Duck Is the Tiny Outer Banks Town You Have to Visit Now

The charming waterfront village will make you feel right at home.  

Duck Beach
Photo: Outer Banks Visitors Bureau

If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it's probably a duck. At least that's what the leaders of the Outer Banks's northernmost community must have been thinking when deciding on a name for their newly incorporated town in 2002. At the time, duck hunting was big time in the bordering Currituck and Albemare Sounds. The abundance of waterfowl in the area gave inspiration for the town's unusual name, and Duck has stuck ever since.

Fewer than 1,000 people call Duck home year-round, but tourism numbers can multiply the population by 20 once summer hits. Even so, the barrier island is dedicated to maintaining its small-town charm and tight-knit community feel. Because it's surrounded by water on both sides—the Atlantic Ocean on the east and the Currituck Sound on the west—you get the all the serenity of being tucked away on a secluded island. You also get gorgeous views of the water no matter which way you turn.

If you want to know what it's like to boast an OBX zip code, Duck is the place to do it. Time isn't of the essence in Duck, and that's its allure. Savor a slow morning, go for a sunrise walk on the beach, or spend an hour watching the birds fly over the marsh. When you're ready to explore, start at the Duck Boardwalk.

The one-mile boardwalk runs alongside the Currituck Sound and is a great place to meet locals and get a feel for town. The wooden walkway is often speckled with joggers and kayakers on their way to drop in at one of many convenient launches along the path. Wildlife enthusiasts will love strolling the boardwalk to see all kinds of land and sea critters, from sea turtles to osprey.

Where to Shop in Duck

Locally owned shops, boutiques, galleries, and restaurants are situated all along the boardwalk. The Waterfront Shops, as they're known, offer something for everyone. At Ducks' Cottage Downtown Books, pair a hot drink (like the house favorite Coconut Crunch Coffee) and flaky pastry with a newly purchased beach read. The store offers a small but mighty collection of books. Once you've made your decisions, enjoy them both on the cozy front porch.

Chic but comfortable coastal attire can be found at locally owned shops like Amity Boutique, Barr-EE Station, Gray's Outer Banks Lifestyle Clothing, and Islands, as well as at outposts of national retailers like Untucked and Lilly Pulitzer. Kids will love picking a treat or two from Candy & Corks, while parents will appreciate the store's selection of wines, including many fermented locally. Art enthusiasts can head to SeaDragon Gallery, where you'll find everything from artisan jewelry and nautical-themed prints to locally made fiber and wood bird carvings. Pass through SeaDragon's custom-built archway into sister store Yellowhouse Gallery, another purveyor of fine American craft, art, and photography.

Duck NC boardwalk walking

What to Do in Duck

While you're in the area, explore more of Duck's sound side at Duck Town Park, an 11-acre park with an open greenspace and several miles of walking trails running through maritime forest and willow swamp. Other amenities include picnic pavilions, a playground, dedicated fishing and crabbing areas, kayak launches, boat slips, and an amphitheater that hosts regular live music and performances.

The sound's warm, shallow waters make it an appealing place for families to hang out. Protection from rough ocean waves also makes the sound ideal for a number of water activities like standup paddle boarding, kayaking, and canoeing. Rent equipment for any of the three—plus bikes, beach equipment, and even golf carts—at Duck Village Outfitters. The Currituck Sound is also a hotspot for crabbing. You can catch giant blue crab right off the dock with nothing but a little fishing cord, tasty bait, and a net. Find everything you need for a successful crabbing session at Bob's Bait & Tackle.

Sunsets are truly spectacular over the sound. For a one-of-a-kind experience, make reservations for the Sanctuary Vineyard Voyages. The excursion begins at the Duck boardwalk where guests catch a boat ride across the sound to Sanctuary Vineyards in nearby Jarvisburg. Once on land, they'll climb onto a 4x4 safari truck for an adventurous ride across the marsh and agriculture fields of Sanctuary Vineyards. The family-owned businesses's farmland dates to the 1800s. The cherry on top of an incredible experience is an in-depth tour of the winery followed by a private wine tasting.

When you've had your fill of the sound, switch gears and head east to the sea. With seven miles of pristine sandy shores, a perfect beach day is an easy ask. After a long day reading, relaxing, or otherwise bumming around in the sun, you'll have your pick of restaurants to refuel for your next adventure. If you've had a successful day of fishing, grilling your own fresh catch is a worthy pursuit. Once night falls, grab a flashlight and follow the sound of the waves back to the beach for a different type of crabbing. This time, you'll need quick hands and a keen eye to spot and snag ghost crabs as they scurry across the white sand.

Red Sky Cafe_Duck NC OBX
Outer Banks Visitors Bureau

Where to Eat in Duck

There's no denying Duck is a small town, but when it comes to dining, it certainly doesn't feel that way. With more than 40 restaurants, bars, and cafes scattered along the island, you'll have more than your fair share of options to choose from—even if you decide to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner out on each day of your stay. For a fully loaded biscuit sandwich, Treehouse Coffee Company is your spot. The Chicken Apple & Brie Biscuit is a year-round favorite. Outer Bean Café is also a great spot for toasts, bagels, acai bowls, and smoothies. At Coastal Cravings, you can grab a great meal any time of day from a full-service restaurant located in a converted Burger King. At dinner, start your meal with the famous Duck Wontons, served with creole lobster sauce and North Carolina smoked sausage. From there you can't go wrong with a fresh seafood platter, especially when you're that close to the water. For an upscale dinner featuring the best of Coastal Carolina's bounty with gorgeous views of the water, look no further than The Blue Point. Their BackBar overlooking the sound is a popular spot for cocktails and live music. At local favorite Red Sky Cafe, try the pan-seared scallops with Parmesan risotto. For a casual lunch, check out Duck Duck Burgers, Cookshack Fried Chicken, or Coastal Cravings' sister restaurant Coastal Cantina. And of course, you can't leave Duck without a sampling of the legendary one-bite, hot cake donuts at Duck Donuts. The tiny treats come with a variety of special flavors and toppings like the fan-favorite Bacon in the Sun, dressed with maple icing, chopped bacon, and salted caramel drizzle, and the Peanut Butter Paradise with peanut butter icing and chocolate drizzle.

Sanderling Resort

Where to Stay in Duck

One of Duck's best qualities is an uncanny ability to make its visitors feel right at home. A lot of that has to do with the huge variety of vacation rental homes in the area. From well-equipped waterfront homes large enough for multiple families or multigenerational groups, to smaller cottages tucked into Duck's friendly residential streets, there's something for everyone. Check rental sites like Twiddy & Company and Southern Shores Realty to browse your options. The crown jewel of accommodations in Duck is Sanderling Resort, a AAA Four Diamond seaside retreat known for its classic Outer Banks architecture, excellent restaurants, and world-class amenities. The main resort features 120 rooms, each with their own private decks. There are also five vacation rental homes on property. Even those who don't choose to stay at Sanderling can't resist coming by for a treatment at the spa, meal at Kimball's Kitchen, or surf lesson at the resort's private beach.

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