Accessibility, outdoor activities bolster 'Little' Washington's waterfront appeal

Posted April 30, 2019 5:00 a.m. EDT

Free downtown docks and a welcoming spirit has made Little Washington a top pick for many boaters. (Justin Casey/Washington Tourism Development Authority)

This article was written for our sponsor, Washington Tourism Development Authority.

Located 30 miles off the intercoastal waterway from the Atlantic Ocean, "Little" Washington, N.C., is an ideal location for tourists and residents looking to escape the hustle and bustle of cities like Raleigh and Greenville.

In exchange, visitors get direct access to natural resources and the outdoor activities away from those more crowded landscapes.

Boaters in particular are drawn to Washington, especially with its free docks downtown. With no cars, these water-bound visitors can still enjoy all the perks of Washington's historic downtown, with the characteristic welcoming atmosphere and the easy access to services and professional dock workers.

These attributes have helped Washington gain an enviable spot at the top of many boaters' guides.

"I heard about Little Washington from a guide and came here on my catamaran after sailing up and down the East coast for years. It's not a difficult sail or motoring up the Pamlico River," said Scott Campbell, resident and Century 21 real estate agent in Washington. "I first came here Fourth of July weekend 14 years ago. I got into town and started meeting people, and that sealed the deal."

One of those rare cities small enough to build a community where everyone knows each other, Washington residents also remain welcoming to newcomers and tourists. As a historic port with influences from around the world, Washington has always been open to new ideas and diversity. It's all tied to the history of this charming, waterfront haven.

Washington now boasts one of the largest public access waterfronts on the East Coast. The waterfront is an easy walk through the historic downtown, where visitors can enjoy a collection of mom and pop shops peddling wares ranging from designer fashions to antiques and consignment.

There is a surprising absence of chain stores in town, as the historic business district showcases local small businesses that all bear unique vibes, such as the newly opened, high-end Hackney restaurant, which will additionally include a gin distillery and an attached boutique hotel.

On the other end of the spectrum are Grub Brothers, a casual burger joint, and Backwater Jack's for seafood. The assortment of distinct eatery options spans the gamut.

The waterfront showcases a large public park with two gazebos – a small one for relaxing and enjoying the views and a large bandstand gazebo – both of which may be leased from the city for weddings and other private events.

A boardwalk through the wetlands allows locals and visitors to enjoy the surrounding nature unhurried and without disruption from vehicles.

With the busy and growing population center of Greenville just 20 minutes west, Washington has become a bedroom community for those who work at the university or medical center but enjoy the quieter lifestyle and quick access to water available in downtown Washington. The housing options are diverse and relatively inexpensive in comparison to other metropolitan areas.

"Young families are coming in because of the jobs in Greenville just 20 minutes away, and retirees like the historic district and the extra work and TLC needed to renovate there," Campbell said. "It's a diverse population; and we have a lot of housing stock to satisfy all types, from the historic district to subdivisions and new construction."

A potential commercial fuel dock at Havens Wharf would be a major boon for local businesses by drawing tourists from further down the river for fueling and maintenance services. Private residential development is also popping up as the city expands and residents request homes near the waterfront.

The city will also soon begin the daunting task of burying electric lines and utilities. In conjunction with this effort, the city plans to renovate the streetscape to allow for more sidewalk space for outdoor dining, entertainment and relaxing with picturesque views of the waterfront.

As most Washington residents will tell you, it's always "about the water."

This article was written for our sponsor, Washington Tourism Development Authority.