Welcome to Ocracoke Island, a treasured destination known for its lighthouse, beaches, history, and distinctive culture. Nestled on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, Ocracoke provides a getaway like no other. The adventure begins the moment you embark on one of the ferries that grace its shores, setting the stage for a weekend filled with magical moments and enthralling experiences. Here is your ultimate guide to spending your weekend on this captivating island.
Begin your Ocracoke experience with a visit to the historic Ocracoke Lighthouse. Brimming with history and radiating with charm, this white sentinel of the island is one of the oldest operating lighthouses in the entire United States. Constructed in 1823, the lighthouse has continuously served as a beacon guiding thousands of mariners in the treacherous waters of the Pamlico Sound.
Standing at 65 feet of height, the lighthouse may not be the tallest, but it’s certainly packed full of character. Painted a brilliant white, the lighthouse stands out against the clear Carolina blue sky. Towering above the charming village houses and the surrounding lush greenery, this lighthouse evidences the maritime history that’s so deeply embedded into the fabric of Ocracoke Island.
While the lighthouse itself isn’t open for climbing the ground premises provide ample opportunities to delve into the island’s rich past. You can take leisurely walks around the area, capturing pictures, or simply revel in the tranquil ambiance that the site gracefully presents.
After completing your morning exploration of Ocracoke Lighthouse, there’s no better way to celebrate your first adventure on the island than by making a lunch stop at Ocracoke’s famous Howard’s Pub. Located on Irvin Garrish Highway, the pub is a cherished institution with its welcoming staff, lively atmosphere and rich history dating back to its establishment in 1979.
Howard’s Pub is a culinary haven treasured by locals and tourists alike, offering a diverse menu to cater to different tastes. As soon as you step inside, you’re greeted by a rustic interior adorned with number plates, ceiling fans, and memorabilia from around the world, instantly exuding an inviting down-home atmosphere.
Try their impressive crab cakes. Served perfectly golden brown, these cakes brim with lump crab meat, a delicate balance of flavors, and a texture that dissolves satisfyingly in your mouth.
Drinks at Howard’s Pub are not to be overlooked either. With a variety of beverages – from soft drinks, craft beers, to bottles of fine wine, the pub guarantees to quench your thirst.
Following a delicious lunch at Howard’s Pub, prepare to spend your time on one of the U.S.’s Top Beaches, known for its exceptional beauty, these beaches are a 16-mile stretch of gleaming white sand, azure waters, and panoramic vistas that encapsulate the very essence of coastal serenity.
As part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, these pristine beaches are not just expanses of sand, but a testament to the natural preservation efforts of the community. Uninterrupted by commercial establishments and untouched by urban development, Ocracoke’s beaches invite you into their tranquil sanctuary, cocooned away from the bustle of the modern world.
For action-oriented visitors, the thrill of surfing on the Ocracoke waves is a must-have experience. The dynamic Atlantic Ocean provides excellent conditions for surfers of all abilities, from beginners to seasoned veterans. The thrill of riding an ocean wave, with the salty spray in your hair and the cool wind on your face, is an adrenaline-rush unlike any other.
If you’re in a mood for more leisurely activities, beachcombing is an enjoyable pastime. Scattered across the sand, shells of different shapes, colors, and sizes are yours to discover. Slowly ambling across the sandy sweep, with the sound of waves providing a rhythmic background score, hunting for these sea-carved treasures becomes as much a meditative exercise as it is an adventurous one.
Of course, the time-tested pleasure of simply sunbathing on the warm sand is always an option. Armed with a good book, a refreshing drink, and adequate sun protection, you can peacefully recline under the wide expanse of the Carolina-blue sky, as the sun gently toasts the world under its honeyed glow. The melodic chorus of the sea, combined with the periodic calls of seabirds, becomes a lullaby to lull you into a restful afternoon snooze.
As you wrap up your afternoon and the sun dips lower in the sky, don’t miss the opportunity to witness the beguiling spectacle of a beach sunset. The sky, a canvas of colors, gracefully dims the day, while the sea takes on an array of shimmering hues, marking a magnificent conclusion to your day on the beaches of Ocracoke Island.
There’s no better way to round off your day of explorations and beach fun than by treating your senses at SmacNally’s Raw Bar and Grill. Nestled right by the waterfront, this vibrant spot serves up delectable fare with a side of stunning landscapes, delivering an experience you won’t want to miss while visiting Ocracoke.
SmacNally’s is more than just a restaurant—it’s an immersive experience. As you walk up, the delicate scent of the Silver Lake and the sound of gently lapping waves intertwine with the tantalizing aroma of cooking food, immediately stimulating your senses. There’s a unique combination of high-spirited energy and laid-back island vibes that makes the restaurant instantly welcoming, its lively music and infectious laughter serving as a vibrant soundtrack to your dining experience.
Their menu primarily emphasizes fresh, local seafood. Every mouthful demonstrates the restaurant’s commitment to delivering the freshest catch of the day. You can select from a variety of specially curated dishes that showcase the diverse culinary bounty of the waters surrounding the island, creating a gastronomic delight for seafood lovers. Enjoy your chosen delicacy paired with one of their fine wine selections or craft beers, further elevating your dining experience.
Beyond seafood, SmacNally’s also serves some of the best burgers on the island. Juicy, perfectly cooked patties nestled in fresh buns, paired with crisp, golden fries, are sure to satisfy the cravings of those preferring a land-based meal. Vegetarians can also find a selection of refreshing salads and veggie burgers designed to make sure no one misses out.
But what truly sets SmacNally’s apart is its location and ambiance. Tucked away on the edge of the Silver Lake Harbor, the restaurant offers panoramic views of the waterfront. The best time to make your visit is at sunset, when the skies over Ocracoke begin to shimmer with a golden hue, painting the harbor in soft, warm colors. As the sun casts its final glory onto the waters, the dancing reflections provide a remarkable backdrop for your dining experience.
As daybreaks and your Ocracoke Island adventure continues, escaping the confines of the ordinary to marvel at the natural wonder of Springer’s Point Preserve is the ideal plan. This 120-acre reserve is a cornucopia of ecological and historical treasures, immaculately preserved and generously shared with locals and tourists who are eager for a reprieve from fast-paced living.
Begin your visit by meandering through the extensive, well-maintained network of walking trails created for your enjoyment and exploration. Each step takes you deeper into the verdant surroundings– from the striking live oaks draped in Spanish moss to maritime forests, airy saltmarshes, and dense thickets, creating a captivating tableau of terrestrial Flora. With every gentle rustle of the wind, the forests seem to whisper secrets and tell tales of the island’s history.
While staying vigilant for terrestrial creatures, be on the lookout for the extraordinary diversity of avian life that calls this preserve home. Owls, herons, egrets, ospreys, and songbirds are just a few of the winged species that frequent the area, often nesting serenely among the live oaks. The melodious and varied birdsongs serve as a motley choir set against the backdrop of foliage rustling in the breeze. Polished trail signs and observation areas throughout the preserve provide excellent opportunities to safely observe and photograph rare migratory birds as they pass through Ocracoke Island.
Springer’s Point Preserve isn’t just confined to land— it also features a small, enchanting sandy beach. Snaking your way through the trails to this secluded stretch of shoreline rewards you with tranquil sights and sounds of the lapping waves. Breathe in the reviving salt-tinted air as you allow your eyes to wander over the watery vista, creating an idyllic setting for reflection.
Among the natural splendors, history continues to make its presence felt in this pastoral haven. Explore the resting place of Sam Jones, one of the island’s most enigmatic legends, and the reputed landfall of the free-spirited pirate Blackbeard. Let your imagination take you on a journey through time, where stories of high-seas pillaging and daring exploits lend whispers of excitement to the breeze.
After spending the morning basking in the tranquility and natural beauty of Springer’s Point Preserve, your next stop is the Ocracoke Coffee Co. to perk up your senses. This charming little café, nestled in the heart of Ocracoke Village, offers a warm, welcoming atmosphere and is the perfect retreat to recharge your energy and indulge in a coffee lover’s paradise.
The Ocracoke Coffee Co. prides itself on serving organic, fair-trade coffee sourced from sustainable and ethical sources. As soon as you enter, the rich, irresistible aroma of fresh coffee beans fills the air, transporting you to a world where the passion for quality caffeine pulsates through every corner. Take your time in choosing one of their vast selections, from mellow Americanos to robust espressos, creamy lattes to velvety cappuccinos. These meticulously crafted beverages are expertly prepared by their friendly and knowledgeable baristas, ensuring that each sip delivers a taste sensation that warms your soul and rejuvenates your senses.
Complementing their splendid coffee offerings, the menu boasts an assortment of delightful homemade baked goods that promise to send your taste buds on an adventure. Pair your coffee with a delicious scone, croissant, or bagel, freshly prepared on the premises each day. The harmony between the tender crumb of a pastry and the comforting flavors of a well-executed coffee transcends ordinary café fare and enters the realm of culinary artistry.
This intimate establishment also provides both cozy indoor seating and relaxing outdoor spaces to complement your café experience. Choose to revel in the rustic interior adorned with homey decorations while you lose yourself in the aroma of freshly brewed coffee and the gentle murmur of patrons’ lively conversations. Alternatively, you may prefer to savor your beverage outside, soaking up the delightful small-town ambience of Ocracoke Island while admiring the lush greenery that surrounds the café.
Your journey through the heart of Ocracoke Island leads you next to the unassuming British Cemetery – a humbling testament to bravery and honor that transcends international borders.
Field flowers and well-tended grass encompass a few gravestones that stand straight in a neat row, binding forever the resting places of four men who lost their lives far from home during World War II. These soldiers were part of the British Convoy which helped keep vital supply lines to the US open and were tragically torpedoed off the coast of Ocracoke.
While the cemetery is small, the weight of history and respect it commands is substantial. A yearly ceremony continues to honor these brave souls, underscoring the eternal friendship between the United States and the United Kingdom. It is a poignant reminder of human devotion, courage, and shared history, making every visitor pause and reflect.
Just a short journey from the solemnity of the British Cemetery, the spirited Ocracoke ponies graze peacefully in their large, protected pasture. These ponies are believed to be the descendants of horses that survived shipwrecks on sandbars, eventually making their way to shore.
Unlike other horses, these ponies have a unique physicality – five lumbar vertebrae and seventeen pairs of ribs, a feature characteristic of only Spanish breed horses. They stand as living symbols of the rugged coastal wilderness of Ocracoke and the indomitable spirit of survival.
Tales of these ponies span centuries, adding a touch of enchantment to their existence. Make sure you stop by the Ocracoke Pony Pen run by National Park Service, where spotting these magnificent creatures often becomes a cherished memory.
Cap off the day with an immersive experience amidst nature at Hammock Hills Nature Trail. A hidden gem of Ocracoke Island, this mile-long looping track beckons with lush vegetation, diverse desolate beaches, and a mix of maritime terrain.
As you traverse the winding path, informational placards provide insight into the diverse flora and fauna that call the island home. From large live oak trees to abundant sea grasses, the trail is a treasure trove of natural beauty.
The mix of terrains – from forests to marshlands, make each turn a surprise for explorers. Providing stunning views of Pamlico sound and salt marshes, the trail offers several spots perfect for photo ops and serenity breaks.
Let the final notes of your day in Ocracoke Island envelop you in gourmet delights as you indulge in a dining experience at Dajio, one of the Island’s crown culinary jewels.
Dajio is renowned for its creative culinary prowess and an unwavering commitment to quality that is reflected in every scratch-made dish they produce. The moment you step through their doors, you’ll be warmly enveloped into an elegant yet relaxed atmosphere, a perfect blend of charm and sophistication that redefines your notion of an island dining experience.
There is no better testament to this than Dajio’s celebrated catch of the day. Sourced from the morning’s local fish market, the team hand-selects the freshest seafood for this spotlight dish. Expertly prepared by Dajio’s gifted chefs, the catch of the day served is not just a meal, but an experience that celebrates the unique flavors of Ocracoke’s marine landscape. Whether grilled, blackened, fried, or baked, each morsel imparts a taste of the ocean’s essence and highlights the exceptional skill and creativity that forms the backbone of Dajio’s culinary offerings.
As you indulge your senses, take in the refined ambiance of Dajio. Light-infused interiors of modern inspired, coastal design set a relaxed and warmly welcoming tone. The dining room exudes a sense of understated elegance complimented by comfortable seating and tasteful decor, providing a pleasant contrast to the day’s outdoor adventures.
Indicative of the Ocracoke’s rich history and unique local culture, the charming gift shops that dot the island are as much a part of its personality as the sandy beaches and rugged dunes. From quaint shops nestled in historic buildings to vibrant, modern storefronts, each shop gives you the opportunity to discover something distinctly Ocracoke. These island treasures offer everything from beautifully crafted artisan jewelry, locally made crafts, and exquisite pottery, to a mixture of sea-inspired items, such as lighthouse replicas and intricate shell mosaics. Delving deeper into these shops, you may also find a plethora of charming souvenirs—including postcards, key rings, mugs, T-shirts, and more—that echo the quaintness of Ocracoke. Several gift-shops boast an impressive collection of jams, honey, and even delightful cookbooks, capturing the warm island hospitality. A visit to these stores unravels an array of thoughtful keepsakes and gifts, presenting a small slice of island life that you can carry with you, long after your Ocracoke adventure concludes.
An island experience awaits you at Jason’s Restaurant, a gem of Ocracoke that has charmed both locals and visitors with its exceptional dining for years. This family-owned and operated establishment offers a warm, welcoming atmosphere where genuinely hospitable service is as celebrated as the delectable cuisine. The menu at Jason’s Restaurant showcases a rich variety of dishes, each thoughtfully prepared with high-quality, fresh ingredients. Known for their succulent seafood plates, the restaurant masterfully infuses classic American fare with Ocracoke’s local coastal flavors. Every meal, whether it’s the sought-after crab cakes, the beloved pizza, or one of their divine homemade desserts, promises a delightful culinary experience. Coupled with a comfortable and casual dining environment that embodies the easy-going spirit of the island, Jason’s Restaurant stands as a beacon of Ocracoke’s vibrant food scene, providing an enriching dining adventure that endearingly captures the essence of this charming locale.
Take a memorable journey through the waters of Ocracoke aboard the Schooner Windfall II, a beautifully crafted sailboat steeped in the maritime heritage of the area. Unfurling the vista of the island from a different perspective, this guided sailboat tour promises an invigorating blend of captivating views, maritime history, and the serene sway of the water.
Your adventure begins at Silver Lake Harbor, the heart of Ocracoke. The local crew warmly welcomes you onto the Windfall II, a stunning traditional schooner that immediately evokes images of seafaring tales of old. Her sails billow elegantly in the coastal wind, and the vessel carries a tangible aura of maritime elegance and strength.
As the Windfall II gently departs from the harbor, the knowledgeable crew members begin to share fascinating insights about the area’s rich seafaring history, the construction and life of the schooner, and tales of infamous pirates who once navigated the same waters. Their narratives enliven your journey and plant you firmly into the heart of the region’s engrossing past.
Beyond the historical insights, a Windfall II tour is truly about the journey and the idyllic views it bestows. As your sailboat glides into Silver Lake Harbor and beyond, you’ll be captivated by a 360-degree view of the shoreline, peppered with quaint island cottages and undulating marshlands. The gentle sea breeze, the sun warming your skin, and the rhythmic pulse of the boat against the water create a symphony of sensations that exude tranquillity.
As you traverse the water, savor the restful luxury of your surroundings. Whether you’re lounging on the deck, watching the horizon unfold, or engaging in lively conversations with the crew and fellow passengers, every moment aboard the Windfall II brims with the kind of leisure and discovery that travel memories are made of.
From the calm waters to the stunning landscapes and the occasional glimpse of dolphins at play, taking a guided sailboat tour of Silver Lake Harbor via Schooner Windfall II is an experience that’s both relaxing and deeply enriching. As you step off the boat at the journey’s end, you’ll leave with a multitude of lasting memories and a deeper connection to the heart of Ocracoke.
As your adventure on Ocracoke Island draws to a close, celebrate the rich impressions you’ve gathered along the way by indulging in the culinary delights of the renowned Back Porch Restaurant.
Positioned as a beacon of great taste on Ocracoke Island, Back Porch Restaurant creates a harmonious blend of inviting Southern hospitality and the very essence of coastal cuisine. Underneath a canopy of stars or from the cozy interiors, prepare to bid farewell not only to the island but also to ordinary dining, as you step into a realm defined by taste, texture, aroma, and a distinct sense of place.
The restaurant’s menu pays homage to the seafood bounty the local waters provide. Each dish is a meticulously crafted culinary creation that captures the essence of the sea and showcases the tantalizing array of flavors that make Ocracoke’s local fare so remarkably delicious. From their superbly-seasoned fresh catch, seared to culinary perfection, bacon-wrapped scallops with a red wine caramel sauce, each plunge of the fork is a tribute to the artistry that goes into every meal.
But the enchantment of the Back Porch doesn’t merely lie in its culinary offerings. The restaurant sweeps you off your feet with its quintessentially Southern charm and elegance, offering a dining ambiance that is both sophisticated and refreshingly comfortable. You may choose to dine in the refined yet relaxed indoor dining room, adorned with tasteful decor and softly-lit to create a cozy ambiance. Alternatively, you can opt for the al fresco dining area on the porch, a perfect backdrop for a heartfelt farewell to Ocracoke.
The dining experience is made more memorable with their friendly and attentive staff. Every member noticeably exudes a genuine desire to make your dining experience utterly delightful. They provide suggestions, interact with warmth and grace, inform about the dishes and their ingredients, guiding you expertly through the menu to enhance the dining experience further.
As the evening converges into night, treat your palate to a selection from their robust wine list, and marvel at how their carefully crafted dishes find gorgeous counterparts in these meticulously curated wines.
Ocracoke Island is not just a jewel of the Outer Banks, but a treasure trove of unparalleled experiences. From the charm of quaint local boutiques to engaging historical sites, the allure of beautiful maritime landscapes, engaging boat tours, and epicurean delights at establishments like Dajio, Jason’s Restaurant, and the Back Porch Restaurant, there’s truly something to captivate every visitor.
As much a part of your Ocracoke journey as these experiences are the places where you choose to rest and rejuvenate. The island is home to a number of wonderful accommodations that cater to differing tastes and preferences.
For those seeking convenience paired with a classic motel experience, The Bluff Shoal Motel offers comfortable stays in a prime location. Situated in the heart of Ocracoke village, guests benefit from the proximity to local shops, restaurants, and historical sights, and can easily partake in the island’s vibrant atmosphere. Relax and enjoy the view of Silver Lake Harbor from the waterside deck.
A stone’s throw away from the harbor, The Anchorage Inn not only provides traditional hotel comforts but also enthralls guests with picturesque views of the Silver Lake Harbor, adding to the serenity of your stay. The on-site marina is a boon for boating lovers, and the hotel’s sundeck and outdoor swimming pool make for enjoyable leisure areas.
For those in search of a more luxurious homestead, retreat into the exquisite Castle Bed and Breakfast. This charming accommodation encapsulates the essence of Ocracoke with its elegant mix of historical charm and modern amenities. Guests rave about its gourmet breakfast spread, warm and welcoming hosts, and beautiful sunset views atop The Castle’s iconic tower.
Every corner of Ocracoke beckons, from the laughter echoed in the island breeze to the flavors of our local fare and the ever-present whisper of the sea. Here, you find more than just a vacation destination – you’ll find another home. As your time on Ocracoke concludes, we hope you carry a sense of the island’s endless charm and warmth with you until we welcome you back to our sandy shores once more.