Visiting Ocracoke Island, North Carolina

We just returned from a glorious week in Ocracoke! This was our third time visiting the island, and it gets better each time. I can’t recommend it highly enough. This place has the perfect mix of natural beauty, fascinating history, and welcoming spirit. There’s not a hint of pretension on the island, and I love that!

This small island off the coast of North Carolina is accessible only by ferry, private boat, or private plane. Most of the island is a protected natural habitat where wild horses roam freely. But near the tip of the island is the Town of Ocracoke, a small but welcoming spot with about 900 residents. Despite the small size, the town has a bunch of awesome seafood restaurants, many cute shops, and several ice cream joints.

I think it’s the perfect place to spend a week during the summer, especially if you have tween or teenage kids.

1. Freedom for kids

The speed limit in the town is 25 mph, and many people ride golf carts or bikes. There are some cars, but they’re all driving slowly and looking out for the many pedestrians. Because of that, I’ve felt comfortable renting bikes for my kids and giving them freedom to ride around by themselves. They have to promise to stay together and text me if they need anything, but I feel comfortable letting them go out alone. We rent bikes for less than $30/week per kid, and they love the freedom to ride everywhere and anywhere they want. Because my kids are younger, I always have them home by dark, but some teenagers drive around in golf carts at night, laughing and playing music.

2. Lots of activities

Despite the town’s small size, there’s plenty to do! I highly recommend renting a golf cart or a bike and exploring the island.

The yoga studio is fantastic, and there’s a cool bookstore and a few coffee joints to explore. Plus, there are some very cute boutiques and a thrift shop. You can also sign up for a ghost tour or a tour about Blackbeard, the pirate who used the island as a home base. If you’re interested in fishing, you can sign up for a deep-sea fishing trip. Or you can sign up for a kayak trip or rent a stand-up paddleboard (must be 14 for both activities). On most weekdays, the local surf shop puts on a two-hour summer surf camp (kids 10 and older and adults are welcome).

When the sun sets, families usually gather, ice cream in hand, at the public dock near Kitty Hawk Kites to watch the sky transform. Once it’s dark, you can almost always find live music at one of the restaurants. We love to walk “downtown” to get ice cream. There’s something magical about roaming the streets in the dark, listening to the crickets and the whirr of golf carts. Speaking of nighttime, the star-gazing opportunities are fantastic! I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many stars.

I was quite surprised to learn that the public beaches are not within the town limits, so you have to drive there (you can’t take rented golf carts outside the town limits, and it’s too far to ride a bike). There’s a beautiful beach on S. Point Road, right outside the town limits. But most people go to Lifeguard Beach, a little farther down the main road outside town. The beaches are absolutely gorgeous — I think they were named among the most beautiful beaches in the U.S. The one public beach inside the town limits is Springer Point. To get there, you have to hike for 10-15 min through some woods (bring bug spray!), and the beach itself isn’t nearly as nice as the other two mentioned above. In sum, plan to drive to the beach, and pack accordingly.

That said, I also highly recommend renting a house with access to and a view of the Pamlico Sound. This is my favorite place that we’ve stayed. If you can access the water directly from your backyard, you can pop in for a quick dip without driving to the beach, and you’ll likely meet some neighbors while you’re splashing around. It’s also likely that you’ll have stunning views of the sunset.

3. Amazing food

Parents (and maybe teens and tweens) will love the food on the island! I had one of the best meals of my life at the Flying Melon, and I also really enjoyed an unhurried lunch at Dajios. You’ve got to visit Zillie’s and have some wine or beer on the porch. But be aware that most places close at 9 pm, including the sole grocery store on the island.

I’ve been very impressed by the prices on Ocracoke. Given that it’s an island, everything except seafood has to be imported, but the prices aren’t nearly as crazy as they could be. Still, I like to save money by shopping at.a grocery store on the mainland, before we get on the ferry, and buy things we’ll need for the week. Ocracoke’s grocery-hardware store has the basics in case you run out of something, but you won’t want to do a week’s worth of shopping there.

mango ice cream from the Slushy Stand

If you end up visiting Ocracoke, please let me know! I’d love to hear about new spots we should visit next summer.

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