Kitty Hawk, NC
Of all the beach towns on the Northern Outer Banks, Kitty Hawk may have the most-lovely name but it’s one whose roots are lost to time. Some say it’s the Anglicization of the native word chickahauk, for which we have no translation. Others say it’s an antiquated term for a type of goose popular with waterfowl hunters in the late 1800s and early 1900s and with bird netters before that. Could it be that the chickahauk and this mystery goose are one in the same? Maybe, but regardless, Kitty Hawk has a great name and for many Outer Banks visitors, it’s the first town they reach when they arrive on our shores.
In fact, many of our visitors know the name Kitty Hawk in connection with the Wright Brothers, associating this town with the First in Flight stories they remember from history class (even though you know – or will know once you visit – that Kill Devil Hills was the sight of that historic first flight). That’s because Kitty Hawk was the largest town by population on the Outer Banks back when Orville and Wilbur were hanging out, and as such, Kitty Hawk had a telegram station. So when the Wright Brothers sent the telegram announcing their success to the press in Ohio, the telegram came from Kitty Hawk and the reporters ran with it.
Kitty Hawk, bordered to the south by Kill Devil Hills and to the north by Southern Shores, is a mix of residential and rental homes, but the rentals here aren’t the mini-mansions or mega beach houses you’ll find elsewhere on the Outer Banks, but are more modest homes, closer to how the full-time Outer Bankers live than to oceanfront palaces. There are lots of hotels and motels in Kitty Hawk as well as RV-friendly campgrounds, so visitors won’t be left wanting for a place to stay.
This may be the most commercial of the Outer Banks towns, with a Wal-Mart and Home Depot adding to the mix of builders, specialty shops serving new home builds and renovation projects, and others catering to folks who want to move here or spruce up an existing place. Don’t think this means you’ll have a hard time shopping though because Kitty Hawk has a bevy of surf shops, beach stores, and places to pick up an OBX souvenir.
There are a dozen public beach accesses in Kitty Hawk, and more when you add in the private access points at hotels, beachside motels and cottages, and oceanfront rental homes. There are lifeguards and Ocean Rescue patrols on these beaches (see our beach guide for specifics), so you can swim safely. One wooden fishing pier stands on this stretch of beach, but access is limited to guests of the Hilton Garden Inn Outer Banks/Kitty Hawk and to pass-holders (dedicated anglers who prefer this pier over the others).
Kitty Hawk Woods Coastal Reserve and the town’s skate park are two more additions to the “what to do in Kitty Hawk” list. Skateboarders – and the families of kids with a love for sidewalk surfing – are pleased to find this 5,000 square foot ramp, rail, and quarter-pipe filled park. At Kitty Hawk Woods Coastal Reserve there are 1,824 acres of maritime forest preserve. This is one of the largest remaining maritime forests on the Outer Banks, so it provides a look at a unique ecosystem. Here you’ll find wooded dunes and the narrow swales between; patches of deciduous, evergreen, and swampy forest; and soundside marshes and islands to explore. You can hike and bike here, and there are places where you can put your kayak or paddleboard in the Sound for a bit of water-borne fun. Hunters are permitted in the Reserve during hunting season, so wear something bright and exercise caution if you go off-trail. Hunting information is available through the North Carolina Wildlife Commission.
There are some great restaurants in Kitty Hawk. Bad Bean Baja Grill serves up tacos and similar dishes influenced by Latin American, California, and Baja, Mexico’s flavors. Black Pelican Oceanfront Café delivers great seafood and woodfires pizza. The Pony and The Boat Comfort Kitchen has a menu full of local seafood and comfort food selections. TRiO Restaurant and Market serves salad, sandwiches, and sharable plates that pair with their excellent beer and wine selection (from the menu and from the bottle shop). And whether you want sushi, Indian cuisine, a killer breakfast, or anything in between, you can find it among the dozens of restaurants in Kitty Hawk.