By Jayne Clark
The 130-mile stretch of barrier islands known as the Outer Banks offer some of the East Coast’s best beach-going experiences. With the Atlantic Ocean to the east and various sounds to the west, you can catch waterfront sunrises and, in some spots, sunsets too.
But how to find the perfect beach for you?
Consider whether you prefer to be near a commercial hub with restaurants, shopping and other amenities, or whether a quieter, more rural stretch of coastline would better suit your needs. The Outer Banks offer both.
If a four-legged member of the family is in tow, take note that regulations regarding dogs on the beach vary among municipalities. The town of Duck, for example, allows unleashed dogs on the beach, with the understanding that owners will keep an eye on their pets. Other areas have more specific restrictions.
If you’re a free-wheeling, four-wheeling sort who prefers to drive right up to the shoreline, that’s possible in some locales, but again, restrictions apply.
Given the distance from north to south, logistics will determine what beaches you frequent most often during your vacation in the Outer Banks. But consider checking out some different spots during a multi-day stay. NC12 (known locally as the Beach Road) runs the length of the territory, allowing access to a variety of sandy paradises.
Here, listed north to south, is an insider’s guide to some of the best beach spots in the Outer Banks.
Kill Devil Hills at Ocean Bay Boulevard
Not only is there plenty of paved, public parking, but a wooden walkway to the beach makes it wheelchair-accessible and easily navigable for those pushing strollers or pulling wagons. Amenities include a bathhouse with foot showers and a lifeguard station. Surfers flock here when the weather is right.
Jennette’s Pier in Nags Head
The beach here is popular among locals, thanks to its full-scale bathhouse and plentiful paved, free parking. There’s a public park across the street and nearby restaurants and convenience stores. Jennette’s Pier is a LEED-certified fishing pier and undersea education center that generates green power with wind turbines and solar panels.
The northernmost beach within the Cape Hatteras National Seashore is the perfect spot for those who like their beaches free of development. It’s accessible off NC12 at milepost 22, eight miles south of Nags Head. There’s a bathhouse and plenty of parking. Get the proper National Park Service permits and you can even drive on the beach.
The Beach at Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
This serene stretch of sand has made Dr. Beach’s Best U.S. Beaches Top 10 list for eight years running. The tiny village of Buxton has some big attractions, including fishing off Cape Point, kiteboarding and windsurfing at the Canadian Hole, and Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, the tallest brick lighthouse in North America.
Ramp 55 at the southern end of Hatteras Island
In-the-know off-roaders head to this ramp that allows four-wheel-drive beach access at the southern tip of Hatteras Island. The off-the-beaten-path spot is great for fishing, bird watching and other pursuits. Ramp 55 is near the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum.
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Washington, DC-based freelance travel writer Jayne Clark has been a travel reporter at USA TODAY and several other daily newspapers.