Aerial drone photo of Duck North Carolina a coastal beach town.

The 12 Best Small Towns in the Outer Banks To Chill Out

The Outer Banks, a breathtaking stretch of coastline with stunning sights, activities, and secluded spots, spans from Virginia's southern coast to North Carolina's northern coast. The Outer Banks are a chain of barrier islands and peninsulas that separate North Carolina's mainland from the Atlantic Ocean. The region is renowned for its amazing beaches, clean seas, and relaxed environment. It is the prime waterfront location to visit if you want to unwind and chill out, far from the stress and noise that come with living in the city. For those considering a visit to the Outer Banks, the coastal towns offer many unique attractions. Whether your reason for travel is watersports, relaxation, or historical landmarks, you will want to check out these small towns in the Outer Banks.


Aerial twilight photo Corolla North Carolina USA
Homes in Corolla, North Carolina, along the beach.

Tucked away in the north part of the Outer Banks in North Carolina lies Corolla, a town worth visiting year-round. Aside from the beautiful views and beaches found in Corolla, many visit for the chance to see the picturesque wild horses roaming in the area. Corolla has a small but lively downtown area with shops and restaurants, the perfect spot to enjoy fresh seafood and unique craft beers. The Currituck Beach Lighthouse is a popular attraction in Corolla, offering stunning views of the surrounding area from its observation deck. Naturally, given its position, Corolla offers a wide range of outdoor water-related activities, including boating and water sports. For low-budget travelers, check out the free activities offered in town.


 A wide angle photo of the boardwalk that crosses over the water of Currituck Sound in Duck, North Carolina
The boardwalk in Duck, North Carolina. Image credit Joe Benning via Shutterstock

Voted number one on USA Today’s list of "Best Coastal Small Towns," Duck is known for its beautiful beaches and laid-back atmosphere, making it a popular destination for families and couples. In Duck, tourists can enjoy activities such as kayaking and biking, finishing with a stroll around the local stores and restaurants. One of the highlights of Duck is the Town Park. This park takes up a huge plot of land and contains a playground, walking trails, and breathtaking views of the Currituck Sound. At sunset/sunrise, tourists love to capture the scenic views along the Duck Boardwalk, a mile-long wooden trail that runs along the waterfront and offers fabulous scenic views. If you want the ultimate relaxation experience, check into Duck’s Sanderling Resort, and enjoy their amenities while you take in the views.

Kitty Hawk

View from the Wright Brothers Monument Overlooking Kitty Hawk in the Outer Banks of North Carolina
Wright Brothers Monument overlooking Kitty Hawk in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

Kitty Hawk, originally called Chickenhauk by the local Indigenous Americans, is a small town located in the central part of the Outer Banks. The town is known for its historical significance, as it is the infamous location where the Wright Brothers had their first powered flight. National landmark aside, Duck also offers a variety of local shops, restaurants, and outdoor activities, including fishing and surfing. In addition to visiting the Wright Brothers National Memorial, you can explore the Kitty Hawk Woods Coastal Reserve, 462 acres of wood reserve with hiking trails, and opportunities to observe local wildlife.

Nags Head

beach with cottages at Nags Head in the outer banks
People chilling out on the sandy beach at Nags Head.

The longest natural sand dune length on the east coast is in Nags Head. A sizable contingent of travelers frequents this locale with the aim to relish in its shoreline and investigate the sprawling mounds of sand. Nags Head is the greatest spot to catch a quick lunch after a day of hiking or kayaking due to the abundance of seafood eateries there. One of the highlights of Nags Head is Jockey's Ridge State Park, home to the famous sand dunes. It is also a popular spot to go hang gliding or fly a kite. Visitors interested in making a catch of the day often visit the Nags Head Fishing Pier, one of the Outer Banks’ oldest and most frequented fishing piers.

Kill Devil Hills

Aerial View of Kill Devil Hills looking North from the Shore line
The waterfront in Kill Devil Hills.

Hop on Highway 158 and check out the heart of Kill Devil Hills town. Not only is it the location of the Wright Brothers National Memorial, but the local amenities and attractions are also open year-round here, so anytime is the best time to visit. In addition to seeing the memorial, tourists often enjoy outdoor activities such as golfing and fishing. The town is also home to the Avalon Fishing Pier, another popular spot for fishing and relaxing.


View of the town of Manteo's waterfront marina at daybreak in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
Manteo's waterfront marina.

Named after the chief, Manteo is a hidden gem located on Roanoke Island along the Outer Banks. Visitors love exploring the historic downtown area and visiting the many boutiques, restaurants, and unique landmarks. Manteo is great for history buffs as it is home to the Roanoke Island Festival Park, which hosts interactive exhibits, historical re-enactments, and live performances. Visitors also have the option of a scenic boat tour or going on a short trip up to visit the North Carolina Aquarium.


Walking the dog along the seashore, Cape Hatteras National Seashore North Carolina
Cape Hatteras National Seashore, North Carolina. Image credit Fsendek via Shutterstock

Hatteras is the location of the Graveyard of the Atlantic. Its beautiful beaches, which are now used for fishing and water sports, were once the spot where ships victim to unpredictable weather and piracy washed up. This town is rich in history; aside from the shipwrecks, Hatteras also once served as a battleground during the Civil War. The town also offers plenty of water-based pastimes, including parasailing, kiteboarding, and paddleboarding. Another reason to visit Hatteras is to experience the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, a stretch seventy miles long of nothing but a beautiful coastline where visitors can spot sand dunes and marshes. Be sure to bring your camera; Hatteras's Coast is the perfect spot for seashell hunting, birdwatching, and wildlife spotting.


Clouds over Avon Fishing Pier in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
 Avon Fishing Pier in the Outer Banks.

Avon is a small but peaceful town tucked away along the Outer Banks. It is the perfect spot for visitors wanting a private or near-empty spot on the beach. Originally, the town was named Kinnakeet, which translates to "mixing," an Algonquin word referring to English settlers and Indigenous Americans co-habiting. The town exudes an atmosphere of tranquility and nonchalance, rendering it a superlative choice for individuals seeking a calm sojourn unburdened by masses or commercial enterprise. Visitors still have options for outdoor activities in Avon, including surfing and kiteboarding. For visitors who are comfortable with some foot traffic, head over to the Avon Fishing Pier. Take in the amazing views along the water, or hunker down by the fishing docks and cast a line. When finished with the beach, wander into town to visit Avon's shops, restaurants, and attractions.


View of people and vacation homes on the beach as seen from the Rodanthe Pier in the Outer Banks
Rodanthe Pier in the Outer Banks. Image credit Kyle J Little via Shutterstock

Rodanthe is a small town that offers visitors a charming mix of local history, outdoor activities, and beautiful beaches. Most tourists visit because of the popular novel and film "Nights in Rodanthe," which has given the town a more well-known name than others. However, Rodanthe has much more to offer than just its literary connection. Visitors can explore the Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station, a historic site that showcases the history of the Outer Banks’ life-saving stations. An excursion to the refurbished museum will enable one to develop an understanding of the existence led by valiant individuals who jeopardized their own safety in order to safeguard those imperiled on water. Rodanthe is also an excellent place for surfing and water sports enthusiasts, with miles of unspoiled beaches and ideal conditions for riding the waves.


Aerial View of the Harbor and buildings surrounding Silver Lake on Ocracoke Island in North Carolina
Ocracoke Island Harbor in North Carolina. Image credit Kyle J Little via Shutterstock

For isolation and to experience the rich history, Ocracoke town, found on Ocracoke Island, is an excellent choice as you can only reach it by boat, local ferries, or by small plane. Visitors seeking seclusion often choose to stay here, taking advantage of the privacy granted by its remote location. Visit the downtown area to learn about the island's history and peruse the lively local stores. The must-see sight in the city is the Ocracoke Island Lighthouse. Awe-inspiring panoramic views may be had by ascending to the summit; thereafter, snapshots of the scenery below. Its remote location also allows its dunes to go untouched and be an absolute dream to relax in. Visitors enjoy swimming in the warm waters lining the dunes.


The beach at Waves, North Carolina, on Hatteras Island
The beach at Waves, North Carolina. Image credit

Waves may be one of the smallest towns in the Outer Banks, but its views are no less stunning. Located in the central Outer Banks, south of Rodanthe, visitors love to explore the endless coastal shores. The town's name is significant to its lively surfing culture, the perfect spot to learn or refresh surfing skills. Waves is also a popular spot for kiteboarding. Its shallow waters and predictable wind currents make it the best and safest spot to practice. Waves is also home to some of the biggest water sports companies making it the ultimate hot spot for water activities along the east coast.


Coastal view of sunset over Pamlico Sound and boardwalk in Salvo, North Carolina on the Outer Banks.
Pamlico Sound and Boardwalk in Salvo, North Carolina.

Practically attached at the hip with Waves is the town of Salvo, for those wanting a little more seclusion and less traffic. The Salvo Day Use Area, a park with sound front views and picnic areas, is a popular spot for families to spend the day. The town is known for maintaining its old-school vibes with dated diners and restaurants, as well as a laid-back, small-town atmosphere that brings everything together. Visitors can enjoy a timeless and peaceful stay with just as many activities to do as its neighboring towns.

The Outer Banks is an exotic and beautiful destination steeped in rich culture and history. The opportunity for water-based activities, seclusion, and relaxation makes it a top destination choice for visitors year-round. Each of these towns has its own unique charm and attractions, from the wild horses of Corolla to the historic lighthouses of Hatteras. Whether you want to be active or chill out and enjoy the sun, the Outer Banks is home to unique towns that offer it all. So, pack some sunscreen, and head to the Outer Banks for your dream getaway.

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