It was the first city in the nation — even before D.C. — that was named in honor of George Washington. Heritage can’t be shaken here, where American flags hang on every block and passersby wave hello to you whether you know them or not. Spend a weekend in Washington, and you’ll find that its charm hard to shake, too.
1. Wines from all over, right here, 4 p.m.
Every Friday night, Wine & Words… & Gourmet hosts a wine tasting that runs from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. and trickles over into Saturday until all remaining wine is gone. Owners Yvonne Sedgwick and James McKelvey try each type of wine, beer, and cheese before they sell it in their mom-and-pop shop. You’ll find a selection of gourmet food here that you’d be hard pressed to find elsewhere east of Raleigh. Take time to peruse the store’s small but comprehensive collection of used and remaindered books.
2. Bank on a satisfying meal, 6 p.m.
Head next door to THE BANK bistro&bar, an upscale Southern fusion restaurant housed within the same 1852 building where the town’s original bank was once located. The sound of smooth jazz resonates off the restaurant’s high-vaulted ceilings. Behind the bar is a vault door, beautifully preserved right down to the hinges, that leads to a room filled with valuables of another kind: an extensive collection of spirits and wine. The restaurant’s filet mignon melts in your mouth, and its Bordelaise sauce makes it all the more decadent.
3. Enjoy an evening stroll, 8 p.m.
The heart of downtown is just a block away from the river. Amble along the boardwalk and watch sailors work on their labors of love, or kick up your feet and take in the breeze on one of the town’s plentiful benches. Every third Friday from May to October, Main and Market streets are closed to traffic as revelers are encouraged to dance and hum along to their favorite tunes as part of Music in the Streets.
1. Dip into Rachel K’s, 9 a.m.
From the sticky buns to smiling faces, everything about Rachel K’s exudes warmth. Located where the old town hall once was, this bakery serves up fantastic pastries and drinks with a North Carolina flare, serving coffee and tea from Counter Culture Coffee and Inner Banks Tea Co.
2. Keep it crabby, 10 a.m.
Before exploring the North Carolina Estuarium, which is believed to be the first of its kind in the world, hop aboard the center’s boat for a guided hour-long tour of the Pamlico-Tar River. As with all River Roving expeditions, the 10:30 a.m. Saturday tour is free, but reservations are required and donations are appreciated. If you don’t spot any elusive bald eagles or yellow-bellied sliders on your tour, you’re guaranteed to see several different types of wildlife at the estuarium, including alligators, crabs, and snakes. Learn why the brackish waters of the United States’ second largest estuary are critical to wildlife and local industries by making your way through a variety of the center’s hands-on exhibits. Admission $5 adults, $3 children ages 5 to 17.
3. Red-hot and all-American, 1 p.m.
At Bill’s Hot Dogs, Washington’s oldest restaurant still in its original location, certain things come standard, like the sound its screen door makes with every slam, or the menu, which has stayed the same since 1928. The prices haven’t changed much over the years, either. You can get two hot dogs, chips, and a drink for $4.25 plus tax. Order your dogs with chili, onions, and mustard — their “All The Way” is the only way if you want to fit in with the locals. Bill’s chili is the reason why people line up as early as 8:30 a.m. — yes, that’s in the morning — to get their frank fix. Many have tried to replicate the chili recipe, but no one has succeeded, owner Jay Boyd says. “They attempt,” he says dryly. “People swear up and down that they can make it taste the same, but it’s a process,” adds his wife, Ashley Boyd. Cash only.
4. Peruse a variety of art in the Harbor District, 2 p.m.
In the past two decades, Washington has had a miniature renaissance of its own, becoming home to several small art galleries and studios. “We’ve dubbed this the arts capital of the Inner Banks,” says Carol Mann, a watercolor artist. Along with four other artists, Mann owns the town’s newest gallery, Lemonade Art Gallery, which opened in March. At Lemonade Art, visitors can take a look around the working studios of the gallery’s artists whose expertise range from portrait-painting to jewelry-making. A little farther down on Main Street is another co-op, the established RiverWalk Gallery and Arts Center, which opened in 1997 and features an eclectic range of artwork, from photography to pottery. Be sure to also pop into the contemporary and small-scale Lone Leaf Gallery & Custom Framing as well as The Lane Gift Shop at Turnage Theater. If you’re looking for an original painting to hang above the mantle, visit Art on Market or Art Tyndall Studios, but note their nontraditional hours before you go.
5. Dine where the locals do, 6 p.m.
Always a popular restaurant among locals for lunch or dinner, Down on Main Street offers comfort food in a lively, casual atmosphere. When it is available, try the fresh-as-can-be soft-shell crab sandwich. Any dish with shrimp in it is also a good bet.
1. Fuel up at Coffee Caboose, 9 a.m.
Get your dose of caffeine and friendly conversation at the Coffee Caboose, an unexpected little shop off the edge of Water Street. Grab a cappuccino and take a seat on the new patio as you prepare for an active morning on the water.
2. Not by foot, but by paddle, 10 a.m.
Inner Banks Outfitters owner Liane Harsh had a much more traditional job as a teacher in Florida before deciding to open up her own kayak and bike shop. “When I think about it, I can’t believe I had the guts to do it,” she says. “Greatest thing I ever did, though.” Inner Banks Outfitters offers a variety of classes, including sunset, full-moon, and wine-and-cheese paddles at different times throughout the month. If you can’t find a class that fits your schedule, you can always rent a kayak with rates starting at $30 for four hours. If you’re bit of a landlubber, have no worries. “We actually encourage beginners,” Harsh says. There’s always the option of renting a bike, too.
3. Kick back at Jack’s, 12 p.m.
Once you’re all petered out from kayaking, walk next door to Backwater Jack’s, a tiki bar owned by friends of Harsh. (They played a role in convincing her to move to the area in the first place.) Head out to the patio and enjoy some great mahimahi, a local favorite, with a view of the Pamlico Sound before heading home. Cash only.
The Pamlico House Bed & Breakfast
Complete with creaking floors and a wrap-around porch from which you can watch fireflies in the summer, The Pamlico House is exactly what you’d expect from a charming bed and breakfast. Stay in your choice of five different rooms named after influential people with ties to the town, from Charles Kuralt to George Washington himself. Innkeeper Virginia Finnerty’s love for this place shows through in all that she does, and she prepares a mean strawberry French toast.