Blake Walsh

21 Best Things to Do in Ocracoke Island, NC

  • Published 2022/09/08

Idyllic, picturesque, and laid-back, Ocracoke Island, North Carolina, serves as the perfect getaway for those looking for some sun, sand, and sea.

Located on the outer banks of North Carolina, the long but narrow island sits on the Atlantic.

It’s only 16 miles long, but the location promises tons of fun destinations, unique sites, and exhilarating activities for everyone.

Being a haven for famous pirates centuries ago, the island boasts a rich and colorful past for history lovers.

There are many other activities to try, such as biking, boating, and hiking.

Here are the best things to do in Ocracoke, North Carolina:

Explore Ocracoke Island’s Beaches

Sunrise in Ocracoke Island Beach

Nicholas Myles Deane /

Ocracoke Island’s beaches are the main reason why many people from all over the US visit the island.

Located next to the Atlantic Ocean, the white, sandy beaches offer sweeping vistas, incredible sunsets, and many activities to try.

You can go windsurfing, parasailing, boating—the list goes on!

Ocracoke Island's Beach

ButtermilkgirlVirginia /

On the other side of the island lies the Pamlico Sound, which offers calmer waters for those who want to try kayaking, swimming, and beachside walks.

Make sure to come during summer or from May to October to make the most of the temperate climate, sunny skies, and pleasant winds.

Visitors enjoying on a beach in Ocracoke Island

Liz Albro Photography /

Surround Yourself with Nature at Springer’s Point Nature Preserve

Woods in Springer's Point Nature Preserve

Gerry Dincher from Hope Mills, NC, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Springer’s Point Nature Preserve is a 120-acre maritime forest and wetlands that offers peaceful trails and scenic views of the island.

You’ll find ancient oak groves, twisting woods, and marshlands unique to this side of the Atlantic.

While there, you can try spotting wildlife, relaxing at the quiet, hidden beach, or taking stunning landscape photos with the evergreen forest and beach in the background.

Oak tree at Springer's Point Nature Preserve

bobistraveling, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Around the trail, you’ll find placards discussing the location’s history, flora, and fauna.

Springer’s Point Nature Preserve is located on Loop Road.

Sample the Local Cuisine at Ocracoke Island’s Restaurants

Visiting Ocracoke Island isn’t complete without trying the local cuisine.

Because of its proximity to the Atlantic, the island boasts many tasty seafood dishes.

Some restaurants offer classic American dishes and regional and international cuisine.

The Flying Melon Café offers some of the island’s best fish and shellfish dishes, with halibut, tuna, and oysters on the menu.

Dajio is another famous food establishment on Ocracoke Island.

They have a selection of pan-seared scallops, shrimp, and American staples like burgers and chicken wings.

For those looking for well-deserved alcoholic beverages during their vacation, Howard’s Pub & Raw Bar offers delicious beers, wines, and cocktails.

Shop till You Drop at Local Souvenir and Retail Stores

There are various souvenir shops sprinkled around the scenic village.

You’ll find unique items within these shops that showcase the island’s culture and heritage, most notably fishing and seafaring.

You’ll find nautical-themed home decor, kitchen utensils, woodwork, jewelry, and pottery.

If you’re lucky, you might spot rare and unique seashells.

Local art galleries also offer beautiful artworks featuring scenic views and landmarks around the island.

Snap Photos of the Ocracoke Lighthouse

Wide view of Ocracoke Lighthouse

Victor N. Overton /

Standing with majesty amongst the island’s treeline is the Ocracoke Lighthouse, North Carolina’s oldest, still-operating lighthouse.

The white stucco walls look beautiful on the skyline, making the lighthouse a perfect subject for landscape photos.

The top of Ocracoke Lighthouse

Kenneth Keifer /

Bring your favorite photography gear on your trip and take striking shots of the structure to share with your friends or on social media networks.

Because of its age and status, this lighthouse is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

View of Ocracoke Lighthouse

digidreamgrafix /

So while you’re there, make sure to learn about the place’s historical significance.

Find the Ocracoke Lighthouse on Lighthouse Road.

Shop for Handcrafted Goods at Village Craftsmen

Located on Howard Street, Village Craftsmen is a shop with a collection of superior-quality products made by the island’s local craftsmen.

Since it started in 1970, this facility has become one of the premier craft galleries in the area.

Visitors will find a wide array of handmade items, such as jewelry, wooden kitchen utensils, pottery, bells, and soaps.

Most of these are manufactured using the resources available within the area, including the ancient oaks and shells from the seashores.

By shopping at Village Craftsmen, you’re also supporting the local workers and economy.

Remember Fallen Heroes at the Ocracoke British Cemetery

Wooden gate at Ocracoke British Cemetery

ButtermilkgirlVirginia /

Visiting a cemetery during your vacation may sound like a grim prospect, but the Ocracoke British Cemetery on the Ocracoke village’s outskirts promises more than people in graves.

The small but quaint location serves as the final resting place for British sailors who fought against the Germans during World War II.

It is an official British cemetery, with the country’s flag raised on the site at all times.

View of British Cemetery Ocracoke

DrStew82, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The beautiful, well-maintained tribute is easy to find and serves as a quick stop before heading to other locations within the village.

While there, take a moment to honor the bravery of these brave men who fought to defend the coastline of Ocracoke Island.

The Ocracoke British Cemetery is located on British Cemetery Road.

Tomb stone at Ocracoke British Cemetery

DrStew82, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

See the Fascinating Ocracoke Working Waterman’s Exhibit

Since it’s an island that thrives on fishing, Ocracoke Island has established a facility that showcases the people’s rich seafaring culture from the past and the present.

Located on the village’s waterfront, the Ocracoke Working Waterman’s Exhibit contains various artifacts, media, and collections highlighting how fishing plays an essential part in the community.

Entrance to Ocracoke Working Waterman's Exhibit

Liz Albro Photography /

You’ll learn a lot about their practices and age-old traditions that have withstood the test of time.

Help the townsfolk keep their heritage alive by visiting this facility and understanding as much as you can about their customs and way of life.

You can find the Ocracoke Working Waterman’s Exhibit on NC-12.

Hike the Hammock Hills Nature Trails

Hammock Hills Nature Trails in Ocracoke

Ken Schulze /

For a close-up of the island’s rich collection of wildlife, visit the Hammock Hills Nature Trails.

This 0.75 loop takes you to some of the island’s highest points, allowing you to see the marsh grasses, sandy beaches, and evergreen maritime forests sprawling all over the land.

It’s an easy hike, with soft-pack ground and sands that can be walked barefoot.

Halfway along the trail is a raised viewing deck where you can see Pamlico Sound and other island areas with interesting terrain.

You’ll have many opportunities to take fantastic landscape photos.

And who knows, you might spot some migrating Atlantic birds or the island’s famous wild horses on the Outer Banks.

Enjoy Water Sports Like Windsurfing and Parasailing

The Atlantic is well known for its high winds, making Ocracoke Island an ideal spot for many wind-related activities, such as parasailing ride services around the island.

It’s truly an exhilarating experience that is a must for all visitors.

Many places on the island offer watersports outfitting for more seasoned professionals or daring individuals.

One of the best watersports to do is windsurfing, which involves longboards, sails, and a lot of strength and endurance.

You’ll have a fantastic time riding the waves and catching the breeze along the Outer Banks.

Go on a Sportsfishing Adventure

Sportsfishing in Ocracoke

Malachi Jacobs /

Are you looking for an exhilarating adventure out in the Atlantic?

Ocracoke Island is the perfect place to be.

Many businesses on the island offer sportfishing charters for beginners and enthusiasts alike.

With the help of seasoned and friendly fishers from the island, you’ll ride out to the ocean and get a rare chance to catch various big game species, such as tuna, marlin, sailfish, and mahi-mahi.

Sportsfishing in Ocracoke

Malachi Jacobs /

For those who might be too seasick for hours or day-long expeditions to the ocean, surf fishing is also a great alternative.

This practice is one of the things that made Ocracoke Island an established fishing location.

So bring your favorite fishing gear, and with patience, you’ll surely catch something you’ll be proud of.

Visit the Ocracoke Preservation Society Museum

Located on Water Plant Road, the Ocracoke Preservation Society Museum is a must-visit destination for history buffs.

The Ocracoke Preservation Society was established to safeguard the area’s rich heritage and culture.

This small facility has historic artifacts, period decorations, valuable documents, and other exhibits that tell the island’s story from centuries back.

It even contains displays about the infamous English pirate, Blackbeard.

At the Ocracoke Preservation Society Museum, you’ll learn more about his exploits, life, and eventual capture and death on the island.

There is also a gift shop filled with souvenirs to bring home to remember your fantastic trip to Ocracoke Island.

Meet Beautiful Creatures at a Local Pony Pen

Pony pens in Ocracoke

Bonnie Gruenberg, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Common

Since the 1730s, there has been a documented population of wild horses on the island.

It truly is a beautiful experience to see these animals in their wild habitats, frolicking at beaches, or galloping in the marshes.

Some are shy and may stay in secluded areas if spooked by tourists.

Two Ponies grazing outside the Pony Pen at Ocracoke

Liz Albro Photography /

Thankfully, there are pony pens where some wild horses are kept in grassy, enclosed areas.

Visit one of them during your trip and take some time appreciating these majestic animals, which are believed to have descended from Spanish mustangs during the colonial era.

Collect Seashells at South Point

Seashore in Ocracoke Island

Realest Nature /

Sitting adjacent to the Atlantic Ocean, Ocracoke Island has an abundant supply of empty seashells.

This is what paradise looks like for shelling enthusiasts.

For starters, you’ll find conches, whelks, and periwinkles scattered on the island’s beaches.

With some patience, you can find rarer seashells in isolated coves and during receding tides, such as the scotch bonnet and lettered olives.

Some shell-dotted beaches include South Point, the northern beaches, and the outlying Portsmouth Island.

Make sure to follow local regulations about seashell collecting for a hassle-free experience.

Rent a Bike and Cycle around Ocracoke Island

Tourists biking around the Ocracoke Island

Liz Albro Photography /

There is nothing as relaxing as cycling around the island and seeing all the picturesque landscapes and seascapes on every corner.

Ocracoke Island is a haven for biking enthusiasts, with its long, narrow roads, scenic views, and salty Atlantic breeze.

Many shops in the village offer bikes and gear for rent.

Lease their equipment and explore the roads at your own pace.

You’ll feel like a local as you reach various landmarks and interact with local anglers on their way to the sea.

Try reaching the Ocracoke Lighthouse, Springer’s Point Nature Preserve, and Hammock Hills Nature Trails by cycling to these destinations.

You can also catch colorful sunset as you cruise the empty, windswept roads.

Read a Book and Learn Something New at Books To Be Red

In 1995, two close friends interested in literature and pottery formed Books to be Red.

Their lovely cottage has gained popularity for its wonderful collection of books, handmade products, and distinctive gifts.

Years later, Books to be Red is still the sole independent bookstore in Ocracoke, offering a great selection of brand new, slightly used, local, and children’s books.

Browse the newest fiction and non-fiction books, try reading up on local history, admire appetizing cookbooks, or look for that elusive literary find.

They provide a carefully curated selection of painting and craft supplies and a whole section dedicated to books for children, toys, table games, and fun activity packages.

They also serve as a quaint gift shop and sell Deepwater pottery from the area, handmade accessories, candles, and body soaps.

Rent Equipment at Ride the Wind and Try Various Water Activities

Since 1985, Ride The Wind has been your go-to place in Ocracoke for surf gear, accessories, sunnies, surfboards, souvenirs, and more.

They provide a large range of personalized Ocracoke products and more than 300 brands, so there is something for everyone.

You can avail yourself of a kayak, skimboard, paddleboard, or other equipment if you want to spend some time on the water and try various water activities.

An educational kayaking eco-tour, a surfing class, or a SUP pilates exercise are all great options if you want a distinctive experience.

Ride The Wind has everything you’re searching for if you want to go shopping, ride, or tour around Ocracoke by boat.

Book a Room with a Stunning View at the Anchorage Inn & Marina

The Anchorage Inn is a four leveled, 35-room accommodation with a view of Ocracoke’s picturesque harbor.

Available for guests on the first three floors of the building are rooms with double or king-size beds.

A king-sized bed and a balcony are included in their fourth-floor rooms, and a pair of guests may reserve fifth-floor suites on a nightly or weekly basis.

They feature a swimming pool by the port, a cafe on the pier, and charter boats for rent for fishing trips.

BBQ grills and tables and chairs for picnics are next to the hotel.

Furthermore, the Anchorage Marina is close to the stunning, naturally safe Silver Lake Harbor entrance.

Only 54 feet from the Gulf Stream, the Anchorage Marina provides a range of thrilling angling opportunities.

Their Charter Fleet excels in all-day Gulf Stream fishing.

Get to Meet Artists at Down Creek Gallery

The Down Creek Gallery on Ocracoke hosts exhibitions by more than 100 local and North Carolina artisans.

Many fine arts and crafts are available at the location, along with jewelry, works made of metal and wood, aesthetic and useful pottery, fine glass, paintings, photographs, and prints.

The gallery offers a wide range of impressive options, from chic candles to the creations of over 15 glass artisans.

Check out Mark Woodward’s creations; each marine wildlife design is either a handcrafted piece of clay or lumber.

He has created many different types of creatures, including seahorses and seagulls.

Meet the Artist events are held bimonthly in Down Creek Gallery in the summer.

Have a Glass of Beer at Howard’s Pub

Interior view of Howard's Pub

Captain-tucker, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

From the beginning of spring until maybe the end of fall, lunchtime and dinners are served at Howard’s Pub.

The extensive menu features steaks and fish, delicious shrimp, and the freshest local seafood, including oysters, salads, sandwiches, and more.

College banners, license plates from other countries, and a sizable array of neon lights are all used as decor.

The restaurant is equipped with televisions, and the sound of well-known music creates a fun ambiance.

The main dining area has air conditioning and a sizable, open-air covered porch with ceiling fans.

You may have a unique cocktail or taste a fine bottle of wine while sitting at the long wooden bar and sipping one of the 12 draft beers from North Carolina in a frosted pint glass.

Other Things to Do Nearby

Take a Day Trip to Portsmouth Island

Sand dunes in a beach at Portsmouth Island

Cindy Archbell /

Southwest of Ocracoke Island is Portsmouth Island, a small and isolated barrier island with a ghost village, sandy beaches, and scenic marshes.

This place was once a bustling port town, but changing times, several hurricanes, and past conflicts have left the island without any permanent population.

It opens to visitors during the summer and is the perfect place for those looking for simplicity and isolation.

Landscape of Portsmouth Island

Jarek Tuszyński / CC-BY-SA-3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

You can ride a 20-minute ferry ride to Portsmouth Island from Ocracoke Island and visit the historic houses that stand in eerie silence amongst the overgrown grasses.

Overnight camping is prohibited within the villages, but it is recommended on the long stretch of beaches.

Here, you’ll have a relaxing time with friends or family amidst the salty ocean air, salt marshes, and sand flats that stretch along the island.

A house at Portsmouth Island

Jarek Tuszyński / CC-BY-SA-3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Final Thoughts

There is something for everybody on the island with Ocracoke Island’s museums, beaches, nature trails, and local restaurants and shops.

More than the small-town charm, the area’s rich history and culture fascinate both the young and the old.

The list of things to do in Ocracoke Island, North Carolina, is endless, so plan a fantastic vacation with these must-visit places in mind.

Make sure to schedule it around the summer to avoid hurricane season and the cold, windy winters.

Bring your friends and loved ones, and you’ll have a fun and memorable getaway in this charming paradise.

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