Virginia Beach, Myrtle Beach, and Outer Banks are all cities lying on America’s East Coast, each boasting their own unique and beautiful beaches. With differences in these cities’ characters, as well as things to do, no matter what sort of vacation you’re after there’s something for everyone in at least one of these holiday spots.
But which one is the right fit for you?
We know and love all three destinations, so to help you decide, we’ll be comparing all three and then highlighting the best features of each. We’ll look at their beaches, activities, nightlife and vibe, so that you can get the most out of your vacation whichever you choose!
Virginia Beach, Myrtle Beach, or Outer Banks: A Brief Overview
Virginia Beach, situated in Virginia as you may have guessed, is a radiant and lively city with a metropolitan urban vibe at its heart. But it also has lovely beaches and coastal activities for all to enjoy. That makes this city one with plenty of things to do for someone seeking an action-packed holiday. There’s entertainment, bars, sandy waters, and the city itself to explore, making it a popular tourist destination, but also a busy one.
Somewhat similar in atmosphere is Myrtle Beach of South Carolina. With plenty to do both at the beachfront itself and in the form of inland attractions, Myrtle Beach is perhaps slightly less busy than Virginia Beach it terms of tourists, but still offers many things to do and see as a vacation spot. As with all three of these destinations, you won’t be disappointed with the beaches themselves, with many opportunities to swim and play along the 60 mile coastline here.
Last but not least, Outer Banks boasts a staggering 100+ mile stretch of beachfront spanning the barrier islands lining the eastern coast of North Carolina. It is definitely the quietest, most rugged, rural and peaceful of all three options, and therefore will almost certainly provide the most laid-back holiday. Outer Banks has a reputation for being clean and friendly and is an ideal nature holiday. There are plenty of water sports offered across Outer Banks, and the beaches are typically the cleanest, so if you’re after an urban beach vibe rather than a laid-back one, then this beach spot may not be the one for you.
Now that you have a brief overview of each destination, keep reading to find out more about exactly what each city has to offer and what makes it different from the other! We look at beaches and activities first, then nightlife.
Virginia Beach, Myrtle Beach, or Outer Banks: Beaches and Activities
From busy and bustling to purely idyllic and oozing natural beauty – none of these beach destinations will disappoint.
Soft white sand and deep blue waves – that’s nothing new right? But what does make Virginia Beach so special is its 3 mile long famous boardwalk. Instead of traditional planks, this one is made of concrete and lined with quaint street lamps. It has suitably placed benches along it so you can easily soak in the ocean views, and is perfect for biking and walking. As far as boardwalks go it really has it all!
Hosting various events and festivals, the walk makes for an exciting and beautiful atmosphere. We recommend looking out for the 24 foot King Neptune Statue, located at the beachfront of Neptune Festival Park entrance on 31st Street.
The boardwalk and beach are free to visit at all hours of the day, and while that will give you plenty to see and do in itself, Virginia Beach has more to offer yet. If you fancy getting into the water, we suggest heading to Sandbridge Beach to kayak or surf, as other beaches around the area tend to have waters that are too gentle for other activities – albeit those are perfect for swimming and snorkeling.
The Carolina shore where Myrtle Beach lies offers both the stunning beach views you are undoubtedly after, as well as plenty of water sports. These activities range from things like jet skiing and deep-sea fishing, to just relaxing at the beachfront or casting a line from the shore itself.
Inland, the range of activities here will also keep you from boredom easily with the likes of amusement parks such as the Family Kingdom Amusement Park, more than 100 golf courses, and several water parks – there really is something for the whole family. So if you’re looking for a destination that will keep kids busy, then Myrtle Beach may be better than Outer Banks or Virginia beach.
Our personal favorites? The sand here is fairly compact, which makes it a fun place to bike around the area and discover new activities to try out. If you also want to explore deeper under the depths of the azure water’s surface, this is a great place to try out some scuba diving.
With locals strongly valuing cleanliness and nature, many parts of Outer Banks is protected land, only adding further to the sense of calm which encompasses this genuinely picturesque area.
It also has an impressively long expanse of relatively untouched coastline, making it the perfect beach spot for a relaxing vacation immersed in nature. With fewer tourists crowding the area, and no loud kids annoying you with their music, you’ll find just the gentle lapping of waves on the shore.
Furthermore, each of Outer Banks’ beaches offers something slightly different. The waters of Hatteras Island are best known for fishing and sailing, while the Northern shores are better for sports such as surfing and windsurfing as they tend to have slightly larger swell. Of these we love Kitty Hawk, but if you’re just looking for a nice wide beach to settle down on for a whole day, try Nags Head.
Lastly, Outer Banks isn’t called “the graveyard of the Atlantic” for nothing! For a real adventure beyond the surface, you can also snorkel or scuba dive to try and find some of the approximately 3,000 sunken shipwrecks here, or just the sealife in general. One thing to note, regardless of where you choose, is to be careful with the tides and currents. Only some of the beaches will have lifeguards on duty, and even then staffing varies year round.
As for mainland fun, you’ll be able to find horse riding, hang-gliding, and various other sporting activities – just all with a less touristy vibe!
Virginia Beach, Myrtle Beach, or Outer Banks: Which Has Better Nightlife?
If you like to let loose and party ‘til the sun comes up then Virginia Beach is the destination for you. Myrtle Beach comes in second with a still very respectable offering of nightlife options, and as you may have expected, the laid back vibe of Outer Banks has a far less intense clubbing and drinking scene.
Putting it simply, you won’t be disappointed here unless your ideal night is chilling in bed and getting an early night. Pretty much all hotels and restaurants have a bar which is ready to fulfil your heart’s partying desires as night falls. For the highest energy and most memorable night, we would point you to Peabody’s Nightclub. More generally, the Oceanfront district of Virginia Beach will have plenty of options.
Perhaps less of a clubbing and partying scene, Myrtle Beach still likes to get boozy, with the atmosphere ramping up once the sun sets here too. Rather than bopping to hardcore drum and bass, the scene is slightly tamer, favoring pubs and dance clubs but also live music and entertainment. For example, Alabama Theatre and the Carolina Opry are great live performance entertainment options.
This said, Myrtle Beach still knows how to have fun, and is considered a party town by some. in our mind it’s probably the best option if you’re looking for a variety of evening entertainment.
Outer Banks does have nighttime attractions, they just tend to be the tamest of all three destinations. While there are of course local bars in all the towns, evening activities here tend to be much more family-oriented, typically with things such as ghost crabbing – great for all ages – or watching sports.
Other activities include evening kayak tours, where you can watch the sunset and explore the mysterious sea in the dark, or going to the arcade and getting ice cream. It’s just a lot more wholesome, and therefore great for families with young kids.
Virginia Beach, Myrtle Beach, or Outer Banks: Which is the Better Choice?
Given their relative geographical proximity, with all three destinations sitting on the East Coast, they do share the same string of reeds and sandbars. So water sports, activities and great beaches are what they have most in common.
However the busiest most action-packed holiday will be Virginia Beach. If you want to have the option of that bustling metropolitan vibe but also with the beach and its activities, this is the place for you.
If you want a quiet family holiday where you can escape the everyday busy vibe, with less commercialized tourist traps and flashy nightlife, Outer Banks will allow you to soak in the best nature has to offer.
But if you want a bit of both, with varied inland and coastal adventures, but slightly more geared towards a family than Virginia Beach, then we recommend Myrtle Beach with its plethora of entertainment options,.
Therefore, the main differences lie in the vibe you’re after – urban, entertaining, or natural. We hope this helps you to decide!