Coming here is like stepping inside a picture postcarad—one that smells like salt air.

John Greim/Getty

Sometimes called the “gateway to the Outer Banks,” this beautiful waterside town gives you plenty of reasons to stick around for a while.

If Manteo got any closer to the water, it would be taking a dip. Skirting Shallowbag Bay on the eastern side of Roanoke Island, it has a walkable downtown, with easy access to Roanoke Sound and the sand and surf of the Outer Banks. Because of its proximity to major beach destinations, Manteo sees lots of tourists every year and has more food, drink, shopping, and lodging than a typical town of its size.

Much of the downtown action follows Sir Walter Raleigh Street and Queen Elizabeth Avenue. Those street names are telling. This place is steeped in history, but it’s not all Elizabethan costumes and historic reenactments. You’ll find some cool eateries and galleries behind Manteo’s historic store fronts.

Here’s why we love it:

The Locals

With Manteo’s population just shy of 1,400, you have to wonder whether residents are outnumbered by tourists during high season on the Outer Banks. Still, you’ll find plenty of locals who are happy to share the history of their town—or point you to the newest shops and restaurants.

Town Vibe

Manteo's basically a picture postcard that you can walk through. But it’s not at all stuffy. On First Fridays—held 6-8 p.m. on the first Friday of every month, April through December—downtown becomes a street festival with live music, kids’ activities, sidewalk art sales, and more.

Claim to Fame

Remember the Lost Colony of Roanoke from history class? Roanoke Island is that Roanoke. The Lost Colony is now in its 80th year. Billed as the longest-running outdoor symphonic drama in America, it will be performed at Manteo’s Waterside Theater once again May 26-August 19, 2017.

Iconic Landmark

The cabin-like Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse is a reconstruction of the lighthouse that once stood near neighboring Wanchese. That light was decommissioned in 1955 and destroyed during an ill-fated attempt at moving it.

Island Adventure

Powerhouse outfitters Kitty Hawk Kites has a Manteo outpost. Try anything from stand-up paddleboarding to a flight on a replica of the Wright Brothers’ 1902 glider.

Dining

Try Poor Richard’s Sandwich Shop on the waterfront. A major hotspot is nearby—the Lost Colony Brewery and Café at the intersection of Queen Elizabeth Avenue and Sir Walter Raleigh Street. (It originated as the popular Full Moon Café and grew from there.)

Snoozin’

Manteo has some beautiful historic inns. Check out the 25-room  Tranquil House Inn and its 1587 restaurant on the waterfront, and the elegantly old-school White Doe Inn, with turn-of-the-century antiques and reproductions.

Why We’d Move There

The photo ops, for one thing. Manteo is drop-dead gorgeous. And it offers the best of both worlds because you can enjoy the history, serenity, and community of life in a small town and yet live a few minutes away from some of the South’s most adventurous beaches.

What’s It Cost?

As you might expect, all that charm and character, coupled with beach access and watery views, doesn’t come cheap. “The average home price in Manteo is $481,000, with the primary price drivers being sound-front views and boat access,” said Tammy Johnson, an associate broker/realtor with Pirate’s Cove Realty in Manteo. Makes complete sense. Those views are amazing. (Can we rent-to-own?)

How Do You Pronounce It?

FYI, Manteo is pronounced "MAN-tee-oh." (Who are we kidding? Southerners tend to slide right over that "t" so it sounds more like "MAN-ee-oh.") Here are some other towns you might be mispronouncing:

How'd you do? Next time, we're ramping up the challenge and choosing place names only from Louisiana and Mississippi. Can you say Opelousas? How about Tchoutacabouffa? Careful—don't hurt yourself.