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The Nags Head era of ox-drawn carts transporting baggage from sound-anchored schooners has evaporated into its misty history. But this tenuous strip of land has not lost her edge as a favored haven for outlanders. Just as the hardy Bankers of old sold crabs and fish to those first vacationers, today’s locals carry on the tradition by providing a variety of services to folk seeking solace or adventure by the sea.

Once only accessible by water, this hamlet now sees millions of visitors annually. The year round population of 2,800 soars to a summer population of 40,000. What used to be a one-hotel town now includes a brand new hospital, YMCA, multiple worship centers and a variety of shops, restaurants and accommodations from the charming to the chain. Evening entertainment happens at local restaurants, so check out that section for nightlife.

Ever since the town was incorporated in 1961, the officials have worked to keep the coastal cachet wholesome with the focus on developing a family-oriented community. Many businesses in town are still owned and operated by the families who’ve been running them for years. To keep that old Nags Head building style alive and well, the town has adopted architectural standards. According to its mission statement, the town of Nags Head “takes pride in its clean water, low density of development and abundant open spaces.”

The Nags Head Town Hall is perched in plain view on Highway 158 (called the “Bypass” by us locals) not far from the Outer Banks Mall. In their visionary vein, the town took an unusual step for a modest-sized community and allocated an annual budget of up to $20,000 to oversee the purchase of mostly local fine art and crafts for the municipal offices. The impressive collection has grown since its inception in 1997 to house 100 works (available as a public tour — see our Attractions page) including painting, sculpture and wood, fiber and ceramic art, and the collection is still in progress.

A Nags Head experience offers a blend of the old with the new. Visitors still can revel in timeworn traditions while enjoying a host of modern-day comforts. Whether you concoct a barefooted retreat or an elegant sojourn, you’ll find helpful ingredients within these pages.