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Hatteras Attractions

The natural world is the most stunning of Hatteras attractions — from Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge to Hatteras Island National Seashore. It’s hard for anything else to compete with the wonders that Mother Nature provides here, so many of the local points of interest are nature-oriented. You can walk mile upon mile of beautifully undeveloped shorefront searching for shells and other treasures or get yourself out into the deep, blue sea on anything that floats—standup paddleboards and kiteboards are the latest crazes. But beyond the water, the landscape and the wildlife, there are some fantastic Hatteras attractions that offer interesting diversions and inform visitors about the rich history of Hatteras Island. The most well-known of Hatteras attractions is the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, but other popular sites will get you up close and personal with the Native Americans who were the real first inhabitants of these islands, teach you about how locals predicted weather years ago, about the courageous men from the U.S. Life-Saving Service who went to the aid of hundreds of shipwreck victims and about the long and storied history of the Graveyard of the Atlantic. The Hatteras attractions are either free or charge a very modest fee. Several of the places listed here are also included in Hatteras History, so you may want to refer back to that section for more information. Also see Hatteras things to do for other ways to get to know this island.


South of the Tri-Villages of Rodanthe, Waves and Salvo, past a sizeable stretch of undeveloped Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Avon is considered the largest and busiest of the Hatteras Island towns (but remember that’s relative to Hatteras Island, not where you come from). Avon has the only two stoplights on the island and the only chain grocery store. It also has a wealth of accommodations, shops, restaurants, watersports outfitters and a well-loved fishing pier over the ocean. If you’re here to kiteboard, paddleboard or windsurf, Avon can hook you up. South of Avon is one of the island’s most popular kiteboarding and windsurfing spots; it’s known as The Haulover or Canadian Hole.

Buxton and Frisco

Buxton and Frisco are two distinct villages but they border one another (without any parklands in between) so they kind of blend together. Both of these villages are set among the Buxton Woods Maritime Forest, lending a different feel from the villages to the north, and Buxton is situated at the island’s widest point.

Buxton is the home of the world-famous Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, which you can climb for a view of the island. It’s also home to Cape Point, the magnificent point of land that juts farthest into the ocean. Visiting Cape Point (as long as it’s not closed during bird-nesting season) is an essential Outer Banks experience, and the National Park Service has a campground close by. Buxton offers several accommodations, shops, restaurants and outfitters along with many county services, ballfields, the islands’ schools and the community center known as the Fessenden Center. Frisco is much quieter and predominantly residential, but there are a couple of galleries, a coffee shop and a few other businesses and campgrounds. There’s also an airstrip here. It’s perfect for that feeling of getting away from it all.

Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station

23645 N.C. Highway 12
(252) 987-1552

The Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station is the nation’s largest and most complete existing example of the life-saving stations that were built along the Atlantic coast in the late 19th century to attend to shipwrecks and to rescue survivors. The 1874 Station was the first operational Life-Saving station built in North Carolina, serving until 1954. Chicamacomico has been partially restored, thanks to numerous volunteers who formed a nonprofit organization to save it, and it is now a fine museum and historic site; all structures are original buildings. It is also the only place anywhere in the world that re-creates the full historic beach apparatus life-saving drill on a regular basis with active-duty United States Coast Guard personnel.

On a visit here you’ll see the 1874 Station, the 1911 Station, two cookhouses, water tanks and cistern, a stable, a tractor shed, the smaller boathouse (now the Visitors Center) and a village home built in 1907. In the museum, you’ll learn about the U.S. Life-Saving Service and some of the rescues that occurred here. Artifacts, uniforms, rescue equipment, displays and video presentations abound, and self-guided tours help complete your knowledge of place and history. These stations have many stories to tell. Life-Saving crews at Chicamacomico performed numerous daring rescues, including one of the greatest rescues of WWI, that of the British tanker Mirlo in 1918. When the Mirlo was sunk by the German submarine U-117, Chicamacomico’s crew rescued 42 of 51 British sailors. The gift shop is full of unique nautical items and works by local craftspeople plus books and old-fashioned toys.

June through August, try to catch any of the special summer porch programs offered Monday through Friday at 2 p.m. Mondays, hear about the movie Nights in Rodanthe, which was filmed on Hatteras Island. Tuesdays hear true shipwreck and rescue stories. Wednesdays feature a traditional Hatteras Island cooking demonstration with samples. Thursdays is the popular historic Beach Apparatus Drill Re-enactment – the only Breeches Buoy demonstration in the country performed by active-duty U.S. Coast Guard personnel. Fridays feature the new program “Hence the Phrase,” where audiences participate in a fun game format to discover the nautical origins of many everyday words and phrases. Programs are free with paid admission to the site.

On August 7, 2014, the site will host its ninth annual American Heroes Day celebration. It’s a fun day with Coast Guardsmen, firefighters, ocean rescue personnel, police officers and EMS officials together on the Chicamacomico site, plus the beach apparatus drill and a very exciting Coast Guard helicopter search and rescue demo. Admission is $5 and includes a self-guided tour of the complex.

The site is open from mid-April through Thanksgiving weekend, Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission fees are charged. Chicamacomico is a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit raising all of its own funds; it has no federal, state or other budget.

Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum

59200 Museum Drive
Hatteras Village
(252) 986-2995
(252) 986-2996

At the end of N.C. Highway 12 just past the ferry docks, the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum attracts a lot of attention with its ship-like building, porthole windows and curved timbers. One of three North Carolina Maritime Museums operated by the North Carolina Division of Cultural Resources, the museum focuses on the maritime history and shipwrecks of North Carolina’s Outer Banks, often called the Graveyard of the Atlantic. Exhibitions cover five centuries, with shipwreck artifacts and memorabilia on display and changing exhibits telling the dramatic tales of lifesaving, shipwrecks, war and survival along the Carolina coast.

View the original 1854 Cape Hatteras Lighthouse Fresnel lens, the Enigma machine from the U-85, the bell from the Diamond Shoals Lightship, artifacts from Blackbeard’s Queen Anne’s Revenge and exhibits exploring Hatteras Island during the Civil War, including artifacts from the Monitor. Discover Hatteras’ amazing link to the Titanic. See unusual artifacts that have washed ashore as well as vintage diving and sport-fishing fishing equipment. 

The museum features year-round programming for people of all ages. Enjoy creating coastal crafts, movie nights and presentations by experts in maritime history, food, art and culture.

From May through September, hours are Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. From October through April, hours are Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free; donations are appreciated. Discover fun, beautiful and educational souvenirs and gifts in their Meekins Chandlery Gift Shop, with hours corresponding to Museum hours.

Hatteras Island Ocean Center

57204 N.C. Highway 12
Hatteras Village
(252) 564-9575

The Hatteras Island Ocean Center provides a wide variety of recreational and educational activities for people of all ages. There are two indoor exhibit areas: Ocean Center Hall and Beacon Place. Ocean Center Hall features HD video and traditional exhibits that help you explore the ecology and history of Hatteras Island and its surroundings. Many of the exhibits are displayed on interactive touchscreens. Beacon Place houses visitor information and exhibits covering history, nature and recreation. The suggested donation of $3 for adults and $2 for children (2 – 12) covers entry to both areas and helps support the Ocean Center educational endeavors. 

At the Ocean Center’s Ecology Park you can learn about and experience nature outside. You never know what kind of critters you’ll see in the water, on land, hiding in the trees and grasses or flying by. There’s an elevated walkway coming this spring with a gorgeous view. You can put your kayak, SUP or other non-motorized watercraft in at Ecology  Park and you’ll only be a short paddle away from Sandy Bay and The Slash. There are two nature trails through coastal wetlands and forest; they’re short, easy walks but they pack a lot of action. You can go crabbing at Ecology Park too.

A vast array of recreational and educational programs covering everything from kayaking to standup paddleboarding to photography to understanding the wetlands and its wildlife is offered at the Ocean Center. The programs go from age 5 and up, and cost is between $10 and $20 dollars. Check out their schedules on the Center’s website; program space is very limited, so be sure to reserve online.

Hatteras Island Ocean Center owns 1.5 oceanfront acres that are open to the public. By this summer, they hope to provide a dune walkover. You’re welcome to park at the Center and cross Highway 12 to access the beach at this location.

The Ocean Center’s longer-term goal is to build a world-class fishing pier, pier house, bathhouse, beach volleyball courts and more. You can learn more about their plans on their website, including how to purchase a pier pass -- www.hioceancenter.org. 

Hatteras Village

On the southern end of Hatteras Island, Hatteras, or as the locals call it, Hatteras Village, is known for its ties to offshore fishing. The village borders Hatteras Inlet, giving recreational and commercial fishing boats an easy route to the Gulf Stream and the inshore fishing grounds. Hatteras has several marinas where commercial and recreational boats dock, making this a great place from which to book an offshore charter. Several Hatteras Island motels, plenty of vacation rental homes and restaurants support the fishing and vacation industries. Hatteras also offers quite a bit of shopping, from art galleries to jewelry shops to clothing boutiques. For a fascinating look at the island’s storied maritime history, check out the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum. The ferry to Ocracoke Island leaves from Hatteras Village.

Rodanthe, Waves and Salvo

Known as the Tri-Villages, the communities of Rodanthe, Waves and Salvo border one another on the north end of Hatteras Island (just south of Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge). The locals know where the villages begin and end, and while the distinction may not really be important to the visitor, it is very important to someone who grew up here. All three villages are small but filled with vacation rentals, campgrounds, small motels, restaurants, shops and watersports outfitters.

Rodanthe is home to the Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station Historic Site, one of the nation’s most complete life-saving sites. Visiting the restored station offers a great history lesson about the service that preceded the U.S. Coast Guard. There’s also an oceanside fishing pier in Rodanthe. Waves is home to two of the Outer Banks’ largest kiteboarding centers and their attendant amenities like restaurants, accommodations and shops. Salvo is the quietest of the three villages, predominantly residential and perfect for a quiet vacation.