Ocracoke Island's Unspoiled Beaches
Reachable only by ferry, private plane or boat, this island jewel is rich in unspoiled beauty. Ocracoke can excite sleeping senses in a way more glittering places cannot. You’ll find no franchises or chains here – all establishments are owned by islanders. Expect quaint inns, personable cottages.
Sixteen miles long and slender, Ocracoke is the southernmost of the Outer Banks barrier islands. And the most remote. Only 800 or so hardy souls live here year-round. The population swells in summer, but beach lovers will not be crowded. Ocracoke’s beach spreads wide and free, ready for your footprints.
This is a watery place. Sound, sea, marsh and inlets harbor bountiful marine and bird life. Wild ponies roam. The Atlantic side is protected as part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, and is free of development. Miles of untracked barrier beach makes for lovely, long beach walks. Bring a beach chair, a cooler, perhaps a favorite book. The endless waves, singing songs of forever, rejuvenate.
These Atlantic waters have proved less relaxing for seafarers. More than 500 ships have foundered on the shifting shoals of the Diamond Banks. Stuck fast and pounded by waves, the unfortunate vessels met their watery fate. No wonder the need for a lighthouse. The first one was built in 1725 on nearby Shell Castle Island. The lighthouse, now on the southern end of Ocracoke, still shines forth to warn mariners off the shoals.
The Ocracoke Lighthouse is the second oldest operating light in the U.S. and the oldest lighthouse in North Carolina. When you visit, keep in mind an interesting piece of its history. In 1823, $20,000 was budgeted for the re-building of the lighthouse. Not having heard of cost over-runs, Noah Porter, the frugal builder from Massachusetts, completed the lighthouse and the light keeper’s house for $11,359, way under budget.
The best times for quiet and calm are before Memorial Day and after Labor Day. Un-crowded then, the island is fresh and unhurried.
Exercise your spirit, and body, by getting out on the water. Ride the Wind rents kayaks and offers special tours. Sunrise, sunset and full moon paddles are a perfect way to experience Ocracoke’s magic.
Excite your creativity. Hidden away in the maritime forest are studios and workshops of island artisans. Discovering their wares and chatting with the creative folks who made them is part of Ocracoke’s charm. Visitors often find their own creativity bubbling up. Maybe the herons and sandpipers will inspire the photographer or water colorist inside you?
Walk under a canopy of wind-shaped, ancient oaks trees. Wander down unpaved lanes. Oyster shells crunch underfoot. Time slows. In the quiet off-season, Ocracoke seems untouched by time. No one can find you here. You’ve chosen wisely, what a peaceful place for personal relaxation.
The Lightkeeper’s Guest House provides the perfect place to write a new life. Rent the cupola room high atop the house. Here you can view the lighthouse and harbor.
Chip, the grandson of the original builder, now owns the historic Blackbeard’s Lodge so this 1930’s Ocracoke hotel is now in the hands of an 11th generation Ocracoker.
For more places to nest, consider a cottage. Ocracoke offers unique weekly rentals. Ocracoke Island Realty’s a good place to start. Take a look at Pickled Ocra or Bird’s Eye View cottages. Bird lovers will appreciate the whimsy and location of Marsh Haven cottage. Lie in bed or in a hammock. Bird watch, nap or dream. These three are not too big for solo travelers – and cozy to share with friend, family and loved ones.
To un-knit tense muscles, consider a massage from The Deep Blue Day Spa at the Castle B&B. Facials and Hatha yoga are offered, too. For more royal treatment, book one of the eleven snug, antique-filled rooms at The Castle itself. Hearty breakfasts satisfy salt-water whetted appetites. There’s nearby berthing for boaters.
Be prepared to cook in if you visit January through spring. Most island eateries close during the winter months. Jason’s Restaurant stays open all year and has pizza, pasta, wraps, seafood and sushi on Tuesday nights. Wine and beer, too.An island-favorite, Howard’s Pub and Raw Bar serves up 200 different beers. Toast sunsets from their rooftop deck and people watch from their screened porch. Live music is lively here. Consider yourself fortunate if you’re served by Aunt Blabby who writes a column for the Ocracoke Observer and is the self-proclaimed oldest and most opinionated island server.
Hearty, home-cooked breakfasts are yours at the cozy Pony Island Restaurant. Omelets, hot cakes and biscuits are favorites. Not to be missed are their highly regarded “Pony Potatoes,” smothered in salsa, sour cream and cheese.
Thai Moon offers yummy take-out Thai food for lunch and dinner. Call ahead with your order. (252)928-5100. But bring cash – no credit cards accepted.
Hip little Ocracoke Coffee, offers books to tempt minds, and coffees, smoothies, bagels, pastries and more for tempting taste buds. Whole beans, too. Tucked away on a lane, follow your nose or ask any local. You’ll likely meet other islanders heading for a cup of joe.
Groceries and notions are found at the open-all-year Ocracoke Variety Store. This venerable store is the heartbeat of the island. Advice and bulletin board postings will tune you into island happenings. And bait’s on tap for the fishing fan.
To eat island-style, purchase fresh-from-the-boat seafood from Ocracoke Seafood Co. at Silver Lake. Formed by the Ocracoke Working Watermen’s Association, this is good eating and supports the local fishermen.
Three ferry routes serve the island – free from Cape Hatteras and toll ferries from Swan Quarter or Cedar Island. Reservations (a must during the high season) are made by phone only. Consider a vacation from your car and leave it at the ferry parking lot. Roll your bike or walk aboard. Foot passenger tariff is $1.00 and $3.00 gets you and your bike aboard. Car fares start at $15.00. Go to www.ncferry.org or call 1-800 BY FERRY (293-3779) for more details.
Bike rentals are available on the island. No hills make the island perfect for pedaling. Other non-car options include scooter rentals from the Anchorage Inn. Guests at The Castle can rent electric cars.
When the hardest decision becomes which pretty shell to gather, a sojourn on Ocracoke proves spiritually refreshing. On Ocracoke, one can walk the golden sand and explore possibilities. Timeless and peaceful, this little get-away island awaits. Gulls laugh. Dolphins leap. Time moves differently here. Island time. Your time.
By Patricia Frank
added: December 15, 2008
updated: March 11, 2009
Ideas & What To Do
Renew your spirit and unwind along North Carolina’s Outer Banks,…
For more than 400 years, the most enduring – and endearing…
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and the birds along North…
If your idea of the perfect getaway means feeling the wind in your face…
There’s just something about the coast and a cold one. And…
Reachable only by ferry, private plane or boat, this island jewel is…
When vacationers come to the Outer Banks, the natural tendency is to be…
Once upon a time, the Currituck Sound in northeastern North Carolina…
To the east of the Outer Banks, is Pamlico Sound, a shallow 2,000…
Currituck and Dare Counties are tucked into North Carolina’s…