Wild horses on the beaches of Outer Banks

Get ready for tons of beach time. (Photo: Getty Images)

Weekend Getaways

Unwind With 3 Days in the Outer Banks, North Carolina

This 200-mile stretch of sandy barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina has sights and beaches enough to fill weeks of exploration. History and nature make this region popular among vacationers, and its beaches are a playground for young and old alike looking to soak up some vitamin D and stay active.

The Outer Banks’ many natural sights offer refuge to unique and diverse wildlife. Take it all in, and in the evening, relax with a cold drink and a plate full of fresh seafood, enjoying the gorgeous ocean views.

As always, check for travel restrictions and closures before planning your trip.

Friday: Make a Splash

Grab a cup of coffee and sausage gravy and biscuits from Nags Head Café and get ready to hit the beach. With 100-plus miles of pristine shoreline (most of it protected from development), you have plenty of choices when it comes to laying down your beach towel.

Try Nags Head Watersports for paddleboard, kayak, and Jet Ski rentals, or book a private lesson with Outer Banks Surf School if you’d like to try catching a wave. For experienced scuba divers, book with Roanoke Island Dive Shop to get an up-close look at the shipwrecks off the coast that earned the Outer Banks the nickname “Graveyard of the Atlantic.”

Once your stomach starts to growl, try a local favorite for lunch: Sam & Omie’s, the oldest restaurant in the OBX. It was founded by two fishermen in the 1930s and still serves fresh, locally caught seafood.

From here, it’s time to indulge in a little daydream — because there’s nothing quite like taking an afternoon stroll on the beach.

The best spot for that is Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. Thirteen miles of remote and undeveloped beaches, serene nature and beautiful views are hard to say no to. Make sure to bring binoculars, as there’s diverse wildlife to spot each season, from black ducks, pintails and ring-necked ducks in the winter to sea turtles and great blue herons in the summer.

Seafood pasta with a fork
End the day with a hearty dinner. (Photo: Marriott International)

Come dinnertime, head back to civilization. The Blue Point in the small but lively town of Duck is a classic. While the menu changes seasonally, some of the signature dishes here are jumbo lump crab cakes, ceviche, Rosebay oyster stew and crab soup.

For some post-dinner entertainment, check out the nearby Duck Amphitheater, which hosts a variety of music performances and live shows that are free to the public.

Saturday: Take a Trip Back in History

The Outer Banks are a region of “firsts”: the first Union victory of the Civil War, the first powered flight, the location of the first U.S. life-saving service station to have an all-Black crew, the first national seashore — the list goes on and on.

So after a proper Southern breakfast of biscuits and gravy at Sandtrap Tavern in Kitty Hawk, head to the Wright Brothers National Memorial, where you can learn more about the lives of Orville and Wilbur Wright, the men who built and flew the first airplane in the world, and see a reproduction of their 1903 Wright Flyer.

Now that you’ve seen some of these airplanes on the ground, it’s only natural to want to experience them in the air. Find out what it feels like to soar above the clouds in a vintage biplane with Kitty Hawk Adventures — getting a bird’s-eye view of the coast from an original World War II plane is truly an unforgettable experience.

Lunch is served at Awful Arthur’s Oyster Bar, where you’ll find seaside views, cold drinks and a plate of briny, freshly shucked oysters.

From here, you’re off to Roanoke Island. Visit Manteo, the quintessential charming small North Carolina town full of history and sights to explore. Watch a performance of the Lost Colony, which tells the story of the first English settlement in the New World at the end of the 16th century — and its mysterious disappearance.

Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse during the day
Pay a visit to the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse. (Photo: Getty Images)

Take a selfie with the striking Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse and drive to nearby Island Farm, a living-history site that re-creates coastal life in the mid-1800s.

The Roanoke location of the North Carolina Aquarium is also a worthy stop. The 68,000-square-foot facility has plenty of interactive exhibits and programs, including a behind-the-scenes tour of the shark tank complete with a feeding.

End the day with a cocktail in hand and some fresh Outer Banks seafood at Avenue Waterfront Grille. Following dinner, the only way to spend your night is by surrounding yourself with beach views and listening to the band at Fish Heads Bar & Grill.

Sunday: Explore the OBX’s Natural Beauty

Wake up with a freshly brewed coffee and delicious crab Benedict at Broken Plate Kitchen in Corolla. This small town is home to a gorgeous beach where a group of feral mustangs roam undisturbed. These beautiful creatures are believed to be descendants of shipwrecked Spanish horses — snap their picture, but keep a safe distance from them.

The Outer Banks may not have peaks, but this is every inch a hiker’s paradise — get a glimpse at the Nags Head Woods Preserve, which is home to a number of easy trails reserved for foot traffic only. Ancient towering trees, freshwater ponds and remnants of old villages make for a pleasant and educational stroll.

Sunset over dunes in Jockey's Ridge State Park
Don’t miss the sunset over the dunes at Jockey’s Ridge State Park. (Photo: Getty Images)

One of North Carolina’s most visited and awe-inspiring attractions is Jockey’s Ridge State Park, which hosts the East Coast’s tallest natural sand dune. Hang gliding and kite-flying here are musts — and if you care to linger, the sunsets are well worth it.

Spend the rest of the afternoon at the Outer Banks Brewing Station — there’s beer and live music for the grown-ups, plus a playground and bean bag toss to keep the kids entertained.

For your last dinner on the Outer Banks, head to Aqua Restaurant & Bar in Duck. Come for the great food (the pistachio-crusted salmon is divine) and impressive drinks list, but don’t miss out on the stunning sunset views, live music and casual, laid-back vibe.