What we love about Washington When North Carolinians hear “Washington,” our minds usually bypass that state out west and head straight to the nation’s capital. But add the
What we love about Washington
When North Carolinians hear “Washington,” our minds usually bypass that state out west and head straight to the nation’s capital. But add the word “little,” and we’re transported home. Little Washington — the original Washington, named after our first president even before our capital — is a town older than our country on the banks of the Tar and Pamlico Rivers, where bluegill and bass churn brackish water and herons wade along the shore. From the water, charming, historic buildings look like dollhouses, each holding shops, theaters, restaurants, and a one-of-a-kind museum ready for those of us who enjoy exploring. Take time to meander down the riverwalk and breathe in the fresh air of coastal nature trails. Here, the river’s gentle flow makes living easy.
Where to Paddle & Get Active
Little Washington Sailing School: Ever had the urge to take to the seas? Little Washington Sailing School can show you how to do it. With sailing lessons for children and adults, the school’s experts orient you to the fundamentals of sailing, from rigging to launch.
Pamlico Boat Rentals at Moss Landing Marina: Suppose you’re not quite ready to captain your sailboat but still want to take the family out on the water. Pamlico Boat Rentals offers a variety of vessels, including pontoon boats for a group and paddleboards for a solo adventure. Call ahead to reserve your watercraft for a day of fun.
River Vibes: Washingtonians know the waterways that weave and flow near town lighten moods and lift spirits. River Vibes offers eco-friendly rentals for bikes, paddleboards, kayaks, and paddleboats. They even have a smoothie and juice bar to help you refresh after your adventure.
Inner Banks Outfitters: From its shop at Washington’s public boat ramp, kayakers and paddle boarders have easy access to the water, and cyclists have easy access to downtown. Whether you’re exploring by water or land, owner Liane Harsh can help you chart your course.
Where to Explore with the Family
North Carolina Estuarium: Part museum, part whirlwind tour, the North Carolina Estuarium features animal habitats, artwork, interactive displays, and artifacts to help experience the wonders — and understand the importance — of our estuary systems. Although there are more than 100 estuaries in the U.S., Washington’s is one of the largest. More than 75 percent of the Atlantic Seaboard’s commercially and recreationally important fish spend at least part of their lives in the Albemarle-Pamlico Estuary. On Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, visitors of all ages can reserve one of 10 spots on their Roving Riverboat tours. When cruising Bear Creek and the Pamlico-Tar River, look out for turtles, osprey, dolphins, fish, and eagles.
Goose Creek State Park: About a 20-minute drive from downtown Washington, Goose Creek State Park runs the gamut of the best kinds of coastal outdoor fun. You can stroll above a cypress swamp on a boardwalk, explore the ruins of a long-defunct lumber industry there, wade and splash at the river’s swim beach, camp, fish, picnic, and uncover the beauty of the estuarine habitat — whether being transported by paddle or foot. A visitor center has exhibits and information to orient you to the park’s past and present.
Where to Take a Tour
Historic Walking Tour: English explorers have been visiting Washington since the 1500s, with settlements appearing in the 1600s. That leaves a lot of history to explore, and the City of Washington has a free, downloadable book to help you make the most of it.
Washington Haunts Ghost Tours: With so many people living — and dying! — in Washington over the centuries, the town proudly boasts that it may be one of the most haunted places in the country. Washington Haunts reveals the town’s most spine-tingling history through professionally guided, 90-minute tours. The group walks the one-mile tour at a slow pace, and offers self-guided audio tours outside of tour group hours.
African American History Tour: Rarely told are the stories of some of North Carolina’s most notable residents. Hear from enslaved people and other world-changers from Washington on the mile-long African American History Tour. Don’t miss the Underground Railroad museum, housed in a train caboose downtown, which reveals Washington’s importance as a stop on the Underground Railroad.
East and West Side Historic District Architecture Tours: Our buildings are home to our stories, and in the case of Washington’s Historic District (listed on the National Register of Historic Places), there are many tales to tell. East Side and West Side self-guided audio tours offer a great dose of stories that bring Washington’s past to life. Each tour takes one-and-a-half to two hours to complete; wear comfortable walking shoes.
What to Do in Downtown Washington
Pamlico Books: The answer to your new favorite read is found in this small, independent bookstore located right on Market Street. Owner Tom Ryan loves to make recommendations to suit your interests and literary preferences. “We are a little bookstore with a little bit of everything for everyone,” he says. Even if you’re not a bibliophile, Pamlico Books is worth the browse. In addition to new and used books, you’ll find gifts and games for all ages.
Bill’s Hot Dogs: The most famous eatery in town since 1928 is a must for anyone wanting the true Little Washington experience. Folks drive in from all around to grab a brown paper bag full of Bill’s oil-fried dogs covered in spicy white chili. If you’re there for a day trip, you can even bring them home for later. For the perfect lunch, take those dogs for a short walk to the waterfront and catch the view from a waterside picnic table.
Riverwalk and Lemonade Art Galleries: One-of-a-kind arts and crafts from local artisans fill these downtown galleries. Whether or not you’re looking to adorn your walls with a new masterpiece, it’s worth the visit to browse the carefully curated collection of colorful expressions and unique gifts. The Lemonade Art Gallery also offers classes in watercolor, jewelry making, scratchboard, and pine-straw weaving.
The Bank Bistro: For an upscale night out, head down to The Bank Bistro, located in the Old Washington Bank on West Main Street, a half block from the water. The large windows lend a sweeping, stately feel to the experience, as does the menu that promises American fare from steaks to fresh-caught seafood to pasta. The liquor is stored in what was once the bank’s vault!
Explore More in Washington
In and around the original Washington, the river meets the sound, old structures are given a new purpose, and life above and below the water is in constant transition.
Make the most of your visit to this charming town on the Pamlico River.
Uncover the legacy of this former port town on the Pamlico River with the help of five historic walking tours.
This story was published on Sep 13, 2023