‘Little’ Washington, NC: Big on Fun, Food & Drinks

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The Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum in Washington.

Washington, North Carolina, is a small town with big dreams. It has a fantastic restaurant with a James Beard-nominated chef, an inn in a historic house with Michelin-star quality breakfasts and enough museums and outdoor activities to keep you busy for days.

Washington, NC is NOT where you find The Inn at Little Washington (which is in Washington, Virginia), nor is it near Washington, DC (it’s about a four-hour drive). But that’s OK. People here are happy with their little piece of paradise,

Washington, in Beaufort County, North Carolina, is ideal for a romantic getaway or for parents visiting their kids at East Carolina University in Greenville.

What to Do in Washington, North Carolina

There are plenty of places to keep you occupied in this small town.

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The Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum in Washington.
Leesa Jones, executive director of the Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum. Photo credit: Judy Antell.

Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum

The Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum, housed in a historic railroad car, uses artifacts and stories to share the history of slavery and enslaved people in Washington.

A National Park Service Underground Railroad-Network to Freedom site, the small museum is just steps from the Pamlico River, which was one avenue of escape.

Different colored petticoats signaled if and when it was safe to try to escape, at one of the avenues of escape in Washington
Different colored petticoats signaled if and when it was safe to try to escape. Photo credit: Judy Antell..

The underground railroad operated through a variety of signals. Black-eyed peas and Black-eyed Susans indicated that there were too many eyes around, so it wasn’t safe to escape.

Women used the color of their petticoats to let others know if the road was clear.

Found in Washington NC is a driftwood sculture which is actually the map of North Carolina.
The driftwood sculpture at the estuarium is actually a map of North Carolina. Photo credit: Judy Antell.

Learn a New Word at The North Carolina Estuarium

What’s an estuarium you ask? It’s where the river meets the sea, in this case the Pamlico River and Atlantic Ocean. The North Carolina Estuarium is the world’s first estuarium and the second largest in America.

The huge sculpture dominating the lobby is an interactive map of North Carolina built out of driftwood; you can see a ball traveling through it, demonstrating how rainwater moves through the estuary.

There are also boat tours, artifacts from the Pamlico River, a small aquarium, and info on hurricanes.

While in Washington, bring binoculars if you are a birder and bird at the waterfall.
The waterfront is an ideal place for birding. Photo credit: Judy Antell.

More in Washington, North Carolina

Rent kayaks or bicycles or walk around the historic downtown. Bring binoculars if you are a birder. Historic markers highlight Washington’s role in the Civil War.

Enjoy some latte art in the Washington café.
Latte art at Washington Cafe. Photo credit: Judy Antell.

If you are feeling peckish, perk up with a coffee and homemade pastry at Washington Café.

Take a walk to the Main Street and the historic Turnage Theatre in Washington NC.
Main Street and the historic Turnage Theatre. Photo credit: Judy Antell.

The Beaufort County Arts Council

The arts council has several galleries you can see for free. The current Green Book Exhibit highlights the North Carolina businesses that were open to African American travelers in the early to mid-1900s.

The theater shows free family-friendly movies and has live music, dance and theater performances. We toured the Historic Turnage Theatre, built in 1913. The theater is scheduled to undergo renovation; it is not currently open to the public.

Enjoy your stay at the Elmwood 1820 Bed & Breakfast in Washington NC.
Elmwood 1820 Bed & Breakfast, the stunning inn in Washington, North Carolina. Photo credit: Judy Antell.

Elmwood 1820 Bed & Breakfast

731 W Main St.

Washington, NC 27889

This gorgeous, fully restored little inn was the highlight of my recent trip to North Carolina. Elmwood 1820 is a short walk to downtown.

King bedroom with an enclosed porch at Elmwood 1820 Bed & Breakfast in Washington NC.
My king bedroom came with an enclosed porch. Photo credit: Judy Antell.

You really feel like a guest at someone’s house here. Someone with impeccable taste. And one of the friendliest cats around. At check in, we were given a tour of the spectacular rooms, and told we could help ourselves to the bar, stocked with local spirits.

My wonderful king bed was piled high with pillows and my room had an enclosed porch with river views. All the rooms are kitted out with rainfall showers and high-tech Toto Neorest toilets. I never verified, but I think my room had more square feet than the average two bedroom in Manhattan.

Outdoor setup of an inn in Washington NC
Have breakfast, or drinks, outdoors at the inn in warm weather. Photo credit: Judy Antell.

Our breakfast started with a shot of fresh juice and home-made biscuits AND jam. I’m not a jam person, but the homemade fig jam was too tempting to pass up.

We followed that with buttermilk panna cotta and berries. Like yogurt, only more decadent. You might think that was the whole breakfast, but there was also peach and cream cheese French toast, with eggs and candied bacon. The innkeepers even had vegetarian sausage for me.

The view of the Main Street in Washington NC
Miss Emily, keeping an eye on Main Street. Photo credit: Judy Antell.

The boutique inn doesn’t have smart TVs; in fact there are no television sets. But there is WiFi if you have to watch the latest episode of the Bachelor.

If there’s no room at the inn, there are plenty of vacation rentals in Washington.

The beautiful dinning room of The Hackney in Washington NC before it's filled with customers.
Before service, the beautiful dining room at The Hackney. Photo credit: Judy Antell.

Eating and Drinking in Washington, NC

The Hackney Restaurant, Bar & Distillery has an Executive Chef who was nominated this year as Best Chef in the Southeast by the James Beard Foundation. Everything is seasonal and local. And vegetarians can even have collard greens, in a salad with candied pecans and apples.

Collard green salads and other appetizers at The Hackney in Washington NC.
Appetizers at he Hackney. Collard greens salad up top. Photo credit: Judy Antell.

The Hackney, on West Main Street, has the grand feeling of a former bank, with high ceilings, and marks on the floors where the tellers were. In the world of paying everything with your phone and using your camera to deposit checks, these grand institutions are no longer needed. But they became grand places to dine.

Enjoy the blueberry gin made from local blueberries in Washington NC
Local blueberries make a gorgeous, and tasty blueberry gin. Photo credit: Judy Antell.

The Hackney’s beautiful bar is next door, with its own distillery. We tasted several gins, including the award winning 1000 Piers Gin. The gins, made by owner Nick Sanders, use fresh and local botanicals, also with fresh citrus peel, lemongrass, ginger, galangal and kaffir lime. One gin uses local blueberries as well. I was sorry I didn’t have room to bring some home.

Right across Main Street from The Hackney, 1906 Bistro & Bourbons was also a bank. They make a smoked old fashioned and have a more casual food menu.

A variety of appetizers served at Down on Main in Washington NC.
Appetizers at Down on Main included fried green tomatoes and fried pimento cheese. Photo credit: Judy Antell.

Down on Main Street

For lunch, Down on Main Street has classic Southern dishes like shrimp and grits, fried green tomatoes and fried pickles. Yes, there’s a lot of fried food. But there was a (fried) un-chicken sandwich that was very tasty.

Enjoy a biscuit with hot honey at Cornflower Bakehouse in Washington NC.
Biscuit with hot honey at Cornflower Bakehouse. Photo credit: Judy Antell.

Check out Greenville

Greenville, an hour from the town of Washington, has several places where you can get tasty food and drinks. There are several breweries, a vodka distillery and a barbeque shack open only for breakfast.

Enjoy a Latte from Backstage Coffee in Washington NC.
Latte from Backstage Coffee. Photo credit: Judy Antell.

Cornflower Bakehouse and Backstage Coffee, a collaboration between two female chefs, has wonderful coffee and great breakfasts and lunch at Cornflower. You order at each place separately, but sit anywhere with your food and drink.

Enjoy donuts from Cornflower Bakehouse in Washington NC.
Donuts from Cornflower Bakehouse. Photo credit: Judy Antell.

I had a perfect oat milk latte from Backstage, along with an amazing cheese biscuit with hot honey from Cornflower. For lunch (or you do you, breakfast) there is a beet wrap, shakshuka, potato latkes and even a vegan grilled cheese, And there are amazing looking donuts, cream puffs and other sweets.

Enjoy fresh local produce at King’s Deli in Washington NC.
Fresh local produce at King’s Deli. Photo credit: Judy Antell.

King’s Deli

I had lunch at King’s Deli, where there were several interesting wraps and salads. The “Green Day” had rosemary roasted portobello, pickled beets, chickpeas, arugula, sprouts, cucumber, and hemp, chia and flax seed. One of the healthiest, and tastiest things I ate in North Carolina.

This lunch-only place uses produce from its own farm, and local cheese and meat.

Munch on fine food from Native Fine Diner in Washington NC.
Mighty fine food from Native Fine Diner. Photo credit: Judy Antell.

Native Fine Diner

We had dinner at Native Fine Diner, an elevated take on Southern diner food. The “New York Happy Meal” includes a martini with Gruyere truffle fries, the pancakes are sourdough with fresh ricotta and vegetarians have options y’all! I had amazing  parsnip piccata with wild mushrooms. Even meat eaters at my table got it and loved it.

Craft cocktail from SUP Distillery + Cocktail Bar in Washington NC.
Craft cocktail from SUP Distillery + Cocktail Bar. Photo credit: Judy Antell.

SUP Distillery and Cocktail Bar

SUP Dogs, a local restaurant specializing in hot dogs, created a drink called Orange SUP with vodka, fresh squeezed orange juice and Sprite.

Since they bought so much vodka, they decided to open a distillery and added a cocktail bar, SUP Distillery and Cocktail Bar that looks straight out of the Upper East Side.

In addition to a variety of Crushes – grapefruit, key lime, watermelon and more – they have craft cocktails using 1000 Piers gin and a wide range of bitters and infusions. I had the Crazy Donkey: bourbon, fresh lime and grapefruit juice, Falernum, orgeat and bitters. Fantastic.


Coastal Fog

Greenville also has a fabulous home goods store, Coastal Fog, where you can pick up handmade soaps, lovely table linens, or local gourmet food.

I kind of wanted to live inside Coastal Fog. I understood why people want to live in  – or visit – North Carolina.

Judy Antell is an empty-nester mother of 3 who spends a lot of time visiting her daughters. Why don’t they live in Brooklyn? Judy and her husband love to travel, by bike, car, or plane, whether to see their kids or have friend or couple adventures, mostly centered around vegetarian food.
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