2020 & 2021
Ocracoke Island is at the southern tip of the Outer Banks of North Carolina and can only accessed by ferry.
Ocracoke Island became our home away from home in 2020 & 2021. Our goal was to find a vacation destination that provided opportunities to be mostly outdoors and stay in somewhat private accommodations. Our first visit was in August of 2020 and we were able to enjoy long days at the beach and a cool evening sunset by sailboat. We’ve now spent three winter weeks . We returned for the winter holidays, staying in a harbor front rental, enjoying early sunsets and fewer crowds. For Spring Break 2021 in April, we returned to the island for a few nights at The Castle on Silver Lake, a location we had learned about from another favorite destination, their sister property the First Colony Inn up the coast in Nags Head.
Ocracoke Island isn’t for everyone; there are no beachfront rental mansions, large-scale attractions, or chain restaurants. For us one of the draws is that (for the most part) we find like-minded visitors and residents who welcome diversity, support small businesses, and respect the history and natural beauty of the island. Learning about the incredible history of the island will greatly enhance your visit. It’s easy to fill a week: book an evening sail on the Schooner Windfall, take a day excursion to Portsmouth Island, rent bikes and golf carts, birdwatch, visit the ponies, and enjoy a short hike to Springer’s Point Preserve for a swim on the sound side.
A Winter Beach (Mostly) to Yourself
In 2020, I set the lofty goal of walking 20.20 miles in one day by the end of the year. I accomplished my goal on Ocracoke Island that December, with a series of walks up the entire coast 15-mile coast, plus some in town strolls. The next year we returned to Ocracoke for Thanksgiving. Empowered by my 2020 walk, I had spent 2021 walking the OBX coast in a series of hop on hop off legs. Once again, I tackled the Ocracoke coastline, this time walking the entire stretch at once, from the ramp closest to the ferry landing all the way to South Beach.
During the summer we parked in the main parking lot at Ocracoke Beach to swim at the lifeguarded beach, while many families chose to drive to their beachfront recreation spot.
One of Ocracoke’s greatest assets is the fact that it is home to only locally owned shops and restaurants.
A pre-holiday visit is the perfect opportunity to shop for gifts that support small local businesses. The Village Craftsmen and other island shops are filled with high quality and USA-made jewelry, pottery, and art. The store is owned by the Howard Family, who are stewards to the history of the island as some of its earliest inhabitants. If you plan to visit the island, their website and Facebook Page provide both local history and recent news. Other shops include Moonraker’s Tea Shop, Island Ragpicker, Over the Moon, Down Creek Gallery, Books to be Red, Bella Fiore Pottery, and Seabreak Jewelry. Coffee from Magic Bean and Ocracoke Island Coffee kept us fueled for our shopping.
Businesses are family-owned with minimal staff, so hours often don’t match what is listed on Google, especially during the holidays. Give restaurants and stores a call before you visit, or check facebook pages to see when they are open. On New Year’s Day we called one restaurant to order lunch and were greeted with a message apologizing for being closed because their oven had broken. Being young once ourselves, we were a little suspicious that the “oven” had just been up too late the night before ringing in 2021.
The island offers an array of accommodations, from large multi-family homes to small independent hotels and B&Bs. However, I am not sure any of them top the view from our Silver Lake Harbor front rental. From our window we were treated to birdwatching that included pelicans, herons, cormorants and small diving ducks. One afternoon a river otter spent a few hours swimming around Silver Lake Harbor.
(Side note- this is not an actual lake. Remember when, in the movie Jaws, the shark went into the “lake” where the small kids were sailing? Silver Lake is like that one.)
There are an array of restaurants on the island, from more upscale spots like Dajio to the Mexican food truck Eduardo’s. We’ve made many dining-oriented memories on the island, from Alice’s first sip of coke from Taqueria Suazo’s to an Italian food themed campfire on the Beach with a takeout pizza from Jason’s and pasta from Sorellas. Pony Island Restaurant omelets and waffles & ice cream were breakfasts of champions. Dining on the picnic tables at Flying Melon included delicious food and welcomed visits from the islands resident Ocracats. Howard’s Pub, Ocracoke Oyster Company, and SMacNally’s are staples for seafood on the Island. Finally, hot pretzels from Plum Point kitchen and beer from 1718 Brewery were staples of our vacation diet.
The Castle on Silver Lake offers rooms for couples and small families in the main building, as well as condo-style villas behind and next to the property. When staying in the Villas, breakfast was not included, but we did have access to the pool and steam room. On our summer and spring trip we booked the Lighthouse suite, which takes up the two floors of the castle and has a living room with panoramic views of the island. The outer deck was available to anyone staying on property during the day and early evening, but became private for those booked in the Lighthouse overnight.
Beach Fires & Driving
Downloading a fire permit is all you need to have a fire on the beach within that season’s rules. During the summer we found ourselves inundated with small biting “no-see-ems” and mosquitos. November and December gave us perfect nights for stargazing and having dinner by campfire, without being a feast for the local population of insects.
To drive on the beach you need to obtain a permit from the National Park Service, and spend a lot of time researching what vehicles can be used, the equipment you will need, and what you will do if you get stuck. There are entire facebook groups devoted to people how made poor choices for driving on the beach; you don’t want to be on them.
4 Steps to Get Ready to Visit Ocracoke Island
Read About the History
- Ocracoke, Its History and People by David Shears
- Images of America: Ocracoke by Jenie Owens
Check the Weather Forecast (But Don’t Believe It)
We followed the forecast and packed for winter temps and rain both trips, but had warm sunny days. So prepare for anything.
Like Facebook Pages & Follow Websites
November and December are the off-season on Ocracoke, so the easiest way to get updates on restaurant and store hours is to follow them on Facebook. The Ocracoke Observer and Ocracoke Current are also helpful.