Wanchese at a Glance
A small, out of the way fishing village on Roanoke Island.Wanchese Restaurants
Wanchese, located well off the beaten path of the typical Outer Banks beach towns, has a charm all its own with quiet residential side streets, local grocery stores and small dives that serve up the freshest seafood, and one of the busiest marinas on the islands. Wanchese has a long history of being a fishing village, and the residents take pride in that heritage. A brief tour of the town will present a collection of local homes and businesses with impeccable maritime gardens, and crab pots and painted wooden boats serving as coastal yard decor. While located miles away from the oceanfront, Wanchese can easily be considered as home to the true character of the Outer Banks. Salty, rustic, and scenic, a trip through Wanchese allows visitors to have an up-close-and-personal view of everyday Outer Banks life.
Local archeological digs have proved what islanders have always expected - Wanchese is a true fishing village. Historians believe that the town is, in fact, the first fishing village of the Outer Banks, as local Native Americans dating back to 900 A.D. settled here and made treks either by boat or along the shoreline to reel in the bounty of the Roanoke Sound. The town was a popular home for Native Americans for centuries, and would later become the home of the Roanoke Tribe, an eventual subset of the Algonquins. In fact, the town name of "Wanchese" is in honor of the tribe's chief, who in 1584 accompanied the neighboring Chief Manteo on an expedition to England, but returned home the next year somewhat disenchanted with the new European arrivals. Some theorists postulate that it was Chief Wanchese's aggression that sealed the fate of the infamous Lost Colony settlers in Manteo.
In the centuries that followed, a hardy collection of locals moved in, and while the area never became a popular tourist destination like neighboring Nags Head, Wanchese thrived for its' proximately to Oregon Inlet, and therefore the route to the Gulf Stream.
Today, the village is home to the North Carolina Seafood Industrial Park, located at the southeastern point of the island. Here, commercial vessels and seafood dealers of all kinds congregate to sort through the day's catch, and provide fresh North Carolina seafood for virtually all of the Eastern Seaboard. The bordering marinas also serve as a launching point for shrimp trawlers, flounder boats, and other huge vessels that travel out to the Gulf Stream and beyond for weeks at a time in search of large hauls to be brought home and distributed to the public. Most of the fresh seafood that winds up on the Wanchese docks ends up on the plates of Outer Banks restaurant patrons several days, if not hours later, making the town an instrumental, if barely visible, contribution to the local tourism scene.
This is not to say that Wanchese is all work and no play. The same marinas that provide launching and dockage to the major commercial boats are also home to a number of locally renowned charter businesses as well. Hop on board a charter boat at the Wanchese harbor, and you're just a 15 minute ride away from Oregon Inlet, which in turn is a mere 15 miles from the exceptional off-shore Gulf Stream fishing. A half day or full day charter trip will allow visiting anglers to catch a number of big sport and game fish, including the exceptionally prized blue and white marlins, mahi mahi, drum, large tasty tunas, amberjacks, and much more.
Charter boats should always be booked well in advance, although for smaller parties of 1-2 fishermen, "add-on" trips can be available on short notice. Bring plenty of sunscreen, and a little Dramamine, as once you're past Oregon Inlet, the choppy waves leading out to the Gulf Stream can give even the most seasoned sailors a little bit of sea sickness. Upon returning home to the Wanchese harbor, the catch is hauled on the docks and can be cleaned at a number of fish cleaning stations to take home and enjoy, hassle free. Wanchese visitors are encouraged to take a stroll along the docks at around 4:00 p.m. and take a peek at the fish cleaning stations, to see up close what catches the day's fishing has yielded.
Nature lovers will also want to plan a trip to Wanchese, as the miles of marshlands, soundfront and maritime forest provides exceptional habitats for both migratory and native species of all kinds. In fact, a small public walking trail on the edges of Wanchese has been designated as a destination along the official North Carolina Birding Trail. This small 1 mile trail will lead visitors to the sound and back, with a variety of opportunities to spot the local wildlife at its finest along the way. Admire great blue herons, egrets, ibises, and a number of shorebirds in their natural habitat, as you enjoy the truly wild Outer Banks landscape.
As for amenities, Wanchese doesn't offer the same larger brand name stores or restaurants as its Outer Banks neighbors, however visitors can find a small selection of locally owned grocery stores, bait and tackle shops, convenience stores, and locally loved restaurants that are generally open year-round. For authentic coastal North Carolina fare, a fried oyster Po'boy or a steamed shrimp platter served up in a local Wanchese restaurant is about as truly Outer Banks as it gets.
For extended stays, vacationers will also find themselves mildly limited in accommodations as opposed to the central Outer Banks towns of Nags Head, Kill Devil Hills, Kitty Hawk, or even Manteo. However, there are still a variety of options available, ranging from locally run camp grounds, to quiet, off-the-map bed and breakfasts, and even occasional vacation rental homes" in the heart of the village, or bordering the wild soundfront. For Outer Banks lovers who want to get back to nature, Wanchese may be an ideal locale to completely escape from the rest of the world.
Quiet, unpopulated, and terribly proud, Wanchese is a symbol of the importance of the fishing industry and the local community on the Outer Banks. The small village comprised primarily of year-round residences pays homage to its history as one of the first American Fishing Villages in a number of ways, from its extensive commercial seafood park, to its local resident pride, to a harbor filled with charter boats just waiting to show visitors how good Outer Banks fishing can be. For an Outer Banks adventure that's well off the map, take a turn into Wanchese, and discover the heart of the Outer Banks' fishing community.