A Guide to Navigating the Outer Banks with Kids

Outer banks

One of my more memorable vacations growing up was vacationing on the Outer Banks. In speaking to my mom about why she thought it was so great, her response was “it was amazingly beautiful.” I do remember that the car ride was a little long, but I truly believe that some of your best memories are from road trips with the family. Plus, my dad is super funny especially when everyone is a little punchy!

wild-horses-outer-banksThe Outer Banks and can be daunting since it is such a large area with quite a few little towns to choose from, so we decided to break it down by town, in hopes that you can decide on the spot that will be best for your family’s needs!

Northern Beaches in the Outer Banks:

The Northern beaches offer a wide variety of activities as well as an abundance of condos and houses for rent with a few hotels sprinkled in for good measure!


Sanderling Resort (Duck)
Best Western Ocean Hills Suites ( Kill Devils Hill)
Ramada Plaza ( Kill Devils Hill)
Hilton Garden Inn ( Kitty Hawk)
Holiday Inn Express ( Kitty Hawk)



Ice cream on vacations is a must for us, so while you are in Duck be sure to head to The Sweet Duck! They have gelato and crepes just to name a few of their treats!

Pizza is always a crowd favorite in my family and Pizzazz Pizza delivers. They have several locations in the Outer Banks that is serving up their pies. One of those locations is in Duck! Another option for pizza on the island is the Duck Pizza Company or the Wave Pizza Cafe.

If Mexican food is what your crew is craving then the Costal Cantina is the spot to grab a margarita and a fantastically fresh fish taco!

Sea Salt Grille is a fancier restaurant with some really interesting twists on the traditional seafood dishes.

If a good burger is what you are in the mood for then swing into John’s Drive In for a burger fries and a hand-dipped milkshake.

If breakfast is what you are in search of you can’t go wrong with Stack’em High Pancakes. They have been in business for over 30 years so you know they are doing something right!

Things to do:

When you and your family are ready to get out and stretch your legs a bit, head to Duck Cycle and rent bikes to explore the island. In addition to bike rentals, you can also rent kayaks and paddle boards.

If riding a horse on a beach is on your bucket list head over to Kitty Hawk Kites and book a trip, or if hang gliding is more your speed you can do that as well!

If there is a rainy day during your stay head over to Children @ Play , my kids are fascinated with playing doctor so the ‘hospital’ where they can do a check up on their teddy bears is perfect for them!

Roanoke Island: 

If you are wanting to stay in this area of the Outer Banks (the towns of Mateo and Wanchese) then renting a condo or a house is the option for this area. If you haven’t given Vacation Rental by Owner (VRBO.com) a try, we recommend it! We have rented condos via this site before and have had great luck!


Poor Richard’s Sandwich Shop is a great idea for a quick lunch stop; they have everything from burgers and fries to cold sandwiches.

Big Bucks Homemade Ice Cream is the perfect place to satisfy your sweet tooth. They have 3 locations in the Outer Banks and, in addition to ice cream, they have an espresso bar!

Ortega’z Southewestern Grill is located in Mateo and they serve up traditional Mexican food.

Full Moon Cafe has items on their menu that your whole family will love! The crab cake is totally up my alley and my kids are happy that they can get cheese quesadillas!

Things to do: 

festival parkRoanoke Island Festival Park has so much to see and do you will want to plan on spending a good amount of time! With hands-on exhibits like the American Indian Town, the Settlement site, and the Adventure Museum there is something for everyone. You can’t make a trip to the park without checking out the replica ship, either!

If you have always wanted to take a fishing charter then Country Girl Fishing Charters is the company to do it with.  The boat has room enough to take 6 passengers out!

Pirate Adventures of the Outer Banks is a fantastic way to spend the afternoon out on the water! Your kids will get to help solve a pirate mystery. It’s so much fun to see little imaginations come to life!

Hatteras Island :

If you want to take “getting away from it all” to the next level, then Hatteras Island is a perfect choice. Hatteras Island stretches nearly half the distance of the entire Outer Banks. There is surprisingly a lot to do on Hatteras Island with the kids all of which will be the ultimate in nature. There are many small towns on Hatteras Island that offer dining and shopping.


If you are going with friends or a large family there are plenty of house rentals available on the island.  If a condo is more your style, then you might want to check out Villas of Hatteras Landing. Their suites are conveniently located with just a short walk to shops and the beach.


There are some fabulous restaurants on Hatteras Island and I love that you won’t find many chains.   For seafood you will want to check out Atlantic Coast Café in Wave, Open Water Grill in Avon, Harbor House Seafood Market in Hatteras.  We could do an entirely separate blog just on seafood restaurants in Outer Banks, it’s really hard to go wrong.  If you do find a place to eat, we always recommend you check yelp.com for customer reviews.

Things to do: 

Hatteras Landing Marina is a great place to stay or just spend the day.  There are some great local shops, food, ice cream, bike rentals, outdoor movies, a rock wall.

For a fun bit of history make sure to visit the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum.  The Queen Anne’s Revenge artifacts are really fascinating. This museum is free, but please make a donation.  While the museum is nice, be advised that it really isn’t worth a long drive in our opinion.

Miss Hatteras Captain Clam’s Children’s Pirate Cruise is so much fun for younger kids.  The staff will dress your kids up in costumes and take them out to sea in search of a treasure to steal!  There is also a water-cannon fight between a rival ship!

Horseback riding on the beach, need I say more?  We recommend you reserve this activity the week before you go as it can fill up fast in peak seasons.  They do allow children to ride. This activity makes for wonderful vacation photos!

Rodanthe is home to the Chicamacomico Lifesaving Station, the first such station established along the North Carolina coast, in the service of the U.S. Lifesaving Service, which eventually became today’s modern Coast Guard. The U.S. Coast Guard was essentially founded in this tiny village.   There is a lot of interesting history in the Outer Banks!

Ocracoke Island:

Ocracoke Island is a charming community and only spans about 16 miles. The hub of the island is Ocracoke Village. Ocracoke Village is on the National Register of Historic Places and in the village, you will see a lot of people milling around, shopping, and riding bikes.


The best accommodations for families are probably to rent a cottage but there are a few hotels on the island. For on the water lodging we recommend the Captains Landing or the Anchorage Inn & Marina.


There aren’t a whole lot of dining choices on this tiny island, but the ones there are first rate.  Check out the Back Porch Restaurant and Howard’s Pub Restaurant.  We also recommend Dajio which is a farm to table dining experience.  After dinner walk on over to The Slushy Stand for a cool treat!

Things to do: 

If you like to deep sea fish, then Ocracoke Island is the place for you.  There are many options for boat fishing for you and your age-appropriate children.  Pop in the Teach’s Hole Blackbeard Exhibit and learn all about pirate Black Beard whose ship sank in the waters near Beaufort, SC, and browse among the pirate inspired gift shop.

Visit the Ocracoke Lighthouse, which by the way is still active.  The landscape surrounding the lighthouse is beautiful and not commercialized so it’s a great place to snap some family photos.

Have you visited the Outer Banks before? Which area do you and your family prefer?

A Comprehensive Guide to the Outer Banks

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