Kitty Hawk is a beach town in North Carolina known as the heart of the Outer Banks. The surrounding towns include Kill Devil Hills, Nags Head, Southern Shores and Duck.
Visitors can reach Kitty Hawk through US 158, crossing the Wright Memorial Bridge. The bridge is a direct connection to the town. Visitors staying in the northern and southern parts of Kitty Hawk OBX can also access the town through NC Highway 12.
The town of Kitty Hawk is a picturesque haven for touristy activities. There are many things to do, with lots of accommodation options and various places to eat. The town has an old school community of around 3,500 full-time residents, but it gets thousands of visitors per year.
Tourists visiting the Outer Banks of North Carolina love stopping over at Kitty Hawk. There are many hotel options to choose from, including high-end options and small family motels with decades of history behind them. Although many visitors often choose to stay at cottages and vacation rental houses.
The town owes its popularity to its designation as the birthplace of aviation for a long time (until Kill Devil Hills became a town). Many people hear about the town during discussions about the origins of air travel, but visitors quickly realize that there’s more to the place.
Kitty Hawks is busiest in the summer months when tourists flock to the warm waters. However, many businesses in the town are open all year round.
Popular Things to Do in Kitty Hawk
Visit the Pristine Beaches
The ocean is a major reason for Kitty Hawk’s popularity amongst vacationers and why the locals call it home. There are around a dozen public beach accesses in the town with multiple private access points across hotels, oceanfront rental homes, and beachside motels and cottages.
Kitty Hawk beaches are safe to swim as there are many lifeguards and Ocean Rescue patrols. Fishing on a pier is a bit more difficult as there’s just one wooden fishing pier across the entire stretch of beach. You need to be a guest at the Hilton Garden Inn or hold a dedicated angling pass for the pier.
The sound side parts of Kitty Hawk are a golfer’s dream. There’s plenty of shaded natural landscaping, with two dedicated courses.
The Duck Woods County Club and the Sea Scape Golf Links both offer 18 holes, with 6,589 and 6,131 yards of play, respectively. The courses properly utilize the natural setting to create a serene but challenging golfing experience.
Enjoy Biking and Skating
Kitty Hawk’s topography makes it a great location for biking. The Pruitt Multi-Use Trail along Kitty Hawk Road and Woods Road is a popular bike path. You can bring a bike along for your trip, but there are many bike rental spots across the town. You’ll also need helmets for riders and passengers younger than 16.
The Pruitt Multi-Use Trail is also great for in-line skating, but the dedicated Skate Park on Kitty Hawk Road is better. The park is well-kept, but there is no supervision. Visitors skate at their own risk, and you’ll need to bring pads and helmets to gain access.
Visit the Kitty Hawk Woods Reserve
Kitty Hawk Woods Reserve is a shrub swamp, maritime forest, and marsh covering more than 1,824 acres. Kitty Hawk, NC, owns 461 acres as a part of their conservation easement from the state. You can find a wide array of wildlife in the woods.
Commonly sighted fauna include raccoons, gray foxes, white-tailed deer, muskrat, river otter, hawks, herons, egrets, and wrens. There’s also a wide selection of reptiles and amphibians.
It’s worth noting you can only hike through the woods during the day.
Enjoy the Food and Nightlife
The restaurants and hotels across Kitty Hawk all offer a rich menu and excellent nighttime entertainment.
Kitty Hawk restaurants offer some of the deepest levels of food variation you’ll see in any OBX town including: Specialty Seafood, BBQ, Asian Cuisine, Italian and more!
A good number of the local restaurants also double as music venues. Locals and tourists come together after dinner to enjoy performances from many professional musicians.
Whatever your food and entertainment choices, you’re sure to find the perfect service in some of the various outlets across the town.
What Makes Kitty Hawk Unique?
The charming, windswept town of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, is unique due to the beachfront cottages and numerous mom-and-pop motels scattered across the shore. It’s not as flashy as some neighboring towns, including Duck and Nags Head, but it retains a distinctive appeal.
The average-sized rental houses are a nice change from the oversized mansions (a.k.a. mini hotels) across other OBX towns. Many visitors love the yesteryear feel to the landscape as the size and type of properties give off a 1960-1970s charm.
However, the fact that Kitty Hawk looks like the OBX from the 1960s doesn’t make it any less conducive for touristy activities. You can still find many top-end resort hotels in the area, with many excellent restaurants dotting the landscape.
There are also more shopping spots (retail, grocery stores, and boutiques) in Kitty Hawk than nearby towns. You can find everything from classic cafes and grills to the most popular chain restaurants and big-box stores. The beach is the place to be for local flavors, while the Wright Memorial Bridge is the commercial fare spot.
The variety on offer makes Kitty Hawk the perfect blend of classic and new. It’s the ideal place if you only have one shot at exploring the Outer Banks towns. It has all the best bits of the other towns and its own unique flavor.
RV campers love Kitty Hawk because there is a campground and two RV parks.
There are several events scheduled in the town across the year. These include tasting events, art festivals, marathon races, etc.
If you love fishing Kitty Hawk’s unique position along the OBX makes it one of the best spots for fishing in the area. Its proximity to the Currituck Sound makes it a perfect place to fish for saltwater and freshwater species. The sound’s low salinity gives both types of fish the ideal environment to thrive.
Anglers can expect to catch various species here, including catfish, drum, blue crabs, and trout. However, Kitty Hawk sound waters always deliver new surprise species after every bout of heavy rainfall.
The old Kitty Hawk village is the Outer Banks community to visit if you want a feel of the years gone by. It doesn’t quite have that heavy surge of development across similar beach towns. It’s also far removed from the modern-day rush.
The sand dunes and surf shops bring a lot of foot traffic to the area. However, the relaxed older Outer Banks appeal has made it home to many locals and a regular hub of holiday activity.
According to modern archaeologists, Kitty Hawk had a local population for centuries before European explorers found the region in the 1500s.
There’s strong evidence of local tribes living toward the western edge of the current Wright Memorial Bridge and the modern-day Southern Shore. Evidence of native occupation also exists near Shallbank Point in Kitty Hawk Woods.
The locals in the area around the 1700s named the town “Chickahawk” or “Chickehauk.” However, it’s unclear how the name transformed into “Kitty Hawk.” Some local historians state that it’s likely connected to a Native American name for a region known for geese hunting like “Killy honk” or “Killy honker.” The old name first appeared on a 1738 map.
Even after discovery, Kitty Hawk did not see the arrival of many settlers as was the case in other places across the North Carolina mainland. However, some early New World residents set up a home in the area. Some maps from the 1800s highlighted the presence of a schoolhouse, residences, privately-owned plantations, and small businesses serving the community.
The arrival of the Wright Brothers in 1900 brought the region into the limelight. They stayed for three years while working on their flight experiments. The historic first flight on December 17th, 1903, launched from the dunes of what is now Kill Devil Hills, but it was Kitty Hawk at the time.
Therefore, the region lost its under-the-radar reputation as it made headlines. However, the newfound popularity was short-lived. The region went under the radar again until 1910-1920, when lumber businesses came to the area to harvest wood.
Tourism started to blossom in the region following the construction of the first Wright Memorial Bridge in the 1930s, connecting the town to the mainland. Years of multiple Wright Memorial Bridge renovations and the increasing number of people looking for idyllic vacation spots have made Kitty Hawk a popular Outer Banks vacation destination.