Plan A Laid-Back Beach Vacation To This Island Off The East Coast

Just off the coast of mainland North Carolina, adventurous travelers can visit a tiny island with incredible vibes that has remained one of the best-kept secrets on the East Coast of the United States. Ocracoke Island has everything you'll need for a relaxing beach vacation without all the hustle and bustle of larger coastal cities.

Located in the Outer Banks region, the island is only 16 miles long and 3 miles wide with a population of only about 800 full-time residents, according to the 2020 census. Instead of shopping complexes, amusement parks, and boisterous clubs you'll find miles of untouched beaches, unique local restaurants, a mysterious history full of pirate shenanigans, and low-key, beachy bars with live music.

You can spend your days riding bikes around the island, soaking up the sun, and swimming for hours in the gentle waves before enjoying some freshly caught seafood in town. The laid-back Ocracoke lifestyle provides the perfect opportunity to relax, unplug, and spend quality time making memories with friends and loved ones.

Enjoy small-town charm, breathtaking beaches, and intriguing local history

You'll feel like you've left the rest of the world behind while on Ocracoke with its charm and laid-back lifestyle. The town center covers about four square miles and includes a variety of small local businesses. Visit cafes, seafood shacks, breweries, bars, pizza joints, ice-cream parlors, art galleries, and souvenir shops. Despite its small size, you'll never run out of excellent dining options during your visit — no trip to Ocracoke is complete without sampling some of the fresh, local seafood.

Cars are permitted on the island, but to enjoy the beautiful coastal scenery you can rent bikes at several locations around the island. Ocracoke Beach Outfitters allows you to reserve a bike online, and rates start at $55 per week. Ride around the island and explore the pristine white sand beaches, which are protected as part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. There are 16 miles of coastline to carve out a little sandy slice of paradise you'll have all to yourself.

When you've had your fill of sand and saltwater, you can walk in the footsteps of some of the world's most notorious pirates. During the 17th and 18th centuries, the island was a pirate hotspot, and the famous Blackbeard called the island home until he was eventually killed by the Royal Navy just off the coast at Teach's Hole in 1718. For more history and local legend, visit the Ocracoke Preservation Society museum.

How to reach Ocracoke Island

Ocracoke is still a hidden gem because getting there requires extra planning. Whereas bridges connect other areas of the Outer Banks, the only way to reach Ocracoke is by boat. If you have a boat, you can dock it at the marina in town; otherwise, you'll have to ride the ferry.

Visitors road-tripping down the Eastern Seaboard of the U.S. can drive their car or RV onto the ferries that depart from the mainland at three different locations. The shortest ferry ride lasts about an hour and departs from Hatteras. It's free to ride, but make sure to get there early as space is limited, and it's first come, first served.

The other departure ports are located at Swan Quarter and Cedar Island and require a reservation ahead of time, which you can book by visiting the North Carolina Department of Transportation Website. The ferry schedule changes throughout the year, and prices range from $1 to $45 depending on your vehicle type. Both of these ferry rides take more than two hours.

Once you arrive on Ocracoke and depart the ferry, you can drive your car to your accommodation of choice. On the island, accommodations range from relaxing bed and breakfasts to small hotels and private vacation rentals. The Ocracoke Campground at Cape Hatteras National Seashore offers beachfront sites for tents and RVs, but spots book up fast. It's a good idea to make reservations well in advance by visiting the National Park Service Website.