The Outer Banks of North Carolina may have gotten its fame from the Netflix series, but it has a longstanding history of its own with roots to our country’s beginnings. (Spoiler alert: the show, Outer Banks, wasn’t actually filmed in the Outer Banks). Of course there are the traditional tourist things that pop up from a place so close to the shore like souvenir shops and overpriced beach stores, but don’t you want something more?
There are so many unique things to do in Outer Banks if you dig a little. Luckily for you, I have already done the research and experienced it so you know that my suggestions won’t be a bust (like the one time I traveled many hours out of the way to a remote town in the Blue Ridge Mountains that was overly hyped up by other travel bloggers). But we won’t mention that here. Good vibes only.
Our Top 3 Picks: Unique Things to do in outer Banks
#1 TOP PICK
OUTERLORE AUDIO TOURS
✔️ Immersive Storytelling
✔️ At Your Own Pace
✔️ Family Friendly
HANG GLIDING IN JOCKEY’S RIDGE
✔️ Opportunity to Learn Something New
✔️ Thrilling Adventure
🚫 Weather Dependent
HORSEBACK RIDING ON CAPE HATTERAS BEACH
✔️ Riders of All Levels Welcome
✔️ Sunset Tour
🚫 Weather Dependent
From the days when I was a young bookworm to my adventures in adulthood, I’ve always been captivated by lore and legends. When I stumbled upon Outerlore, it was like discovering a well-kept secret I couldn’t wait to share.
Crafted by two passionate locals deeply ingrained in the soul of the Outer Banks, Outerlore takes you on a mesmerizing journey through a tapestry of legends, ghost stories, and age-old lore that have shaped this mystical region. With an aura of mystery and a touch of spine-tingling intrigue, this audio tour doesn’t just narrate the tales; it immerses you in them. Explore tales like The Lost Colony of Roanoke, The Gray Man, Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse, and many more.
As you explore the very places that inspired these captivating stories, you’ll find yourself woven into the very fabric of these narratives. If you’re eager to uncover the Outer Banks’ secrets in a way known only to the locals, then don’t miss your chance to book your Outerlore audio tour today. It’s time to let the stories of this land come alive as you journey through this enchanting realm.
RATING: 5 out of 5 Stars – With more than 40 reviews | TOUR LENGTH: 3 Hours
Hang gliding at Jockey’s Ridge State Park is like no other experience – it’s epic! Imagine gliding over the largest natural sand dune system in the Eastern United States. The views are insane, and the vibe is just right for both beginners and thrill-seekers. The instructors are top-notch, making you feel super comfortable and pumped for the adventure. Trust me, gliding here isn’t just about the adrenaline; it’s about that awesome feeling of freedom and taking in the Outer Banks from a whole new angle. Make sure to book early, because spots fill up fast!
RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars – With more than 24 reviews | TOUR LENGTH: 1 Hour
Horseback riding along Cape Hatteras Beach is a must-do activity in the Outer Banks. This adventure offers a unique opportunity to explore the pristine coastal landscape. With the guidance of professional experts, visitors can take in the ever-changing coastal beauty and learn about the local environment and history.
The experience is a tranquil escape, allowing you to embrace the natural serenity as you ride along the shoreline. Interacting with these majestic horses adds a unique dimension to the adventure, and for an extra touch of magic, consider a sunset ride. Make sure to book your horseback riding session on Cape Hatteras Beach for an unforgettable Outer Banks experience that combines adventure, nature, and tranquility.
RATING: 5 out of 5 Stars – With more than 36 reviews | TOUR LENGTH: 1 Hour 30 Minutes
Taking surf lessons at OBX in the Outer Banks is an incredible way to connect with the ocean and learn something new. It’s ideal for beginners or anyone looking to brush up on their surfing skills. The instructors are fantastic, creating a fun and supportive environment. It’s more than just learning to surf; it’s about embracing the laid-back beach lifestyle and making memories in the waves. You’ll leave with a sense of achievement and maybe a new passion! Book your surf lesson today!
RATING: 5 out of 5 Stars – With more than 1,657 reviews | TOUR LENGTH: 2 Hours
Did you know that there are still wild horses that you can watch in the wild? Growing up in the very urban areas of Clearwater, Florida, I was completely oblivious to this. I always thought that they had domesticated all of them in the U.S. and were only a thing in fairy tales or other countries. Well, in Corolla, North Carolina, you can view these majestic animals in the wild either on your own or with a tour.
One such wild horse tour is done with an open-air 4-wheel drive vehicle that journeys along the picturesque sand dunes and the ocean’s edge, where you’ll get a glimpse of these majestic creatures. As you traverse this breathtaking landscape, you’ll also delve into the island’s rich history and unique ecology. Book this tour that includes opportunities to capture these magnificent horses in photos, explore other points of interest, and enjoy exclusive access to the Wild Horse Conservation Area.
Roanoke Island Festival Park turned out to be one of our favorite experiences during our Outer Banks trip. This place is like stepping back in time, and it’s a fantastic spot for families who want to get a taste of what life was like for the first settlers in the New World.
The Settlement Site: Craftsmanship in Action Now, here’s where I might’ve nerded out a bit. The Settlement Site is like a hands-on history lesson which HAD live people doing all the things. We got to watch live demonstrations of blacksmithing and carpentry. I was particularly entranced by the carpenter, who let us lend a hand in shaping wooden table legs. Trust me, it’s way more challenging than it looks, but it’s a blast. River was much better at multi-tasking with the pedal and knife than I was ironically.
Native American Village: Unfortunately, we visited during the off-season, so there weren’t any live demos in the Native American section. While there were narrations in certain areas with a push of the button, she quickly lost interest because she is more hands on. But the exhibits were still extremely interactive like the twine making and building the siding for huts which River thoroughly enjoyed.
Elizabeth II: An Impressive Ship The real showstopper is the Elizabeth II, a full-sized replica of a 16th-century ship. It’s not just for show; they actually take it out for voyages along the North Carolina coast twice a year. What’s cool is that everyone, young and old, can get in on the action. You can steer the ship, drop the anchor, ring the bell, and yes, even swab the deck (which, by the way, was sparkling clean thanks to River working hard for a whole 30 minutes). After physically having to remove her from the ship, we were on our way to the Settlement site.
We missed the Adventure Museum largely in part because it wasn’t out in the main areas and also because our friend Kathryn arrived, and we were eager to catch up over lunch. But you better believe we’re coming back to explore it properly in the future. Roanoke Island Festival Park is an incredible experience that makes history come alive, and it’s perfect for all ages. Book this unique journey back in time when you’re in the Outer Banks.
7. Island Farm
Our visit to Island Farm was a delightful blend of autumn festivities and a deep dive into history. We couldn’t resist the lure of the Pumpkin Patch, where our love for fall and learning came together. As we entered to purchase our tickets, a giant loom caught our attention. I couldn’t help but be tempted to give it a try, much to my husband’s chagrin. It set the tone for a good time ahead.
Once outside, the aroma of popcorn, cider, and the earth itself enveloped us. There were so many intriguing demonstrations that we split up to make the most of our time. While Kathryn and I delved into the historical buildings and colonial lifestyle, Justin and River embarked on a journey of fun and discovery.
Island Farm offered a wealth of hands-on activities, from cooking over an open fire (who can resist popcorn?) to crafting rag dolls, candle dipping, and classic games that kept the kids engaged for hours. It was a refreshing break from screen time, allowing us to slow down, watch the grazing animals, and witness River’s dedicated candle-dipping adventure (30 minutes later, I understood why candles were once so valuable).
If you’re seeking an interactive museum experience that combines learning, fun, and a deep appreciation for history, Island Farm is an absolute must-see. It’s an enriching journey that will stay with you long after you’ve left.
8. The Wright Brothers National Memorial
Outer Banks is most well-known for being the location of the first flight in Kitty Hawk with the Wright Brothers. Our first official stop at the Wright Brothers National Memorial in the Outer Banks did not disappoint. Here, we learned about the Junior Ranger Program and all things mechanical and historical with the first flight. Inside, there is a replica of the first functioning airplane along with various facts set up in a way that is both informative and entertaining.
Outside there was a runway, memorial boulder, and a replica of their camp. But my favorite thing was the giant memorial monument that is at the top of Big Kill Devil Hill which was where the first flight took off. The climb up the hill doesn’t look daunting until you are actually doing it. It is technically ADA friendly, but I, myself, probably needed my wheelchair because my legs were done for the day once I had reached the top. I declared that we were going to build our home up at the top because I was never making the trek down after climbing it. But alas, I did and you are reading this article.
From the base of the monument at the top of Big Kill Devil Hill you can see both sides of the island which is a vista that will take your breath away (if it wasn’t already gone from climbing it). Just behind it is a life-size replica of the first airplane to fly.
While I am not big into aviation as a hobby, the science truly fascinates. I suggest this destination to anyone looking to learn more about the challenges, conditions, and history of the first flight of the Wright Brothers.
9. The Little Red Mailbox of Hope: A Hidden Gem
In my search for off the beaten path destinations in Outer Banks, one that I never expected was The Little Red Mailbox of Hope. It is a place to give and receive words of encouragement and hope in the form of letters, notes, and even journals. Feeling a tug on her heart by the universe, Sue Goodrich placed The Little Red Mailbox of Hope at the top of a beach access Gazebo at milepost 8 on the Virginia Dare trail.
As many of you know, I made the difficult decision to amputate my left leg in an effort to reduce pain from the original motorcycle accident that caused it all. When I first read about The Little Red Mailbox of Hope, it felt like an answer to a question that hadn’t been asked.
After writing a letter of hope and resilience in the journal inside the mailbox, I took a loose letter out. Reading it gave me the courage to continue forward and I will forever cherish it.
Please make this one of your stops whether you need hope or want to give some to a person in need.
looking back on the most unique things to do in outer banks
The Outer Banks, famed for its natural beauty and rich history, beckons travelers to uncover its hidden treasures. Beyond the familiar tourist attractions, there lies a world of enchantment waiting to be explored. Our journey through this coastal paradise introduced us to unique experiences that cater to a range of interests.
When you visit the Outer Banks, leave room for exploration and discovery. Whether you’re a history buff, an adventurer, or a nature enthusiast, you’ll find a hidden gem that resonates with your soul, making your visit an unforgettable and enriching experience.
Have you explored the Outer Banks and uncovered its hidden gems? We’d love to hear about your experiences and discoveries. Share your thoughts and insights in the comments below.