Ocracoke is a paradise hidden away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Take a step back in time, let go of all your worries, and wiggle your toes in the warm sand. Ocracoke prides itself on being a bit removed from the rest of the Outer Banks, both physically and ideologically. Just the ferry required to reach the shores provides a scenic ride, which is just the beginning of your vacation.
Ocracoke Island is best known for being one of the North Carolina islands that make up the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Secluded sandy beaches, wild ponies that roam freely around the island, and spectacular sunsets are just a few more things Ocracoke Island is known for. However, there are plenty of things to do in Ocracoke beyond just going to the beach.
As you explore this 16-mile-long barrier island, you’ll find many attractions that will keep visitors occupied for days. Some of the best things to do in Ocracoke include visiting Ocracoke Island Lighthouse, Springer’s Point Nature Preserve, Teach’s Hole Blackbeard Exhibit and Pirate Store and Hammock Hills Nature Trail. Kayaking at Silver Lake Harbor and Springer’s Point, paddleboarding, fishing and surfing are popular activities for those who want to get active! Let’s dig into all the activities you can get up to!
Best Things to Do in Ocracoke Island
1. Dive into Ocracoke’s History at the Ocracoke Preservation Society and Museum
- Address: 49 Water Plant Rd, Ocracoke (GPS)
- Hours: Tuesday – Saturday: 10:00 am – 3:00 pm
If the island’s culture and heritage fascinate you, you can learn a great deal more at the Ocracoke Preservation Society and Museum on Water Plant Road. This non-profit organization is housed in a restored two-story house from the 1990s and features numerous displays and exhibits that provide insight into the island’s history and the famous local stories that have unfolded over time.
If you’re interested in pirates, be sure to explore the tumultuous life story of Blackbeard and how the Mail Boat Aleta became the village’s lifeline. The museum offers both permanent and rotating exhibits, and while it is relatively small, a visit to the museum is essential for a comprehensive understanding of the island’s stories.
2. Discover the Flavorful World of Figs at the Ocracoke Fig Festival
- Address: 49 Water Plant Rd, Ocracoke (GPS)
Every year in August, the small historic island celebrates figs in a big way. The annual Ocracoke Fig Festival highlights the relationship between the town and the sweet fruit.
At the festival, you can try for yourself all the way the locals use figs to create mouthwatering desserts. If you are on the island in the summer, you simply can’t miss this festival and the opportunity to try fig cakes and fig preserves, all while enjoying music and dancing under the fig trees.
3. Take a Worry-Free Dip at the Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach
- Address: Ocracoke, NC (GPS)
- Hours: Monday – Sunday: 8:00 am – 8:00 pm
Ocracoke holds some of the best beaches in North Carolina. If you are a thalassophile (that is, someone who loves the sea), you’ll love Ocracoke and its many secluded, natural beaches. On days when you’re itching to go for a swim, Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach won’t disappoint. The lifeguards here are always on duty, ensuring the safety of all beachgoers.
The best part of this beach is that even in peak season, you can find a quiet and secluded spot along its 16 miles of shoreline while still being within sight of the ever-watchful lifeguards.
4. Find Timeless Treasures at Annabelle’s Florist and Antiques
- Address: 324 Back Rd, Ocracoke (GPS)
How can an old and historic island not have an antique shop full of treasures? If you’re searching for such valuables in this island village, drive over to 324 Back Road and explore the small yet big world at Annabelle’s Florist and Antiques. The owner, Chester Lynn, has a keen eye for hidden treasures, and his shop is brimming with them.
You’ll also notice beautiful fragrances the moment you step inside this treasure trove, reminding you that, in addition to antiques, the shop also offers fresh flowers for any occasion.
5. Connect with Nature at Springer’s Point Nature Reserve
- Address: 104 Loop Rd, Ocracoke (GPS)
If you’re aiming for an unforgettable experience on Ocracoke Island, a visit to Springer’s Point Nature Reserve will deliver. This nature preserve is a maritime forest and one of the most popular attractions in Ocracoke.
The reserve spans over 120 acres of land and is home to a tidal red cedar forest, wet grasslands, salt marshes, and a soundfront beach. It’s also believed to have been the original stomping grounds of Blackbeard.
You can explore this natural oasis and its scenic surroundings by taking a stroll along its short, half-mile nature trail. Birdwatchers, beachgoers, and those seeking tranquility and shade will all appreciate what Springer’s Point has to offer.
6. Shop at Historic Howard Street
- Address: Ocracoke, NC (GPS)
Howard Street in Ocracoke holds a special place for many reasons. For one, it is the oldest street in the village, and the houses and cemeteries on this tree-lined street belong to the descendants of William Howard — the owner and one of the original settlers of the island.
Beyond its historic charm, the street also draws attention as the hub of local businesses. Along this street, you’ll discover handcrafted items, sterling silver jewelry, and ocean-hued pottery at Village Craftsman.
For books on local history, explore the shelves at Books to Be Read. And after a day of exploration and shopping, don’t forget to savor some local favorites at the Magic Beans Coffee Bazaar.
7. Experience Fine Dining at Dajio
- Address: 305 Irvin Garrish Hwy, Ocracoke (GPS)
- Hours: Monday – Sunday:11:00 am-9:00 pm
Situated at 305 Irvin Garrish Highway, Dajio is a charming Southern-style bistro offering an upscale dining experience. The eatery features fresh local seafood and a fantastic outdoor patio, complemented by live music.
Come here for delicious lunch and dinner and don’t forget to try their handhelds like seared tuna wraps with cotija cheese and ginger aioli. Their crab Mac and cheese has quite a following too.
8. Sip and enjoy at Zillie’s Island Pantry
- Address: 538 Back Rd, Ocracoke (GPS)
- Hours: Monday – Sunday: 11:30 am – 10:30 pm
Zillie’s Island Pantry offers a selection of wines, beers, and microbrews from around the world. However, it’s not just the amazing selection of premium beverages that makes the Pantry popular among tourists and locals alike. It’s the vibrant and lively atmosphere of the Pantry that leaves every patron satisfied.
You can dine on their deck, soak in the happy and wholesome vibes, and even order some gourmet snacks to complement your drinks. You can also create your own smorgasbord with their diverse offerings of crackers, dips, spreads, chocolates, nuts, and much more.
9. Step into the Heart of Nature at Hammock Hills Nature Trail
- Address: Unnamed Road, Ocracoke (GPS)
- Hours: 24 Hours
With its untouched, pristine beaches, miles of dunes, diverse nature reserves, and native vegetation, Ocracoke is already a paradise for nature enthusiasts. One activity that every outdoor enthusiast must experience on Ocracoke Island is hiking the Hammock Hills Nature Trail.
This trail spans ¾ of a mile, forming a loop around a pine-laden forest that allows hikers to observe native flora and fauna up close. About halfway along the trail, you’ll come across a solitary bench, providing an opportunity to rest and savor the mesmerizing view of the salt marshes that surround you, and of the Pamlico Sound in the distance.
10. Find One-of-a-Kind Handcrafted Items at Bella Fiore Gallery
- Address: 80 Back Rd, Ocracoke (GPS)
- Hours: Monday- Saturday: 10:00 am – 5:00 pm
On historic Howard Street, you will discover a treasure trove of exquisite handicrafts at Bella Fiore Gallery. The store boasts an extensive collection of unique jewelry pieces, each carefully curated with great attention to detail. Additionally, you’ll find pottery items, homemade candles, fashion accessories, and a range of organic bath and body products.
11. Indulge in Mexican Flavors at Eduardo’s Taco Stand
- Address: 10 Lawton Ln, Ocracoke (GPS)
- Hours: Tuesday -Sunday: 8:00 am -3:00 pm
Eduardo’s Taco Stand is the place to discover authentic regional Mexican flavors on the island. With the freshest ingredients and a fusion of traditional and contemporary flavors, this stand has earned quite a reputation, and you simply can’t miss it while traveling across the island.
The stand also serves burritos and Mexican hotcakes for breakfast and remains open until dinner, offering rolled tacos, seafood tacos, and burrito bowls. Don’t forget to try their homemade guacamole, which elevates the dining experience at Eduardo’s.
12. Treat yourself to the Finest Oysters at Ocracoke Oyster Company
- Address: 621 Irvin Garrish Hwy, Ocracoke (GPS)
- Hours: Monday: 4:00 pm – 10:00 pm, Tuesday – Saturday: 11:00 am – 10:00 pm
Located on Irvin Garrish Highway, Ocracoke Oyster Company brings oysters from Cedar Island and prepares some of the most delicious meals with them. In addition to its oysters, the eatery is also known for its fig pork and smoked ribs. They also have daily specials for diners looking for new culinary experiences.
The restaurant is housed inside a charming wooden shack, and with live music and an open bar, it adds a carefree and lively atmosphere to your dining experience.
13. Enjoy Kayaking and Paddle Boarding
Ocracoke Island offers plenty of opportunities for both visitors and locals to enjoy kayaking, eco-tours, and sunset paddling on smooth, shallow, and serene waters, away from the crowded beaches. Kayaking is also an excellent option for exploring the marsh-lined estuaries and observing native coastal birds.
While many tourists head straight to Silver Lake Harbor for kayaking, locals know that the true kayaking experience awaits to the west of the harbor, at Springer’s Point. Other access points include the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Bitterswash Creek, and a small soundside beach adjacent to the main Visitors Center.
14. Experience a Sea-to-Plate Extravaganza at Ocracoke Seafood Festival Health Center Benefit
The Ocracoke Seafood Festival, which started in 2022, was already a hit in its first year. In September 2023, the second festival will feature live music by The Ocracoke Rockers and The Ray McAllister Band, mouthwatering local seafood, silent and live auctions, and much more.
All the proceeds from the festival will go to the Ocracoke Health Center. If you are a die-hard fan of seafood and support quality healthcare, be sure to come to the island to experience great food and excellent company.
- Address: 234 British Cemetery Rd (GPS)
During World War II, the British Royal Navy was patrolling the seas for German forces when one of their trawlers was torpedoed in May 1942, resulting in the loss of all 37 members of the British and Canadian Royal Navies aboard.
When four bodies washed ashore on Ocracoke Island, they were given a proper burial, and the flag of the United Kingdom was raised at the site. Every year in May, a ceremony is held to commemorate the fallen soldiers.
However, visitors can visit and learn more about the history of these naval operations at any time of the year.
16. Embrace the Thrill of Waterfowl Hunting
Pamlico Sound is home to a wide variety of waterfowl that migrate to the island’s waters every year. From brants and pintails to redheads and canvasbacks, the diverse array of waterfowl on the island is truly astounding. This is what makes Ocracoke a paradise for sport gunners.
If you’re a hunter, be sure to bring your valid hunting license to take advantage of this opportunity. There are numerous sport fishing companies and local guides on the island who can provide you with brush blinds, duck boats, transportation, and other facilities.
17. Try Shelling at the Ocracoke Island
Have you ever tried shelling? At Ocracoke, shelling is a way of life, and the exceptional opportunities on the island have made it one of the top shelling destinations in North Carolina. With a good eye and keen observation, you can add Scotch Bonnets, shark’s teeth, seahorses, and sand dollars to your collection.
We suggest getting up early in the morning when the tide is low to have the first opportunity to collect shells that the high tides left on the shores overnight. Nearly every beach in Ocracoke offers a perfect spot for shelling.
18. Witness the Legacy of Ocracoke Lighthouse
- Address: 360 Lighthouse Rd, Ocracoke (GPS)
- Hours: Monday – Sunday: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm
When you’re in the town of the country’s second oldest lighthouse, you can’t simply leave without first laying eyes on the 200-year-old structure. The white-bricked Ocracoke Lighthouse is one of the best lighthouses in North Carolina and once served as a guiding beacon for ships traversing the Ocracoke Inlet and can be spotted from almost any point in Ocracoke Village.
The lighthouse itself is the star attraction here, and you can reach it by following a small boardwalk trail, allowing you to admire the magnificent sight of the 75-foot-tall structure and its weathered walls. Additionally, you can enjoy a view of the lighthouse while paddling on Silver Lake.
19. Explore Ocracoke’s Water Sports
The spacious and undisturbed beaches of Ocracoke offer a perfect playground for beginner-level surfers and kite surfers. The boundless beaches ensure that even during peak season, there are secluded and less crowded areas that give new surfers the space they need to practice their skills.
Summers on the island come with gentle waves but get heavier during the off-season. You can bring your longboards, SUPs, soft tops, shortboards, and boogie boards to enjoy the ideal water conditions.
The calm and gentle waters of the sound are also ideal for water activities such as canoeing, boating, kayaking, sailing, standup paddle boarding, shrimping, fishing, clamming, and waterfowl hunting.
20. Join Ghostly Expeditions with Ocracoke’s Ghost and History Tours
- Address: 170 Howard St, Ocracoke (GPS)
One of the best things to do in Ocracoke is get spooked on a ghost walk! With a history spanning over four centuries, Ocracoke Island is steeped in ghost stories, pirate tales, and ancient lore. The Ocracoke Ghost and History Tour offers a captivating journey into the island’s origins and its settlers.
The 90-minute, 1.5-mile walking tour begins at the Village Craftsmen Gallery on Howard Street two nights a week. It takes history lovers to explore either the Down Point area or the Round Creek area.
The Down Point tour also includes a visit to the old Lighthouse, where eerie stories will send shivers down your spine. The Round Creek tour focuses on historic Howard Street and its share of ghostly tales.
Many stops are made at the cemetery, adding a chilling atmosphere to the experience. These tours start at 7:30, with the night sky enhancing the thrill of the haunting stories.
21. Learn Kitesurfing at The Sea Monkey Kite Lodge
- Address: 410 Irvin Garrish Hwy, Ocracoke (GPS)
Watching everyone kitesurf on the island may awaken your desire to learn it yourself. If you’re truly committed to learning, head over to Sea Monkey Kite Lodge, where owner Keith Croghan, the official ambassador of kitesurfing on the island, will happily teach you everything you need to know to get in the water with a surfboard.
In addition to the kite school on the island, Ocracoke itself offers world-class kiting conditions, making it easier for beginners and novices to get the hang of it.
22. Go on a Sunset Cruise with Schooner Windfall II
- Address: 288 Irvin Garrish Hwy, Ocracoke (GPS)
Captained by Rob Temple and designed by Ted Brewer, the 32-foot Lazy Jack Schooner, The Windfall II, offers sunset cruises on the serene waters of Ocracoke Island. The schooner can accommodate up to six people at a time and sails into Pamlico Sound to Teach’s Hole for an hour-and-a-half-long cruise.
Along the way, Captain Rob Temple, an authority figure on Blackbeard, will share the pirate’s adventures until you reach Teach’s Hole, where the infamous pirate faced the gallows in 1718.
23. Get Closer to the Wild Horses at Ocracoke’s Pony Pen
- Address: NC-12, Ocracoke, NC (GPS)
- Hours: 24 hours
Ocracoke is home to some wild ponies, but that wasn’t always the case. Hundreds of years ago, a shipwreck left some Spanish Mustangs stranded on Ocracoke Island, and they had no choice but to settle here.
To this day, these ponies thrive on the island. However, since they are not native to the region, they are extremely rare. For their protection, the National Park Service has confined the ponies to one large pen off Highway 12.
The 188 acres of land allow the ponies to roam freely, explore the sound-side beach and the marsh, and allow the visitors to watch them from outside the fence. The pens have paddocks, stables, and everything these ponies need to live a comfortable life.
Beach driving offers a unique and adventurous way to explore Ocracoke Island, and is one of the best things to do. To experience it yourself, you can either join a beach driving tour or rent a 4WD vehicle and obtain a permit from the National Park Service to embark on this adventure independently.
The advantage of this tour is that you can stop wherever you like, listen to fascinating stories and folklore during the drive, choose your own spot for swimming, settle down for a beachside picnic, make a coffee stop, take a beach walk, or combing the shoreline for shells, and more.
Ocracoke boasts spacious beaches, and if you want to see as much as possible, beach driving is the way to go about it.
25. Make a Tea Stop at Moonraker Tea Shop
- Address: 587 Irvin Garrish Hwy #9, Ocracoke (GPS)
- Hours: 11:00 am – 5:00 pm
Moonraker Tea Shop off Irvin Garrish Hwy #9 is a cozy haven for tea lovers. Here, you can choose from a diverse collection of loose-leaf teas, spices, and delightful beverages before you explore for the day. Make sure to meet the friendly owners and explore their unique display of mugs, teapots, and more.