North Carolina Travel

The best time to visit the Outer Banks – coupons and discounts

If you’re wondering when the best time to visit the Outer Banks is, then you’re in luck. Before we get into it, let me explain what the travel season are: Shoulder season is the time before and after the busy season; Peak season is the busy time; and Off season is the slow season. Kelsey and I just got back from our mother-daughter Spring Break trip, and I’d have to say the Spring Shoulder season is the best. No suspense lol. I just flat out told you.

About the Outer Banks

The Outer Banks is a barrier island that starts up at the Virginia border and ends at the Ocracoke Islands. According to the Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce, it’s 120 miles long, but I’ve seen other sites that say it’s around 200 miles long.  It separates the Atlantic Ocean from the main land and has five sounds on the other side – Currituck, Albemarle, Croatan, Roanoke, and Pamlico.

Outer Banks with Atlantic Ocean on one side and the sound on the other
Photo credit: the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau

Some notable things are some of the early European settlements happened here; Virginia Dare, the first English person born in the Americas, was born in the Roanoke Colony in 1587; The Wright Brothers invented and flew the first aviation machine in Kitty Hawk; one of the world’s last remaining populations of purebred Colonial Spanish Mustangs; birthplace of broadcasting; only place in the US to receive a distress call from the Titanic; and more.  I’ll get into more of the history in the Things to Do section.

Best time to visit the Outer Banks

The convention and visitors bureau is always one of my first stops when we travel. They’re full of knowledge about the area, and always have great tips for things to see and do. When we went to the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau, I learned that the shoulder season is from March until May, then September until November. Peak season starts around Memorial Day and ends after Labor Day, then the off season is after Thanksgiving until March again.

Outer Banks visitors center

This is purely personal preference, but I think the Spring Shoulder season is the best time to visit the Outer Banks. This is when all the businesses are opening back up after the off season, the crowds are smaller, and there’s less traffic. I’m finding the older I get, the less I want to deal with large crowds and rowdiness, especially when I’m traveling with my family. I think the most rowdiness we dealt with was a barking dog at the beach because the owners kept it in its carrier, and it just wanted to get out and play. Give me crying kids all day, but a barking dog when the owners can take care of it drive me effing nuts!

Places to stay

The Outer Banks is pretty long, so depending on your vibe, might determine where you want to stay. Not only that, but deepening on what you want to do, because when you take traffic into account, you may want to stay central or closer to where you have most activities planned. From my understanding, The Upper Outer Banks (Southern shores and north of it) looks more upscale, Middle Outer Banks (south of Southern Shores to Nags Head) is more like the beachy tourist spots with putt putt, candy stores, and piers, and Lower Outer Banks (Rodanthe and south of it) is quieter. Or so I’m told.

Where to stay during the best time to visit the Outer Banks

We ended up booking a stay at the Beachwoods Resort in Kitty Hawk, through my MIL’s timeshare. We booked this last summer not knowing anything about the Outer Banks or what there was to do or anything. It’s perfect for families that want to still have the home feel because you have your living room, kitchen, bedrooms, etc. I’m still not a huge fan of these timeshare resorts, but it works, and the kids love them because there is a lot to do.

Front of Beachwood Resorts

Beachwood Resorts has a lot of amenities like the water slides, pedal boats, fishing, an arcade, water slides, indoor and outdoor pool and spa, grills, picnic areas, trails, exclusive beach parking, basketball and tennis courts, and a lot more. Our time was spent mostly at the pool, and we dabbled with the arcade and fishing.

Things to do during the best time to visit the Outer Banks

There’s quite a bit to do in the Outer Banks, and it can get a little pricey. Make sure to check out the coupon book that and Outer Banks Visitor’s Guide published with  230 coupons and deals for 2023. You can print them out or pick one up at the visitor’s center or newspaper stand.

We went early April (last week to be exact), which is about 2 weeks shy of when I think the best time to visit the Outer Banks in the Spring Shoulder season would be. There’s still a lot to do, but the water activities and tours I tried to book all said closed until May. If you really think about it though, hurricane season is right smack dab in the middle of the peak season. June 1st until the end of October to be exact. Not only that, it’s really humid in the summer too.

Hang out at the beach

With the Outer Banks being 120-200 miles long, there’s beaches everywhere! Be aware of which one’s you’re accessing and pay attention to the rip currents and rules at each one. Some allow you to drive on there, but you must have a 4WD and the proper permit, and some have public access areas. There’s rules posted at each entrance about pets, glassware, stingrays, no walking on the sand dunes, feeding/petting horses, etc. Be respectful of the rules, leave no trace behind, as in pick up your trash and throw it away. Also make sure if you’re collecting sand dollars, make sure they are not still alive.

Walk the piers and boardwalk

This is actually pretty neat to be able to do in the Outer Banks because you can walk them both on the Atlantic side and the Sound side. I believe the sound side is the only side that has an actual boardwalk where you walk along the coast, and the Atlantic side are just piers. With that said, there is a small fee to enter some of the piers, and additional if you are going to fish. Jeannette’s Pier, where the NC Aquarium is, and the Avalon Pier, seem to be popular ones, and great to catch sunrises at too. Here are some of the Duck Town Park Boardwalk, which is 11-acres and connects the parks, restaurants, and shops.

Watch the sunrise and sunset

Speaking of the sunrise, sunrises and sunsets are beautiful to see, so make sure you set your alarms to catch them. Remember – beach for the sunrise, and sound for the sunsets. I made the mistake of thinking I could catch a good view of them both at the beach… wrong! So the beaches and piers on the Atlantic side are what’s recommended for sunrises, and I had a lot of people tell me that a hike to the top of the sand dunes at Jockey Ridge to catch the sunset is a must. We didn’t get there in time the one night we stayed out late enough, so we rushed back to our resort to try to catch a glimpse. Here’s a shot at the beach and back at the resort.

Go ghost crab hunting

When the sun sets and it’s dark out, it’s fun to get out and hunt for some ghost crabs. It’s catch and release though, so don’t try taking them home as pets. The one we found was already dead, and I seriously didn’t want to touch it.

Visit the 5 light houses

I wouldn’t recommend doing this all in one day, but if you do, then power to you! They’re spread throughout the Outer Banks, and one requires a 60 minute one way ferry ride, so that’s up to you. The five are: Ocracoke, Cape Hatteras, Bodie Island, Carrituck, and Roanoke Marshes. The grounds and museum are free to roam, but there is a fee and possibly a reservation required if you want to or are able to climb the lighthouse. Keep in mind that the staircase is narrow, round, and really high up… and then you have to go back down too. We went to the Bodie Island Lighthouse and only walked the grounds.

Visit the Wright Brothers National Memorial

What do you think of when you hear Kitty Hawk? The Wright Brothers is what comes to my mind. And good thing because this is where the Wright Brothers National Memorial is. In 1903, Orville and Wilbur Wright successfully flew the first powered airplane. The memorial teaches about the life of the brothers, the history of aviation, and process to get to the first flight. There’s even a flight strip there called, First Flight Airstrip, that was dedicated in 1963 by the National Park Services. Small airplanes can land and park there for 24 hours our 48 hours total within 30 days. We saw one land then take off while we were there.

Play at a park

There’s a few parks around, but this one really caught our eye. It’s right off of S Croatan Rd in Nags Head. There’s a pickle ball court, basketball court, amphitheater, Bocce Ball, trails, free wi-fi, the playground, and a huge lawn and shaded picnic area. I think Kelsey was looking forward to this park more than she was for anything else.

Wild Horse Tour

I’m saving the best for last. The wild horses, which are actually Wild Colonial Spanish Mustangs. There’s lots of different stories about how wild horses got there, but the story we were told said they were a part of a Spanish or English shipwreck in the 17 or 1800’s, and swam ashore. They used to roam freely in the Outer Banks but as the area got more developed, it became too dangerous for them with fast driving cars. That’s when The Corolla Wild Horse Fund stepped in to help protect them. All of the horses were relocated to the northern beaches of Carolla and Carova, and there’s fences in place to keep them there.

The horses can be spotted on the beach or roaming the secluded neighborhoods, where the streets are sand instead of pavement. You can rent ATV’s, drive your 4WD car with a permit, walk the beach, or take tour. Just remember to keep your distance and DO NOT touch or feed the horses. IT’S THE LAW and for the protection of the horses and you. We went on a tour with Bob’s Wild Horse Tours in Corolla (cuh-rahl-uh), which is the first company to offer open-air tours, and we had so much fun, and learned so much. We only found the horses (mustangs) in the neighborhoods, because we were about 2 weeks early. Kelsey’s favorite parts were seeing Santa’s summer house (Sandy Clause), and Grave Digger from Monster Jam’s summer house.

Bob's Wild Horse Tour -

Jockey’s Ridge State Park

Definitely put Jockey’s Ridge State Park on your list of places to visit. We didn’t make it, but everyone says that it’s a must visit, and bring a kite to fly when you get to the top of the dunes. It’s the tallest active sand dunes in the east coast, and reaches about 60 ft. You can catch people hang gliding there, sand boarding, and flying kites. It’s supposed to have gorgeous views and one of the best spots to catch the sunset. In 2015, characters from Star Wars: The Force Awakens, showed up for a photoshoot there. That’s pretty cool!

Places to eat during the best time to visit the Outer Banks

There’s a ton of places to eat, but we stuck to kid friendly ones. If you’re into themed restaurants, then there’s definitely a lot of those, but we didn’t go. We actually never got up early enough to go out for breakfast either, so we either ate cereal or toast we brought, or hit up a couple of donut shops, and went from there. Here’s where we ate. It’s always a good idea to call to make sure the restaurant is open, and to make a reservation.

Cosmo’s Pizzeria

After we checked in and settled into our resort, this was the first place we went to go eat. It was getting late, and it was right across the street. Our waitress was really nice, and I even overheard her offer to hold someone’s baby so the lady could eat. Aside from that, there’s a play area for the kids in the front, a claw machine, and a gumball machine. I ordered the Chicken Parm, and Kelsey had a cheese pizza. The Chicken Parm was delicious, but I’m not sure about Kelsey’s pizza. She wasn’t feeling great so only had a few bites. I took the pizza back to our room with the intent to eat it later, but of course, we never got around to it…

Proof Bakery

We had high hopes for this one because the pictures looked so cute online. The options were pretty slim, but that could be because we got there around 10am. Who knows? Kelsey wasn’t too impressed with her chocolate donut, so I told her we could try a different place another day.

Black Pelican

The Black Pelican has a lot of good reviews and comes highly recommended by people around town, and it’s right across the street from the beach, with some amazing views. I was actually planning on eating here for lunch, but time went by so fast, so we stopped by for dinner. We waited about 25 minutes for a table, which is not bad at all. The waitress we had was very friendly and super attentive to us. I had the Wanchese Fisherman’s Risotto, and Kelsey had the kid’s chicken strips, which comes on a frisbee you can take with you. My risotto was really good, but the risotto was a little undercooked, which happens a lot when you get it at a restaurant. Still had really good flavor and everything else though.

Big Bucks Homemade Ice Cream

I don’t know why I get so irritated when I think about the amount I paid for my daughter’s 1 scoop ice cream? They don’t have kid scoops, so the 1 scoop and small chocolate sprinkled waffle cone ($1.50 uncharge), was what we got, and it came out to $8.02. That’s just CRAZY to me! There was a family of about 5 or 6 going in after us, and all I could think was that the amount they were going to spend on ice cream is going to be what lunch is going to cost lol. I guess it was worth it though because Kelsey said it was really good. I’m not convinced lol, so I said we were going to have to try another place on our trip…

Sunset Grille and Raw Bar

If you venture up to the Duck area, I highly recommend you stop by. The views are great, and if you’re there for sunset, sit out on the deck and catch the sunset. Kelsey wanted to sit inside, so we hung out outside afterwards. The dock was closed off, so we couldn’t walk it, but pictures online looked really lively. One of the other reasons why I think Spring is the best time to visit the Outer Banks is because this would’ve been a very long wait to sit in either places if it was the busy season. Kelsey and I split the cheeseburger, and I had a cup of the Famous Clam Chowder.

Sugar Planet

There’s one of these massive candy stores just about every corner in Kill Devil Hills. We just happened to stop by Sugar Planet because it was next to something else we were checking out. When we were inside, I heard another lady say that this shop was way better than another she had gone to, so that was good. The bulk candy is $6.95/lb, so I let Kelsey pick out a few options. She of course had to get the fried egg gummy because that’s as close as she’ll get to a real egg.

Mama Kwans Tiki Bar and Grill

This looked like one of those stereotypical tourist spots, so I was pretty adamant about skipping it. I don’t know why, because I’m a sucker for touristy places lol. We were recommended Mama Kwan’s by a lady at the swim lodge at our resort, so we decided to go. The kids drink concepts were really cute, but the soda machine was off that day, so we stuck to water, and I got the Hawaiian iced coffee. Kelsey ordered a kid’s cheeseburger (shocker), and I ordered the Pad Thai, which was a special that day. I would’ve ordered the Garbage Plate (which is actually pretty healthy) otherwise. We both thought our food was really good, and even had leftovers to take back with us.

Donutz on a Stick

This was our final food stop and our donut and ice cream redemption. Donutz on a Stick definitely understood the assignment and totally redeemed the donut and ice cream experience for us. They even have vegan options! The staff was so nice and really took the time to go over the donuts and ice cream with us because of Kelsey’s egg allergy. Kelsey got the small donut sundae with a chocolate donut and the Superman ice cream, which was vegan. I got the small stick which comes with 2 donuts of the same flavor, and then a single donut from a coupon I used in the link I shared above. The small stick was Cinnamon Roll, and the single donut was Chocolate Peanut Butter. We took a stroll on the boardwalk after to sit down and eat our donutz.

Final thoughts on the best time to visit the Outer Banks

This was a very relaxing trip for us. We went in with the intention that it was a mother-daughter trip, and that we would just play it by ear. I did a little research before we went to see what there was to do, but didn’t make an itinerary or anything. We’re definitely planning on going back with the whole family next year, because there is still so much to do. I’m a bigger fan of Upper Outer Banks than I am of the Middle Outer Banks, but would probably still stay in Middle Outer Banks because it’s central to everything. And that’s about it. I’d love to know if you’ve ever been and have any tips, or plan on going and what you’re going to do.

Make sure to save this post or Pin it to Pinterest so you can plan your next trip. Also make sure to check out this link for more North Carolina travel ideas.

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