Manteo, the heart of Roanoke Island, is the center of visitor activity. To call this small coastal town on the protected Shallowbag Bay picturesque doesn’t do it justice. The marina and waterfront, the replica Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse, and the slow, quiet residential streets surrounding the community’s core are beautiful enough to persuade more than a few visitors to move here. Incorporated in 1899 and named for Chief Manteo of the Croatan Native American Tribe – Chief Manteo, along with his counterpart, Chief Wanchese, toured England after English explorers arrived and friendly relations were established – it’s a town with a history tied to The Lost Colony of Roanoke and to the bounty of the waters around. Families here fished and farmed for a living, a story more fully told at Island Farm and at the Roanoke Island Maritime Museum where you can get a look at some of the boats designed and built especially for these waters. Take a walk out to the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse to see how these fishermen – and ones with larger boats – navigated these waters with the help of these screwpile lighthouses.
Across the bay from the Manteo waterfront is Roanoke Island Festival Park, home to several festivals and gatherings each year, plus a museum, costumed interpreters showing what the early colonists had to contend with when establishing their lives here, and the Elizabeth II, a full-scale replica of the ships that brought those colonists to our shores. Climb aboard, get a look at the accommodations these men and women lived in for their journey west from England, and marvel at their mettle.
In downtown Manteo, you’ll find more than a dozen places to dine, a brewery, and a rum distillery. Sampling the rum and a flight of beers will give you an idea of how the creative culinary minds here work, and if you want to see more of that, then you need to grab a bite to eat. At 1587 Lounge OBX, the restaurant inside the historic Tranquil House Inn, their wine selection and cocktail offerings are matched only by the food, which, naturally, has a seafood focus. At The Hungry Pelican, Poor Richard’s Sandwich Shop, and Lost Colony Brewery and Café you’ll find sandwiches and other hand-held eats as well as that flight of beer. Olives serves up Greek fare with an emphasis on the fresh catch. And if you’re in the market for coffee and breakfast, Island Perks, Charis Coffee Co., and Front Porch Café have you covered. And that rum, you’ll find it and more at Outer Banks Distilling, all in walking distance of the waterfront. Of course, there are other bites to be had, but what’s a getaway without something to discover?
You won’t find mini-mansion beach houses or the hotels and motels typical to the Outer Banks here. Instead, you’ll find Victorian and Craftsman-style homes and, nestled among them, the largest collection of B&Bs and Inns on the Outer Banks. Staying at one of the Inns or B&Bs is a much more quaint and personal way to stay and explore Manteo, Roanoke Island, and the Outer Banks. Roanoke Island Inn, Island Guesthouse and Motel, Tranquil House Inn, Scarborough Inn, and White Doe Inn Bed and Breakfast are a few of the places to stay in Manteo.
Wherever you stay, you’ll be a short walk to the waterfront where it’s possible to board a sailboat, catamaran, or pleasure cruiser for a sunset tour, a dolphin watch, or a little bit of both with some local legends and lore thrown in for good measure. You can also find a fishing charter that’ll pick you up here, but most of those depart out of the Oregon Inlet Fishing Center, Pirate’s Cove Marina, and other area marinas in the neighboring village of Wanchese, still, it doesn’t hurt to ask.
There’s no beach access in Manteo or really on Roanoke Island. That’s because the beaches – you know, sand, waves, shells – are a few minutes away in the Outer Banks towns of Nags Head, Kill Devil Hills, Kitty Hawk, and Duck, and along the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Still, there is access to the Roanoke and Croatan Sounds and to the marshes here. You’ll find outfitters downtown supplying folks with kayaks and standup paddleboards if you’re ready to explore a bit by water; if you want to go by land, there’s a long mixed-use bicycle and walking path that will take you from here to the north end of the island and these same outfitters can set you up with a bike. But before you rent, inquire with your B&B, they may have some gear reserved for the use of their guests.