Looking for a new family vacation tradition? Visit Ocracoke Island, the southernmost village in North Carolina's Outer Banks offering beautiful beaches, small-town charm, and Blackbeard the Pirate lore.
If you head south on N.C. 12 you will pass through Nags Head, and then Hatteras Island. Keep going and you'll reach the Ocracoke ferry, a one-hour expedition across the Pamlico Sound. A new visitor may wonder about the value of leaving the beautiful Hatteras beaches for more travel. But ask any of your fellow-ferry passengers, with cars strapped with bikes, boats, and sunscreen, and they will tell you that a little island paradise awaits.
Ocracoke Island, part of Hyde County, North Carolina, is accessible by ferry from Hatteras Island, Swan Quarter and Cedar Island. While the Hatteras ferry is free, Swan Quarter and Cedar Island have tolls and require reservations.
The ferry ride certainly adds time and details to travel, but it's Ocracoke island's limited access that builds its charm. There are no chain restaurants on the island. There is not a movie theater or mini-golf. Need daily trips to Wal-Mart? Stay in Nags Head.
When you get off the ferry, you will drive through Cape Hatteras National Seashore. plan to stop by Vacation Rentals for a golf cart, or bike or be ready to walk. The streets are filled with vacationers and locals, biking in groups and the few cars drive slowly and carefully.
These days, so many places we visit feel familiar. As in, franchised, branded, repeat, and rinse. Ocracoke advertises itself as "The Cure for the Common Beach." What you find in Ocracoke, is only in Ocracoke.
Ocracoke has one grocery store, The Variety Store. There is one gas station, one ATM, one bookstore, and no salon or spa. You will quickly forget about Chick-Fil-A when you get in line at Eduardo's Food Truck, serving up Mexican seafood famous throughout the Outer Banks.
Pony Island is famous for its breakfast and the Back Porch Restuarant dishes out comfort food and sweet memories around the table. Dajio's is rebuilding after damage from Hurricane Dorian, but when finished, it will resume its reputation as the Ultimate Pizza Pick Up window and unbeatable dining for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Zillie's offers drinks and snacks for lazy evenings in the sunshine after a full day on the beach. Each of the eating establishments is following COVID-19 guidelines, with plenty of seating outside, take-out options, and all employees wearing masks.
But if you have kids in tow, and pack your week's worth of supplies, Ocracoke is also for you. An ideal spot for family vacations, the island has beaches with lifeguards as well as off-road beaches. Drive right onto the beach and set up fishing for the day.
Take little ones sound side for more low-key swimming, shell-collecting, and hermit crab hunting. Have a beachside bonfire and roast s'mores underneath Ocracoke's stellar starry skies.
Or take your boat out into the sound. Stand Up Paddleboards, and kayak rentals are available right on Silver Lake Harbor in the center of Ocracoke Village. Paddle through to the Sound, or enjoy a magnificent sunset on a sailboat cruise.
The Pirate's Chest vacation store sells all the boogie boards, buckets, and special shell wind chimes you could need. Visit Teach's Hole, the Blackbeard museum committed to telling the story of Ocracoke's most famed visitor.
Want to increase your adventure? Take a boat trip over to Portsmouth Island, NC, and explore an abandoned settlement.
The Ocracoke Lighthouse within view from most parts of the island is the oldest operating lighthouse in North Carolina. Operated by the National Park Service, when a ranger is on duty the lighthouse is open for visitors and a must-see for families.
We began visiting Ocracoke as a family just four years ago. It quickly became our own. The line between visitors and locals quickly blurs here, united by love for this quirky, breathtaking spot.
My kids can quickly bike to the one snow cone stand, while passing their grandfather fishing from the pier, catching dinner to eat on the deck after a full day playing in the ocean.
My happiest moments? Always on a beach cruiser meandering around Silver Lake. The sights, smells, and sounds of this tiny town ground me again and again. I like people all sandy and sun-worn. It's us at our best- together and out in the sunshine.
In Ocracoke, the pace is slower, but the days are rich. Whether you want to explore a pirate-filled history or fill your days with sand and saltwater, Ocracoke Island is a treasure worth the trip.