About the only Outer Banks town that hasn’t lost its small-scale charm, Ocracoke is a great place to spend an afternoon or two, walking or cycling along unpaved back streets lined by overgrown gardens and weathered old homes. Since it’s easy to reach from the mainland, via ferries from Swan Quarter and from Cedar Island, Ocracoke is a popular destination, but the tourism here is so low-key it still feels like a place you can discover for yourself.

The ferries from the mainland south of Ocracoke drop you at the heart of town. Coming in from the north on Hwy-12, you pass through a short strip of real estate agencies and restaurants like Howard’s Pub (252/928-4441), a local institution whose rooftop, ocean-view deck is a very pleasant place to eat deep-fried local seafood and sample one or more of its 200 different beers. Next door is the super-tasty Eduardo’s Tacos stand.

From Hwy-12, a number of small back roads are worth exploring, especially by bike, the best way to get around Ocracoke. These roads include oak-lined Howard Street and another called simply Back Road, which runs past Teach’s Hole, a shop dedicated to the pirate Blackbeard. Just south of the harbor, Point Road runs west to the squat, whitewashed 1823 Ocracoke Lighthouse.

Ocracoke Practicalities

Ocracoke’s small and photogenic harbor is ringed by low-key, low-rise restaurants, bike rental stands, hotels, bars, and B&Bs. Many of the restaurants ringing the Ocracoke harbor morph into bars after dark. All are friendly and informal, and most have some kind of live music during the summer season, making wandering around town a prime visitor activity. Away from the harbor, the Back Porch (110 Back Rd., 252/928-6401) is rated as one of the Outer Banks’ best restaurants.

There are no chain hotels on Ocracoke (which may in itself be reason enough to visit!), and local places are generally down-to-earth, not fancy. The oldest lodging option is Blackbeard’s Lodge (111 Back Rd., 252/928-3421, $61 and up), a rambling old motel across from the Back Porch. Another characterful place is the 100-year-old Island Inn (252/928-4351, $45 and up), near the harbor.

Right across from the ferry landing, there’s a very helpful visitors center (252/928-4531) that has complete information on Ocracoke and the rest of Cape Hatteras. Running between Ocracoke on Cape Hatteras, and two places on the North Carolina mainland (Cedar Island and Swan Quarter), the state-run ferry (800/293-3779, around $15 per car, $30 for an RV) departs approximately every few hours and takes just over 2.5 hours each way.

From Cedar Island, it’s close to an hour’s drive along US-70 to the next big city, Beaufort.