive along the beach to look for wild horses, but the speed limit is 30 mph and people must keep their distance from the horses. There are also outfitters in Corolla that offer wild horse tours, such as Back Country Safari Tours and Wild Horse Adventure Tours.

4. Mini Golf

You'll find great mini golf courses all along the Outer Banks, NC. Paradise Fun Park in Kill Devil Hills offers two 18-hole courses, go-karts, bumper cars, and an arcade that's perfect for a rainy day. You can eat a sweet treat and then work it off on the mini golf course at Uncle Eddy’s Frozen Custard & Mini Golf in Buxton. And at Mutiny Bay Adventure Golf in Nags Head, enjoy a pirate-themed mini golf adventure, then head to Full Throttle Speedway next door for a go-kart race.

5. First Flight Adventure Park — Nags Head

This massive adventure park includes 14 zip lines and 50 obstacles throughout its incredible outdoor course, which features climbing structures, rings, rope bridges, and more. Kids must be at least 6 years old to participate, and there are two easier obstacle courses with low zip lines designed for younger ages and beginners.

6. Hunt for Ghost Crabs

A nighttime walk on the beach is a great adventure in the Outer Banks, NC. Be sure to bring your flashlights and go hunting for ghost crabs. These fast creatures can be hard to spot during the day, but at night, we’ve seen hundreds! You can also turn off your flashlights and go stargazing—the dark night skies over Hatteras are perfect for seeing the Milky Way and shooting stars. On some parts of the OBX, bonfires are permitted on the beach. Be sure to look up the regulations and get any required permits for your location.

7. Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge — Manteo

It’s a tradition in our family to stop at this lovely wildlife center on the Pamlico Sound and visit the turtles in the pond. You can also see lots of different birds and other wildlife on the walkways over the Sound and get a great view of the Bodie Island Lighthouse. Just be sure to use bug spray!

8. Kayaking, Paddleboarding and other Water Sports

Pamlico Sound is a great place for families to have fun on the water. Nor’Banks Sailing & Watersports is one of the most popular water sports facilities near Duck and Corolla. Visitors can go parasailing, water skiing, tubing, kayaking, and more. You can also take boat tours or rent pontoon boats and catamarans for a more relaxed excursion. Down on the southern end of the OBX in Hatteras, Family Water Adventures offers a great variety of water activities, including snorkeling, clamming, tubing, water skiing, fishing, shell hunting, and more.

RELATED: 98 Things To Do in Charlotte, NC with Kids

Things To Do in the Outer Banks, NC: H2OBX Water Park
H2OBX Water Park has slides for all ages. Photo courtesy of the park

9. H2OBX Water Park — Powells Point

This giant water park is impossible to miss as you drive down Route 12. With a wave pool, kid-friendly slides for young visitors, a lazy river, and a pirate-themed water playground, this water park is perfect for all ages. For teens and adults looking for thrills, there are seven giant slides and tube rides, plus a wave rider to practice surfing. The park offers ticket deals for groups and multi-day vacation passes.

10. Dolphin Tours

Did you know that dolphins live in the waters off the Outer Banks, NC? We’ve spotted them in the ocean before, but taking a dolphin boat tour on Pamlico Sound is the best way to see them. There are many different dolphin cruise operators in the OBX. My family took a tour with Captain Johnny’s Outer Banks Dolphin Tours, and we were amazed by how many dolphins we saw. The sunset dolphin tour is especially beautiful. Paradise Cruises is also a popular dolphin tour operator in Wanchese, with knowledgeable local guides that will help you spot dolphins, osprey, and other local wildlife.

11. Elizabethan Gardens — Manteo

These gardens are a beautiful botanical park designed as a living memorial to the famous lost colony of Roanoke. Kids will particularly enjoy the Discovery Cottage and Garden, where they can climb aboard a wooden ship, explore play houses with living roofs, view specimens through microscopes, and more. Don't forget to stop by the Butterfly Garden.

12. The Lost Colony Musical— Manteo

This play about the infamous lost colony of Roanoke has been staged in the Outer Banks, NC for over 80 years. Enjoy this entertaining musical about the history of the OBX in an outdoor theater by the water. Kids 5 and under enjoy free admission, and all kids 12 and under are free on Monday nights.

RELATED: Asheville with Kids: 40 Best Things To Do in Asheville, NC

Things To Do in the Outer Banks, NC: Island Farm 
Step back in time to the 1850s at Island Farm. Photo by Amanda D.,courtesy of Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

More Things To Do in the Outer Banks, NC with Kids

13. Island Farm — Manteo

This living history museum portrays the real life of Roanoke Island settlers in the 1850s. Explore the Etheridge Farm built in the 1840s, see farm animals, and check out live demonstrations of blacksmithing, traditional agricultural activities, hearth cooking, weaving, wool spinning, and more.

14. North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island — Manteo

This awesome aquarium highlights the aquatic life in the waters of the Outer Banks, NC, including a variety of sharks, wetland creatures such as otters and alligators, and stingrays and other invertebrates that kids can touch. Visitors can also learn about sea turtle conservation efforts on the OBX, which is known for being a sea turtle breeding ground.

15. Wright Brothers National Memorial — Kitty Hawk

Visit the birthplace of flight, where the Wright Brothers made their first successful flight in 1903. The Wright Brothers Visitor Center and Museum includes hands-on exhibits that bring the invention of the Wright brothers to life, including a reproduction of their 1903 flyer.

16. Historic Lighthouses

The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is the tallest lighthouse in the US and is instantly recognizable with its swirly black stripes. Visitors can explore the keepers quarters and learn about the history of the lighthouse and how it was moved in 1999. Climb all the way to the top for breathtaking views of the ocean. The Bodie Island Lighthouse is located in Nags Head on the Sound side of the island, and visitors can go inside and climb it as well. Families can also visit the red-brick Currituck Beach Lighthouse in Corolla and the tiny Ocracroke Lighthouse on Ocracoke Island, just a ferry ride away.

17. Ride the Ferry to Ocracoke

On the far southern end of the Outer Banks, you can take the ferry for a great day trip to explore the charming island of Ocracoke. The island is small, so the best way to get around is by walking, renting a bike, or hopping on the island tram. Visit the Ocracoke Lighthouse, check out the shops and artists downtown, and enjoy some fresh seafood at a local restaurant.

18. Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station — Rodanthe

The Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station and museum teaches visitors about the early history of the US Life-Saving Service/US Coast Guard in North Carolina. Dozens of courageous rescues took place at Chicamacomico between 1874 and 1954. Visitors can see a reenactment of a beach apparatus rescue at the station during the summer.

19. Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum — Hatteras

This museum offers programming about maritime activities for all ages, including the history of the Outer Banks, boats and shipwrecks, and family-friendly scavenger hunts. Note: The museum is closed through at least the end of fall 2023 for the construction of new exhibits.

RELATED: 24 Things To Do in Raleigh, NC with Kids

Things To Do in the Outer Banks, NC: Orange Blossom Bakery & Cafe 
Dig into delicious pastries, muffins, and more at Orange Blossom. Photo courtesy of the author

Delicious Outer Banks, NC Restaurants for Families

20. Orange Blossom Bakery & Cafe — Buxton

Orange Blossom has been serving up great pastries, cakes, pies, and more since the 1950s. This is a great stop for breakfast—be sure to try the enormous Apple Ugly, its signature item.

21. Mama Easley’s Grub Hut — Corolla

Mama Easley’s is a favorite seafood restaurant located next to the Sound. The fresh fried seafood is very popular, but the menu also offers burgers and other non-fish options. The kids menu includes fried fish sticks, mac and cheese bites, and fried shrimp.

22. Coastal Cravings — Duck

Featured on the show "Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives", this popular restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner in a casual, kid-friendly atmosphere. Coastal Cravings specializes in fresh local seafood and offers seafood pots to go. The outdoor dining area also has live music at night.

23. Diamond Shoals Restaurant — Hatteras

Diamond Shoals is both a restaurant and seafood market, so you know the fish is fresh. Visitors recommend the clam chowder, crab cakes, and fried or broiled shrimp. Diamond Shoals also has the only sushi bar on the island.

24. Sugar Creek Soundfront Restaurant — Nags Head

This is one of our family’s favorite restaurants. With lots of outdoor seating right on the water, Sugar Creek Soundfront is very family-friendly and has a wide-ranging menu. Its Hatteras-style clam chowder is especially delicious.

25. End your day with something sweet!

Ice cream is the perfect ending to a hot day at the beach, and the OBX is bursting at the seams with great ice cream shops. Enjoy some classic beach food and frozen custard at Kill Devil’s Frozen Custard and Beach Fries. Kids will also have fun at Booty Treats in Nags Head, a pirate-themed shop with fun original flavors of shaved ice and ice cream.

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