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.

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 and exhibit ($4 for exhibit only) dedicated to the pirate Blackbeard. Just south of the harbor, Point Road runs west to the squat whitewashed 1823 Ocracoke Lighthouse.

Ocracoke Practicalities

The ferries from the mainland south of Ocracoke drop you at the heart of town, but 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 pleasant place to eat deep-fried local seafood and sample one or more of its 200-plus beers. A few doors down is the super-tasty Eduardo’s Tacos stand. First stop for those coming from the south, 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.

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 hotel with modern amenities.

Right across from the ferry landing, there’s a 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 RVs) departs approximately every few hours and takes just over 2.5 hours to get to Swan Quarter and 2 hours and 15 minutes to get to Cedar Island.

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