Enjoying a day on Roanoke Island
Updated: Sep 18
If you have never been to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, they are a chain of barrier islands off the coast each with their own character and charm. Typically, people think of this area as less commercialized which gives way to beautiful beaches, great restaurants and friendly locals. As with many vacation areas, there tend to be quite a few differences within the local towns.
If you're looking for a bit of a break from the miles of beaches and want to take in some of the local history, visit a town called Manteo and learn what it has to offer. Located on Roanoke Island most people will enter this island from the mainland via U.S. Highway 64. The first thing you will see as you enter Roanoke Island is the Pirate’s Cove Marina. Directly off Sailfish Drive this hosts hundreds of boat of all types from fishing boats to yachts. This is a great place to grab a bite to eat with a view. It features a restaurant which is great for sandwiches, appetizers, salads, and lighter fare. The also have a full dinner menu which will not disappoint, but the ability to enjoy the outdoor fresh air overlooking the marina is what makes this place so special. This location hosts an indoor and outdoor bar with a full array of specialty drinks, as well as some interesting oyster shooters. Entering the building you will either take an elevator or stairway to the second floor to the Blue Water Grill & Raw Bar. Enjoy a indoor table or step outside to grab drink at Mimi's Tiki Hut for the best view of the Marina. It is especially fun to watch towards the end of the day as the boats return from fishing trips. Many people take, rent, and charter day trips from this marina for fishing and leisure. Whether enjoying a day at sea or time in the marina, you can still take in the beautiful scenery and natural beauty of the area.
Now as you travel further into Manteo you will start to see the history surrounding the town. Arguably the most scenic area in Manteo is the historic waterfront area. It is well marked so the street signs will lead you into the heart of downtown via Fernando, Agona, Sir Walter Raleigh or Budleigh streets. Many of the local areas are easily walkable and you can enjoy quite a bit of the local culture. Here is a map of the area: Click Here
The waterfront area is one of my favorites where you have local coffee shops, art and candy stores and even the historic Pioneer Theater. The stores showcase tons of antiques and trinkets, and you can even see a blacksmith working toward the marina. If you get the opportunity to visit this area, take a stroll along the water and piers which host several exhibits of maritime history as well as the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse. If it's a nice day check yourself out on the towns live video link where people can see the waterfront in real-time. This town has a bit of everything including shops, boats, restaurants, a distillery and even a playground for younger children.
If you're looking for a bite to eat, my local favorites are the Lost Colony Tavern which is a casual restaurant with their own brewery that features British-style ales. They have many other little sandwich shops which are all good, but this tends to be a focal point of the center of town. If you're looking for a meal with a water view, check out Avenue Waterfront Grille. This overlooks the marina and gazebo on the sound and is a popular restaurant that popped up over the last few years. The location includes ample indoor seating with a full bar, as well as some outdoor seating. One of my favorite dishes is the blackened rockfish, its seasonal so look for it on the menu. The menu changes regularly but defiantly stick to seafood dishes at this restaurant. If you want to add to the overall experience, try eating at night. Overlooking the marina as the sun goes down provides spectacular views including the Elizabeth II.
Another recommendation for the adults in the group, would be to taste the local rum at the Outer Banks Distilling Company. It's only a short walk down Budleigh Street, but you can enjoy a tour of the distillery followed with a tasting. This is approximately 1 hour and the rums are quite tasty. You can even purchase any local favorites on the way out.
Across from the downtown Manteo waterfront floats Elizabeth II at her home port at Roanoke Island Festival Park. This is where you can see what it was like to be on a English merchant vessels from the Roanoke Voyage of 1585. Spend some time in the museum or take in the local history around the town. I would say on average you would only spend about 1.5 hours here but its fun to do at least one time. You can find it by driving through the waterfront and following the signs for Roanoke Island Festival Park. Located here is the Outer Banks History Center, the Maritime Museum and the Elizabeth II. Admission tickets can be purchased between 8 and 11 dollars with young children being free. The experience allows you access to physically board the Elizabeth II sailing ship, see the living the life of a 16th century settler in the Settlement Site, exploring an American Indian Town, and accessing the Adventure Museum. Even without the ticket you have access to the grounds the store and parts of the museum so if your in area its worth the additional few minutes to travel over and see how the first settlers lived.
So as you work your way down to the other side of Roanoke island you will find several attractions such as the North Carolina Aquarium, Elizabethan Gardens and The Lost Colony. They are on the far side of the island but easy to find thanks to numerous signs along the main roadway.
The North Carolina Aquarium can be found off Airport Road but you would want to drive from the waterfront. Its a 68,000-square-foot complex that covers all aspects of Outer Banks aquatic life, from endangered sea turtles to common horseshoe crabs and stingrays. They have indoor and outdoor facilities to spend hours learning the local culture and having fun (Approximately 2 Hours). This facility can be enjoyed at anytime and hosts events, parties and even weddings, this is also one of our favorite rainy day activities in OBX which you can read about in this related article; Click Here
For the nature lovers or even some history buffs, visit the Elizabethan Gardens. Tickets are reasonably priced from 12 dollars for adults down to 3 dollars for a dog. Due to seasonal changes the trees, shrubs and flowers always provide different perspectives. They also have sculptures of Queen Elizabeth I and the solitary figure of Virginia Dare.
Now for a truly unique evening experience, grab tickets for the open air outside theatre in Roanoke. The Lost Colony is a show where you experience the life of the first settlers which has been running for 85 seasons. This event has actors and entertainment on the grounds before the show, and you can even sometime meet some of the actors on the way out. The costumes are of Elizabethan style as well as represent the fashion of the early English Settlers. They are quite complex and a thing to see up close. The story starts with the cast entering the stage from the open ocean as the boat pulls up to start the show. Its interactive and exciting its something not to miss (Approximately 3 Hour). Now even though I have seen this a few times and enjoyed it, the food is a bit limited and you definitely want to bring bug spray as it is near the water after dark. This is not a show I would do often but its one of the few shows I remember years later and in that regards it was definitely a standout.
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