Things move a little slower on Hatteras Island.
It’s true that beaches like these will attract thousands of visitors each year, and the crowds swell in the summer months, when the things to do on Hatteras Island are near-endless. But despite this tiny barrier island’s popularity, it’s lightyears away from hotspots like Myrtle Beach. Hatteras is a place where you can step back in time to a simpler way of life. Some of the locals have even coined the slogan “laid back since way back.”
With a friendly atmosphere and strong roots in its communities, Hatteras Island has captured the hearts of beachgoers for decades. Read on to discover personal recommendations on the best things to do on Hatteras Island, from our local team’s perspective.
As the most recognizable landmark on the island, Cape Hatteras Lighthouse tops the list of things to do around Hatteras Island. Built in 1870 to guide ships through the strong ocean currents, today its black-and-white striped pillar is one of the most photographed icons on the Outer Banks. Be sure to snap a picture of your own—it’s a great backdrop for a family vacation photo—or enjoy a light lunch at the nearby picnic tables.
For an admission fee—and to add a little exercise and panoramic views—you can climb the winding stairs all the way to the top of the lighthouse. Tip from our local team: the guided full moon tours are a truly memorable experience, when you can ascend the lighthouse for beautiful vistas of the moonlight on the ocean.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but trust us: when you see how incredibly pristine Cape Hatteras National Seashore is, you’re going to want to set aside a couple extra hours (or even days). These protected beaches run for 70 miles along the Outer Banks, from Bodie Island to Ocracoke. There are so many things to do at Cape Hatteras National Seashore without spending a dime, from shell hunting, to sunbathing, to splashing in the inviting waters. With no buildings polluting the view and miles of sand beach to claim your own spot, it’s time to put your phone on silent and revel in the delightful do-nothing state of mind.
If you have access to a four-wheel drive vehicle, then you can enjoy one of Hatteras Island’s most treasured sights: the wild horses of Corolla. To see these amazing creatures in their natural habitat is like something out of a movie. The horses have inhabited the island for hundreds of years, and are most likely the descendants of Mustangs that swam to shore from 16th-century shipwrecks. Trust us, when it comes to things to do on Hatteras Island, this unique experience is high on the list.
A local’s tip: If you don’t have a four-wheel drive vehicle (really, you need one—don’t be the person that gets stuck in the sand), you can book a tour with one of several guide companies.
With beaches this inspiring, it’s no surprise that the Outer Banks are home to a thriving community of artists. Entry to local galleries is free, and one of the many fun indoor things to do on Hatteras Island. It’s also a great way to connect with the local scene—and maybe to even purchase a piece of art to commemorate your getaway. From Pea Island Art Gallery in Salvo to Kinnakeet Clay in Avon, the island is teeming with places to see and purchase local art.
Here, it’s easy to support local businesses. You won’t find many chain restaurants or stores, but that’s exactly what makes the Outer Banks so special. In fact, one of our favorite things to do on Hatteras Island is spend an easy afternoon just exploring the sleepy villages by foot, beach cruiser, or even a golf cart (cars are totally acceptable too, just not as fun).
Our local teams recommend a stop by Buxton Village Books to pick up your newest page-turner. This mom-and-pop shop is a great place to find new and used books to enjoy while you kick back at the beach. Or you can bring your book with you to Dancing Turtle Coffee Shop in Hatteras, where their decadent frozen coffee drinks are bordering on dessert. And when it comes to baked treats, there’s no beating the Orange Blossom in Buxton. Its world-famous apple uglies are worth setting your alarm extra early for.
Finally, no Hatteras Island vacation would be complete without indulging in fresh-caught seafood. From markets to restaurants, you’ll find endless opportunities to taste oysters, crab, scallops, shrimp—the list goes on and on. Luckily, Vacasa’s local team has recommendations on their own personal favorites for a delicious meal.
We’ve fallen in love with Hatteras’s undisturbed beaches. But it’s the island’s sleepy villages and friendly locale that set it apart from the rest. Switch off your phone and let the waves washing ashore serve as your alarm clock—you’ve found paradise.
Hatteras Island is accessible by car via North Carolina Highway 12. However, if you’re traveling from Ocracoke, you’ll need to take a ferry.
The ferry between Ocracoke and Hatteras Islands takes about 45 minutes, and is free. Passengers can board by car, bicycle, or foot.
The Outer Banks are so pristine and peaceful because they’re off the beaten path. The nearest airports to the Outer Banks are Norfolk International Airport, Coastal Carolina Regional Airport, and Raleigh-Durham International Airport. For exact distances and drive times, be sure to map the journey to your Outer Banks destination.