Planning a trip to North Carolina's Outer Banks? The Outer Banks are a popular summer beach vacation destination, and many families return year after year.
When we go, we love to spend as much time as possible in the ocean swimming, body boarding, and surfing. However, on a week-long vacation, there are times when even the most avid beach people need a break from the sun and the sand.
Here are ten fun and unique things to do in the Outer Banks with kids.
Catch Crabs in the Currituck Sound
Here's how to catch blue crabs for dinner, or catch and release. It's so much fun!
- You need a bucket, a net, some raw chicken, and kite string.
- We buy the cheapest chicken we can find (usually chicken backs or thighs), cut it into large chunks, and tie it to a long piece of kite string.
- Drop your chicken in the sound and wait a few minutes. Eventually, a blue crab will grab onto the chicken.
- Before lifting the crab out of the water, scoop it up in the net and drop it in a bucket filled with a little water.
We have always enjoyed catch and release, but you are allowed to keep the crabs to eat if they are over 5 inches in diameter.
There are several areas of the sound with public access where you can go crabbing. Many rental homes also have sound access as one of their listed amenities.
The Currituck Sound is a great place to take a break from the beach. You can kayak, jet ski, or swim in the sound, and it is a great place to catch beautiful sunsets as well.
Visit the Wright Brothers Memorial
Visitors to the Outer Banks should not miss the Wright Brothers Memorial in Kitty Hawk. Walk along the field where the Wright Brothers first flew their historic flights. Let the kids do the junior ranger program and play on the airplane replica.
Hungry afterward? Stop by Kitty Hawk's Frozen Custard and Beach Fries for some family-friendly food your kids will love.
Try Duck Donuts
Duck Donuts has been an Outer Banks tradition for years. They make cake donuts fresh in the store while you watch, and top them with any variety of made-to-order icing flavors and toppings. Maple-bacon? Strawberry coconut? Chocolate with sprinkles? They've got it all.
The line will be out the door every morning of the summer but they are used to crowds and can fill orders fairly quickly. Pair a donut with hot coffee or chocolate milk and make Duck Donuts part of your Outer Banks vacation.
Ride a Beach Cruiser
Bring your bikes or rent a beach cruiser from one of the many beach rental shops in the Outer Banks. There are miles of family-friendly bike trails.
I love biking around Corolla and stopping for frozen yogurt or biking to the Currituck Lighthouse.
Visit Jennette's Pier
Anyone who loves fish will want to make a stop at Jennette's Pier. This tourist attraction offers fishing classes, shopping, and great views of surfers in the waves near the pier. You can also watch fishermen bring in their catches from the ocean.
There is a small fee to walk on the pier, but plenty to enjoy once you get there. You can also visit a museum and aquarium at Jennette's Pier.
Explore a Lighthouse
There are five lighthouses to explore in the Outer Banks:
- Currituck Beach Lighthouse
- Roanoake Marshes Lighthouse
- Bodie Island Lighthouse
- Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
- Ocracoke Island Lighthouse
Some are open to the public to climb for great views and others offer visitors centers. Check out details about what to do at each one here. In Corolla, I love taking a bike ride to the lighthouse. There is a fee to go up the Currituck Beach Lighthouse, and on busy days there is sometimes a wait, but the picturesque views are worth it.
Catch Ghost Crabs at Night
The highlight of our beach week is catching ghost crabs on the beach at night. It's a scream, quite literally.
I've given lots of details about catching ghost crabs in this post, but if you go to the beach after dark with a flashlight and a bucket, you will find plenty of white ghost crabs scuttling along the beach.
Brave kids (and parents) love to catch them, and the rest love to scream when we spot or catch them. Our favorite tradition is catching a bucket full of crabs and making everyone stand in a tight circle when we release them. The bravest are those who can stay put while the crabs run away.
Related: Tips for Hunting Ghost Crabs
Play on the Sand Dunes
Jockey's Ridge State Park in Nags Head boasts the tallest natural sand dune system in the Eastern United States. Plan to play on the dunes when you visit this state park.
This is one of the best places to fly kites in the Outer Banks, and you will often see hang gliders there as well. Pack a picnic, plenty of water, and shoes since the sand can be extremely hot in the summer.
Eat North Carolina BBQ
There are plenty of good eats in the Outer Banks, but one of our favorites is a little shack called Corolla Village BBQ. This walk-up window service BBQ joint specializes in chopped pork BBQ with a delicious North Carolina vinegar sauce, hickory smoked chicken, and ribs.
Many people pick up take-out here, but we like to enjoy it on the picnic tables just outside. There is a small park just across the parking lot where kids love to play after lunch or dinner. Arrive early. They are open until 8:00 p.m. in the summer, or until they run out of food, which has happened to me more than once.
See Wild Horses
Wild horses roam the beach just north of Corolla, and there are several outfitters who will take you out in 4×4 wheel drive vehicles to see these wild mustangs. For the more adventurous, the beach north of Corolla is open to anyone with a 4×4 vehicle and you can go looking for the horses yourself.
Just remember not to feed, pet or attempt to ride these horses. They really are wild horses and they may kick or bite you.
The Outer Banks can be enjoyed all year long, but it isn't warm year-round. Peak season is June-August, and many restaurants and shops shut down between early October and Easter weekend.
We usually rent a vacation home close to the beach. Book 6-12 months in advance for the best availability.
You can find mini golf courses, ice cream shops, and other popular tourist attractions in the Outer Banks too. But this list of things to do in the Outer Banks is unique to the Outer Banks. I hope it helps your family plan the perfect North Carolina vacation!