Ocracoke island lies just beyond Cape Hatteras, and has its own wonderful creations to discover (small hiking trails, the Ocracoke lighthouse, and a quaint village with food and shops). And the only way to get there is to take the ferry. Running every half hour, the ferry from Hatteras to Ocracoke is free, no reservation required. And along the way you get to see some of the more remote parts of the islands, and a glimpse of the ocean.
The Cape Hatteras lighthouse is a monster. About the size of a 12-story building, the lighthouse towers above the sandy scrubland of the banks. It is the tallest lighthouse in North America, and has been recently relocated to its present location. Due to the shifting sands and erosion by the tides, the lighthouse was in danger of being lost to the Atlantic. In 1999, it was moved 2,900 feet, over the course of 23 days, to its present state. The fresnel lens beams out to the coast and beyond, still steering ships beyond the safety of the open ocean and into the inner waterways.
You can see the outside of the lighthouse, and you can also climb it ($7.00 for adults, $3.50 for children and seniors). It is 257 steps total, 248 within the lighthouse itself, up a long and winding staircase. there is no air conditioning, so it can be a little stifling inside during the climb, but there are rests every 30 steps or so in case you need to catch your breath or rest the knees. And once you get to the top of the lighthouse, you get a 360-degree view of the banks, which is immense. You can even see the curvature of the ocean.
Down below, back on solid ground, there is the museum, which covers all facets of the lighthouse and its history. From the early days of rescuing sailors run aground, to the Uboats that patrolled and sank US ships just off the coast during WWII (at times they sunk a ship a day until mid 1942), and to the great labor of moving a 4,800 ton lighthouse a half mile. Definitely worth a stop.
The Wright brothers, Orville and Wilbur, changed the course of history on December 17, 1903, when they flew the first self-propelled airplane. Granted, it was only 12 seconds long, and a whopping 120 feet, but by the end of the day they had increased that to 59 seconds and over 800 feet. From there, the aviation industry was born.
At the Wright Brothers National Memorial, visitors can see a detailed museum that catalogs the achievements of these two brothers from Ohio, with displays on the technology they improved/pioneered, the early test flights on a glider, and then finally the main event. Outside, you can walk along the grounds and see exactly how far their first 4 flights lasted. And on the southern hillside, where they launched their test gliders, there is a large marble monument commemorating their achievements. The whole park has a nice layout, is family-friendly, and a great place to learn about a turning point in transportation and US history.