Typically, the first time you hear about Manteo, the tale involves 110 English colonists, a 1587 voyage to the New World, and the mysterious disappearance of the entire settlement within 15 years.
No one really knows what happened to those early settlers, but their story is retold each summer in the open-air theater overlooking the water near downtown. The Lost Colony may have put Manteo on the map, but this fishing village is becoming a popular destination mainly because of its Colonial-style waterfront, historic 25-acre Festival Park, and its many gardens, shops, and restaurants. If you’ve visited the Outer Banks, you may have passed through this burgeoning town. But, if you’re not familiar with Manteo, you can follow this itinerary for 48 hours of entertainment, good food, and adventure.
After you roll into town on Friday afternoon, you’ll want a place to relax, refuel, and check out the local scene. Lost Colony Brewery & Cafe should be your first stop. Beyond the crowd-pleasing IPAs and blondes, you’ll find an interesting selection of robust British and Irish-style beers on tap. Local seafood is the highlight of the dinner menu, with shrimp and fish & chips for those who like Calabash-style dishes, and scallops, surf & turf, and catch of the day for those who prefer their seafood grilled.
Walk along the waterfront docks and check out the shops downtown before and after dinner. Galleries and storefronts line the street, and it’s a short walk across the bridge to Festival Park, where reenactors breath life into the stories of early settlers on board a replica of the Elizabeth II and at Algonquian and European settlements. Grab an ice cream cone at Big Buck’s Homemade Ice Cream to complete your introduction to Manteo. Big Buck’s serves 51 flavors, soft serve, sundaes, and smoothies to take along with you on your harbor stroll.
Let the gulls be your wake-up call at Oyster Point Campground in Croatan National Forest. You’ll have some of the best views of the night sky in the area as you relax by the campfire. Plus, you’re minutes away from the kayak launch and trailhead for the next day. If you’re looking for more luxurious weekend accommodations, Roanoke Island is known for historic B&Bs, and a top pick for special occasions is The White Doe Inn. Perched above Shallowbag Bay, the inn has soaking tubs and gas fireplaces in every room, plus a four-course breakfast, afternoon tea, and dinner for inn guests only.
Start your day with a mug of Kill Devil Hills Roastery coffee and fresh-baked pastries at The Front Porch Cafe, and then head to the Neusiok Trail for a morning hike. Start at the Oyster Point Campground trailhead for an out-and-back trek on the 22-mile trail. Though the terrain is flat, sandy and swampy sections can be challenging, especially after heavy rain. You’ll pass through a hardwood forest, cypress swamp, and longleaf pine savannah, with views of the Neuse and Newport rivers along the way. Look for the native (and carnivorous) Venus flytrap on the forest floor.
After the hike, it’s back to Manteo for salads, burgers, and seafood at the Blue Water Grill & Raw Bar. After your lunch break, it’s a short drive to the north edge of Roanoke Island and Fort Raleigh National Historic Site to learn about those first European settlers and their relationship with the Native Carolina Algonquian tribe. You can also walk the trails to Roanoke Sound and stroll the paths at Elizabethan Gardens, part of the North Carolina Birding Trail.
After your day on the trail, treat yourself to waterfront dining at the 1587 Restaurant. Pick your favorite vino from one of the most extensive wine lists in the area, paired with upscale entrees like maple-glazed duck and rack of lamb. Linger after the meal over a Dark & Stormy or Mai Tai and enjoy the water views at the Copper Bar.
Sunday morning calls for a hearty brunch at Sam & Omie’s, a Nags Head institution since 1937. The understated seaside shack is a summertime favorite, serving up southern classics like sausage gravy & biscuits, eggs benedict, buttermilk hotcakes, and country ham.
After breakfast, head inland to Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. The visitor center on Roanoke Island provides a good overview of the refuge, but you’ll want to experience the tidal wetlands for yourself. The refuge includes more than 15 miles of paddling trails and 2.5 miles of hiking trails, giving you plenty of opportunities to look for black bears, white-tailed deer, more than 145 bird species, and American alligators.
The refuge is also home to a small population of endangered red wolves, one of only two groups that remain in the wild. Once the red wolf population ranged from New England to Texas and south through Florida, but habitat destruction and hunting reduced their numbers to near-extinction. Since the late 1980s, the red wolf recovery program has been working to restore the wild population to the Carolina coast.
No trip to Manteo is complete without a stop at the state’s first microbrewery, the Weeping Radish Farm Brewery in Grandy. Take the beer & brat tour or order lunch off the pub menu with one of their German-style brews. Typically you’ll find several lagers, OBX Kolsch, and a hop-forward red ale on tap, along with a rotation of seasonal beers.
You have your choice of adventures on your way to and from the farm. Climb the dunes or go hang gliding at Jockey’s Ridge State Park, or go hiking and beachcombing at Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. You can also climb the dunes in Kitty Hawk to imagine the first airplane flight at the Wright Brothers Memorial.
Written by Ann Gibson for Matcha in partnership with OrthoCarolina.