While once called the “Graveyard of the Atlantic” because of the danger they posed to sailing ships, the Outer Banks, a thin strip of barrier islands a few miles off the Atlantic coast of North Carolina, now stand as one of the best beach destinations in America. So, if you are looking for friendly towns, the Outer Banks are a great place to start! The biggest tourist towns, Nags Head, Kitty Hawk, and Kill Devil Hills, are definitely friendly towns to visit, so this article focuses on six fun and welcoming Outer Banks communities that are a little more under-the-radar.
The northern edge of Hatteras Island, home to the quaint village of Buxton, marks the point where the Outer Banks make a sharp southwestward turn from their general north-south orientation. Because of the danger this area once posed to sailing ships, Buxton is home to the world famous Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, built in 1870 and featuring an iconic black and white spiral paint design. While most of the area’s one million annual visitors come to see the lighthouse, Buxton also offers great surfing and fishing, as well as campgrounds, rental properties, and local shops. Buxton has a year-round population of about 1,300 and is a little over 50 miles south of Nags Head along Route 12.
Corolla is the northernmost town on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, where the paved Route 12 ends and the only beach access further northward is via four-wheel drive vehicles on the sand. Corolla is best known for its roaming wild horses, which are assumed to be the descendants of escaped horses of early Spanish explorers. As the last stop before the off-road beaches and houses to the north, Corolla welcomes visitors with a wide range of shops, restaurants, and knowledgeable locals. The red brick Currituck Beach Lighthouse, built in 1875 and just a short drive south on Route 12, offers amazing views of the surrounding area to those who climb its 220 steps.
The town of Duck, situated about halfway between Corolla (15 miles north) and Nags Head (15 miles south), stands out from most Outer Banks communities due to its downtown area along Route 12. Numerous shops and restaurants line the two-lane, speed restricted highway, and residents and visitors alike use bicycles and golf carts along the sides of the road. Fun and friendliness abound both on the ocean side and the west side that faces the Currituck Sound and North Carolina mainland. On the sound side, Duck has an 11-acre town park and 3/4 mile boardwalk with nature trails, stunning sunset views, water sports, and local bars, restaurants, and shops.
Manteo is not a beach town that lines the oceanfront of the Outer Banks, but rather a soundside community on Roanoke Island, which sits between Croatan Sound and Roanoke Sound. In 1587, Roanoke Island was the site of the first attempted English settlement in North America, an event dramatized each summer on the island in the long-running “Lost Colony” outdoor show. Roanoke Island is also home to the North Carolina Aquarium, which is a great option for visiting families looking for a break from the beach. As for Manteo, it is the seat of Dare County, has about 1,600 year-round residents, and offers a picturesque downtown with a public marina, waterfront park, and small lighthouse.
When traveling southward, Ocracoke is the last village on the Outer Banks. The village sits near the opening to Pamlico Sound, and visitors can only reach Ocracoke by taking a ferry from either the south or the north. This isolation is an important part of Ocracoke’s identity, leaving the village more pristine and undeveloped than comparable Outer Banks communities. For example, while there are homes for rent in the village itself, visitors must use the campground operated by the National Park Service in order to stay right along the beach. Ocracoke, home to about 1,000 year-round residents, has a nice mix of restaurants and shopping options but retains a casual vibe in both dress code and attitude.
Rodanthe, one of the “Tri-Villages” (along with Waves and Salvo) located approximately at the north-south midpoint of the Outer Banks, lies about 30 miles south of Nags Head. While the town’s name has gained notoriety due to the popular book and subsequent film “Nights in Rodanthe,” the community has not transformed into a crowded tourist destination. On the contrary, Rodanthe is still an unassuming yet beautiful beach village populated by anglers, surfers, and long-time locals, with charming beach houses for rent. Rodanthe is also home to the historic Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station, which is now a museum. Rodanthe is a great choice for travelers looking to truly slow down and savor the beauty of the Outer Banks.
The local residents who call the Outer Banks home may not always like the traffic jams and crowded restaurants caused by the hundreds of thousands of tourists who visit each summer. That said, you will nearly always be met with a smile and a friendly word when you come across one of the locals. So, next time you are in one of the six friendly towns listed here, or any other Outer Banks community, make time to chat with the local residents while you enjoy this oceanfront wonderland!