Tour the Outer Banks – 21 Top Attractions (away from the beach and sound) for Each Town You Don’t Want to Miss

Things to do on OBX that are not the beach or sound- Aerial view currituck lighthouse

Visitors are surprised at how much there is to do in the Outer Banks that does not involve going to the beach or sound or H2OBX waterpark.  While the abundance of water activities is one of the most attractive features of the destination, the Outer Banks has so much history and other features you won’t want to miss.

The Outer Banks has many golf courses for aficionados to enjoy and you can read about 8 of the nearby OBX golf courses here

The Outer Banks has several fishing piers that are great for beginner and experienced anglers to test their skill.  Read about our fishing piers here.

The activities here are listed from north to south and grouped by town.

Corolla

Wild Horses

The wild horses are a major attraction for visitors in Corolla.  The horse breed, the wild Colonial Spanish Mustangs, is designated as the NC State Horse.  They reside in a sanctuary just north of Corolla in Carova where there are no paved roads. 

While there are many organized tours to view the wild horses, it is not necessary to go on a tour in order to be able to see them.  Visitors with a 4 wheel drive vehicle can drive on the Carova beach and see the horses. 

However, if you are not experienced with driving on the beach, it is a better idea to go on a tour and avoid getting stuck.  Plus, the tour guides know the back roads and the favorite places where the horses gather and can regale you with the history of the area. 

Keep in mind the horses are a protected treasure.  It is against the law to get within 50 feet of them or to feed them. 

Currituck Lighthouse

The Currituck Beach Light Station is a distinctive red brick tower located in historic Corolla Village.  Construction began in 1873 and was completed two years and over 1 million bricks later. 

The lighthouse is open for the public to climb the 220 steps or 162 feet which is worth the effort for the amazing view.  The view of the Whalehead Club, Currituck Sound and Atlantic Ocean is absolutely breathtaking. 

The lighthouse opens in March and closes the beginning of December.  There are a few days where the climb is free but typically the admission is $10 for adults and children over 7.  Children under 7 can climb free with an adult.  70% of the admission is tax deductible as a charitable contribution.

Whalehead Club

The Whalehead Club is a restored 1920’s Art Nouveau styled hunt club that is open to the public for tours.  The mansion sits on 39 sound front acres and is listed on the National Register of Historic places.  Anyone with an interest in history, design or architecture will find a tour fascinating.  It is a gem to the state of NC.

Edward Knight Jr and his wife built the home at a time where there was not even paved roads in the area. 

Mrs. Knight was not allowed in the all-male hunt clubs of the era so the 21,000 sq ft mansion by the sea was built for husband and wife and friends to enjoy hunting the prolific waterfowl common to the area.

The house took 3 years to build and cost $383,000 or the equivalent of $4.3 million today.  There were no roads to the area at the time so everything had to be brought in by boat.  Including a custom built Steinway & Sons 6 legged grand piano designed just for the wife, Marie-Louise. 

The house generated its own electricity by using the water of the boat house; a first for the area in 1925 when power would not arrive until the 1950’s.  The home also had indoor plumbing, heat and an elevator.  The house was just incredible for the time.

The grounds around the club is a popular venue for weddings and other events.  There are topical tours including a day or night haunting tour.

Corolla Adventure Park

This aerial adventure park will provide your family or group a unique experience.  With 9 obstacle circuits 12-50 feet in the air, zip lines and rope courses there is a challenge for everyone in your group. 

The Corolla park was recognized in 2017 with an award for “Most Outstanding Structural Design” by the International ACCT Conference.  The course is designed for ages 5 and up.

Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education

Located in Currituck Heritage Park (same general area as the Lighthouse and Whalehead Club) is this FREE museum.  This educational museum is a great way to learn about Corolla and the way of life in the area. 

There is a small aquarium featuring local fish, a large gallery of duck decoys and a full-sized duck blind located on the sound.  The eco-system of the sound is featured in a movie shown to visitors. 

There are also daily special programs, like painting a duck decoy or Gyotaku (fish printing), and even a Maritime Forest Walk available at various times as listed on their calendar

The center stays open year round but is closed on Sundays and some holidays.  Great activity and something for the whole family.  There are classes for fishing, crabbing and even the fundamentals of archery.

Duck

Duck Town Park & Soundside Boardwalk

The Duck Town Park is 11 acres with trails through the maritime forest and willow swamp.  The town park is conveniently located to the town’s commercial district and the sound side boardwalk. 

The park features an amphitheater where concerts and events are held throughout the year.  There is a playground and picnic areas at the park.  There are water fountains, including one just for furry friends, and restrooms are available for visitors convenience.

The sound side boardwalk is loaded with upscale shops, restaurants and scenic overlooks to the sound.  The sunsets from the boardwalk are a spectacle to behold. 

There are public boat slips, a kayak launch site and fishing and crabbing sites along the sound front boardwalk. The boardwalk is a wonderful way to get some exercise while enjoying a wonderful view and encounters with area wildlife.

Kitty Hawk

The Monument to a Century of Flight

Located in Kitty Hawk by the Visitors Center (Aycock Brown Welcome Center MP1) this monument tends to get overlooked by visitors in favor of the Wright Brothers Memorial located in Kill Devil Hills. 

This sculptural memorial shows the progression of flight through pillars and honors those early pioneers who contributed to flight. 

The 14 pillars are wing shaped pylons that depict the epic journey from the first flight of the Wright Brothers to the realization of travel to the moon – all in one short 100 year span of time.

Kitty Hawk Wood Coastal Reserve

This preserved maritime forest, still untouched, with marshes, swamp and wetlands spans 1,824 acres. The area includes multiple environments; it is bordered on the west by Currituck Sound and Kitty Hawk Bay to the south.  The relics of ancient sand dunes are present with ridges and reminders of the ancient coastline are present in the swales. 

There are wetland plants like the Bald Cypress and upland plants like the American Beech, a freshwater creek runs through the preserve and empties into the Bay. 

The Jean Guite Creek (also known as High Bridge Creek) is full of plants and animals and is perfect way to enjoy stand up paddle boarding or kayaking through the maritime forest.   Abundant wildlife and some of the best bird watching is available here especially during migration season.  Sunsets at Kitty Hawk Woods are a wonderful sight overlooking the Currituck Sound. 

Located west of US 158, Kitty Hawk Woods can be accessed from one of the two parking lots: one at David Paul Pruitt Park and another one at Sandy Run Park. The preserve does allow  hiking, biking, horseback riding and hunting are all permitted in the park, within the assigned areas. Hunting requires a state hunting license and a NC Coastal Reserve Permit.

Sandy Run Park

Nestled inside the Kitty Hawk Woods Coastal Reserve is this town managed park.  The nature viewing boardwalk is a circular loop of less than 1/2 mile (.43 to be exact).  Most of the walkway is an elevated boardwalk over some marshy terrain. 

It is a great place to get off the beaten path (or so it seems) while still being close to everything.  Children get to view turtles, birds and other nature. 

There is a covered picnic gazebo area that is perfect for bringing a bag lunch or picnic fare. 

There is a fresh water pond with catch and release fishing from a fishing pier. 

To get even closer to wildlife there are kayak launches and tie up areas.  There are several towers and viewing platforms with interpretive signs along the path to explain the plant and animal life. 

The park also has a basketball court, golf putting green and horseshoe pit.

Children at Play Museum

If you are looking for an indoor or rainy day activity for little ones, than stop by this quaint museum in Kitty Hawk.  It is located on route 158 at 3810 Croatan Hwy.  It is definitely geared for the toddler set with all the activities located in a single room with plenty of hands on activities; best for ages 6 and under.

Kill Devil Hills

Wright Brother National Memorial

This Memorial honors the Wright Brothers for the First Flight on December 17, 1903 – this date marks world’s first heavier than air, powered, controlled flight. 

Annually, the First Flight anniversary includes flyovers and other special events at the park.  The park is operated by the National Park Service and is open daily except for December 25th

Aviation enthusiasts won’t want to miss the exhibits showing the Wright brothers work leading up to the first flight, artifacts from the first flyer and a reproduction of the 1903 flyer and 1902 glider.

Colington Speedway Go Carts

Located off the beaten track, west of route 158, at Colington Rd visit a throwback go cart track where it doesn’t cost a lot to have a good time racing go carts. 

This track does not get the traffic or the crowds’ typical to a location closer to the beach.  Family friendly and if there is a longer line, staff will give patrons a little more time.  For about $8, speed demons can get about 10 laps or about 10 minutes of track time.

Nags Head Woods Ecological Preserve

Located off Route 158 in Kill Devil Hills at 701 West Ocean Acres Drive, is a hidden gem for hiking, jogging, birding and bow hunting.  There is no fee for visitors but registration at the information center is required.

Established as a National Landmark in 1974, The Nature Conservancy acquired about 420 acres between 1974 and 1986.  In 1992, 389 acres were added and in 1997 the Town of Nags Head dedicated nearly 300 acres of Nags Head Woods as a permanent conservation area under the State Nature Preserves Act.  The Town of Kill Devil Hills placed another 100 acres under cooperative management.

The preserve includes forested dunes, interdune ponds, marshes  and wetlands.  It is nestled between two of the largest sand dunes on the east coast, Jockey’s Ridge and Run Hill. 

This unusual location with protection from winds off the ocean has allowed a diverse group of wildlife to thrive that is atypical for a barrier island.  There are oaks, hickory and beech trees over 100 years old.  There are over 100 species of birds, 15 species of amphibians, and 28 species of reptiles.  The freshwater ponds are full of fish and great diversity of plant life.  The marsh system includes river otter, egrets, herons and other waterfowl.

Nags Head

Jockey’s Ridge State Park 

Located at MP 12 on route 158, Jockey’s Ridge is the largest sand dune on the east coast.  It is free to climb the dune and there are also educational programs offered throughout the year.  The view from the top of the dune stretches from sound to sea and is beautiful, especially at sunset. 

Jockey’s Ridge is a favorite place for flying kites, sandboarding and hang gliding.  It is an excellent viewing area for 4th of July fireworks or celestial events like the recent eclipse.

The west side of the dune provides access to the Roanoke Sound.  Here you will find the soundside beach where visitors often launch kayaks and enjoy other water activities.

Bodie Island Lighthouse

Located just south of Nags Head is Bodie Island Lighthouse.  This lighthouse was recently restored and is able to be climbed by visitors.  The lighthouse is 156’ tall and it takes 214 steps to get to the top.  The lighthouse is open from the 3rd Friday in April to Columbus Day in early October.

Interestingly, this is the third lighthouse to be built in the area.  The first one was built in 1847, but the brick foundation was not well supported and it began to lean within a few years.  Next, in 1858 a new lighthouse was built nearby but was destroyed 2 years later by Confederate soldiers during the Civil War.  Finally, in 1871 a new lighthouse was constructed which is the one we have today.

First Flight Adventure Park

Located at MP 16 in Nags Head is the aerial adventure park with 42 obstacles and 6 ziplines up to 50ft in the air.  Located adjacent to the sound, adventurers can enjoy lovely views while climbing.

Course difficulty ranges from easy to advanced.  The course is laid out to mimic the outer bands of a hurricane.  Each climber must be over 6 years old and has 2 hours to enjoy the course.  The course is added to each year to continue to challenge climbers.

Manteo

NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island

Located at 374 Airport Rd in Manteo is a wonderful aquarium to delight visitors of all ages.  One of the biggest draws at the aquarium is the shark tank and one of the cutest are the sea otters.  The exhibits and the programs are creative, interesting and are updated and changing all the time.

There are outdoor programs that include kayaking around Roanoke Island while the guide points out local animals, native plants and the eco-system of the area.  Other programs include fishing, stand-up paddle boarding, crabbing and a wetlands walk.

Indoor programs include a dive to swim with the sharks in the 285,000 gallon Graveyard of the Atlantic exhibit.  There are also sleepovers for groups of 12 or more that include an aquarium tour, 2 program activities, evening snack and breakfast in the morning.  There are also behind the scene tours, crafts and even cooking classes.  Truly something for everyone and every interest.

Roanoke Island Festival Park

Visit Roanoke Island Festival Park to have history come alive.  Located across from the Manteo waterfront, is a 25 acre historic site representing the first English settlement in 1585. 

The Elizabeth II located at the site is representative ship of the Roanoke Voyage of 1585 of an English merchant ship.  Visitors can board and explore the ship while inter-acting with costumed 16th century sailors. 

The Indian town is representative of the Coastal Algonquian tribe the English settlers encountered back in the 16th century.  While the settlement site depicts living conditions for the soldiers and sailors of the first colony from England.  There is also an adventure museum illustrating the 400 year history with interactive exhibits.

The site has an indoor theater and outdoor pavilion with many concerts and performances throughout the year.  There is a $10 adult fee to see the exhibits but you can also walk the park and shop at the museum store without paying the admission.  There is so much here to see that your admission ticket is good for 2 days.

Take the time to also visit the Manteo waterfront area with its unique shops and restaurants; it is quaint and a small town gem. 

Lost Colony

The Lost Colony is the longest running outdoor theater presentation in the country.  For over 80 years, the performance depicting the mystery of the disappearance of the first settlers to the new world has entertained millions and remains unsolved today. 

The play is performed on the site where events occurred over 450 years ago against the scenic background of the Roanoke Sound.

The play rivals Broadway productions for its professionalism and power.  The stage is 3 times larger than most Broadway play and includes over 130 actors, technicians, designers and volunteers.

Air Tours

One of the most memorable sights is to view the Outer Banks from the air.  One truly realizes the fragile nature and vulnerable sand bar that is the Outer Banks. 

Air tours allow you to view all the popular destinations on the Outer Banks from a unique perspective.  Looking down on the lighthouses or a school of sharks is something you will never forget.

There are several operators of air tours at the Manteo airport including helicopter tours, open cockpit biplanes, and skydiving for the ultimate thrilling adventure.

Elizabethan Gardens

Enjoy the shade and beautiful blooms at the Elizabethan Gardens in Manteo on Roanoke Island.  The gardens date back to 1951 and was the brain child of The Garden Club.  It was originally planned as a 2 acre garden to typify the gardens kept at the time of the first colonies.  However, a gift of fine Italian statuary with fountains, balustrade, wellhead, sundial, bird baths, stone steps and benches took the project into a more formal direction.

The garden fills 10.5 acres and you can view a map here.  They broke ground for the gardens in June 1953 and it opened to the public in August 1960.  Many native plants were kept in the garden, including an ancient live oak estimated to have been living in 1585 when the first colonist arrived to Roanoke Island.  There are over 500 different species of plants; hydrangeas, camellias, herbs and native coastal species.  There are over 85 varieties of Camellias; which bloom in winter providing much interest for the season.

The Outer Banks of North Carolina has been captivating visitors for centuries.  From the  Native Americans, to the first Colonist to the present day vacationer, there is something special about this island that is difficult to describe in a few words.  Once it is experienced it is hard to return to life as it was before.  The salt, sand and sea air get under your skin and won’t let go. 

If you are ready to get your place in paradise, contact Eillu Real Estate for help in following your dreams.  We can help you find and purchase the perfect permanent home, second home or vacation rental investment property.

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