Hatteras Island Outer Banks is easily one of the most charming places on the East Coast that is visited by tens of thousands of vacationers each year. There's plenty of things to do besides just relaxing poolside, enjoying a sunset from a private hot tub, enjoying onsite watersports, or sitting on the beach.
Hatteras Island is 25 miles south of Nags Head, so you can enjoy a day trip to Nags Head for dinner and some outlet shopping, and still get to relax in the charm of Hatteras.
To help you make the most of your trip, we've put together a list of 10 things you MUST do during your next Hatteras Island vacation.
Partake in all of these activities within a week-long stay at your vacation rental, and you're bound to feel a sense of accomplishment knowing that you've taken full advantage of your vacation days on this alluring, ever-changing barrier island.
Some 1,250,000 bricks were used in the construction of Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, the tallest lighthouse in the United States. Protected by the National Park Service, this kid-friendly lighthouse is a must visit. If you've vacationed on Hatteras Island before and have yet to visit this iconic black and white striped structure, then you've been missing out!
Snag a family photo in front of the lighthouse, visit the gift shop, and pay $8 per adult to climb the 200+ stairs to the top. The view from the apex is well-worth the hike! Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is open year-round, however, you can only climb the structure during the spring, summer and fall months.
If you enjoy this lighthouse, there are plenty of great lighthouses in Outer Banks for you and your family to visit.
Completely free to visit, the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum, located near the ferry docks to Ocracoke Island, tells the story of the area's rich maritime history. About 600 shipwrecks have occurred off the coastline of Hatteras Island as a result of Diamond Shoals, an area of continually shifting sandbars that extend 14 miles from the North Carolina coastline into the Atlantic Ocean.
Within the museum, you can view old Coast Guard memorabilia, artifacts from the various shipwrecks that have occurred over the years, and you can get an up close look at the 12-foot-tall lens that was made in 1854 and used in Cape Hatteras Lighthouse for many years.
This one is a no-brainer. If you vacation on Hatteras Island, you have to allocate at least a few hours of your vacation to some rest and relaxation on the area's award-winning beaches. Comb the shore in search of lost and forgotten treasure; grab a board and try your hand at catching a wave, or chill out under an umbrella with a cold drink in your hand.
The beach is only a few minutes away from wherever you are on Hatteras Island, and best of all, it's totally free to enjoy!
(Photo by BobIsTraveling, Flikr)
Some 400+ species of birds have been spotted at Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, which is the patch of the island located just south of Oregon Inlet and the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service offers many opportunities to learn about the area's superb wildlife diversity and unmatched natural beauty.
Be sure to bring along your binoculars and take a leisurely stroll down the soundside boardwalk near The Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center. Also, don't miss the small turtle pond near the beginning of the boardwalk, located directly across from the building that houses the bathrooms.
Hatteras Island is encircled by water and is a haven for kayak enthusiasts of all skill levels and age brackets. Explore the lesser-known nooks and crannies of the island by means of either a single or tandem kayak. Or, take a Hobie fishing kayak out on the water and try your luck at landing the big one. Be sure to bring along your North Carolina Fishing License! Another fun option for full-body exercise is to go stand up paddle boarding instead.
Kitty Hawk Kites has an assortment of kayaks that you can either rent or purchase.
(Photo by NCDOT, Flikr)
Only accessible by boat, Ocracoke Island is a remarkably unique place to visit. Drive your car onto the Ocracoke ferry at the end of Hatteras Island and take a free ferry ride to Ocracoke. The boat ride typically takes anywhere from 40 to 50 minutes depending on the weather and time of day.
Many quaint shops and galleries fill this isolated slice of the North Carolina coastline. Be sure to check out the relatively small, all-white Ocracoke Lighthouse during your excursion. Also, be sure you don't miss the last ferry ride of the day on the way back or you'll be forced to spend the night on the island!
Over 100 local and regional artists are represented within this historic replica of the 1874 Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station. Browse the Pea Island Art Galleries expansive offering of watercolors, oils and acrylics, sculpture, jewelry and untold other beautifully inspirational & tempting works of local art.
For gallery hours and additional information, call 252-987-2879 or visit their Facebook page.
(Photo by Ken Lund, Flikr)
The Oregon Inlet Life-Saving Station is on the National Register of Historic Places and is one of the most distinctive buildings on the OBX. An estimated $700,000 was spent restoring the exterior and interior of the building not so many years ago, and during the renovation, the structure was raised about ten feet off the ground and placed on pilings, allowing sand to blow freely underneath.
Located just south of the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge, be sure to stop by the Oregon Inlet Life-Saving Station and take a photo of yourself and a friend with the structure in the background. Consider snagging your photo about an hour before sunset to enjoy the best lighting of the day!
A place for all ages to enjoy and learn about the ocean and wetlands, play, learn and most important of all, have fun. Located within walking distance of central Hatteras Village, the Hatteras Island Ocean Center is a terrific resource for locals and visitors alike.
The Ocean Center is a non-profit 501(c)(3), with ambitious plans of expanding from a single multi-story building to a much bigger area attraction. They have hopes of one day adding a world-class fishing pier, pier house, bathhouse, beach volleyball court and more as funding allows. Open from the beginning of March through the month of October.
Probably one of the coolest experiences available during your Hatteras vacation. Explore the Buxton Woods Coastal Reserve and the Cape Hatteras National Seashore by horseback! Enjoy the barrier island's natural beauty from an entirely different perspective.
Your guided horseback tour will take you through nature trails in Buxton Woods for 45 minutes, then you'll ride your trusty horse over the rolling sand dunes and onto the beach! Hatteras Island beach horseback riding adventures are available through Kitty Hawk Kites.
Opened in 1987, the Frisco Native American Museum is a non-profit educational foundation with a 501(c)(3) status. Headquartered in a building which is nearly a hundred years old, there are few structures on Hatteras Island that were built in the early 1900s that are still standing.
Open year-round, the Frisco Native American Museum holds a prized collection of Native American artifacts from Hatteras Island as well as other American Indian cultures. At the time of writing this post, admission to the museum is $5 per person, $15 per household, and $3 for seniors. Open every day except for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Closed on Mondays.
With massive glass windows overlooking the scenic Pamlico Sound and a spacious outdoor seating area, Good Winds Restaurant is one of the very best spots to enjoy a sunset on the Outer Banks. The eatery is located on the second story of the Waves Village shopping complex, right above one of Kitty Hawk Kites' signature retail stores.
Open for lunch, dinner, and Sunday brunch, the restaurant's menu consists of a variety of items including sandwiches, salads, and signature seafood entrees. Closed from December through February, Good Winds Restaurant is open every day of the week.
(Photo by the National Park Service)
Once you wander down Buxton Woods Trail for several minutes, it's easy to forget that you're on a thin barrier island that's surrounded by water and covered in sand. Don’t forget to bring your binoculars with you since it’s a great place to go bird watching.
Take in the diverse maritime forest ecosystem up close, listen to the pelicans squawking and birds chirping while you traverse a few of the highest points on Hatteras Island. The start and end of the trail's loop are at the Buxton Woods picnic area.
(Photo by Our State Magazine)
Don't let your Hatteras vacation pass you by without trying one of Orange Blossom Bakery and Cafe’s famous apple uglies, the restaurant's signature menu item.
These pastries are one of the ugliest baked goods you'll ever see – they also happen to be one of the best tasting baked goods you'll ever digest as well! They're seriously good, and people drive from as far away as Corolla to savor them. Be sure to get to the bakery early in order to beat the crowd!
Hatteras Island is known for being one of the premier kiteboarding and windsurfing destination locations in the world. Take advantage of the area's ideal conditions and either learn how to kiteboard from a PASA certified school or stop in at Waves Village or the Canadian Hole and watch others strap into a special design board and fly through the air with the help of a massive kiteboarding kite.
If you are an experienced rider and have your own gear (or wish to rent some from Kitty Hawk Kites), be sure to take advantage of the free launch site at Waves Village!
This is the ideal guide for the best things to do on Hatteras Island. Add these 10 things to do to your travel plans and you’ll love your visit to this quaint Outer Banks Island.