The main Outer Banks attraction: The BEACH! There are so many fun and relaxing ways to enjoy your beach time on the Outer Banks, and we’ve outlined some of our favorite activities below.
Beach Time On The Outer Banks
The main Outer Banks attraction: The BEACH!
So much makes the Outer Banks special, but miles and miles of pristine coastline are what brings visitors back year after year. There are so many fun and relaxing ways to enjoy your beach time on the Outer Banks, and we’ve outlined some of our favorite activities below.
Several different shells can be found on our shores, and the best time to look is low tide. Our beachcombing guide will help you identify your treasures from the sea.
Go for a long walk or beach run.
Hoping to fit in some exercise on vacation? Walking on sand is a workout! It can take more than twice the energy to walk or run on sand compared to hard surfaces. Plus, exercise with an ocean view isn’t so bad…
Catch the sunrise.
Set that alarm. We promise it’s worth it! Sunrises over the Atlantic are breathtaking. Plus, early mornings are one of the best times to spot pods of dolphins swimming parallel to the shoreline. (If you aren’t a morning person, sunset afterglows on the beach are truly beautiful too! Or you can catch the full sunset on the soundside. Check out our soundfront homes here.)
Go for a drive on the sand.
Most Outer Banks towns allow off-roading on the beach during certain times of the year. It’s a ton of fun to pack a lunch, some beach gear, and take a four-wheel-drive vehicle out to find the perfect spot to spend the day. Learn more about each town’s rules and off-road vehicle safety.
Have a beach bonfire.
Few things are more relaxing than the sound of a crackling fire next to waves lapping the shore. Beach fires are only allowed in Nags Head and the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Learn more about the regulations and required permits.
Surf fishing from the beach is a pastime enjoyed by all ages. Learn more about the required fishing license and all the other ways to fish on the Outer Banks.
Build a castle.
Sandcastles are a classic beach day activity. Add some friendly competition to the mix by having a sandcastle-building contest with others in your vacation group! You don’t have to stick to castles – your imagination is the limit.
Take in a surfing lesson.
Surfing is a favorite local pastime, and there are great instructors on the Outer Banks ready to help you learn. No board? No problem – if the instructor doesn’t provide boards, they can be rented locally.
Give boogie boarding or skimboarding a try!
Boogie boards (also known as bodyboards) are great for riding shore break waves back to shore. Skimboards are used to glide on the water’s surface closer to shore. Boogie boarding tends to be the easier of the two. Both types of boards can be rented or purchased locally.
Kilmarlic Golf Club, a course designed by an award-winning architect, Tom Steele, offers guests the opportunity to golf on one of the top-rated courses near the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Find out more about them, other activities, and all you need to know to enjoy your stay on the OBX at CarolinaDesigns.com.
Kilmarlic Golf Club
215 Westside Lane Powell’s Point, NC 27966 252-491-4220 Website
Even if you’re just visiting the Outer Banks for a few days, if you love golf, we recommend you spend some time playing 18-holes at Kilmarlic Golf Club. The course was designed by Tom Steele, an award-winning course architect, with thoughtful challenges throughout. Along the course, you’ll find extravagant oak, pine, and dogwood trees that bring together the beauty of nature and the sport. Kilmarlic Golf Club is kept in tournament playing condition at all times and was host to the North Carolina Open in 2004 and 2009. Kilmarlic Golf Club was named a Top 100 Course You Can Play in North Carolina by Golf Styles Magazine. Several of our homes participate in the K-Club, which offers their guests discounted rates at Kilmarlic Golf Club, along with many other perks.
By the Sea Wedding Boutique offers formal wear for anyone from the bride, to the groom, from the bridesmaids, to the guests of the wedding. Find out more about them, other activities, and all you need to know to enjoy your stay on the OBX at CarolinaDesigns.com.
The Outer Banks is such a popular wedding destination, that it only makes sense to have a bridal boutique in town. By the Sea Wedding Boutique is a locally owned boutique that offers designer gowns, off rack and consignment gowns, as well as bridesmaid and ladies formal wear, and tuxedos for rent or to buy. They aren’t only limited to dresses and tuxedos; they also offer accessories and wedding décor. As they say, “on vacation or local, last minute or next year. Get your ladies together, we’ll pop the bubbly and find you THE DRESS.”.
The Duck Woods Country Club offers several activities for members and guests including golf, tennis, swimming, pickleball, and bocce ball. Find out more about them, other activities, and all you need to know to enjoy your stay on the OBX at CarolinaDesigns.com.
Duck Woods Country Club
50 S. Dogwood Trail Southern Shores, NC 27949 252-261-2744 Website
The Duck Woods Country Club began in the 60s as the Outer Banks Recreation Association. Over time, they expanded and built the golf course in May 1967. The name wasn’t changed to Duck Woods Country Club until 1988, and since they’ve been able to offer outdoor activities to boot. From golf to tennis, pickleball to bocce ball, Duck Woods Country Club offers it. Their 18-hole championship course was designed by the renowned architect, Ellis Maples. If you’re planning a wedding on the Outer Banks, the Country Club is nestled in the heart of Southern Shores and could be a great location to host your event.
The town of Southern Shores is home to many parks that include outdoor facilities like playgrounds, picnic tables and benches, basketball courts, and access to the sound. Find out more about them, other activities, and all you need to know to enjoy your stay on the OBX at CarolinaDesigns.com.
Southern Shores, NC 27949
The Soundview Park on North Dogwood Trail provides panoramic water views, a children’s playground, a bocce ball court, a horseshoe pit, a kayak launching platform, and easy access to the sound, making it a great spot for picnics and family outings. Sea Oats Park is located at the intersection of Hickory Trail and Hillcrest Drive and has a playground, basketball half court and an open field for outdoor sports. Trinite Park, at the intersection of Trinite Trail and Chicahauk Trail has similar facilities. There is also a very good outdoor community tennis court located on Hillcrest Drive.
If you are looking for a photographer to capture some photos taken on the Outer Banks that you can have as keepsakes for a lifetime, look no further than Brooke Mayo Photographers. Find out more about them, other activities, and all you need to know to enjoy your stay on the OBX at CarolinaDesigns.com.
Brooke Mayo Photographers
P.O. Box 104 Powells Point, NC 27966 252-599-0720 Website
Do you want timeless photos taken during your visit to the Outer Banks? Brooke Mayo Photography has got your back! Brooke Mayo (right), Owner & Lead Photographer, and her Associate Photographer, Candace Owens (left), snap some truly stunning photos. Whether you are seeking a photographer for your beach-inspired family session, your soundfront wedding, a dreamy proposal, or even some celebratory photos, Brooke and Candace have experience in them all (and so much more)! But don’t take our word for it…visit their website to check out their work and the many awards and rave reviews they’ve received over the years!
Learn more about fish, wildlife, and the ecosystems of the Outer Banks with a visit to the North Carolina Aquarium in the town of Manteo on Roanoke Island. Find out more about them, activities, and all you need to know to enjoy your stay on the OBX at CarolinaDesigns.com.
Located on Roanoke Island in the town of Manteo, The North Carolina Aquarium makes a wonderful day trip from Nags Head or Kill Devil Hills. Exhibits include a myriad of interesting species that you might find in Eastern North Carolina: from the alligators and otters of “Wild Wetlands” to the graceful jellyfish of “Delicate Drifters.” There are even sharks and stingrays! If you’re interested in learning more about the animals and ecosystems of the Outer Banks, the NC Aquarium is a must-visit.
Free souvenirs from the sea! This guide provides images of shells and other items found on the beaches of Corolla, Duck, Southern Shores, Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, and Nags Head.
OBX Beachcombing & Shell Guide
Beachcombing is one of our favorite things to do.
Who doesn’t love free souvenirs from the sea? This guide provides images of shells and other items found on the beaches of Corolla, Duck, Southern Shores, Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, and Nags Head.
Where is the best place to find shells on the Outer Banks? Weather, currents, and our shoreline are constantly changing, so you never know quite where the best shell beds will be day-to-day. If you aren’t having luck at your nearest beach access, give a different one a try! There are many public beach accesses to choose from.
When is the best time to go shelling? Beachcombing is in-season all year round. If you’re an early riser, head to the shore for sunrise. Some great shells may have washed up overnight, plus there’s nothing quite like watching the sun rise over the Atlantic. (This is also a common time of day to spot dolphins swimming offshore!) It’s also helpful to follow the tides. Low tide is the ideal time to beachcomb, before the water rises to cover what the waves brought onto the sand.
Scotch Bonnets are the official North Carolina state seashell! The shell is grown by a type of sea snail and can be 2-4 inches on the longest side. They can be shades of brown, yellow, and orange.
Ocean Quahog shells are hinged clam shells, but it’s rare to find the two sides still attached once they wash up on the beach. These are thick shells that tend to have a white interior with a purple rim, but some have no purple coloring at all. The oldest living animal on the planet was a quahog at 507 years old!
Broken Pieces of Ocean Quahogs
When quahog shells break up into pieces, it can expose more of the purple coloring commonly found in the deeper layers of the shell. Over time these pieces become worn and smooth. White and purple quahog pieces were used by Native Americans to create wampum beads, which were used at currency.
Atlantic Giant Cockles
Cockles are radially-ribbed hinged clam shells, but it is uncommon to find the two sides still hinged together on Outer Banks beaches. Atlantic Giant Cockles range in size from about a half inch to six inches at their widest part. They are usually off-white with brown and red markings, and their interior is commonly smooth and pink.
Scallops are clam shells, and they can be found in a wide variety of colors on the Outer Banks. They are typically about three inches at their widest width and are radially-ribbed with “ears” sticking out slightly on either side of their base where the hinge would be. It isn’t common to find the two sides still hinged together on the beach.
Coquinas are small hinged clam shells that grow to be smaller than an inch. You can find these on Outer Banks beaches at the tide line with both sides still held together by the delicate hinge, which give them a butterfly-like shape. They are typically white on both sides. The interior can have tinges of purple and yellow.
A variety of Whelks are sea snails. A variety of whelk shells can be found on Outer Banks beaches, but the knobbed whelk and lightning whelk are the most common. Lightning whelk shells have their opening on the left side, and knobbed whelks have their opening on the right side. These sprial shells can be found in a variety of sizes.
Atlantic Surf Clams
Atlantic Surf Clams are hinged clam shells that are usually white, gray, yellow, and brown. They can grow to be nearly 9 inches, but it’s very rare to find them that large.
Mussel shells are wedge-shaped, hinged, and are typically black and dark blue or purple. It’s common to find these shells still hinged on the beach at the tide line.
Ark Clams are thick, hinged shells with radial ridges. They can be found in a wide variety of colors on the Outer Banks, but white and gray are the most common.
Oyster shells are usually teardrop-shaped but can be found in other more freeform shapes as well. They’re comprised of many layers depending on how old they are.
Sea Stars (or starfish) found on the Outer Banks have five tapered arms, also called rays, radiating out from their body. Sea stars are a wonderful beachcombing find, but they should not be taken out of the water or picked up from the sand if at all soft or limp — they could still be alive and are very fragile animals. Once dead, sea stars are dry and stiff.
Shark Eye Moon Snails
Shark Eye Moon Snail shells can be 5 inches at their widest point. They are smooth, spiral-shaped, spherical shells found in a variety of color ranging from brown to blue-gray.
Disk Dosinias are white, flat hinged clam shells. They can be about 3 inches wide.
Baby’s Ear Moon Snails
Baby’s Ear Moon Snails have thin and fragile shells. They have a flattened spiral shape that resembles…and ear! They are typically white, yellow, brown, or gray.
Razor Clam shells are smooth and delicate with a hinge on their long side. They can be up to 9 inches long and resemble the shape of a straight-razor.
Sand Dollars found on Outer Banks beaches are flat discs that can be about 1 to 4 inches at their widest point, and they have a flower-like shape in the center of their body. Sand dollars are brittle, fragile, and white from sun-bleaching. If you find a sand dollar that is a darker color and has fur-like growth on it, it may still be alive and should not be handled.
Driftwood is simply worn pieces of wood that have washed up on the shore. Salt water and wave action lighten and smooth the wood over time, removing any bark.
Sea glass comes from glass objects that made their way into the ocean, broke up, and eroded to small smooth pieces over time. The most common colors that wash up on the Outer Banks are white, amber, and green. Learn more about Outer Banks sea glass on our blog.
Fulgurite is sand and sediment fused together by lightning strikes! These pieces of petrified lightning are often mistaken for concrete because of their color (often gray on the Outer Banks) and odd shapes. Although they may not look like much from the outside, they’re usually hollow, and the inside is smooth glass.
Skate & Ray Egg Cases
Skate and Egg Cases, often called “mermaid purses” are black capsules with two skinny tendrils at the top and bottom.
We’d love to see your beachcombing finds!
Tag us in your shell photos on Instagram or send them to us on Facebook. If you’re feeling creative, we’re always sharing new shell display and DIY ideas on Pinterest.
Zip line, climb and challenge yourself at First Flight Adventure Park! This family friendly attraction features multiple obstacles, a range of platforms, and varying courses. Find out more about them, other activities, and all you need to know to enjoy your stay on the OBX at CarolinaDesigns.com.
First Flight Adventure Park
6716 S Croatan Hwy Nags Head, NC 27959 252-715-3622 Website
Zipline, climb, and challenge yourself at First Flight Adventure Park! This family-friendly attraction features multiple obstacles, a range of platforms, and varying courses: easy, intermediate, or hard. Designed to mimic the bands of a hurricane that cycle out from a central tower, the Adventure Park includes ropes, hammocks, cables, and more! A perfect outing for all ages. Open seasonally.