The North Carolina Coast: Places to Explore


Nags Head

It's widely accepted that Nags Head got its name because pirates once tied lanterns around the necks of their horses to lure merchant ships onto the shoals hoping to wreck the vessels and profit from their cargo. Dubious citizenry aside, Nags Head was established in the 1830s and has become a North Carolina tourist haven.

The town—one of the largest on the Outer Banks, yet still with a population of only about 3,000 people—lies between the Atlantic Ocean and Pamlico Sound, along and between U.S. 158 ("the bypass") and Route 12 ("the beach road" or Virginia Dare Trail). Both roads are congested in the high season, and the entire area is commercialized. Many lodgings, whether they're dated cottages, shingled older houses, or sprawling new homes with plenty of bells and whistles, are available through the area's plentiful vacation rentals. Numerous restaurants, motels, hotels, shops, and entertainment opportunities keep the town hopping day and night.

Nags Head has 11 miles of beach with 41 public access points from Route 12, some with paved parking and some with restrooms and showers. It's easy to overlook the flagpoles stationed along many area beaches; but if there's a red flag flying from one of them, it means the water is too rough even for wading. These are not suggestions—ignoring them can mean hefty fines.