16 Best Things to Do in Ocracoke, NC

Ocracoke, NC
Victor N. Overton / shutterstock.com

Idyllic, picturesque, and laid back, Ocracoke, 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 in length, but the location promises tons of fun destinations, amazing 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 as well, such as biking, boating, and hiking.

Here are the 16 best things to do in Ocracoke, NC.

The Beaches

Ocracoke’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, amazing sunsets, and many activities to try.

You can go windsurfing, parasailing, boating—the list goes 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.

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

This 120-acre maritime forest and wetlands offer peaceful trails and scenic views of the island.

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

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

You'll also learn from the placards scattered around the trail that talk about the location’s history and the local flora and fauna.

Restaurants

Visiting Ocracoke isn't complete without trying the local cuisine.

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

But there are also restaurants that offer classic American dishes as well as regional and international cuisine.

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

Dajio is another famous food establishment in Ocracoke.

They have a selection of pan-seared scallops and 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.

Local Souvenir and Retail Shops

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, woodworks, jewelry, and pottery.

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

There are also local art galleries that offer beautiful artworks featuring scenic views and landmarks around the island.

The Ocracoke Lighthouse

Wide view of Ocracoke Lighthouse
Victor N. Overton / shuttlestock.com

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 in the skyline, making the lighthouse a perfect subject for landscape photos.

The top of Ocracoke Lighthouse
Kenneth Keifer / shuttlestock.com

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 in the National Register of Historic Places.

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

Village Craftsmen

The Village Craftsmen is a shop with a collection of superior-quality products made by the local craftsmen of the island.

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

Here, 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 here, you’re also supporting the local workers and economy.

British Cemetery

Visiting a cemetery during your vacation may sound like a grim prospect, but the 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.

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 on to other locations within the village.

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

Ocracoke Working Waterman’s Exhibit

Since it’s an island that thrives on fishing, Ocracoke 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 important part in the community.

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.

Hammock Hills Nature Trails

Hammock Hills Nature Trails in Ocracoke
Ken Schulze / shuttlestock.com

For a close-up look at 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 amazing landscape photos.

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

Windsurfing and Parasailing

The Atlantic is well known for its high winds, making Ocracoke 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.

For more seasoned professionals or daring individuals, there are many places within the island that offer watersports outfitting.

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

You'll have an amazing time riding the waves and catching the breeze along the Outer Banks.

Sportsfishing

Sportsfishing in Ocracoke
Malachi Jacobs / Shutterstock.com

Looking for an exhilarating adventure out in the Atlantic?

Ocracoke is the perfect place to be.

There are many businesses in Ocracoke that 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 / Shutterstock.com

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 an established fishing location.

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

Ocracoke Preservation Museum

For history buffs, the Ocracoke Preservation Museum is a must-add destination to your Ocracoke itinerary.

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 ago.

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

At the 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 as a remembrance of your amazing trip to Ocracoke.

Pony Pens

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 living on the island.

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

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

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

Visit the pony pens during your trip and take some time appreciating these majestic animals, which are thought to have descended from Spanish mustangs during the colonial era.

Portsmouth Island and Village

Southwest of Ocracoke 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.

However, it becomes open for visitors during the summer.

It’s the perfect place for those who are looking for simplicity and isolation.

You can ride a ferry to the island from Ocracoke and visit the historic houses that stand in eerie silence amongst the overgrown grasses.

Overnight camping is prohibited within the villages, but it is a recommended activity 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.  

Ocracoke Island Shelling

Seashore in Ocracoke Island
Realest Nature / shuttlestock.com

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

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

Make sure to follow local regulations about shell collection for a hassle-free experience.

Biking

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

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

There are many shops in the village that offer bikes and gear for rent.

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

You’ll end up feeling like a local as you reach various landmarks and interact with local fishers 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 along the empty, windswept roads.

Final Thoughts

There is something for everybody on the island with Ocracoke’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 is endless, so plan an amazing 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 on this charming paradise.