Outer Banks beaches have a very well-deserved reputation for their quality. The sand is soft, the surf can be a bit fickle, but for the most part, it’s pretty tame during our peak summer season. And, perhaps best of all, there’s plenty of room to spread out.
A lot of our beaches are well-known to our visitors, but a few of them may not be quite as familiar to some people, yet these are wonderful beaches and worth a visit.
Not all of the Outer Banks beaches, though, are on the ocean. There are some fantastic places to take a dip in the Outer Banks sounds that are almost always overlooked.
We’ve put together a shortlist of places that do not get quite the recognition as the beaches of say Corolla or Kill Devil Hills but are, we think, a great place to get away from the crowds and have some family time.
One important point to remember—the beaches we’re recommending are not near stores or businesses. Pack a picnic, take some water and enjoy.
Coquina Beach, South Nags Head
We went back and forth on this one because Coquina Beach is fairly well-known and gets a good number of visitors. Part of Cape Hatteras National Seashore, there is plenty of parking, change rooms, showers, and restrooms—powered by wind.
But it is such a wonderful beach and there is so much room to spread out, to not include it just didn’t make sense.
One of the features of Coquina that we really like is there are no buildings anywhere around it…other than the restrooms and showers. To the west and across the highway, Bodie Island Lighthouse soars into the sky, but that is the only building that can be seen.
The beach is backed by a ridge of beautiful dunes covered in beach grass. The sand is wonderfully soft and the beach itself is one of the wider beaches on the Outer Banks.
This is a favorite place to search for beach glass. The most likely reason is that it is not quite as popular or convenient to towns as most Outer Banks beaches are, so there is not as much competition looking for shards of glass from the past.
Pea Island Visitors Center, Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge
The Pea Island Visitors Center has a wonderful trail that circles an impoundment that was at one time part of a hunt club. The impoundment is all that is left. That alone makes it worth a visit.
But the gem of this location may be across Highway 12. The beach is comprised of a beautiful glistening white sand. Although some people do know about it, it is not that well-known, so chances are there will not be very many people there.
Adding to the appeal of the beach, the boiler and smokestack of the Oriental, a Civil War shipwreck, is clearly visible just beyond the surf zone. It looks so close it’s tempting to swim out to it, but crosscurrents and eddies, especially around the wreck make that a dangerous proposition.
An important cautionary note: the parking lot for the Visitors Center is on the west side of Highway 12, meaning you will have to cross the road to get to the beach. There is a crosswalk, but traffic is moving at 50-60 mph through the area.
Jockey’s Ridge State Park, Nags Head
There’s a good chance that for most people, Jockey’s Ridge State Park is this gigantic sand dune where people fly kites or learn to hang glide.
Yes, it is that, but it’s so much more.
The beaches on the soundside are spectacular and, because the waters of Roanoke Sound are shallow and the waves small, they are perfect for families with younger children.
There are two ways to get to the park’s beaches. The beaches, there are really two of them, are separated by a small but dense maritime forest that comes right to the water’s edge.
The Soundside Nature Trail on the south end of the park is the better choice for families with small children. There’s parking available off Soundside Road. There will be a little bit of walking involved no matter which location, but the Soundside Trail offers by far the easiest access to the beach.
The other beach is reached by taking the Tracks in the Sand Trail.
The trail begins at the main parking lot and traverses the park. There is a little bit of shade leaving the parking lot, but after that, there is no shade at all. The trail cuts straight across a series of low-lying dunes. It’s about a half-mile to Roanoke Sound, but the entire trek is across a soft, shifting sand.
Adults should not have any problem with the hike, but little legs are going to find it very difficult.
Both beaches have a wonderful quality to them, suggesting a hidden corner of the Outer Banks. They are not very wide, but certainly wide enough for a beach towel and picnic basket.
Pear Pad Beach, Fort Raleigh, Roanoke Island
There are two wonderful places on Roanoke Island to go swimming in the Croatan Sound.
By the Aquarium there is the Old Swimming Hole with a lifeguard on duty in the summer, a picnic pavilion, and a playground.
Then there’s Pear Pad Beach, at the end of a little known road at Fort Raleigh National Historic Site.
Part of the Outer Banks Group of the National Park Service, it seems the NPS agrees about the quality of the beach and has recently undertaken some nice but subtle improvements.
In choosing Pair Pad over the Old Swimming Hole, there are a couple of things we like about it.
It is somewhat remote, but also, like the beaches at Jockey’s Ridge, the beach is sandy and wide enough for a beach towel and picnic. One thing we particularly like, the waters are fairly shallow, ideal for younger children.
The Old Swimming Hole, as it suggests, is deeper water, although there are shallow areas around the beach.