5. Ocracoke Island, North Carolina Outermost of the Outer Banks, Ocracoke is a 16-mile slash of unspoiled sand along the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. The remote isle was settled in the 1750s and history hounds can admire the East Coast's oldest operating lighthouse (built 1823) and browse Civil War artifacts at the Ocracoke Preservation Museum. Over 250 historic structures remain standing on the island (often on stilts), most utilizing materials from scuttled ships. The culinary, shopping, and nightlife scenes are worth the trip as well. Fisherman angle for Spanish mackerel and speckled trout, which is then served alongside oyster stew simmered with bacon at generations-old family-owned restaurants. Shops carry authentic crafts from quilts to woodcarvings, and CDs by such well-regarded locals as Molasses Creek and Mya Rose, who play bars like Deep Water Theater and Mango Loco.
Fun Fact: Isolated Ocracoke developed its own distinct dialect, a "brogue" which you can still distinguish among older residents.