Small Town Gem: Washington

This little maritime town is big on activity options

By Karen Olson House

Sauntering along Washington’s boardwalk, you see wide-water views and hear the peaceful sounds of nature: Waves lapping, a seagull’s cry, a turtle plopping in for a lazy swim. There are stately boats to admire and plenty of benches to relax on.

This handsome town on the Pamlico River is a haven from a hectic world.

Founded in 1776, Washington once served as a major shipping center. Two fires destroyed many old buildings, but due to proud rebuilding its Historic District boasts styles of revival, federal, Greek and Victorian architecture from the late 1800s and early 1900s. The Visitor’s Center provides self-guided tour maps.

At Washington’s waterfront, you can step inside the Estuarium to see young alligators, blue crabs and sheepshead fish. You’ll learn much about this region’s ecosystem, as well as its culture and heritage. This environmental education center offers free boat rides April through October. Call for reservations (required for the popular rides).

Kids can climb and slide at the nautically themed Papa’s Playground. It’s at Festival Park, which comes alive with lively festivals, concerts and outdoor movies. Haven’s Park is also waterfront, recently updated to accommodate children of all abilities.

As a former vaudeville and movie venue, the restored Turnage Theater hosts plays, movies, and special events. Traditional music jams are held there Thursday evenings and Saturday mornings.

Visit The Turnage Gallery and Lane Gift Shop there, then peruse River Walk Gallery and Art on Market. Or browse women’s clothing at The Pink Buoy and Bloom, menswear at Russell’s, furnishings at Cottage Junkies and items for your home or boat at Nauti Life. All are mere steps away from each other, but there are plenty more options within walking distance. For example, you can buy handcrafted dolls and baskets at the gift shop at The Blind Center, a nonprofit that assists people toward living independent lifestyles. 

For delicious ice cream, try The Coffee Caboose, housed in a cozy red building. Restaurants that serve seafood fresh off the boat include Washington Crab & Seafood Shack, a quaint joint off Highway 264 that wows customers with its succulent fare. Visitors also enjoy the variety of burgers and brewed beers at Grub Brothers Eatery. Like so many restaurants here, these offer indoor and outdoor seating.

And if it’s activity you’re after, no worries: More than 300 miles of mapped paddling trails around Washington’s river basin include intriguing tributaries to explore. The easy access and protected waters make Runyon Creek Trail a family favorite, and kayak rentals are nearby at Inner Banks Outfitters. For swimming and hiking, drive about 15 minutes to Goose Creek State Park. Its sandy beach is open Memorial Day through Labor Day, and there are eight miles of trails.

Washington Sites

For more information about Washington and Beaufort County, call 800-546-0162 or go online.

North Carolina Estuarium
223 E. Water St. [mapnew-window]| partnershipforthesounds.net

Turnage Theater
150 W. Main St. [mapnew-window]| artsofthepamlico.org

About the Author

Karen Olson House is a contributing editor for Carolina Country.

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