Outer Banks vs. Myrtle Beach: Which is a Better Family Vacation?


When planning an unforgettable family vacation, it can be challenging to choose the best-suited destination. Both the Outer Banks and Myrtle Beach are incredibly popular tourist destinations, and it’s tough to choose between the two locations. So, which iconic coastal hotspot would be the better destination to take your family on vacation?

The Outer Banks is ideal for nature-lovers and relaxed beach vacations. Myrtle Beach is great for families seeking more varied entertainment and activities. Both destinations are excellent for family vacations, and the choice will ultimately depend on your preferences. 

By now, you’ve probably come across plenty of striking imagery and footage of both areas. The Outer Banks and Myrtle Beach are infamous for breathtaking beaches and gloriously golden sands, making them both great choices for family vacations. Join us as we discuss both locations and what you could expect to help you decide which of the two areas would suit your plans and preferences best.

The Outer Banks

Flaunting sparkling waters, an expansive beachfront, and numerous entertainment opportunities, the Outer Banks is extremely popular for families seeking a peaceful and relaxing beach vacation. 

Beaches and coastlines

The Outer Banks is famous for its stunning beaches – some of the finest beaches around the world. Although there are quite a few additional activities for travelers, the beach area defines the entire vacation experience. As a result, the Outer Banks is not as urban as other tourist destinations, as it offers a more traditional beach experience. 

There are no towering buildings or skyscrapers, no built-up waterfront boardwalks. And there’s plenty of room to find a secluded place to park your beach chair along the shoreline. This setting means that sunrises and sunsets are exceptionally beautiful. There are only a few hotels that offer beachfront access, although these can partially block the sun during the afternoon.

The area boasts over 100 miles of serene beaches, spanning from the Virginia state line to Ocracoke. The vastness of the Outer Bank’s beaches means that just about anyone can find a spot that suits them, making it a perfect location for a tranquil and memorable beach vacation. 

Beach access and parking

However, the beaches are not entirely public, and there is a minor access issue due to the hotels that line the beachfront for a few miles. In other places, beaches are protected by the National Park Service to provide habitat for nesting sea turtles and birds. During nesting seasons, these areas of the beach may be off-limits. 

The Southern Shores do not afford public access to the beach, but most other access points commonly offer free parking – either on the beach or next to it. 

Major attractions and activities

Very much in line with an environmental experience, the Outer Banks offers a number of adventurous attractions that allow visitors to get up close and hands-on with nature. 

Nature tours and experiences

Quite a few businesses offer kayak tours, and there are also wild horse tours that focus on the Spanish Mustangs of Corolla. The Outer Banks is a great location for bird watchers as well, as Pea Island National Wildlife Resort affords incredible experiences with migratory waterfowl and numerous unique bird species. 

Fishing and hunting

Cape Hatteras National Seashore offers exceptional fishing and hunting opportunities for visitors. There are also four protected maritime forests with enticing trails along the Outer Banks, making the area a wonderful choice for nature-loving families hoping to hike and explore the great outdoors during their stay. 

Sand dunes, kite flying, and hang gliding 

The Outer Banks area is well-known for Jockey’s Ridge State Park, situated in Nags Head. This state park is one of the most popular attractions for families visiting the area, boasting the highest natural sand dune on the East Coast – one of the best spots for kite flying and hang gliding. 

Music and drama

While the area isn’t urbanized, the Outer Banks has still taken strides to provide modern experiences within natural settings. The Lost Colony is the longest-running outdoor drama location in the United States and is an excellent attraction offering engaging live theater performances and family fun. 

In addition to enthralling local drama and performances, the Outer Banks also offers captivating local music. Various musicians and artists perform as a part of evening entertainment in restaurants and bars from May till September, gifting visitors with harmonious rhythm and lyrical magic. 

The Outer Banks also hosts iconic music festivals, such as the Duck Jazz festival, the Outer Banks Blue Grass festival, as well as a spring and fall Mustang Music festival. Plenty of popular and talented artists perform at these festivals, including some of the most well-known musicians within the designated genres. 

Atmosphere

The Outer Banks area is a serene, tranquil, and laidback beach vacation setting. While there are plenty of activities, entertainment possibilities, and opportunities for hobbyists, there is quite a peaceful ambiance that flows through from shops to shoreline. 

Accessing the area

The Outer Banks is more remote than many other beach areas, another reason why the area boasts such a calm atmosphere. Many people enjoy this characteristic, but it also means that the area is slightly more challenging to reach. A bit of a drive on state highways can get you there without too much trouble, or you can take a ferry ride. Don’t plan to arrive by plane, as there are no major airports close to the Outer Banks.

Myrtle Beach

Myrtle Beach is an iconic destination for fun-loving, entertainment-oriented families, boasting a bustling beach and an overwhelming selection of countless opportunities for activities and amusements of various kinds.

Beaches and coastlines

The beaches are stunning, with pristine waters and glistening sands. However, it can be nearly impossible to find a spot to recline in seclusion since the beaches are often crowded and bustling with activity. In all honesty, Myrtle Beach isn’t the best choice if you want to spend most of your stay sunbathing in peace. 

On a broad scale, Myrtle Beach is better suited to families seeking much more than simple and relaxed beach days. It’s far more urban and modernized, featuring a boardwalk lined with numerous businesses and entertainment opportunities. 

Beach access and parking

Myrtle Beach offers public access to its beaches, making it quite straightforward to find a comfortable spot and settle in for the day. However, this does come at a cost. Parking is typically controlled by the city of Myrtle Beach, monitored through parking meters. The parking fees depend on the location but range from $1.75 – $2 per hour. 

Major attractions and activities

While the beach is an iconic dream destination for many people visiting Myrtle Beach, the area prides itself on providing something for everyone. There are plenty of amenities and possibilities for travelers, irrespective of interest or preference. The area is home to various businesses and stores, which lead right up to the shoreline.  

Broadway at the Beach

Broadway at the Beach is undoubtedly one of the most enticing attractions for those visiting the area, situated in the heart of Myrtle Beach. There are numerous entertainment, dining, and shopping opportunities, providing an endless supply of fun for visitors. These include iconic stores, dining spots, mini-golf, a movie theater, boat rides, nightclubs, karaoke bars, an aquarium, and much more. 

Amusement parks and games

There are at least three unique amusement parks in the area, making it a fantastic choice for families seeking adventure and thrills after a morning of lounging and swimming. There are plenty of arcades and games, ideal for children, teenagers, and even young adults. 

Golf courses

Myrtle Beach is well-known among golfers as well, as its offers an impressive selection of golf courses. There are 80 championship courses along the Grand Strand, and Myrtle Beach hosts numerous golfing events each year – an excellent opportunity for avid golf lovers. 

Atmosphere

Myrtle Beach would be an excellent choice for families seeking an action-packed, fun-filled beach vacation. There is an abundance of activities and entertainment possibilities to keep just about anyone occupied for the entire duration of their holiday. The area is bustling with activity and will be perfect for you if you enjoy a lively and bustling environment. 

Accessing the area

One of the reasons Myrtle Beach is so busy is that it has an airport with regular commercial flights, which makes it easy to reach. Myrtle Beach is a great destination if you want to settle in and get into action as soon as possible. 

However, visitors should be mindful of the condensed population in the area, especially during peak season. Bumper-to-bumper traffic can dampen the overall experience, depending on where you’re staying and the season you’re there. Thankfully, it is not too tough to traverse the area once you’re there, and most attractions or amenities are fairly close to each other.

Family vacation plans

Age range

The Outer Banks is a safe option regardless of the age group, as there are plenty of enjoyable activities for young children, teenagers, young adults, and seniors too. The combination of perfect beaches, fantastic dining opportunities, family-friendly entertainment, and a range of experiences with wildlife can be exceptionally captivating for visitors of all ages. 

Myrtle Beach is a fantastic choice for older children, teenagers, and young adults, as there is an abundance of modern entertainment to keep attention engaged throughout the vacation. But, since Myrtle Beach has such high foot traffic and can be quite loud, it may not be a good choice for babies, toddlers, and seniors. 

Interests

Generally speaking, the Outer Banks is better for those interested in taking a break from technology or who are seeking an environmental and reclusive vacation. While there are basic modern amenities and entertainment options, the area as a whole is fairly traditional and simplistic. 

On the other hand, Myrtle Beach is better for families seeking bright lights and action. It’s possible to find some serene moments, depending on where you’re staying. But, there is always something going on in the area, and it’s usually far more exciting than tranquil.

Budget

If you’re looking for a minimalistic yet enjoyable beach vacation, the Outer Banks is a great choice. With plenty of natural experiences, free parking, and most of the fun being available for free, it’s quite easy to keep the budget down without sacrificing any of the fun. 

Myrtle Beach is a better option if you have a generous budget and want to spend money on activities and experiences. Many of the activities and opportunities cost money – including the parking – especially if you’ve got kids who will want to visit arcades and amusement parks multiple times throughout the vacation. 

Duration of vacation

The amount of time you’ll be spending in your chosen area should play a role in your decision as well. While you may be able to overlook some inconveniences or discomforts for the sake of activities in the area, it’s still something to be mindful of when planning your dream beachside vacation. 

Outer Banks lodging

The Outer Banks may be a more comfortable choice if your family plans to be on vacation for a few weeks to a month. They have quite a few cozy family vacation homes available, which will be much more supportive of a relaxing vacation. The Outer Banks does have some options for weekly visits, but the lodging selection can be limited for shorter trips, depending on the area. 

Myrtle Beach lodging

Myrtle Beach is more tailored to those visiting the area for short to medium trips – around one or two weeks or less. There are mostly hotels and motels, which may become challenging or uncomfortable for families on extended trips. 

Besides, hotel accommodation can become quite pricy over lengthened timeframes. There are some options for longer vacations, such as villas, condos, and beach houses suited to families with varying budgets and preferences. But, the selection will also depend on the specific area in Myrtle Beach. 

Outer Banks or Myrtle Beach? 

Both destinations boast some exceptionally alluring attractions and possibilities, and the choice will ultimately come down to your family’s age range, size, and interests. 

Action-packed beach vacation for adventure-seekers

Myrtle Beach is the best choice for families seeking an abundance of activities and entertainment. There is more than enough fun and opportunity for children, teenagers, and adults, and you will even be able to get in a few beach days when the weather is perfect.

Relaxing beach vacation for nature-lovers

The Outer Banks is ideal for families seeking a relaxed and tranquil experience. Having incredible beach days is quite easy in this area, as there is plenty of room without much crowding. It’s a safe choice for just about any age group, with family-friendly activities, nature-based tours, and much more. 

With so many incredible features and possibilities, it’s understandably challenging to choose between the two. But, choosing the best location for your family vacation doesn’t have to be as complicated as it seems. The truth is that both destinations are excellent for families – it all depends on what you enjoy most, and what you want to get out of your trip. 

Elizabeth Ciobanu

Elizabeth Ciobanu is a full-time (homeschooling!) mom of four, and serial entrepreneur in a variety of enterprises, one of which is producing content for Family Vacation. If free time existed, she would love to spend more time on hobbies.

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