The Ultimate family vacation guide to Outer Banks, North Carolina

May 10, 2019

The Outer Banks hold such a special place in our families hearts! Not only has my husband's family vacationed there for years, but it's also where my Sister in law Michelle got married in 2018! We spent 6 days at Atlantic Beach this past week, so I wanted to go ahead and put together the ultimate family vacation guide to the Outer Banks to hopefully help some of you who are looking for great vacation spots here in the US!

Things to do

Now anyone that knows me will tell you that I love to stay busy on vacation! I want to explore and do everything a place has to offer whilst on vacation to make the most of my time. This means most of my recommendations are perfect for those of you with children!

Cape Lookout & Shackleford Banks

This was our favorite thing we did whilst on vacation! Drive to Harkers Island to take the ferry to Cape Lookout and Shackleford Banks. Cape Lookout is probably the most distinctive NC Lighthouse thanks to its black and white diamond pattern. Did you know that the pattern isn't just for looks, it actually helps with direction! The center of the black diamonds points in a north-south direction, while the center of the white diamonds points east-west. I highly recommend packing a cooler and spending the morning at Cape Lookout and the afternoon at Shackleford Banks. Shackleford Banks is most known for the wild horses that inhabit the Island. No-one knows how the island came to be populated although rumor has it that they could've been abandoned there as a result of a shipwreck. Currently there are 118 wild horses on the Island that can be spotted along the shore if you're looking. Shackleford Banks also offers some intense hiking and a great shelling experience. I believe they allow you to take 1 gallon of shells per person per trip. You can check out how to book your ferry tickets here: https://www.islandexpressferryservices.com/ferry-transportation/combo-ferry-ride/
 

Pine Knoll Shores Aquarium

You may be tempted to visit the aquarium on a rainy day but try to visit on a dry day. The reason this aquarium is so special is the Marsh Boardwalk. You can walk around outside and look through binoculars to view the beautiful wildlife NC has to offer! They also have a nature play area perfect for little ones that need a crazy half hour runaround like Mason did as well as a Snake exhibit! We even saw turtles and crabs from the Marsh Boardwalk. Head inside to see Sharks, River Otters and even a rare white sea turtle. Divers enter the habitats daily and if you're lucky, you may run into one of them who will answer any questions. Mason was even given a sand tiger shark tooth by a diver there which he was thrilled about! For those like me who are trying to be more environmentally friendly, there is a part of the exhibit dedicated to reducing plastic consumption and they even sell stainless straws in the gift shop. You can learn more about the Aquarium by visiting: http://www.ncaquariums.com/pine-knoll-shores
 

Professor Hacker's Lost Treasure Golf

We did this our last night at the Outer Banks and had an absolute blast. It's an 18 hole putt putt course that starts with a mining train ride to the top of the course. From there you pick either the Diamond or Gold Course (we asked an employee which course was better and she recommended the Diamond course as it has more waterfalls). The Diamond Course features caves, waterfalls and the hardest game of Putt Putt I've ever played! Learn from my mistakes and don't pick a black golf ball to play with as I lost it in the water around hole 8 and we never managed to find it! The water at Lost Treasure Golf is not just for looks, your ball can and will go in the water! They also offer bumper boats, go-karts and a small arcade. Kids must be over 54" to ride unaccompanied. You can read more about them and their other locations here: http://losttreasuregolf.com/miniature-golf-courses/salter-path-mini-golf-course/
 

Things To Eat

I've tried to include a good mix of affordable and high-end places to eat. The main strip in Atlantic Beach has a ton of fast food places for those on the go. We also highly recommend the newly updated Golden Corral for those with big families and/or big eaters! For breakfast, head directly opposite to Cox's!

Rucker John's

Located in Emerald Isle, this was about a 30 minute drive from where we were staying but oh so worth it! We had the Cajun Chicken Penne and Island Chicken with Pineapple Salsa which were both incredible! Definitely order the basket of honey butter croissants for your table! The kids menu is very reasonable and comes with a drink. The Shrimp BLT sandwich also sounded amazing but alas no seafood for me this trip due to being pregnant. I have previously had the Crab Cakes here and can confirm they are delicious. For a little extra fun, head outside where you can buy food to feed the turtles in the stream outside! Rucker John's also offer live music throughout the season, for more details head to their website: https://www.ruckerjohns.com/
 

Ribeyes Steakhouse & The Sanitary

We unfortunately didn't the chance to eat at either of these places this trip but they are top of the list for our next time there! Ribeyes is located in the beautiful historic town of Beaufort and whilst pricy, the food is supposed to be worth every penny! Make sure to head over to The General Store after eating for the most incredible fudge! I recommend the Chocolate Pecan! Salivate over the menu at https://www.ribeyes.com/home-page18252107
 

The Sanitary is a fish market and restaurant that has been around since 1938. Go for the seafood, stay for the amazing complimentary hush puppies! They serve 40,000 pounds of flounder; 75,000 pounds of shrimp; 20,000 pounds of bluefish and mullet; and 10,000 pounds of scallops each year. Located on the waterfront in Morehead City, The Sanitary is not a restaurant to miss for seafood lovers: https://www.sanitaryfishmarket.com/

Happycakes Cupcakery

If you are a lover of the show 'Cupcake Wars', head over to Happycakes who actually won the show back in 2013. No food coloring, no artificial flavors and no day-old cupcakes. Everything is baked fresh daily and they actually have a cupcake schedule which offers seasonal goodies as well as the classics! We tried the Chocolate Indulgence, Chocolate Caramel Cream and Coconut which were all so delicious! Thanks to my lovely Mother in Law, we also have a blackberry streusel pie cupcake en route as I type this which I'm looking forward to immensely! Trust me when I say, these are to die for cupcakes. Check out the cupcake schedule here: https://www.thehappycakescupcakery.com/flavor-schedule
 

AB Ice Cream & Candy Shoppe

Last but not least, we have the AB Ice Cream & Candy Shoppe! We stopped here on our way to shop for the day and were blown away! This may be the creamiest ice cream I've ever eaten! They offer over 40 flavors including Banana pudding, Coconut Chocolate Almond, Chocolate Raspberry Truffle, Orange Blossom and Moose Tracks. We opted for Key Lime Pie, Butter Pecan and Strawberry which were all so yummy and the portions are huge! They also offer a selection of candy and fudge of which I was highly tempted to try the Orange Cream fudge. Read more of their flavors here: https://www.abicecream.com/
 

Honorable mentions we will try next time!