May 29-31 


Dare to go to the end of the earth? Then, head for Ocracoke, N.C., a little barrier island at the tippy toe of the oh-so-trendy Outer Banks. Here's how:

It takes about five hours to get there, more during peak summer weekends like Memorial Day, so you have to really want to go. The trip includes a 45-minute free ferry ride from Hatteras to Ocracoke. In the summer, ferries run every half hour - call 1-800-NCFERRY for schedules. You want to leave plenty of time to get there a bit early as ferries fill up, but if you arrive late in the day or in the evening you should be OK. And if you don't time things just right, there's a new row of shops and a miniclimbing wall to entertain you and yours until it's time to board.


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The route is fairly simple: Interstate 64 east to Route 168 south all the way to Nags Head, then Route 12 south down to Hatteras. The ferry takes you to 12 on Ocracoke, and then it's a gorgeous, desolate 10-mile drive to the town limits.

As for lodging, try the Lightkeeper's Guest House. Just a block off Silver Lake, the harbor around which the town is situated, this little inn provides rooms, shared baths and a fully equipped kitchen. There's an outdoor shower and lots of different spaces for reading books, playing cards and all the other things you'll want to do since (thankfully) there's no TV. For other accommodation ideas, call the Ocracoke Island Visitors Center at (252) 928-4531.

Grab dinner at the most heavily patronized joint on the island, Howard's Pub, the only place open year-round. They serve your basic raw bar stuff and burgers, and they welcome families. Café Atlantic and The Pelican are more upscale, good for grown-ups. For a full breakfast visit the Pelican or The Island Inn, both inexpensive and delicious.

Bikes are key to the Ocracoke experience and if you don't want to take yours you can rent them at the Slushy Stand. The dress code is complete informality — your worst T shirts and shorts with a couple of clean ones for dinner. Take beach towels and a small cooler. There are no beachfront hotels or houses here — instead you drive for about five minutes to a beach parking lot and walk over a dune to the widest, cleanest beach you've ever seen.

Do not, repeat do not, go to Ocracoke looking for a fabulously wild and exciting time. If you do, you'll have totally missed the point, and you'll be greatly disappointed. Beyond the beach, there's a little bit of shopping, some sightseeing (lighthouse, antique shops, galleries, bookstores — including one operated by the wife of the guy who dresses like a pirate and offers boat excursions ($10) on his faux pirate sloop — Blackbeard met his headless fate here, you know).

Kids will want to ride their bikes around all day, perusing the souvenir shops without any pesky old adult supervision. A must-do is Albert Styron's Store, a true-blue general store run by a native Ocracoker aptly named Candy — this is the source for Mary Janes in big jars and Cokes in little bottles plus an assortment of prepared Thai foods (!!). And that is really what Ocracoke is all about — a very delightful mix of two

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