Ocracoke Village, on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, is one of the most unique places in the country.
Despite being surrounded by other islands characterized by corporate chains, sprawling resorts and big-money tourism, Ocracoke has remained quiet and slow-paced, due to its physical distance from the mainland — it’s still accessible only by boat — and its proud, centurys-long history of isolation. The beaches are nearly untouched. The fishing is exceptional. And 15 miles of undeveloped island surround the quaint, 4-square-mile village.
To get here, you’ll need to fly into a major airport (RDU and JAX are options), then drive several hours to either Swan Quarter, Cedar Island or Cape Hatteras to take an 45-minute to 3-hour ferry (depending on your starting point).
Here’s where you should eat, drink and play when you arrive:
- Ocracoke Island Realty: First things first: You’re going to need a place to stay. There are some little hotels/motels on the island, but nothing is better than having a cottage to yourself with stunning sound views and — if you choose your spot right — an inlet for canoes to drop into the canals. Ocracoke Island Realty has more than 300 rentals that can house any party from a couple to a family of 16. Off-season dates, such as in May or September can be found for lower rates — and the weather is often still quite beautiful.
Check out Ocracoke Island Realty here.
- Zillie’s Island Pantry: Looking for a great bottle of wine or an great selection of beer? Some rations for a picnic? Or maybe just a couple glasses of rose on a beautiful porch? Zillie’s is your spot. This charming market/ wine bar has it all, from a tempting selection of barware and kitchen trinkets to a great selection of wine and beer. You can purchase cans and bottles individually, in order to try the vast selection of regional brews, or by the six-pack. Beers and wines are also available by the glass and bottle to enjoy on their deck — purchase a cheese and some charcuterie as well, and they’ll provide you with a cutting board and knife to enjoy on the premises.
Check out Zillie’s here.
- Ocracoke Seafood Co.: If you’re like me and you crave ocean-fresh seafood you can prepare yourself, look no further than Ocracoke Seafood Company. This small, quaint fish shop is located on the harbor, with fresh seafood arriving to its back door by boat — don’t be surprised to see a fisherman walk in with a bag full of fresh oysters or clams. Fresh soft shell crabs, a true delicacy that only nature dictates, are typically available in the second week of May. Other oft-available items include shrimp, flounder, tuna, lump crab, clams, oysters and more. None of it has ever seen a freezer. And the service is some of the most personal you’ll find.
Check out Ocracoke Seafood Co. here.
- Ride the Wind surf shop: You can’t truly enjoy the beauty of Ocracoke unless you do so from the water. Ride the Wind provides ample opportunities for that, including surf boards, stand-up paddleboards, kayaks and skim boards. You can rent on site and take off from Silver Lake — the body of water that surrounds the harbor — or have them deliver the rentals to your cottage.
Check out Ride the Wind surf shop here.
- Eduardo’s: The best food on the island comes from a trailer. Yep, Eduardo’s is making a killing, staged in the corner of the Variety Store parking lot. Here, you can snag tacos of all sorts: pork, steak, chorizo and the freshest fish tacos (using the best of the moment, including unlikely suspects such as skin-on bluefish) you’ll find this side of Mexico. The breakfast taco game is strong as well. What else? Burritos, enchiladas, tostadas and more. The stand caters to tourists and includes the likes of lettuce and pico de Gallo on many of its creations, but if you ask for it with only onions and cilantro, you shall receive it as such. The sauces that come with the tacos are also quite tame but a serious habanero hot sauce is available behind the counter if you inquire. There is a modest picnic table area to enjoy your meal on site if you wish.
Check out Eduardo’s Taco Stand here.
- Ocracoke Preservation Society: The history of Ocracoke is fascinating. Settled by early British drifters from Jamestown and Williamsburg, the island remained almost entirely isolated for about 200 years. Because of that, a unique culture was developed, one rife with its own distinct words and dialect — imagine Irish, combined with a North Carolina drawl. Learn all about how Ocracoke came to be, and hear for yourself the unequaled “Brogue” accent through a film.
Check out the Ocracoke Preservation Society here.
- Hit the beaches: Although the rest of the Outer Banks are mere miles away (25+ to be exact), Ocracoke’s beaches feel incredibly distinct. First, there are much fewer people. Secondly, there is no threat of commercial development in sight. The beaches are much more wild than the surrounding islands, offering a greater chance to see wildlife, collect pristine shells and … feel like a true escape. The shoreline is also particular, with sandbars meandering along the coast, creating a weaving affect with deep pools and elongated outlets alongside the raw ‘dunes. The closest beach to the village is a short car ride or long bike ride away.
Check out the beaches, here.
- Teach’s Hole: Did I mention that Blackbeard perished here? Or that his bounty is rumored to be buried on the land nearby? The Teach’s Hole exhibit — a brief, 15-minute excursion, explores the lore of the notorious pirate, who considered Ocracoke a favorite anchorage, and was later beheaded just beyond the island’s shores. Admission is $4 for adults and $3 for children. The real reward of this excursion is the dream of finding Blackbeard’s treasure on a nearby beach yourself.
Check out Teach’s Hole, here.
- 1718 Brewing: One of the newer additions to the island, Ocracoke’s only brewery is built on an area long known as “Teach’s point,” an area Blackbeard is rumored to have settled. 1718 boasts an array of local brews, including unique beers like a Belgian ginger ale, a Mexican chocolate stout and inventive IPAs. An attached operation, Plum Pointe Kitchen, mans a corner of the room and sports noshes like wings, ceviche and grilled sea trout.
Check out 1718 Brewing here.
- Ocracoke Coffee Co. and Island Smoothie: Get two-in-one at this lovely locale, where a big deck and yard, complete with wooden swings, accompanies the frozen and caffeine creations. Order a number of coffee and espresso drinks — the beans are freshly roasted — or sip a smoothie laden with fresh fruits and veggies.
Check out Ocracoke Coffee Co. and Island Smoothie here.
The British Cemetery: In 1942, a British ship assigned to assist the U.S. Navy in anti-submarine patrols was sank by German torpedos off the coast of Ocracoke. The entire crew was lost, but Ocracoke residents were able to pull four of the bodies ashore, and buried them in a small plot. Those graves are still there, surrounded by flowers and beautiful landscaping, under the shade of spindly willow trees. Once a year, on the anniversary of the ship’s May sinking, the British Royal Navy travels all the way to little Ocracoke to honor the place that has so honored its men. Even without seeing the ceremony, the graveyard is a poignant and beautiful scene to observe.
Check out the British Cemetery here.
Dajio: The best patio on the island also has pretty darn good grub. Expect the likes of grilled sea scallops, low country purloo, clam pasta and the blue plate — whatever the freshest fish of the day is, served with a couple sides includes crispy fries or duck-fat roasted potatoes. The brick-and-wood patio is a photo-shoot waiting to happen, rife with winding vines and blooming oleander when the season is right. There’s a mutually-owned, takeout wood-fire pizza joint next door, as well — take a jaunt from your table to order, if you like, and bring it back.
Check out Dajio, here.
The Slushy Stand: Old-school ice cream, at its finest, live at the Slushy stand. With a central location, a stay-and-linger porch on its bow, the Slushy Stand is the perfect capper to an Ocracoke meal. Nothing crazy here — you’ll find the likes of mint chocolate chip, butter pecan and death by chocolate, available in cup, cone, sundae or milkshake form.
Check out the Slushy Stand, here.
Anchorage Marina: If you really want to get a taste for the Ocracoke culture, stop by the Anchorage Marina. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch fishermen hauling their day’s bounty ashore, or perhaps, carving it into ultra-fresh fillets in the little outdoor attached hut. Every May, a fishing competition called Reel Nauti is held there, where onlookers can witness 4-footlong tunas weighed and cheered for by the congregating crowd. Right next door is Smacnally’s, with its outdoor bar and no-frills service. Grab a pint (served in a plastic, complementary Smacnally’s cup), head for the docks and watch the show.
Check out the Anchorage Marina here.