GPS: 35°06'N 75°58'W
Sixteen miles (26 kilometers) of protected wilderness beach surround the Outer Banks island’s one and only populated spot: the village of Ocracoke. The town is one of the earliest European settlements in the U.S. and still has Old World charm, with cobblestone streets winding around white clapboard houses. The village’s residents—some descendants of Blackbeard the pirate, who once lived here—contribute to the Continental vibe as well. The Ocracoke brogue, honed from years of isolated island living, is said to be the closest dialect to Elizabethan English anywhere in the world still spoken today.
Crashing into a sandbar off Ocracoke Island might have been the best thing Sir Walter Raleigh ever did. The 12-square-mile (19-square-kilometers) strip of white sand is one of the best beaches in the world, with the calm Pamlico Sound to the west and the Atlantic’s waves to the east, and it’s just as idyllic today as when he stumbled upon it. Hang ten in the Atlantic, or ply the waters of Blackbeard’s final battle on an evening kayak tour; you’ll catch sight of Ibis, Egret, turtles, crabs, and the sunset over Pamlico. In town, visit pubs, art galleries, and the island’s squat, white 1823 lighthouse.
Howard’s Pub, a friendly spot on the outskirts of town, has nearly 200 bottled imports and microbrews and 24 drafts on tap (www.howardspub.com). Southern coastal fare, like shrimp creole and fried oysters, is the island’s best dinner pick; try the Flying Melon Cafe (www.ocracokeguide.com/lp/flyingmelon/).
The Castle on Silver Lake lives up to its posh name; the National Historic Landmark has the look of a French chateau, with red-oak floors, cypress walls and ceilings, lavish antiques and art—and the best ocean views on the island (doubles from $139; www.thecastlebb.com).