Frugal Foodie Mama: 5 Must-See Outer Banks Attractions (From North to South)

Friday, July 7, 2017

5 Must-See Outer Banks Attractions (From North to South)

Traveling from the north to south, these are the 5 Must-See Outer Banks Attractions that are worth both your time & money...
Traveling from the north to south, these are the 5 Must-See Outer Banks Attractions that are worth both your time & money.

Located just off the coast of North Carolina, you will find a chain of barrier islands known as the Outer Banks (otherwise known as the OBX). In general, the Outer Banks has a laid back vibe with wide open beaches and only pockets of touristy craziness. And unlike many popular beaches along the mid-Atlantic coast, you can spend an entire week completely avoiding any kitschy tourist traps (however, avoiding the traffic on and off of the islands can be a whole other story though!). 

But just because you can hide away during your entire visit to the islands, doesn't mean that you should. ;) Not when there is so much to explore and discover among the five major islands of the Outer Banks!

My family & I have vacationed in the Outer Banks now three times in the past 6 years. During those week long visits, we have learned which OBX attractions are worth your time & money and which ones are not. And I happen to be sharing my personal list of the 5 Must-See Outer Banks Attractions with you all below, starting from the north at Kill Devil Hills & working our down south to the southern most island of the chain, Ocracoke... :)

1. The Wright Brothers National Memorial (1000 North Croatan Hwy, Kill Devil Hills)
Located at mile post 7.5, the Wright Brothers National Memorial commemorates the very spot where Orville & Wilbur Wright made the first successful powered aircraft flight.

Located at mile post 7.5, the Wright Brothers National Memorial commemorates the very spot where Orville & Wilbur Wright made the first successful powered aircraft flight. Though originally from Dayton, Ohio, the Wright brothers decided that Kitty Hawk in North Carolina's Outer Banks would be the ideal location for putting their flight theories & research to the test. Aided by steady winds and massive windswept sand dunes, the Wright brothers achieved their first successful flight at Kill Devil Hills in Kitty Hawk in 1903.

Located at mile post 7.5, the Wright Brothers National Memorial commemorates the very spot where Orville & Wilbur Wright made the first successful powered aircraft flight.

Not only can you visit the actual flight line that the Wright brothers used when they first successfully took flight, but you can also walk through a reconstructed replica of what their 1903 camp would have looked like. My family is pictured above standing in a reconstructed Wright brothers hangar.


What you need to know before you go:
  • Due to renovations, the actual indoor visitor center will be closed until the summer/fall of 2018. Plan to spend your time at the the outdoor exhibits if you visit the park before then.
  • The entrance fee to the park is $7 per adult (16 years old & older), but children 15 years old & younger enjoy free admission to the memorial.
  • The park is open 7 days a week from 9am to 5pm.
Hungry & thirsty after walking around the entire Wright Brothers Memorial? Head over to Trio for a glass (or two!) of wine from their self serve wine machines & then order a little something from their bistro menu.

2. North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island (374 Airport Road, Manteo)
Located just southwest of Kitty Hawk on Roanoke Island is the North Carolina Aquarium. Most of the exhibits here are hands-on & encourage you to touch and interact and fully immerse yourself in the aquatic wildlife of the Outer Banks.

Located just southwest of Kitty Hawk on Roanoke Island is the North Carolina Aquarium. We have visited the aquarium now twice on our visits to the Outer Banks, and I can't recommend it enough. Most of the exhibits here are hands-on & encourage you to touch and interact and fully immerse yourself in the aquatic wildlife of the Outer Banks.

Located just southwest of Kitty Hawk on Roanoke Island is the North Carolina Aquarium. Most of the exhibits here are hands-on & encourage you to touch and interact and fully immerse yourself in the aquatic wildlife of the Outer Banks.

A highlight of the aquarium for just about every member of the family (myself included!) was getting the opportunity to pet actual stingrays at the Sea Senses exhibit. In addition to their permanent exhibits, be sure to take advantage of the free programs & tours that are included in your ticket price. One of our favorites was heading to the Graveyard of the Atlantic exhibit, and taking part in the Dialogue with a Diver program that is offered daily at 10:30am. Ask scuba divers your burning questions about underwater life while they are submerged in a 285,000 tank surrounded by tiger, nurse, & sandbar sharks!


Located just southwest of Kitty Hawk on Roanoke Island is the North Carolina Aquarium. Most of the exhibits here are hands-on & encourage you to touch and interact and fully immerse yourself in the aquatic wildlife of the Outer Banks.

One of my daughter's favorite exhibits at the aquarium was the interactive Sea Turtle Rescue. Children are encouraged to don white lab coats and help "save" injured & sick sea turtles. 

What you need to know before you go:
  • Admission for adults to the aquarium is $12.95, children ages 3-12 is $10.95, & children 2 & under are admitted for free.
  • The aquarium is open daily from 9am to 5pm.
Where to grab some grub after exploring the aquarium- Check out Big Al's Soda Fountain & Grill for classic burgers and old-fashioned milkshakes. 

3. Jennette's Pier (7223 South Virginia Dare Trail, Nags Head)
As a member of the North Carolina Aquarium association, Jennetter's Pier is dedicated environmental conversation, ethical angling, and the reduction of waste while increasing recycling.

After spending a few hours at the North Carolina Aquarium, head 9 miles southeast to spend the afternoon at Jennette's Pier in Nags Head (located at mile post 16.5). As a member of the North Carolina Aquarium association, Jennette's Pier is dedicated environmental conversation, ethical angling, and the reduction of waste while increasing recycling. Utilizing 3 on-site wind turbines, the pier is classified as a platinum LEED certified facility.

As a member of the North Carolina Aquarium association, Jennetter's Pier is dedicated environmental conversation, ethical angling, and the reduction of waste while increasing recycling.

Be sure to spend a little time inside the gallery at the pier to check out several of the aquatic science exhibits and aquariums, and then pay the $2 walk-on fee to head outside to experience the actual pier. Enjoy the panoramic views, take a photo with one of the various bronze statues adorning the pier, and witness the thrill of the catch from the fishermen who line the pier on either side.

As a member of the North Carolina Aquarium association, Jennetter's Pier is dedicated environmental conversation, ethical angling, and the reduction of waste while increasing recycling.

What you need to know before you go:
  • The fee to walk onto the pier is $2 per adult, $1 per child. You can also choose to purchase an all day fishing pass for $14 for an adult & $7 for a child.
  • The pier's operating hours vary by season. During the summer they are open from 5am to midnight.
  • Make a day of it and plan to take advantage of the wide & clean public beaches that flank the pier on either side. Just be sure to stay clear of the pier when swimming due to fishing.

4. Cape Hatteras Light Station (46379 Lighthouse Road, Buxton)
If there could be only one iconic landmark associated with the Outer Banks, it would have to be the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. Originally built in 1870, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is the tallest brick lighthouse in the United States.

If there could be only one iconic landmark associated with the Outer Banks, it would have to be the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. The lighthouse is located about an hour south straight down NC-12 from Jennette's Pier. Originally built in 1870, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is the tallest brick lighthouse in the United States.

If there could be only one iconic landmark associated with the Outer Banks, it would have to be the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. Originally built in 1870, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is the tallest brick lighthouse in the United States.

While the light station grounds are free to tour & explore, you will have to purchase your $8 ticket ($4 for children 11 and under) to climb the 257 steps from the ground to the balcony of the lighthouse. 

If there could be only one iconic landmark associated with the Outer Banks, it would have to be the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. Originally built in 1870, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is the tallest brick lighthouse in the United States.

But the price of admission is well worth it for the 360 panoramic views you get to enjoy from the top of the lighthouse! :)

What to know before you go:
  • The lighthouse is open for self-guided climbs 9am to 4:30pm daily, but note that they do close due to inclement weather and when thunder & lightning is present.
  • They only allow 30 people inside the lighthouse at any one time, so purchase your ticket to climb the lighthouse as soon as you arrive. Climbs run every 10 minutes, & you will be assigned a climb time when you buy your ticket.
  • Just a forewarning to those afraid of heights- the stairs are very narrow with a handrail only on one side of the staircase. Wider landings are provided at every 31 steps in case you need to catch your breath & calm your nerves. ;)
If you happen to work up an appetite climbing to the top of the lighthouse- Grab a table at the Open Water Grill and enjoy freshly caught & prepared seafood at this waterfront favorite.

5. Catch the ferry to Ocracoke Island (Hatteras Inlet Docks)
Head to the Hatteras Inlet Ferry docks to catch a ride (car and all) to the southernmost island of the Outer Banks, Ocracoke Island. The ferry ride itself takes around 2 hours.

After you finish climbing one of the most famous lighthouses on the east coast, head 25 minutes southwest to the Hatteras Inlet Ferry docks to catch a ride (car and all) to the southernmost island of the Outer Banks, Ocracoke Island. The ferry ride itself takes around 2 hours, so find a spot along the railings of the boat to enjoy the views or grab a seat inside where it is nice & air conditioned. Or do like my dad likes to do, and hang out at the back of the ferry feeding the seagulls. ;) 

One of the highlights of visiting Ocracoke Island in the Outer Banks is to take in and enjoy the 16 miles of pristine, uncrowded beaches.

One of the highlights of visiting Ocracoke Island is to take in and enjoy the 16 miles of pristine, uncrowded beaches. I definitely suggest that if you plan to visit Ocracoke you make an entire day of it to make the 4 hour+ round trip ferry ride well worth it. Plan to spend a little time at the beach, do a little shopping, grab a bite to eat, and then head down a little further south to go see the Ocracoke Lighthouse...


Built in 1823 & being one of the oldest lighthouses still in active service in the United States, the Ocracoke Lighthouse is not open for climbing tours.

Built in 1823 & being one of the oldest lighthouses still in active service in the United States, the Ocracoke Lighthouse is not open for climbing tours. However during limited hours in the summertime, the National Park Service does open the base of the lighthouse for viewing.

Ocracoke Island is also known for their "wild" ponies, but the island's native horses have been kept penned in a 188-acre lot on the island now since 1959 and cared for by the National Park Service. This has been due in large part for their safety due to increased vehicular traffic on the island.

What you need to know before you go:
  • The wait to actually board a ferry from the Hatteras Inlet docks can be quite long during peak times. Luckily the Hatteras Ferry Terminal provides shopping, food, & restroom facilities during your wait. Check ferry routes, times, & make advanced reservations by clicking here.
  • Due to the length of the ferry ride there & back, I will stress again to take full advantage & make a visit to Ocracoke Island an all day outing. Just make note of the times that the ferry stops running from Ocracoke back to Hatteras Inlet, or you just might be staying on the island overnight. ;)
Need a bite to eat after spending the day exploring Ocracoke Island? Take the family to Jolly Roger Pub for great pub-style fish sandwiches in a fun atmosphere right on the water.


Traveling from the north to south, these are the 5 Must-See Outer Banks Attractions that are worth both your time & money.

Have you visited the Outer Banks in North Carolina before?
What is your favorite attraction or site to visit when in the Outer Banks?

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