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Ocracoke is one of the three most isolated islands on the Atlantic coast, the other two being Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard. The village holds 10 restaurants and a dozen shops and galleries. The park service owns all of the island except for the village, so there are no beachfront houses to rent. Everyone rides bikes, golf carts or vehicles out to the beaches every day. Its beaches are among the finest on the Atlantic Coast, several of its restaurants are among the best in North Carolina, and its galleries offer unique locally produced paintings, photography, pen and ink drawings, ceramics, carved birds, and other art. You can rent a house on the island but they're all small; Ocracoke has none of the 12 or 18 person houses Hatteras does. There are also six motels, most with their own pools. You can take off shore or inshore fishing charters. There's a national park visitor center and a museum. Ocracoke was the headquarters of one of the most famous pirates in history, the infamous Blackbeard, who was finally captured and killed just offshore. There's buried treasure here. There are also British sailors buried here. They died when a German submarine in World War II sank a British Navy ship. Each year, an English official comes to the island for a special ceremony. Ocracoke is definitely worth a day, or perhaps an overnight visit.
Getting There : You have two ways to get to Ocracoke from Hatteras. You can take your car on the free auto ferry, run by the state of North Carolina. The trip takes about an hour. You can get out of your vehicle and roam around the boat, or go upstairs to the second floor cabin with its air conditioning and comfortable seats. You'll see Pelicans, Sea Turtles and other wildlife. From the ferry landing, you'll drive 13 miles down the island to the village. En route, you'll pass the beaches, campground, air port, and the wild pony pastures. The other choice is the passenger ferry, shown at left. It takes 90 minutes and docks in the harbor in the center of the village. The boat features air conditioning, plush seats and views of the eastern shore of the island. Most people just coming for a day in the village take the express. Those who want to include an afternoon at the beach drive.
If you take the car ferry and begin driving down Route 12, you will immediately come to the 13 mile beach (right), rated #2 on the Atlantic Coast. This is Gulfstream water, so it's warm. The waves are big enough to be surfable, but these are not the huge waves of Buxton or Avon, so it's a beach suitable for children. The little Coquinas live along Ocracoke beaches, right at the wave line. The park service maintains rest rooms, changing rooms and lifeguards at each parking area. These beaches are famously uncrowded.
You'll also pass the front pasture of the famous Ocracoke Wild Ponies. Descendants of ponies who swam ashore from shipwrecked Spanish ships, these have grazed wild on the island ever since. Every week, the National Park Service rotates several of the ponies to the pasture along the road so visitors can see them. The full herd grazes along the shore of Pamlico sound from here to the village. They thrive on the salt grass. The herd was never large, and today numbers around 25. Genetically, these are almost a separate species : Ocracoke ponies have two fewer ribs and four fewer vertebrate than other horses. Back in the middle of the 20th Century, the Ocracoke Boy Scout Troop maintained the ponies, rounding them up a few times a year and checking for health problems. Sometimes the boys would tame and ride them. The Park Service ended that practice. Similar herds exist at Corolla and Assateague Island. To maintain genetic diversity and minimize inbreeding, the Park Service exchanges ponies among the islands. Visitors are forbidden from feeding or harassing the ponies.
A shuttle rotates through the village continuously with frequent stops. You can get on and off as you wish. The loop begins at the ferry dock, follows Route 12 (the main street) through town, past all the restaurants, then returns via Back Road, where many of the craft shops and art studios and galleries are. There are multiple shuttles running the route, so you never have to wait more than a few minutes. Even if you drive over, you are better off to park your vehicle either at Howard's Pub (the eastern end of rhe village) or the ferry dock (the western end) and ride the shuttle, bike, walk or rent a cart (below). There is NO parking in the village and because of all the bikes, pedestrians, shuttles and golf carts, driving is not a rational option.

Another option is to rent a golf cart. The rental agency (photo, left) is on the waterfront, just down from the ferry dock and west parking lot. You can rent them by the hour or the day. Ocracoke has made the golf carts into a tradition as a way of getting cars off the streets, and it has worked beyond their wildest dreams. Everyone now uses golf carts. Residents have their own fancy high powered models. Motels offer them to their guests. Shown here are little two and four person models, but they have larger versions for extended families or groups. The carts do have the advantage of giving you a place to sit and lean back between stops. On a typical hot, humid day when you're walking two or three miles depending on which route you take this becomes important.

Your final option is to rent a bike for the day. The rental bikes are 1950s style with fat tires, one gear and cushy suspension. Many of the streets are sand, so riding a bike, even with fat tires, is tricky, but still beats walking.

Howard's Pub is at the edge of Ocracoke Village heading North. It would serve as an excellent lunch break, after you've walked around the village before you head for the beach. Howard's is a classic northern fish shack on steroids. It has a screened porch with rocking chairs, a lookout tower, rooftop deck with views of the village and beaches, and walls and ceilings adorned with license plates, caps, t shirts, pennants and other memorabilia from colleges across the country. Howard's serves all the classic seafood entrees, but their signature entrees are the Scallop, Yellow Fin Tuna and Crab Cake Sandwiches. Always order a cup of their soup of the day, especially if it's their famous Corn Crab Pimento Chowder. Their Ocracoke Oysters, caught locally each day, are delicious. They offer six Burgers, but we find them only average. Their Sweet Tea is classic Southern. Try to eat here before 12 or after 1, since over the noon hour the place fills up and you may have quite a wait.
The Back Porch is the only restaurant on the island not on Route 12, but it's worth your walking a block back. Open only for dinner (5 - 10 pm), they serve outstanding sea food. You'll probably end up eating on a screened in back porch overlooking a landscaped garden under century old Live Oaks. Among appetizers, we like their Crab Beignets. Of the entrees we recommend the Crab Cakes In Red Pepper Sauce, the Seafood Platter or the Scallops. The Soup of the Day is always good. They have the island's most extensive wine list. Locals and loyal customers debate whether the restaurant under its current ownership equals what it was like under the original owners, when it was mentioned as one of the top 10 seafood restaurants on the entire east coast. Certainly there have been some changes and but The Back Porch is still one of the best restaurants on the entire Outer Banks.

Cafe Atlantic has been reviewed by every major newspaper in North Carolina and Virginia and other major critics as far away as the New York Times and Bon Appetit. It's open only for dinners (5 - 9 pm) and is on the right of Highway 12 as you enter Ocracoke Village. Among the appetizers, most spectacular is the Rosemary Chevre With Fig Preserve (Ocracoke fig preserves with herbed goat cheese). There are six pastas and four salads. Their dinner specialty is Baked Flounder Parmesan, although they sometimes replace that with Baked Fish Of The Day Parmesan. Whichever they're serving, this is a MUST. The Crab Cakes are considered by many fans as the best on the Carolina Coast. Their Scallops are excellent straight, sauteed in butter and white wine, but are really memorable Pesto style, with bacon, tomatoes and pesto aioli. The Seafood Kabobs are outstanding : tuna, shrimp, scallops and vegetables grilled on a skewer over open flame. A variation is Beef & Shrimp Kabob, or you can try the Grilled Seafood Platter (tuna, shrimp, scallops and clams). The children's and seniors' menu here is the best in Carolina. No hot dogs, mac & cheese or chicken tenders. Instead, they offer smaller portions of flounder, grilled chicken, beef tenderloin, shrimp, crab cake, grilled tuna, scallops or linguine, each with salad and vegetable. Save room for dessert. They concoct a homemade special daily. Closed Tuesdays. 252-928-4861.

The Pony Island is the longest continuously running restaurant on Ocracoke. We were eating here when the streets were still sand and people still lived over on Portsmouth. They're only open for breakfast now, 7:00 - 11:30, but they and Diamond Shoals are the two best breakfast restaurants on the Banks. Their signature entree is the Crab & Cheese Omelette, one of North Carolina's great breakfasts. But they serve five other Omelettes, all good : the Sonora (chicken, cheese, veggies and salsa), Taco (sausage, cheese, onions, peppers, salsa), Western, Three Cheese and Egg White. The Pancakes (regular, banana, pecan, multigrain, Tex-Mex), French Toast, and Hash Browns afre very good. They offer five Breakfast on a Muffin items, or a Fruit Plate or Oatmeal. The only weakness we find on their menu is the Grits, which we find runny. You get unlimited refills on Coffee. You can order Apple, Tomato, Orange or Grapefruit juice, or Hot Chocolate made with real milk. Our biggest complaint is that they no longer serve Yaupon Tea, the famous Ocracoke beverage made from the leaves of the Yaupon tree, which grows only here. You can buy the tea leaves at the Moonraker Tea Shop and make your own, but there's no excuse for the island's oldest restaurant not to serve it hot for breakfast.
Captain Ben's is next door to The Pony Island Motel. It's a nautically themed restaurant which is most famous on the island for its prime rib. They offer three styles of prime rib : a 12 oz. New York Strip, a 12 oz. Captain's Cut, or a 24 oz. Admiral's Cut. There are 11 seafood entrees, each of which includes a cup of soup and vegetable. The Soup of the Day is usually pretty good. There are six salads and seven pastas, of which our favorite is the Shrimp, Basil and Tomato (the tomatoes are sun ripened, and the whole mix is tossed with linguine in olive oil and garlic sauce). If all you want is a sandwich, we suggest the Deluxe Crabcake Sandwich. Lunch includes wraps, a Backfin Crab Platter, Philly Cheesesteak, 10 kinds of burgers, and Summer Lime Chicken.

Dajio's hides in such a jungle of Live Oaks, bushes, flowers and vines that you have to pay attention to even find it. Then, you may have to wait an hour for a table. One week, we stopped by five days in a row and never could get a seat. So why put up with all this trouble? The food. The prices are definitely upscale, but this is one of the Outer Banks truly great restaurants. On the Brunch menu, stars are the Seafood Omelette and Baked Dutch Apple Pancakes. For Lunch, the musts are the Cast Iron Maple Glazed Scallops, Clam Chowder (contains leeks, garlic and wild mushrooms, certainly one of the most unique clam chowders you'll taste), the Pamlico Crab Cake and Fried Green Tomatoes. The Wild Mushroom Ravioli, Smoked Duck and Eggplant Napolean are breaks from seafood. But the stars on the evening menu are the Low Country Purloo (chorizo, shrimp, scallops, oysters, clams, rice and veggies), and the Blue Plate Special (fish of the day). In the heart of downtown on Route 12 across from the Post Office.

The Jolly Roger is the island's only waterfront restaurant, with decks right on the harbor . They have an eclectic menu, with a strong touch of Mexican and even Homemade Chili. We like their Fish Tacos (grilled mahi, lettuce, tomatoes, rice, beans and homemade salsa---no coleslaw), Quesadillas, Fajitas, Wraps, and various Basket Dinners, especially the Scallop Boat. There are Pita Pockets, Pulled Pork Barbeque, Beer Battered Onion Rings, Sweet Potato French Fries, and Philly Cheese Steak. Although this is absolutely a family restaurant, Dad will enjoy several unique local beers (Skip Jack, Longboard Lager, and Jolly Roger Aloe. They even have a Sunset Drink Menu, which offers Brigantine, Harbor Sunset and Mango Breeze. Eating here while watching sailboats, yachts, fishing boats and ferries coming and going is a Summer delight.
The Flying Melon offers an eclectic menu with touches of New Orleans, Savannah and Charleston. This exotic approach begins with the appetizers, of which our favorites are the Jalapeno Chile Popcorn, Home Smoked Fish With Boursin Cheese, and Dim Sum. They always offer a unique Soup of the Day. There are several interesting salads, of which the Mixed Greens (Fuji apples, raisens, goat cheese, balsamic vinaigrette) and Spinach Salad (with caramelized onions, feta cheese, tomatos, cucumbers, calamata olives and honey lemon vinaigrette) are the best. Among entrees, we like the Crawfish Cakes in Red Pepper Coulis and Filet of Grouper Stuffed With Crabmeat. This is a simple one page menu, allowing the kitchen to focus on a few items and do them very well.
Jason's is a lunch and dinner outlet near the edge of town. They have all the usual seafood items, but their Jamaican Jerked Chicken or Shrimp (sauteed with red and green peppers, onions, pineapple and spicy seasoning) are their best entrees. There are six pasta dishes, five salads, five subs, seven sandwiches, three wraps, and three pizzas. Actually, they do a pretty good job with their pizzas. They have their own crust trimming machine, spread ther ingredients in front of you, and bake it in plain view. No parts of it are brought in, frozen or premade. There's a kids menu and thorough drink list.

Mango Loco's is locally known more for its music than its food. The menu is a mix of seafood, Mexican and Caribbean. The music features groups like Moussa, Fingernails on the Blackboard, Coyote and The Sol Creech Band. Owners and managers keep revolving (and as we type this it's for sale again), and each time the restaurant closes and reopens, but for some reason the name and the menu stay pretty much the same. The famous Caribbean Seafood Chowder is one of Ocracoke's finest soups, and the Spinach Cheese Enchiladas are as good as you'll find at any major Mexican restaurant back on the mainland. There's a Tuna and Goat Cheese Empanada we haven't found elsewhere, and we eat a lot of Mexican food. Many of these items are traditional Mexican or Caribbean but Mango Loco's adds its own sauces for a unique Ocracoke taste. On nights they have music, the crowd comes early and stays late.

The Creekside is a heavily shaded lunchtime patio on Route 12 two blocks from the harbor. They do offer four full dinner entrees (shrimp, crab cakes, oysters and a mixed seafood platter), but the menu is geared toward the lunch crowd. Among the appetizers, we like the Bruschetta (tomatoes, olives, garlic and basil), and Greek Salad (greens, peppercinis, olives, tomatoes, artichoke hearts, onions, feta cheese, herb dressing). There are seven Wraps, three burgers, six salads, five seafood sandwiches (the Oysterburger is especially good), and three unique burgers.
One of the island's great stories of the decade is the rescuing of the Ocracoke Seafood Corporation. Once a local tradition, it fell on hard times and closed back in 2003. For two years the building sat there. The disaster in that closure was that without their only local processing plant, the 33 local commercial fishermen had no place to sell their catches. So they took matters in their own hands, banded together, incorporated, applied for and won a federal grant, bought the processing plant, restored it to operating condition, and reopened it. Now, once again, you can buy locally caught seafood to take back to your cottage or campsite and sautee or grill for dinner. Their menu depends on whatever the fishermen bring in that day. Today, school groups come by for tours of the fish processing. For many kids from mainland cities, it is their first time seeing where fish actually come from. And 33 Ocracoke families are back to supporting themselves in their time honored profession.

Whether you're driving, walking, biking, using a golf cart or riding the shuttle, you need to stop by the Ocracoke Light House. It's not nearly as tall as the other six lighthouses along the Outer Banks, but for 50 years it guarded the busiest inlet in North Carolina. (At one time ships came in through Ocracoke Inlet for stops at Elizabeth City, New Bern, Edenton and Morehead City. Hurricanes created Oregon Inlet, deepened Hatteras Inlet, filled in Ocracoke Inlet and created additional inlet further south so this was no longer a major passage.) It was built in 1823 and is 75 feet tall. Its diameter is 25 feet at the ground and narrows to 12 feet at the top. The walls are solid brick, five feet thick. A Fresnel lens was installed in 1854. The lighthouse was electrified in 1910. Its beacon can be seen 14 miles out at sea. It is now operated by the U.S. Coast Guard and is the second oldest continuously operating lighhouse in the nation.

To get there from the center of the village, take route 12 and when it makes the sharp left turn, begin looking for Lighthouse Road. Turn right (south) on Lighthouse Road and follow it to the lighrhouse.

Down Creek Gallery is right on the waterfront and may be Ocracoke's best. Over 100 Ocracoke and North Carolina artists display their works here. They include jewelry, metal, wood, pottery, glass, paintings and photography. Owner Mrissa Gross is an Ohio native, an Ohio State and University of Arizona grad, who purchased the gallery from Tony McGowan in 2015. She is a gracious hostess who knows her art. Probably the most impressive pieces in her gallery are the metal etchings of photographs, especially the very large ones of Frisco Pier. The metal media lends a sheen to the photo that brings out the colors. Chris Van Atta does those. He's a Canon professional who digitally engraves some of his photos on aluminum, and others on photometallic paper. But Van Atta, Ray Matthews and others have many works on display. Gross also hosts artist shows. This is the kind of art gallery you would expect to find in a city. Some of the large pieces run over $1000 but many smaller pieces are quite affordable. For any art appreciator, this is a must stop.

Kitty Hawk Kites has a branch here, with the usual kites and other beach gadgets and clothing. This store, right on the waterfront along Route 12, is not as big as their Avon and Kitty Hawk locations, but it's stuffed with their usual items. This one has the added benefit of the village ice cream shop right next door.
Should you find Ocracoke charming enough to spend one or more nights, you can choose from six motels. Four are down along the waterfront, but the Pony Island, further inland, is the largest, oldest and most historic. It includes one of the best breakfast restaurants on the Outer Banks, a fine pool, and the closest location to the beaches. A long list of well known executives, politicians, athletes, movie stars and other notables have stayed here. If you make your reservation early enough, you can request one of the third floor units, which give you a view over the island, the beaches, the lighthouse and the ocean. These are classic 1950s rooms, but they've been carefully updated several times. The Pony also offers luxury units and efficiencies if you'd like to stay several days or a week. Since it's away from the crowds along the waterfront and is set back away from Route 12, the Pony is much quieter, but you're only a few block walk or ride from the action.
If you've already been to Ocracoke and visited the stores, galleries, lighthouse, beaches and museum, you might consider a trip to Portsmouth. A small boat ferries you across Ocracoke Inlet and picks you up two hours later. This gives you time to explore the town that was once the busiest port on the Carolina Coast, before currents shifted and filled in the harbor and inlet so big ships could no longer get there. Portsmouth was abandoned in 1972 but the Park Service maintains the buildings, so it is in effect a ghost town. The beaches on Portsmouth Island offer the best shelling on the Outer Banks, in addition to excellent swimming and surfing. Since very few people go there, it offers excellent bird watching. However, it is very hot and humid and in Summer the mosquitoes come in clouds. Spring and Fall are much better times to visit, when the mosquitoes are gone and it's usually in the 70s.
Located at the T intersection where Route 12 turns right at Silver Lake, Ride The Wind is Ocracoke's center for outdoor adventure. You can rent or buy surfboards and take surfing lessons. You can sign up for guided kayak trips or rent kayaks for your own trip. They offer sunrise, noon, sunset and moonlight kayaking. The typical tour crosses Silver Lake, goes through the channel into Pamlico Sound, and rounds Springer Point, a wooded area of the island. Depending on weather and currents, you might visit Teach's Hole, Oyster Creek or other locations. The shop also offers kayaking and surfing clothing and equipment.
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