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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, where they would be wrecked and pilfered for profit. Dubious citizenry aside, Nags Head was established in the 1830s and has become an iconic North Carolina tourist haven.

The town—one of the largest on the Outer Banks even though it has fewer than 3,000 residents—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, many with wheelchair access, 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 is dangerous and carries hefty fines.

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