outer banks north carolina

The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is a windswept beauty. (Photo: Getty Images)

Tips + Trends

8 Reasons Summertime’s the Right Time in the Outer Banks, North Carolina

Visiting North Carolina’s Outer Banks is a good idea regardless of time of year, but in the summertime, the living’s exceptionally easy along this 200-mile-long strip of barrier islands in the Atlantic Ocean. A journey here comes guaranteed with plenty of history, killer waves and cotton-candy-hued sunsets, but there are many other things to experience during your visit, as well.

Here are 8 reasons to visit the Outer Banks this summer.

Choose from Distinctive Vacation Personalities

Whether you’re a history buff, surfing fanatic or simply looking to chill out and enjoy sandy beaches with friends and family, you’ll find the Outer Banks’ towns and villages each have a distinctive personality.

Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills and Nags Head are the most populated and home to many restaurants and shops, as they’re the closest to the mainland, but don’t let that fool you. Even on a crowded, peak summer day, the Outer Banks is worlds away from a regular beach destination.

One road connects the islands — make your way up north to Duck and Corolla or head south to sleepier spots like Rodanthe, Waves, Salvo, Avon, Buxton, Frisco and Hatteras. And if you continue, Ocracoke Island, only accessible by ferry, offers 16 miles of picturesque, undeveloped beaches.

Create Your Own Adventure

outer banks north carolina
Hang glide over the dunes of a state park. (Photo: Getty Images)

There’s way more to the Outer Banks than beautiful beaches, epic seafood and mesmerizing sunsets. Hang glide over Jockey’s Ridge State Park and get a glimpse into the world of Wilbur and Orville Wright, brothers who launched the first-ever airplane from Kill Devil Hills on December 17, 1903 (their memorial here is worth a visit).

Or explore Cape Hatteras National Seashore with Virginia Beach Horseback. It’s a charming way to view the coast.

Go Crabbing and Shrimping

Fishing is an obvious choice, but there’s also crabbing and shrimping in the Outer Banks. Hop on a boat and gear up for the ultimate water adventure with OBX Crabbing & Shrimping. Expect to catch loads of shrimp and crab while cruising through the Roanoke Sound.

The best part? You get to keep what you catch. But don’t fret, as your guide will teach you a few culinary tips and tricks on how to prepare the goods.

Eat Up, It’s Soft-Shell Crab Season!

Soft-shell crab season takes place from May to September, give or take (water temperature plays a role in the season’s timing), and is a prized time of year when the blue crab sheds its exoskeleton, becoming a prized delicacy in these parts.

The whole crab, claws and all, is edible, and locals will be the first to say there’s something extra special about the salty, sweet, crunchy flavor that comes from a soft crab shell.

In Duck, freshly harvested soft-shell crabs are battered, fried and served at Aqua Restaurant, The Blue Point and Red Sky Cafe (a more healthy spot for those with dietary restrictions).

You’ll also find perfectly fried, fresh-from-the-docks soft-shell crab sandwiches at O’Neal’s Sea Harvest in Wanchese; Cafe Pamlico and Diamond Shoals in Buxton; Coastal Provisions in Southern Shores, where you can pair your sandwich with a nice glass of Spanish cava; and finally, with a waterside view at Breakwater Restaurant in Hatteras.

Climb North America’s Tallest Lighthouse

Standing 193 feet above ground, Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, in Buxton, is the tallest lighthouse in North America — and yes, you can climb it. Perfect after a soft-shell crab lunch, the self-paced climb is 257 steps from the bottom to the balcony (just think of it as climbing a 12-story building).

A panoramic view of Hatteras Island is the real prize — so don’t forget to bring a camera, as you’ll want to capture the scenery.

Check Out America’s Oldest Cultivated Grapevine — and Drink Wine, Too

Most people don’t think of wine when visiting North Carolina, especially when it comes to the Outer Banks, but muscadine grapes are native to North Carolina and prized in these parts.

In Manteo on Roanoke Island, it’s possible to visit The MotherVine, what may be America’s oldest cultivated grapevine, dating back to at least 1584. Visitors can crawl under the massive grapevine for photo-ops.

On the way to the Outer Banks, stop by Sanctuary Vineyards for a tasting and check out The Plank, an aged muscadine wine crafted from grapes harvested in North Carolina. Unlike most sweet muscadine wines, with The Plank, the winemaker doesn’t rush the process, so it drinks more like a port wine. The Cotton Gin, with locations in Corolla, Duck and Nags Head, offers daily Sanctuary Vineyards wine tastings, as well.

Visit the Coolest Aquarium in the Southeast — with a Sea Turtle Hospital

The North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island is touted as one of the best aquariums in the Southeastern U.S., for both kids and adults alike.

The sprawling complex is home to everything from a coastal freshwater gallery showcasing local aquatic life to a stingray pool and even a hyped-about 285,000 gallon “Graveyard of the Atlantic,” containing large game fish, nurse sharks, sand tiger sharks, sandbar sharks and much more.

The aquarium is also home to STAR (Sea Turtle Assistance and Rehabilitation), where staff and volunteers care for sick sea turtles.

Don’t Leave Without Duck Donuts and Apple Uglies

Curb sweet tooth cravings with a morning stop at Duck Donuts, aptly named after one of its first donut shops located in Duck in the Outer Banks — all donuts are made to order using their signature vanilla cake batter.

If that’s not enough for your sweet tooth, hit Orange Blossom Bakery & Cafe for their famous apple uglies — giant apple-fritter-like treats that may not be very beautiful but are definitely worth all the hype.