Check out our list of the best things to do in Nags Head. Head west to the Nags Head Woods for a series of rustic trails that wind through the maritime forest and eventually lead to the Albemarle Sound. The Tracks in the Sand Trail at Jockey's Ridge State Park is a well-paced 1.5 mile trail that crosses the dunes en route to the sound and back, while the park's 1 mile… (More)
Learn about the history, geography, population, and area claims to fame with this list of fun facts and trivia. Though just one town, Nags Head is often referred to as two different communities - "Nags Head" and "South Nags Head." South Nags Head begins at the end of US Highway 158, and comprises of a small community of vacation homes that are located 1-5 lots away from the beach. … (More)
The Outer Banks has a national reputation as being the premier family friendly vacation destination, so it should come as no surprise that Nags Head, arguably the first tourist town on the OBX, has a wealth of activities designed just for kids. Check out any of these local or close-by attractions and activities to keep young ones entertained.… (More)
The occasional rainy day doesn't have to stall a vacation, as Nags Head has number of shops, restaurants and sites, and is within an easy drive of some of the most acclaimed attractions on the Outer Banks. Check out these close-to-home activities and essential OBX "must sees" the next time a little rain dampens a day at the beach. … (More)
The modern-day Bodie Island region from Nags Head to Oregon Inlet is sparsely developed, but nevertheless a popular destination for nature lovers and anglers alike. Visitors will find the following activities, attractions and amenities just miles away from the town borders of Nags Head, and all close to the distinguished Bodie Island Lighthouse.… (More)
From Nags Head and its surrounding Roanoke Island, Bodie Island, and Hatteras Island regions, mariners can explore multiple saltwater sounds, the open ocean waters, and even the Gulf Stream. Boating is big in the Banks, and there are several regional public access ramps that are within a 15-20 minute drive for Nags Head vacationers. These include the following… (More)
In Nags Head, anglers will have their choice of public pedestrian beaches, 4WD beaches, three fishing piers, and the Albemarle and Roanoke Sound waters. The combination of options has contributed to the town's legacy as a historically popular destination for anglers from all across the East Coast.… (More)
The following Nags Head rules, regulations, and general guidelines will ensure that visitors enjoy an effortlessly breezy day in this classic vacation town. Dogs are allowed on the beach year-round in Nags Head, provided they are leashed. Use caution bringing pets to the beach in the summer, as in the middle of the day, the sand can be too hot for a dog's tender paws.… (More)
Nags Head has a relatively short but rich history that dates back to its first roots as a vacation destination. Popular with elite plantation owners and later wealthy northerners and adventurous fishermen, the town has never lost its distinction as one of the best beach towns on the coast.… (More)
Nags Head real estate tends to be both pricier and in higher demand than other regions of the central Outer and Inner Banks, thanks to the town's limited area, miles of beaches, and longstanding notoriety as one of the best beach destinations along the coast. … (More)
The Bodie Island Lighthouse, (pronounced "Body") is located just south of the town of Nags Head and Whalebone Junction, where Highway 158, Highway 64, and NC Highway 12 intersect. Visitors travelling towards Hatteras Island can't help but notice the black and white horizontal striped structure, peaking out over a line of dense cedar trees on the soundside.… (More)
Jennette's Pier is one of the longest running attractions on the Outer Banks, although seasoned vacationers would have trouble recognizing the original 1939 structure. After taking a severe battering by Hurricane Isabel in 2003, the pier was revitalized into the modern structure it is today, with a fantastic on-site educational center, seasonal programs for visitors of all ages, and of course, some pretty spectacular fishing off the 1,000' foot long pier.… (More)
Jockey's Ridge State Park is an unmistakable landmark for Nags Head vacationers and virtually everyone passing through along the main beach bypass, US 158. This park is marked by its towering sand dunes, which reach 80' - 100' feet tall and look more at home in a vast dessert than in a coastal beach town. These dues are barren, and made up of nothing but Outer Banks sand, providing an incredible playground for hang gliders, sand boarders, and anyone who doesn't mind a long hike and some incredible island-spanning views.… (More)
The Roanoke Sound separates the central Outer Banks from Roanoke Island, and offers a wide watery playground to explore for Nags Head and Manteo visitors. Known for its exceptional saltwater fishing, its miles of safe terrain for jet skis, parasailers and kiteboarders, and its completely fantastic views that span across islands, the Roanoke Sound is one of the most visited bodies of water for central Outer Banks vacationers.… (More)
Every visitor who comes to Hatteras or Ocracoke Islands from the north will encounter Oregon Inlet. Separating the small barrier islands of the southern Outer Banks from Bodie Island and the northern Outer Banks communities of Nags Head, Kill Devil Hills, Kitty Hawk and Manteo, Oregon Inlet is arguably the most visited and traversed inlet on the islands.… (More)
A quintessential beach vacation destination, and the Outer Banks' first unofficial "tourist colony," Nags Head remains one of the most beloved regions by generations of OBX visitors.
About the Area
Established as a very remote tourist getaway in the 1830s, Nags Head remains popular with modern visitors, thanks to miles of gorgeous beaches, plenty of cool attractions, restaurants and shopping options, and one of the most acclaimed NC State Parks in the Outer Banks, the Jockey's Ridge State Park
Visitors here have their choice of lounging on the beach, checking out the handful of local shopping centers, exploring the quieter Albemarle Soundside, or hanging out at a local Beach Road pub, just for starters. The town also features a golf course, three fishing piers -including the notable Jennette's Pier - and plenty of outdoor entertainment on and off the water.
With plenty of vacation rentals that range from early 1900s cottages to modern vacation homes, and an assortment of classic one-story local motels and high rise national chains, the local accommodations, like everything else in Nags Head, can appease virtually any vacationer.
An inherent "small town" with neighborhoods that range from the quiet oceanfront communities of South Nags Head to the commercially developed Beach Bypass that is lined with fast food restaurants and entertainment, Nags Head has a landscape that changes with every passing mile.
A Quick Overview of Nags Head
Nags Head is unique in that it boasts a very diverse collection of neighborhoods that are typically hopping in the summer months and noticeably quieter in the winter.
The most developed areas are found alongside US Highway 158, where shoppers will find the original "Outer Banks Mall," several chain grocery stores, the Tanger Outlets, and a collection of fast food restaurants which comprise the locally coined "Fast Food Alley."
Both US Highway 158, aka the "Beach Bypass," and NC Highway 12, aka the "Beach Road," run through the main section of Nags Head. The Beach Road, when it runs parallel to US 158, is also well-developed, with a handful of local gift shops, motels and hotels, and restaurants that are located just a block at most away from the oceanfront.
That being said, the landscape changes dramatically the further south one goes, and just past the intersection of NC Highway 12, Highway 64, and US 158, Nags Head narrows into a small selection of rental homes that are isolated and not to close to any commercial development.
South Nags Head also borders the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, as well as several ORV ramps and the Bodie Island Lighthouse, making it a solid destination for visitors who like to be isolated, but want to be a quick drive away from the big beach attractions.
The soundside, or western side of US 158, is also distinctively different, with rental homes that border the Albemarle Sound, elite golf-course bordering communities at the Village at Nags Head, and a handful of year-round residences.
The good news is that regardless of where a visitor stays, they'll be within a 2-10 minute drive of shopping centers, grocery stores, gas stations, and some of the most acclaimed restaurants in the Outer Banks, as well as a gorgeous section of shoreline.
With such a variance of neighborhoods, it's an easy task for visitors to find a secluded retreat that's surrounded by nothing but open terrain and other vacation homes, or an oceanfront hotel room that's within walking distance of a half dozen Beach Road restaurants.
How did the area get its name?
Like neighboring Kill Devil Hills, Nags Head's odd moniker can be traced back to a mixture of history and local legends. The prevailing story among locals is that the name was coined from a lantern that was tied around a horse's, or a nag's head. The nag was then walked along the famed Jockey's Ridge or along the beach, but the reason for this act is arguably the root of the name's controversy.
Some say this was an intentional trick by pirates or ambitious locals to lure passing ships to the shore where they would surely be run aground and plundered, but a gentler version of the story suggests that this happened so that a local "Banker" could help a ship that was dangerously close to the darkened barrier island change its course.
Another version of the story circumvents this legend altogether, and simply suggests that the name came from a small band of shipwrecked sailors who happened to come from an English town of the same name.
Regardless, the name of Nags Head and the accompanying and not-as-flattering pirate legend was picked up by a Harper's New Monthly Magazine writer in the mid-1800s, and the moniker and the story has stuck ever since. The name became official in 1961, when the town was incorporated.