Ask most people what the first English settlement in North America was, and they will say Jamestown. While that was the first permanent settlement, the very first was in what is today known as North Carolina’s Outer Banks on Roanoke Island. Twenty years prior to Jamestown, more than 100 colonists came from England to establish a colony. It was however an unsuccessful attempt: When they were checked upon a few years later, they had all disappeared, with only the word “Croatoan” carved into a tree to give any clue as to their whereabouts. The lost tribe mystery has never been fully solved, but the Outer Banks is today a much more welcoming place to go. For famous lighthouses, the highest sand dunes in the Eastern United States, and exploring history such as the first flight at Kittyhawk, the Outer Banks is a destination that can’t be beat.
From Charlotte, get on I-85 traveling north. In Greensboro, I-85 and I-40 will merge. Continue on I-40. When I-40 and I-85 separate close to Durham, stay on I-40. In Raleigh, continue onto I-440 west, then take exit 14 to merge onto U.S. 64 east. At Manns Harbor, either stay on U.S. 64 and cross the Manns Harbor Bridge, or take the 64 Bypass, and go over the longer Virginia Dare Memorial Bridge. Stop by the visitors center in Manteo, where 64 and the bypass come back together. By continuing on 64 east from here, go out to the narrow strip that runs 200 miles: Head north toward Nags Head or south toward Whalebone Junction on State Route 12. Traveling south will put you in the Cape Hatteras National Park. From Charlotte to Manteo on Roanoke Island, the trip is 360 miles.
49684 Highway 12
Buxton, NC 27920
If you should go down to the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, you will find yourself in Buxton. There is no better place for casual fine dining in Buxton than Cafe Pamlico. The restaurant sits right on the waterfront, and outdoor seating is avaliable. Cafe Pamlico offers a contemporary coastal menu, and uses locally sourced seafood, meat and vegetables to create an unmatched dining experience. This is a popular place, and reservations are highly recommended.
1219 S. Croatan Highway
Kill Devil Hills, NC 27948
If you head north toward Kittyhawk, stop for something to eat at Bob’s Grill in Kill Devil Hills. It is easy to find, right at Mile Post 9. Owner Bob McCoy serves up breakfast, lunch, and dinner at Bob’s Grill, with reasonable prices and great food. Souvenirs are also available, featuring the “Eat and Get the Hell Out” motto that has made this place so popular. Don’t worry, it’s just a reference to the midday rush, but be warned this little place does fill up during lunch.
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
46368 Lighthouse Road
Buxton, NC 27920
Price: $7 adult climb tickets/$3.50 senior citizens, National Parks and Federal Recreation Lands Access Pass holders and children 11 and younger
There are five famous lighthouses along the Outer Banks. The tallest, sometimes also called America’s lighthouse, is Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in Buxton, N.C. It offers climbing tours daily, allowing visitors to climb all the way to the top. The view is well worth the climb up 248 spiral steps to the deck. Children must be at least 42 inches tall and able to climb all the way on their own; no carrying children is allowed on the steps.
Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge
East Lake, NC 27953
The refuge now has a visitors center, which opened in late June of 2012, offering free educational and fun exhibits, dioramas and a multi-sensory theater. Outside of the visitors center, explore trails and learn about wildlife along the way. Enjoy a wildlife drive and a paddling trail as well. This refuge is part of the Red Wolf Recovery Program, an effort to bring the red wolf back from the brink of extinction.
Roanoke Island Maritime Museum
1 Festival Park
Manteo, NC 27954
This attraction along the Manteo waterfront boardwalk is an absolute must see. Housed in Creef/Davis Boathouse, it was here that the Elizabeth II was built in 1982. This16th-century representative ship rests in its port across from the waterfront. The Shad boat was named the official state boat of North Carolina in 1987. It was invented in 1883 by George Washington Creef, one of the men for whom the boathouse is named. Boats and exhibits are on display, and guests are encouraged to watch volunteers at work here.
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Cameron House Inn
300 Budleigh St.
Manteo, NC 27954
Click here for prices
Nestled in Manteo, on Roanoke Island, the quiet little Cameron House Inn promises a perfect location just a short distance from famous lighthouses, attractions, restaurants and shops. Enjoy bed and breakfast treatment in a historic home built in 1919. Stay in one of six rooms decorated in individual arts and crafts styles. This place features a hominess and comfort that is hard to find when traveling. Please note, this is not a place for people with allergies to cats, four of them run the place. Parking and Internet access are available. Pets are welcome, and there are also private porches.
Roanoke Island Inn
305 Fernando St.
Manteo, NC 27954
Click here for rooms and rates
Choose from eight bedrooms available at Roanoke Island Inn, built in the 1860s and kept in the same family ever since. With each generation, the house has grown some. Guests are permitted the use of a well-stocked pantry, and the inn sits right on the waterfront. Each room has its own private entrance. From a porch on the second floor, look down to the Roanoke Island Marshes Lighthouse. Guests are even offered bicycles for exploring the island. The breakfast is continental, pets are welcome, and Roanoke Island Inn offers free Internet service and parking.