Claudia has been traveling to the Outer Banks of North Carolina for over 20 years.
Almost every year, my family packs up the car and heads to the beach. More specifically, we head to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Over the years, we've stayed at towns along the coast including Salvo, Avon, Waves, and our favorite place of all—Ocracoke Island.
Ocracoke is a charming, small island down at the southern point of the Outer Banks. The only way to get to it is via ferry, which adds to its charm.
Like me, most visitors are beach-lovers and enjoy nothing more than laying out on the sand from sunup to sundown for days at a time. We beach devotees plan our weeks around the weather forecast, hoping that if there is any rain, it will come at night so as not to disturb our beach time.
But not everyone wants to hang out at the beach.
For some, the sun is too strong. Others don't like the feel of sand between their toes. And some just don't want to sit and stare at the waves. They want to see the sights.
Luckily, Ocracoke Island has loads of things to keep you busy if you don't want to, or can't, hang out at the beach all day. Here, in no particular order of preference, are my top ten, with a few more ideas thrown in.
1. Kayak on Silver Lake (Ocracoke Harbor)
Ocracoke surrounds Silver Lake, which is actually a harbor. Businesses and boats line the shore around it. To get a different view of the town, rent a kayak and paddle around. You'll see the lighthouse, beautiful sailboats and a little bit of the natural beauty of the area.
You still get the water, but you aren't sitting on the beach.
2. Take a Ghost Walk Tour
Ocracoke has a long, haunted history and there are locals whose families have lived on the island for generations who enjoy telling you about it.
The walking tour we took lasted about 2 hours and led us through the side streets, pointing out haunted sites, while teaching us some of the more interesting history of the island. A ghost tour is an evening well spent.
3. Sail Into the Sunset on a Cruise
For those of you who don't like the sandy beach but still want to be on the water, a cruise may be the answer. There are a number of options available on Ocracoke. Over the years, we've done a dolphin tour on a flat-bottom skimmer and a sunset sailboat cruise. Both were well worth the cost, offering different views of the sea surrounding the island.
On a good night, the sunset views from the boat are stunning as the pelicans glide by in the distance.
For something a little different, try a day cruise to Portsmouth Island. It's pretty rustic, so before you go, I suggest doing some research to decide if it's right for you.
4. Ride a Bike Around the Island
If you can, bring your bicycle, but don't worry if you forget it. There are a number of places that offer rentals, and biking is definitely the way to go when touring the island.
One of the things we like best about visiting is that we can get around the entire place on a bike. There are plenty of small neighborhoods and historic side streets to explore, and there is always something new to be found.
My favorite time of day to ride around is in the early morning when the sun is coming up and many visitors are still asleep. It's quiet, the streets are empty, and some of the local wildlife is active. It's also cooler, which is a perk on hot summer days.
5. Go Shopping
No matter where I am, I love to go shopping, and Ocracoke offers plenty of it for everyone. From kitschy beach souvenirs to upscale art, fashion, and jewelry, you'll find it all. For a small island, there are a surprising number of stores. Don't forget to check out all of the stores on the side streets. Some are easy to miss, but you won't want to.
What's nice is that the stores are all easy to get to by foot or bike. Most provide parking, but it is scarce and the island can get pretty busy during the day.
6. Check Out the Local Museum
Next to the main parking lot is the Ocracoke Preservation Society museum. Housed in an old home, the museum is full of local history, including remnants of local shipwrecks, examples of the shells that can be found in the area, and stories of the area. Local historians host talks in the museum garden, and the gift shop offers all sorts of island related items.
Across the street from the museum is the National Seashore Visitor's Center, where you can find information on the entire coast of the Outer Banks.
7. Visit the Lighthouse
Unfortunately, you can't climb the Ocracoke Lighthouse, but there are times when the base of it is open, and it makes for an interesting visit.
It's also a terrific subject for some stunning pictures.
8. Go Hiking on the Hammock Hills Trail
It's hard to believe, but there really is a hiking trail on the island. Granted, it's not very long, and there isn't much, if any, elevation to speak of. It's a mostly wooded trail that winds its way through pine trees and a marshy area. At the halfway point, it leads to a boardwalk overlooking the sound side of the island.
What we really like is that is always empty. It's across from the park service campground, so it's away from the village and there's parking available if you don't want to ride your bike the few miles it takes to get there.
Note: Be warned that it's pretty buggy, but it's off the beaten path and a great way to see some of the local vegetation and wildlife.
Don't forget to stop by the Ocracoke Ponies on the way. These local ponies are descendants of ponies that were, according to local lore, survivors of shipwrecks. They are kept in a large area and taken care of by the National Park Service.
9. Follow in the Footsteps of Blackbeard at Springer's Point and Teach's Hole
Ocracoke Island's claim to fame is its pirate lore. Pirates favored the island because the inlet provided a place to stay while they waited for ships to crash along the treacherous coastline. The most famous of these pirates was Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard.
Springer's Point, now a nature preserve where the visitor walks among some of the oldest trees on the island, was a favorite place for pirates on the island.
While on the trail, you pass by an old cemetery—which has its own interesting history—and end up at the shoreline where you can see Teach's hole, the infamous place where Blackbeard was killed.
10. Enjoy the Vibrant Restaurant Scene
If your ideal beach vacation is sitting in a local establishment drinking an icy cold beverage and enjoying the local seafood, then Ocracoke has you covered.
Whether it's sitting by the water listening to local music, or hanging out at one of the local pubs, you can easily spend a day or more visiting the area restaurants and bars.
In Case You Still Aren't Sure What to Do
If you are looking for a few more ideas during your visit, check out this list.
Horseback riding on the beach
Technically you are on the beach, but you are on a horse, not laying out in the sun.
Visit the British Cemetery
This is the final resting place for 4 British servicemen who died when their boat was sunk by a German submarine off the coast during WWII. The small area of land is considered British soil, but is maintained by the United States Coast Guard.
Treat yourself to a spa day
There are quite a few spas on the island, offering all sorts of relaxing amenities.
If four wheels is more your thing, then take a four-wheel drive tour of Portsmouth Island.
Take a walk
The island really isn't that big, so go for a walk. There are all kinds of old back streets and cut throughs that are fun to explore.
Did You Find Something to Do?
Hopefully you've gotten some good ideas if you are planning to visit Ocracoke. The area has so much to offer besides the exquisite beach.
It's a beautiful place to visit.
I'd Love To Hear From You
© 2018 Claudia Mitchell
Claudia Mitchell (author) on June 25, 2020:
Thanks. Glad you liked the article.
JennyMoon on June 21, 2020:
Claudia, this is the best and truest take on Ocracoke I have seen online in a while. Many online articles about Ocracoke having glaring inaccuracies, or promise things our little village doesn't actually deliver, or pretend the mosquitoes and biting flies don't exist. I can tell you have actually been here and that you care. Great observations and writing. Can we be friends?!!!
Al Caudullo on October 29, 2019:
Great article Claudia. Ive been to Ocracoke twice, last time being in March of 2018. How severe was hurricane Dorian on the island. I heard it was pretty bad.
Claudia Mitchell (author) on August 21, 2019:
Sounds like fun. Wish I was in Ocracoke right now!
Dave j on August 21, 2019:
Actually as im tying this, im sitting in Avon,NC... were getting ready to head down the island and catch the ferry over to ocracoke... last year we adopted a pony thru there ocracoke program... were going to see if we can find her.. then hitting Howards Pub, is a family tradition.... the views from the ferry ride are stunning as is the island itself...
Claudia Mitchell (author) on August 08, 2018:
I appreciate it Peggy. I've visited other beaches and sometimes have no idea what else there is to do.
Claudia Mitchell (author) on August 08, 2018:
Thanks Linda - I like learning about new places too. You ought to make a trip out to the East coast and check out the island.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on August 06, 2018:
Thanks for showcasing so many options of ways to spend time if not going to the beach in that area. It can make a vacation even more memorable by experiencing a variety of things such as those you featured.
Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on August 03, 2018:
I enjoyed learning about the island very much. It's fun to learn about a place that I'll likely never visit by reading an article like this and looking at the photos. Thanks for sharing the information.
Claudia Mitchell (author) on August 03, 2018:
Thanks Liz. Sometimes it's hard to decide what to do on those non-beach days. Glad you liked the article.
Liz Westwood from UK on August 03, 2018:
This gives some great ideas for things do do other than the beach. My husband gets bored easily so we often alternate beach days with other activities such as sight seeing.