Outer Banks and Crystal Coast for Families

Photo by Renee Wright

Intergenerational travel, with kids making lifetime memories in North Carolina

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The Outer Banks and Crystal Coast of North Carolina are famous family destinations, with many families returning year after year to make memories that last a lifetime.

The beaches of Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, and Nags Head on the Outer Banks and the town of Emerald Isle on the Crystal Coast are favorites for families with young children, thanks to their summer beach patrols, community programs, off-road bike paths, and kid-friendly activities, such as mini-golf, bumper boats, and go-karts.

The Beach Road running along the coast through Nags Head has several old-fashioned ice cream and burger hangouts that are kid favorites, including the Snowbird and Dune Burger. They make great spots for a fast and inexpensive meal after a visit to the nearby Wright Brothers National Memorial, with many kid-oriented activities, or the sand dunes of Jockey’s Ridge State Park, where kids can take hang-gliding lessons or just roll down the hills of sand.

Jennette’s Pier in Nags Head is another kid-friendly destination, with nature exhibits, a touch tank and a variety of kids’ programs. Dedicated to preserving the tradition of family pier fishing, Jennette’s is the perfect place to learn to cast a line.

The region’s many headboats also provide an easy and inexpensive introduction to fishing for all ages, as well as an exciting day on the water.

Most kids get a thrill from a trip aboard one of the North Carolina ferries. Take the free ferry from Hatteras Village over to Ocracoke for a day at the lifeguarded beach, one of the best in the country.

Lessons for kids in sailing, snorkeling, kayaking, crabbing, fishing and ecology are available during the summer months for free or for nominal fees at Corolla’s Wildlife Education Center, at Jockey’s Ridge State Park and Jennette’s Pier in Nags Head, at the Roanoke Island Maritime Museum, and at both N.C. Aquariums, as well as at Cape Hatteras and Cape Lookout National Seashores, and the N.C. Maritime Museum in Beaufort. Check their online schedules in advance as pre-registration is often required.

Outer Banks and Crystal Coast Rain or Shine

For rainy day fun, head over to Manteo, where the N.C. State Aquarium at Roanoke Island presents exhibits on sea turtle rescue and the wreck of the USS Monitor, as well as feedings, dive shows and a wide range of aquatic life found across the state and in off-shore waters.

Roanoke Island Festival Park is a great family destination rain or shine. Outside, there’s a settler’s village, Native American settlement with crafts and dancing, and the brightly painted Elizabeth II, a replica of the ship that brought the lost colonists to the island. Inside, kids can have a ball in the Roanoke Adventure Museum, dressing up as colonists, American Indians, or pirates, sail replica boats and experience duck hunting. There’s a film as well, exploring Native American attitudes toward the English settlers.

If you are vacationing on the Crystal Coast, the N.C. Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores is a great rainy day option. Lots of water activities are available on the quiet waters of Bogue Sound, with outfitters renting jet skis, kayaks, stand-up paddleboards and more clustered in Pine Knoll Shores, just north of Emerald Isle.

Especially for Horse Lovers

A boat trip over to Shackleford Banks to see the wild horses and hunt for shells is a must-do daytrip for families visiting the Crystal Coast. Several outfitters offer trips from the Beaufort waterfront.

If you are at the northern end of the Outer Banks, and your party includes young horse-lovers, don’t miss a visit to Corolla. Several outfitters offer tours to the off-road area between Corolla Village and the Virginia border to see the wild horses that live there. In the village itself, a visit to the Wild Horse Museum tells kids about the history of the horses and their battle for survival in the modern world.

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