Sun, Sand + Seclusion: 9 Top Outer Banks Beaches To Set Foot On!

As an Australian who grew up on the beaches near Sydney, I can’t recommend beach life enough. And if you’re looking for a beach getaway to experience some sun, sand and seclusion, then one of the best places is on the Outer Banks beaches – only a 4-hour drive from Raleigh!

Mom and daughter swimming in the ocean with a body board.
Having fun near Jennette’s Pier at Nags Head Beach.

The Outer Banks are a barrier of islands that connect North Carolina to the Atlantic Ocean and are famous for being the first stretch of land to be settled by Sir Walter Raleigh.

Not only is this region an important destination for history, but it’s also an area of stunning natural beauty, composed of wild and expansive beaches, world-class fishing and surf spots, and many historic landmarks and attractions.

Aerial view of a beach with people swimming and relaxing on the sand..
Kill Devil Hills Beach

But the OBX beaches stretch for 136 miles long, connecting from the Northern border of North Carolina all the way down to the southern tip of Ocracoke Island, so you might be wondering which are the best Outer Banks beaches to visit on your next OBX vacation.

In this guide, we’re sharing the best beaches in Outer Banks that we’ve visited and personally recommend (in no particular order). We’ve been to the OBX in summer and winter, and a different experience can be had all year round. Plus, tips on where to eat and stay near each beach!

Mom and two daughters swimming in the ocean.
We love to go body boarding.
HOT TIP: Make sure you check the beach conditions before visiting any of these beaches in OBX. The Atlantic Ocean can change in a matter of hours. Fortunately, there is a text service set up for visitors to OBX where you can hear about potential rip tides from local lifeguards. TEXT: OBXBeachConditions to 77295 to receive alerts or check out more beach safety advice here!

Best Outer Banks Beaches

Corolla Beach

People sitting on a beach under beach umbrellas.
Lovely stretch of beach.

Corolla Beach is one of the most popular beaches in the Outer Banks. It’s a long, 24-mile stretch that extends from the NC/Virginia State line to the town of Corolla and is known for its windswept, wild, and rugged landscape, with wild Spanish mustang horses grazing in by the shores.

It’s also known for having 4×4 sections, which tend to be more on the northern end of the beach and connect to Carova (more on that below). 

Further to the south, you’ll find the beach becomes more open to the public and are lined with relaxed vacation homes and beachside cottages, as opposed to high-rise resorts. The south end of Corolla has more facilities such as lifeguards and dog-friendly sections.

Two kids on a stand up paddle board.
Our favorite beach for paddle boarding.

One reason why Corolla Beach is one of our personal top beaches in OBX is because it’s a great beach for Stand-Up Paddle Boarding (SUP) – it has gentle waves and shallow shores, perfect for wading and paddling, especially if you’re new to SUP.

We’re big fans of paddleboarding, it’s one of our favorite activities to do in OBX, and are always on the lookout for places to take our two inflatable BodyGlove paddle boards

Man riding a stand up paddle board at the beach.
Gentle waves.

You can also rent kayaks and paddle around the Currituck Sound, learn to kiteboard, hang glide, or take a fishing boat out to cast a line and see what you can catch!

Carova Beach

Wild horses on a beach.
Image credit:

Carova Beach is the most northern beach in NC and connects to the Virginia border. It’s a part of the Currituck National Wildlife Refuge and about a 20-minute drive north of Corolla.

What makes this area unique is that it’s only accessible by 4WD, allowing visitors the chance to channel their sense of adventure and enjoy the solitude of remote life. 

There are not many beaches in North Carolina where you can drive on the beach in a 4WD jeep buggy, but Carova Beach is one place where you can do just that.

Wild horse on a beach.
Image credit:

Don’t lose yourself in the thrill of beach driving though, as you’ll want to stop and admire the famous wild horses who have been known to live on these beaches for centuries. Stop to watch them wading in the surf and snap a few photos – it’s one of the main reasons people visit Outer Banks. Don’t have a 4wd? Check out this 2 hour Wild Horse Tour.

The isolation and seclusion, paired with the colony of wild horses, make Carova Beach one of the most sought-after destinations in OBX. If you’re looking for a beach where you can escape the city life of Raleigh for a few days and close off from the world, this is THE place to be.

  • Where to Stay: Consider these oceanfront vacation rentals in Carova.
  • Where to Eat: Because Carova is only accessible by 4WD, you will need to venture to the nearest town of Corolla to eat as there isn’t much else besides vacation homes.

Nags Head Beach

People playing in the ocean and sand at a beach.
Family-friendly beach.

Nags Head Beach is another popular OBX beach for those looking for a wild and rugged beach you can get lost in, but without too much isolation.

Nags Head is where most of the tourists go when visiting Outer Banks and has a ton of attractions and amenities that allow beach lovers to relax but without feeling cut off. 

The beach itself is clean and has shower and restroom facilities. There’s a seasonal lifeguard who works in the summer months, and there are also plenty of free parking spots along the residential neighborhood behind the beach. 

The sand slopes gradually into the ocean, which means young kids can paddle safely. All of this makes it one of the best beaches for families visiting OBX.

A pier stretching into the ocean at a beach.
Hom e to the famous Jeanette’s Pier.

It’s also one of the best beaches for surfing in OBX. In fact, the ESA Surfing Competition takes place here over several dates in 2024!

If you prefer gentle waves for SUP or bodyboarding, there is a nice spot over by the pier, where the waves are a bit more sheltered – the rest of the beach is prime for surfers though.

Kitty Hawk Beach

People on the beach sitting under umbrellas.
Golden sand.

What attracts most people to Kitty Hawk Beach is the relative quietness and solitude. It has a skinny beach and features relatively skinny shorelines and soft golden sand. 

It’s also known for the abundance of watersports opportunities you can do here because wind is a constant in Kitty Hawk. This creates bigger waves and optimal conditions for activities like kite surfing and windsurfing. 

Kitty Hawk is also a popular place to try kite surfing and hang gliding from the sand dunes, which we loved doing when we visited – such a unique experience.

People on the beach sitting under umbrellas.
Abundance of watersports.

If you want to try hang gliding, we recommend Kitty Hawk Kites, who have been operating hang gliding lessons on this beach since 1974. They have qualified instructors and are suitable for all skill levels, from total beginner to advanced.

Lifeguarded Beach, Ocracoke Island

People siting on a beach and walking on the sand.
Ranked best beach in the USA.

Located at the Southern end of OBX on Ocracoke Island is Lifeguarded Beach, which has been famously declared as the “best beach in the United States” according to a 2022 report by Dr Beach.

How did this beach earn this title you ask? This is because it scored top marks in cleanliness of the sand and water, as well as beach safety.

Many of these beaches in OBX are wild and remote and lack some facilities to keep you safe, such as a lifeguard, but Lifeguarded Beach has all the amenities you could ask for.

People sitting on chairs on the beach with their dog.
Great place to relax.

Not only does it have lifeguards, allowing you to swim and surf knowing a trained life-saving professional has a watchful eye over the waters, but there are also restrooms in the parking lot, an outdoor shower, and the beach is well maintained and kept clean throughout the year.

Lifeguarded Beach is 12-miles long, extending from Ocracoke inlet to Hatteras inlet, and is well worth the ferry ride over from Hatteras or Swan Quarter.

Kill Devil Hills Beach

People sitting on a beach under beach umbrellas and swimming in the ocean.
Another popular beach.

Another great beach for surfing in the Outer Banks is Kill Devil Hills Beach, which like Kitty Hawk Beach, has larger waves and strong winds pretty much year-round.

It’s also an important site in aviation history. The Kill Devil’s Hill was the first place that The Wright Brothers took their first flight in the early 20th Century.

Sunrise at Kill Devil Hills Beach, OBX
Incredible sunrise.

Don’t miss a sunrise over Kill Devil Hills Beach, it was one of our most memorable things to do in OBX when we visited as the scenes were simply stunning. Who knew the skies could make those colors?

Avon Beach

People swimming in the ocean and sitting on the sand at a beach.
Picturesque beach.

Avon Beach is a beautiful and not too uncrowded beach that’s like stepping into paradise. It was one of the quieter beaches in the Outer Banks when we visited, especially early in the morning (the best time to visit).

Walk along the beach at sunrise to the 600-foot-long Avon Pier, the first pier to be constructed on Hatteras Island, before grabbing your morning coffee from Uglie Mugs Coffee House

People swimming in the ocean and sitting on the sand at a beach.
A beautiful beach for families.

The sand is clean and well looked after, and the shoreline slopes gradually, but families should note there are strong rip currents here so make sure your kids are confident swimmers before visiting here. 

Wooden pier at the beach.
600 foot long pier.

We enjoyed walking out on the 600-foot-long Avon Fishing Pier, the first pier on Hatteras Island. This is a great family-friendly beach where kids can run around with tons of space, play, and build sandcastles.

Cape Hatteras National Seashore Beach

Gilr walking out onto a beach.
A pretty beach.

Cape Hatteras National Seashore Beach is a protected beach that’s famous for its rugged landscape and pristine sands. The beach itself is a great place to go camping, light a bonfire, or even take your 4WD out for a spin. 

The beach extends for nearly 70-miles and has strong winds, which are perfect for flying a kite or going kite surfing. 

People beach fishing standing next to their trucks on the sand.
Popular for 4×4 driving and fishing.

Some visitors to Cape Hatteras National Seashore Beach have been lucky to witness turtles coming to shore in the evening to lay their eggs in the summer. The beach is a well-known nesting site for loggerhead turtles (and sometimes green turtles, leatherbacks, Kemp’s Ridleys, and Hawksbill Sea Turtles). 

  • Where to Stay: Here is a list of popular vacation rentals.
  • Where to Eat: Watermen’s Bar & Grill is a great place to grab a crab cake sandwich and watch some live music from their outdoor deck. It’s also a great place to sit and watch the kite surfers out on the water.

Lighthouse Beach

cape hatteras beach 1
Lifeguards on duty.

Located in Buxton, Outer Banks, is another one of Dr. Beaches’ highly rated beaches. In 2023, he regarded Lighthouse Beach as the 5th best beach in the United States, due to its cleanliness and natural beauty.

Lighthouse Beach is the golden, sandy beach that sits below the old Cape Hatteras Lighthouse (not to be confused with Cape Hatteras National Seashores, which is 12.7 miles away).

This beach is not only visually stunning, with large offshore sandbanks and pristine sand, but it’s also all about the waves here. The waves are so unique because the sandbanks cause these shimmering wave reflections that are simply awe-inspiring to look at. 

Grass on a sand dune leading down to a beach.
Open stretch of beach.

It’s considered one of the beach surfing spots on the Atlantic Coast because those sandbanks create a lot of wave energy, but even if you’re not into surfing you should walk along to Cape Point to see where the ocean is separated by a split and see waves coming from all directions.

cape hatteras lighthouse
May as well visit the lighthouse too.

It’s also lifeguarded, so you can swim and surf with that safety net. If you want to experience the beach uniquely, check out Lighthouse Horse Rides which offers horseback riding experiences on the beach.

More Outer Banks Tips

We have a lot of great tips on things to do in OBX. Check out the below articles to help you plan your OBX vacation:

NC Bucket List
45 Unique things to do in NC + 4 destinations not to miss + insider travel tips. 
Featured Image

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top