Although folks from other states might only associate the Outer Banks with the hit show about fresh-faced teens searching for lost treasure, North Carolinians know it has so much more to offer (not including the impossible “ferry to Raleigh” featured on the show’s first season).
The beloved region consists of four barrier islands, six towns, 12 villages, and several state and national parks. Hosting one of the East Coast’s largest tracts of undeveloped beaches, you won’t find the horizon littered with flashy amusement parks, massive resorts, or hoards of tourists; instead, you get a clear view of the starkly beautiful coastline.
The Instagrammable landscape, local gems, and peace and quiet make the OBX a perfect place to spend a day or two with your bestie, especially if you both consider yourself foodies. The best way to see (and eat) it all is to traverse the gorgeous Outer Banks National Scenic Byway, which stretches over 138 miles by car and 25 more by ferry.
From Whalebone Junction all the way to the west side of North River, you’ll be flanked by the Atlantic Ocean and Pamlico Sound, with natural views, alluring sounds, and great bites around every bend.
We sifted through the scores of restaurants along the route and found the very best (but affordable!) options. Better yet, we broke it up into a full day’s itinerary, so you can spend more time gabbing and sharing music and less time scouring Yelp and plugging addresses into Google Maps (You’re welcome.).
Come with room in your iPhone for snaps of the sunsets and room in your belly for some of the best cuisine around.
Start your journey right (that is, with road trip snacks and caffeine)
Technically, the OBX National Scenic Byway starts at Whalebone Junction, where US 64-264, US 158, and NC 12 all meet in Nags Head.
Before you and your BFF set off, stock up on necessary snacks at the nearby Cahoon’s Market, which boasts a friendly staff, locally grown foods, and a full-service deli. Pick up a couple of local-catch tuna sandwiches to-go ($6.99 each) and some fresh N.C. peanuts and other snacks to munch on in the car.
Then, get your caffeine fix at Waveriders in Pirate’s Quay. A regular old cup of Joe is $2 and a 20-ounce cold brew is only $4. The breakfast menu is simply mouthwatering, so if you want to get a Bruce’s Burrito ($6.50) or a bacon, egg, and cheese bagel ($5.75), we wouldn’t blame you.
Take your cups to-go and sip them at Bodie Island Lighthouse, which is just 10 minutes down the road. Coffee and ocean views: Can you think of a better way to start your day?
Stop off for standard-setting fish tacos or Crabby Patties
After driving through the unmatched and unadulterated Cape Hatteras National Seashore, take a break to have lunch at the award-winning Buxton Munch Company. This groovy restaurant is something of a best-kept secret, but more than a thousand visitors have given it the highest rating on TripAdvisor, where it earned the 2022 Travelers’ Choice Award. If you skim through the many reviews, you’ll see two words repeated over and over: Fish. Tacos.
For $16.99, you can roll four of your own fish tacos. Choose from blackened spicy or Old Bay grilled fish and get all the fixin’s (including homemade salsa and fish taco sauce!). While one reviewer said Buxton Munch Co. is “Always a highlight of our trips to Hatteras and the stand setter for other fish tacos,” another called the dish “divine.”
However, the Crabby Pattie Sandwich ($14.99), which contains a crab cake made of 100% real crabmeat, has also been a local favorite for 24 years.
Liven up the afternoon with a local beer and ice cream
Before you take your second ferry ride of the day, spend a bit of time on Ocracoke Island. It’s the perfect place to enjoy a local snack or beverage! Imbibe on the sky deck at Howard’s Pub, where you can choose from a wide selection of North Carolina brews starting at $5. Then, let your sweet tooth come out at The Fudge & Ice Cream Shop. Share a classic banana split ($6.99) or a scoop of ice cream in a homemade waffle cone ($4.50).
Enjoy your appetizers picnic-style
After driving through the stunning Cedar Island National Wildlife Refuge, order some comfort food from White Point Takeout to enjoy in the great outdoors.
This deep-fried paradise in the tiny community of Atlantic offers clam strips for $4.25, rippers for $2.95, hush puppies for $1.15, and fried apple pie for $1.15. To soak up all that delicious grease, get yourself an iced tea or lemonade for $1.30.
There’s a nice grassy area outside with picnic tables if you’d prefer to indulge right then and there—or you can take your food to the water!
Five-star reviews say this little, local gem is in the “middle of nowhere but delicious,” will give you a “foodgasm” and “is fresh and affordable.”
Grab dinner without denting your bank account
Beaufort is the one-stop shop for some of the best cuisine along the Outer Banks National Scenic Byway. You can take your pick from 100 different local restaurants, but we’ve cherry-picked a few affordable favorites.
Tapas are the perfect way to share a meal with your foodie friend, and Aqua has several options that will make you feel extra bougie—but on a budget! There’s a cheese plate with seared Ashe County just and brulee triple cream brie ($10), fresh poke with local tuna ($9), artichoke hearts garnished with citrus ginger yogurt and feta ($8), duck wings with Asian slaw ($11), and mussels cooked in a coconut saffron broth ($12).
For a slice or two of the best brick-oven pizza the OBX has to offer, head to Black Sheep on the Front Street Boardwalk. You can’t go wrong with anything on the menu, but if you’re feeling adventurous, try the fan-favorite Charcuterie Pie ($19.50).
If you have a hankering for some classic American grub, dine at the popular Clawson’s 1905 Restaurant & Pub. Order a house-smoked pulled pork sandwich for $11.95, an Angus burger for $14.95, or a summer fruit salad for $13.95.
Clutch a cocktail while watching the sun go down over the water
While you’re in the foodie destination of Beaufort, finish off your BFF date with ocean views and a drink or two.
Wash down a delicious churro ($4.99) with a house margarita ($8.99) at Mezcalito Grill & Tequila Bar, enjoy a fruity rum punch ($8) at Rhumbar, or grab a $15 bottle of house wine from ever-cool CRU and head to the beach.
As the sun sets over the water, you might even see wild horses across the way on Carrot Island. It’s the ideal way to end a fun-and-food-filled trip with your pal.
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