Setting: Thirty miles off the coast, it's a place you really have to want to find. While three North Carolina ferries run regularly, you'll drive awhile to catch them. Take the 40-minute ferry ride from Hatteras Island, the 2-hour-and-45-minute ride from Swan Quarter, or the 2-hour-and-15-minute ride from Cedar Island.
Attractions: Peace and quiet. Plus 16 miles of pristine shoreline that garnered Ocracoke Island the No. 6 spot on the 2002 list of "America's Best Beaches," as ranked by Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman, a.k.a. Dr. Beach. A flourishing artistic community keeps shops, galleries, and restaurants interesting.
Drawbacks: Did we mention the amount of time you'll spend on the ferry?
Housing Options: Historic homes to more modern duplexes. The market is tough, as development is limited by governmental protection of the shore. Some homes are passed down through families and never make it on the market.
Your Next-door Neighbors: Fishermen, artists, craftspeople, massage therapists, business professionals, and musicians--such as the folk-fusion band Molasses Creek (for more information, see molassescreek.com). Plus, ferry workers such as Anthony Mutro, who still speaks the Ocracoke brogue. (If you're lucky, he'll answer the phone when you call for ferry reservations.) "You're not gonna find people who are just like you," says resident Al Scarborough. "Your neighbors can be a Ph.D. chemist or a ditchdigger."
What It Costs: Thirty years ago real estate broker Guy Newell sold lots for $2,000. Now they're usually $100,000 to $180,000. A three-bedroom, two-bath house in the village heart might list for $340,000. A 1,400-square-foot home with two bedrooms, two baths, 48 feet of harbor frontage, and a dock runs $800,000.
Where You'd Spend Free Time: Surfing, sportfishing, surf casting, birding, sailing, shelling, or relaxing along miles of unspoiled beach. The village sponsors square dances and potluck suppers. Grab a beer at Howard's Pub, kayak the marsh, or attend a "porch talk" at the preservation group's museum.