Are you mulling over where to spend a beach vacation or weekend getaway this summer? It’s always a top task on my agenda this time of year when we’re battling snowstorms, icy roads, and frigid temps.
Daydreaming about soft sand, warm breezes, and lounging in the sun just come naturally! Sue me! It’s also the perfect time to start planning vacations, like hotels, cottages, and vacation rentals start filling up way ahead of the season.
Two of the most popular East Coast beaches are the Outer Banks in North Carolina and Myrtle Beach in South Carolina. Outer Banks vs Myrtle Beach, which one is the best?
Let the Battle of the Carolinas begin! If you’ve been binge-watching Netflix’s Outer Banks or National Geographic’s Wicked Tuna: Outer Banks, you may be craving the dunes, drifts, and sport fishing the Outer Banks is famous for.
Myrtle Beach is well-known for nightlife, live entertainment, gorgeous golfing greens, and the shag (stop laughing British readers!); a Carolina style of dance known as the swing dance of the South.
So, which Carolina strip of sand is better for you? From the nature, crashing surf, and first-in-flight status of the Outer Banks to the lively nightlife, gentle waves, and top-shelf entertainment of Myrtle Beach, both beaches offer something for the whole crew. It’s just a matter of deciding what you’re into.
Both Outer Banks beach and Myrtle Beach are prime destinations for groups and solo travelers. They’re both ideal for honeymooners, family vacationers, long weekenders, and team member retreats. So, which is better? Outer Banks vs Myrtle Beach? Let’s check it out and see which appeals to you and your crew!
The 175-mile-line barrier islands chain known as the Outer Banks (a.k.a. OBX or “Nags Head”) snakes along sand dunes and long swatches of seashore from Currituck and Southern Shores to Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, and Hatteras before ending at the water. At that point, you can take a ferry to the next point of land at the remote Ocracoke Island.
Albemarle, Currituck, Croatan, and Pamlico Sound, as well as the Alligator River, bordering the west side of the chain. To the north, Virginia Beach is about two hours away.
The closest airports are Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU) and Norfolk International Airport (ORF), near Virginia Beach.
Towns in the Outer Banks, NC
- Southern Shores
- Kitty Hawk
- Kill Devil Hills
- Nags Head
Things to do in Outer Banks
Whether it’s wildlife refuges, national seashores, pirate lore and legends, history or surfing competitions, and kite-flying festivals, there’s a variety of outdoor recreation and unique attractions to enjoy in the Outer Banks.
Wright Brothers National Monument
Kitty Hawk is the site of the first flight of the Wright Brothers’ powered aircraft. Visit the museum, learn about aviation history, and trek up the hill to the monument, which offers amazing views of the surrounding area.
Jockey’s Ridge State Park
“Jockey’s Ridge State Park” by razvan.orendovici is licensed under CC BY 2.0
The massive sand dunes at Jockey’s Ridge State Park are the tallest living sand dunes along the Atlantic coastline and one of the best sunset viewing spots. Not to mention the fun of sliding down the dunes on boogie boards or your own bottom.
You can also take hang-gliding lessons and check out the visitor center.
The Lost Colony Outdoor Drama
Looking for some drama, comedy, romance, and historic entertainment? The Lost Colony performance tells the story of Virginia Dare, the first English child born on American soil, and the 117 people who came to the area.
It takes place on the actual site of Roanoke Island where the real events surrounding the Lost Colony unfolded during the Elizabethan era. First performed in 1937, it’s the longest-running outdoor drama in America. This attraction alone is one of my picks for the most unique experience along the Outer Banks beaches.
Channel those Wicked Tuna vibes and book offshore sportfishing charters.
These world-class fishing trips allow you to try your hand (and arms) at reeling in Mahi, billfish, or yellowfin tuna. Some boats go up to 40 miles offshore to make a complete day of it.
If you prefer to stay closer to land, pack the rod and reel and head to one of several fishing piers: Jennette’s Pier, Avalon Pier, Avon Fishing Pier, Nags Head Fishing Pier, Outer Banks Fishing Pier, or Hatteras Fishing Pier.
When planning a Carolina vacation, you’ll want to consider the unique adventure of wild horse tours, horseback riding, parasailing above the sound, helicopter tours, and ATV dune adventures.
You can even go scuba diving among shipwrecks.
North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island
The North Carolina Aquarium is always a fun day trip. Learn about sea turtles, sharks, stingrays, and jellyfish while getting up-close views.
If you’re a fan of lighthouses like I am, you’ll be in maritime heaven in Outer Banks vs. Myrtle Beach. Nautical beacons include Currituck Beach Lighthouse, Bodie Island Lighthouse, Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse, and Ocracoke Lighthouse.
Need a break from the Outer Banks beaches? Check out activities the whole family can enjoy. Head out to mini-golf, go-karts, bumper boats, a ropes course, or laser tag.
Hotels and Restaurants in Outer Banks
One of the most popular accommodations in the Outer Banks is a private beach cottage rental. Whether oceanfront or between the highways (which refers to being between the main highway of Rt 158 / Croatan Highway and NC 12 / Virginia Dare Trail, or simply the “beach road” as it’s commonly known), these houses are typically on stilts and provide easy access to beautiful beaches.
Choose the calm sound side if you don’t mind driving to the beach. You can technically still walk to the beach, but it’s a commitment.
Book a sound side cottage in a community with access to a pool, fitness center, clubhouse,, and other amenities, or check into a vintage beach cottage with cedar siding, wraparound porch, and floor-to-ceiling windows with unobstructed waterfront views.
Many NC Outer Banks visitors book the same house year after year. Even if you like to switch it up with locations, renting a private house offers the convenience of cooking at “home” after a day on the sand. However, some of us plan our favorite restaurant outings way.
If you’re more of a fan of hotel rooms or don’t want to commit to a full week, there’s that too. The Hilton Garden Inn is right on the water in Kitty Hawk. It has an indoor and outdoor pool, a private pier, an event space, a game room, and a bar.
Shutters on the Banks, located in Kill Devil Hills, is one of my favorites. It’s beachfront with sand dunes separating it from the sand. A fitness center, complimentary continental breakfast, and indoor and outdoor pool exist.
The Ramada Plaza by Wyndham, also on the oceanfront with walkways via a boardwalk, is another favorite family vacation spot. It has a gazebo, an outdoor bar area, an indoor pool, a hot tub, and a restaurant.
Restaurants include an array of casual beach bars, seafood shacks, hot dog stands, and ice cream spots. Here are a few I recommend:
- Basnight’s Lone Cedar Café
- Tortuga’s Lie
- Sooey’s BBQ & Rib Shack
- Rundown Café
- Capt’n Franks Hot Dogs
- Kill Devil’s Frozen Custard & Beach Fries
- Surfin’ Spoon Frozen Yogurt Bar
- Dirty Dick’s Crab House
See Related: Fun & Best Things to Do in Norfolk, Virginia
With the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) on the other, Myrtle Beach extends from north Myrtle Beach south along about 60 miles of coastline (nicknamed the Grand Strand).
This legendary beach has rightfully earned a place in the annals of Americana. The 1989 movie Shag, starring Phoebe Cates, Annabeth Gish, and Bridget Fonda, was set here. The closest airport is Myrtle Beach International Airport (MYR). Hilton Head is about four hours south.
See Related: Virginia Beach vs. Ocean City
Things to Do in Myrtle Beach
What’s there to do in this South Carolina destination? The bigger question is, what’s not to do? Let’s take a look at the entertainment options.
Entertainment, Dining and Attraction Complexes
“Barefoot Landing” by Forsaken Fotos is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Broadway at the Beach and Barefoot Landing entertainment venues feature attractions like Ripley’s Believe it or Not! Aquarium, the Hollywood Wax Museum, escape rooms, mirror mazes, a water park, theaters, ropes courses, and animal experiences such as the T.I.G.E.R.S Preservation Station and an alligator encounter.
Myrtle Beach Boardwalk
Built in 2010, the Myrtle Beach Boardwalk is approximately 1.2 miles long. It extends from 14th Avenue to the 2nd Avenue piers and offers shopping, dining, hotels, amusement parks, water parks, and the 200-foot tall Skywheel.
There are at least 86 golf courses in Myrtle Beach, with some designed by legendary golfers Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, and Robert Trent Jones.
Book heart-pounding parasailing excursions and enjoy jet skiing, or more relaxed kayak tours, dolphin watching cruises, and more.
Music, Comedy and Live Entertainment
Famous for live entertainment and celebrity theaters, the area offers comedy, music, and celebrity impersonator shows at theaters such as The Carolina Opry, Alabama Theatre, the Pirates Voyage Dinner and Show, and many more top venues.
Check out the Elton John Tribute Show, two hours of greatest hits, the Elvis Tribute Show, or a watch the Comedy-Magic Show at the GTS Theatre. The Bowery is a favorite music venue.
Open since 1944, it’s where country group Alabama got their start. Amazingly they were originally the house band from 1973 to 1980!
Hotels and Restaurants
You’ll find more resort-style hotels and condo-type accommodations along the Grand Strand.
The Hilton Myrtle Beach Resort is located right on the beach and has a spa, a restaurant, three swimming pools, and a bar. It’s the perfect choice for easy beach and entertainment access.
The Grand Palms Resort is at Surfside Beach on the southern end of the strip. Found near Broadway at the Beach, it has a spa, a pool and a fitness center.
Book an oceanfront condo right on the boardwalk for easy access to everything. The Caribbean Resort is oceanfront with an indoor and outdoor pool, a lazy river and water slide, game room, fitness center, balconies overlooking the oceanfront, and close proximity to mini and regular golf courses, and more.
Offering a quiet atmosphere while still being near attractions, the Marina Inn at Grande Dunes is about 1.5 miles from the beachfront and has a restaurant, a bar, a spa, and two pools as well as awesome views.
You’ll find it within easy access to Broadway at the Beach, shopping, golf courses, and theaters.
- House of Blues
- Landshark Bar & Grill
- Hard Rock Café
- Senor Frog’s
- Landry’s Seafood
- Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen
Differences Between Myrtle Beach and Outer Banks
Wondering about the differences in either Myrtle Beach or the pristine beaches of NC? Visitors to a vacation in the Outer Banks tend to go for the beach itself.
Wide stretches of sand dunes and natural beauty are the perfect way to spend an entire day in the Outer Banks.
Weather and Water Conditions
The barrier island location of the Outer Banks can have rough waves and strong current (though, at times, it can also lay completely flat – you can blame those wishy-washy Atlantic currents). Myrtle Beach is more likely to have relaxed calm waves due to its shape along the coastline.
The Outer Banks has a jagged rocky coastline, which is the very aspect that gave it the nickname Graveyard of the Atlantic and became a popular pirate hideout. Just ask Edward Teach: a.k.a. Blackbeard.
Hurricane season is an important factor when considering an Outer Banks vacation. The fragile islands are susceptible to intense weather conditions. The Grand Strand doesn’t see as much hurricane action.
Driving on the Beach
The Outer Banks has long stretches of secluded sand where you can drive on the beach (in Corolla and parts of Hatteras Island).
Technically, you could drive to Virginia Beach from Currituck (actually on the sand), but there’s a barrier at the border, so you would be out of luck. You can’t drive on the beach anywhere along South Carolina’s Grand Strand.
Myrtle Beach is more of an entertainment seeker’s paradise with its flashy nightlife, while an Outer Banks vacation appeals to nature and outdoor recreation enthusiasts. You can still find great live entertainment in the Outer Banks – you just have to search a little harder for it.
Like Virginia Beach, Myrtle Beach has an oceanfront boardwalk. The Outer Banks does not have an oceanfront boardwalk.
You’ll have to leave the sand to find concessions and snacks (or bring them with you) in the Outer Banks. There are beach-access roads.
Comparing the two destinations, both have plenty of shopping options, but the Outer Banks is more along the lines of the local surf shop, vintage thrift store, souvenir shop, and bait and tackle stores that sell t-shirts, hats, housewares, and actual bait and tackle.
At Myrtle Beach, you can go to a shopping destination or outlet mall and spend the day. The Outer Banks has one outlet shopping center, and it’s quite small as outlet shopping goes.
See Related: Cheapest Shopping Destinations in the World
Outer Banks is less crowded and congested (though, on weekends during prime season, you will see lots of traffic going into and out of the area).
During the week, traffic slows down as visitors stake out the best piece of sand to spend the day. Myrtle Beach has more general traffic to get to restaurants, shopping, golf courses, and other attractions.
Comparing the two destinations, there are some similarities. Both offer family-oriented activities, restaurants, and attractions as well as ocean swimming, stunning sunsets and sunrises, water sports, and a nice beach. Both have beachfront hotels, cottages, and vacation rentals.
You may be wondering, how far is the Outer Banks from Myrtle Beach? The answer is about a five-hour and 25-minute drive. The Outer Banks to Myrtle Beach is approximately 307 miles. Another popular beach town, Virginia Beach, is about six hours from Myrtle Beach.
Sand and Surf
You can bring your boogie boards, build sandcastles, book fishing charters, and enjoy other family-friendly activities at either destination. Don’t forget the sunscreen because both get fierce sun in the summer.
Neither are strangers to humidity either!
See Related: Best Walking Tours in Charleston, South Carolina
Which beach is better between Outer Banks and Myrtle Beach?
When it comes to the sand and water, these east coast beaches both have positive points. It’s just about what your personal preferences are when choosing between the two towns.
When choosing an Outer Banks beach vs Myrtle Beach vacation, consider whether you’re a nature enthusiast or really love live entertainment.
You’ll enjoy the OBX for its more laid-back style, natural attractions, wild horses, and less of a commercialized atmosphere. If you’re staying along Hatteras Island National Seashore, you can check out ocean sunrises and sound sunsets right from your cottage.
You can rent surfboards, SUPs, kayaks, and more and spend a more secluded and do-it-yourself type of vacation with just the water, sand and sun.
If you crave nonstop entertainment options to accompany your seaside views, head south for comedy, concerts, popular attractions, and name-brand and celebrity-themed restaurants.
See Related: Best Places to Visit in South Carolina
Who Should go and Why?
A vacation in the Outer Banks compared to a vacation in Myrtle Beach means a laid-back destination for sun-seekers, surfers, history buffs, and fans of fresh-from-the-boat seafood.
The Outer Banks is more often chosen as a honeymoon destination due to its relaxed atmosphere, wide beaches, and secluded ambiance. There can be crowded areas, but it’s easy to find a more secluded spot.
Choose the South Carolina beach vacation if you’re an entertainment enthusiast, golfer, or have small kids who may be intimidated by large waves and swells.
Myrtle Beach is more popular with the spring break and beach week crowd than the Outer Banks. If you’re a fan of Virginia Beach, you’ll probably enjoy the Grand Strand.
Additionally, fans of large resorts, golfing greens, oceanfront boardwalks, and lots of lively attractions will prefer South Carolina to the North Carolina town.
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