Nags Head, from its earliest beginnings in the 1800’s, has predominately consisted of single family cottages and a few small hotels and cottage courts. Visitors to Nags Head can still enjoy the town’s several historic cottages, which are primarily located across from the town’s most significant landmark, Jockey’s Ridge State Park. The tallest natural sand dune system in the eastern United States, the park offers unparalleled views of Nags Head from its heights.
Right across from Jockey’s Ridge, on Highway 12 you’ll see unpainted, cedar shake beach cottages that encompass the Historic District, and are classic examples of the original architecture that once dotted the Outer Banks. Many of today’s new beach homes borrow from the old Nags Head Style. The town is home to a thriving art community as well, and Gallery Row is another recognized District at the north end of town that harbors treasures of canvas, woodcarvings and so much more.
Plentiful public beach accesses and accompanied parking can be found along the Nags Head oceanfront. Two public fishing piers, the Nags Head Fishing Pier, and the Outer Banks Fishing Pier in South Nags Head provide sweeping access to the copious species of fish that make their home off our sandy coast. Incorporated in 1961, Nags Head has the longest municipal stretch of oceanfront at 11 miles, and with 6.5 square miles within its borders, the town is physically the largest on the Outer Banks. Often the name Nags Head is used loosely to ascribe the Outer Banks region in the national media. Beach driving is allowed during the off-season, with a proper town-issued permit between October 1 and April 30.
Regarding the origin of the town’s colorful name, the legend of Nags Head takes us back to days of piracy, when tales drifted ashore about the wonderful treasures traveling at sea being plundered by “rogue businessmen” like Blackbeard, that one of the original Outer Bankers got the inspiration for the equine moniker. A lantern was tied around the neck of an old gentle horse, then this old “nag” was led up and down the tallest of the sand dunes, so that the light was visible out at sea. As a ship’s captain saw this gently bobbing light, it seemed to be from a ship riding at anchor in a sheltered harbor. As the Captain tried to put in to this “safe” harbor, his ship would pile up on the treacherous shoals that constantly writhed and changed shape beneath the surface. The “land pirates” made the crew walk the plank, looted and burned the hapless ship, and made away with the bounty.
Today, family operated businesses and a small town atmosphere prevail, contributing to a certain charm and a slow, relaxed pace of life. Incorporated in 1961, Nags Head takes pride in its clean water, low density of development, and abundant open spaces. Its 11 miles of oceanfront and 6.5 square miles of area are home to a year round residential population of 2,800. The town is an annual vacation spot for a countless number of families, making it the ideal family beach.