Dare County Mainland
Norfolk International Airport (IATA: ORF)is the closest airport to the Outer Banks, approximately an hour and a half's drive to Kitty Hawk, NC.
Coastal Carolina Regional Airport (IATA: EWN) is another close commercial airport to the Outer Banks with nonstop service to Atlanta, Charlotte and Philadelphia. It will be around a 3 hour drive from the airport to the Outer Banks.
Raleigh-Durham International Airport (IATA: RDU) is a 4 hour drive from the Outer Banks.
From the North, take I-64 in Virginia to exit 291B (US 168-Battlefield Blvd). Merge left onto Rt 168 and continue until road becomes RT. 158 (beyond the NC border). 158 will take you all the way to the beaches, and is the main highway up and down the Outer Banks. Driving from the West use US-64 and 264 through Columbia and Manteo, NC. US 264 becomes 158 once you've reached the Outer Banks beaches. Ferries connect Ocracoke to Cedar Island and Swan Quarter; there is free ferry access across Hatteras Inlet from Ocracoke Island.
The best tip for navigating the Outer Banks is to learn their main roads and milepost system.
There are two main drags on the beaches. State Highway 12 is known as Virginia Dare Trail, or more commonly "the Beach Road". US 158 is known as Croatan Highway, but the locals refer to it as "the Bypass" or "the Big Road". Most advertisements you find will refer to them that way.
The Mileposts are similar to what you find on the interstates. Green signs on the right hand side of the road, marked every half mile. Milepost "0" is at the Wright Memorial Bridge on the north end in Kitty Hawk. Head south on the Bypass or Beach Road and the Mileposts get higher with Milepost (MP) 16 at Whalebone Junction being the end of the 'main drag'.
If you're out with children, be warned that the large souvenir shops (Wings, Reef, etc.) are R-rated. If you don't mind exposing your children to jokey portrayals of heavy drinking, semi-nudity, stylized gore, and death's heads, then by all means bring them inside to pick out some colorful beach toys. But be ready for questions about the purpose of the smoking paraphernalia that may be on display beside the cash register. If you want pirate kitsch or Rebel flag merchandise, this is the place to be. Each of the giant shops has numerous locations up and down Croatan Highway (the "Bypass" or "Big Road").
Many places, including "Wings", make t-shirts, sweatshirts, and long sleeve shirts with a logo or picture you can choose from that are posted all over the walls.
The Outer Banks is chock full of great places to eat. In season, most restaurants are open and the choices are virtually unlimited. Off season, many of the local eateries close down or limit their hours. If you are traveling in the off/shoulder season, expect the restaurant and shopping choices to be a bit more limited than during peak season.
A few great places to try:
For breakfast, burgers and hometown lunch specials, try Art's Place, open 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. at MP (Mile Post) 2.5 on the Beach Road. Lunch specials daily, kids' menu and full ABC license. Nice front porch and upper deck where you can enjoy a drink or chow down on their huge all-beef burgers. Their ad says: "Art's Place -- Food so good you'll think we stole your mom!" They aren't kidding.
For dinner and a view, try The Black Pelican at MP 4.5 on the Beach Road. Stone oven pizzas, fresh seafood, steaks, nightly specials and drinks. The building is an old lifesaving station said to be haunted. Large dining room means you never have to wait hours for a seat.
If straight-out oysters and seafood is what you're after, Awful Arthur's Raw Bar on the Beach Road at MP 6 is your best bet. The only authentic raw bar on the beach, the food is great, the atmosphere is Outer Banks casual and when you're done stuffing your face full of oysters, you can skip right across the street to the Avalon Pier to see what they're catching.
Of course, there are many nice restaurants to sit and have a great dinner. Others to consider for their food, atmosphere, locations and overall popularity include: Jolly Roger (MP 7 Beach Road), serving Outer Banks Italian; JK's (MP 9 Bypass), serving seafood/steaks and more; Mako Mike's (MP 7 Bypass), serving steak/seafood. Check out the live shark tank; kids love it!
Take advantage of the local bars and restaurants on the island that not only offer good food but a great experience. While you eat you can hear about storms that ripped through the coast and learn other fun facts about the island from friendly waitors and waitresses.
If your group is tempted to go out for breakfast, note that Stack 'Em High on Croatan Highway has a peculiar method of having guests queue up to order, causing the line to extend out the door and creating the false impression of a long wait. You will get your food in a hurry, but make sure your whole group arrives at the same time; otherwise the latecomers will be told to push through to join the earlier arrivals, which may not make the other guests entirely happy. You pay at the end of the queue, take your loaded tray to a table, eat, and exit through the back door, which expels you onto a narrow walkway beside the building's buried septic tanks. (Despite all this, the place has many regulars who claim to love it.) The servers are friendly and helpful, especially considering the cattle-herding ambience of the place; they refill your coffee and such, and tips are appreciated. Another Croatan Highway joint, Bob's Café, lives by the motto "Eat and Get the Hell Out!" What more is there to say?
Howard's Pub on Ocracoke Island offers an extensive exotic beer list with an even more impressive of draft beer selection. The food isn't bad either. If you're on Ocracoke looking for a good affordable meal, try Jason's, across from Howard's Pub. The alfredo (the best I've ever had) and cheddar tomato soup are to die for.
There are many different types of accommodations in the Outer Banks.