Considered The Sailing Capital of North Carolina, Oriental is a small harbor town located on the Neuse River, which feeds into Pamlico Sound and flows into the Atlantic through the state’s Outer Banks.
Home to some of the best boating waters on the East Coast, and a midpoint on the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW), the town is a destination point for hundreds of sailors cruising up and down the Atlantic. Sit on the deck at The Bean, the town’s beloved coffee shop, on any day of the week and you’ll likely catch cruisers (from as far away as Europe and as close as New Bern) pulling into shore for a one-, two-, or three-day break before moving on to their next stop.
I hesitate to even write this article, because what is most appealing about Oriental is its small size, the closeness of its residents, its relative anonymity.
With a population of just less than 900 in 2012, the town is part of Pamlico County and Eastern North Carolina’s lesser-known Inner Banks. Once the stomping grounds of pirates, the area was originally settled by American Indians who fished and farmed on the land long before Europeans ever arrived. Supported at one point by lumber, fishing, and farming, today Oriental’s economy is kept afloat by tourism, real estate, agriculture, and marine-related businesses.
Fishing trawlers are very prevalent. Shrimp boats populate downtown’s harbors, and out on the water buoys bob indicating crab pots resting below. For visitors looking to enjoy the bounty of these hardworking locals, swing by Garland Fulcher Seafood Company or Endurance Seafood.
Not looking to cook your own? The Toucan Grill, in the center of town, offers unbeatable views of the water at sunset. Have a drink, sit out on the deck, and enjoy time spent with friends and family. Just around the corner is M & M’s, a local haunt serving up classic seafood courses.
While only a handful of sailboats called Oriental home back in 1960, today more than 2,000 can be found docked on its shores. Boating is undeniably the activity of choice for locals and visitors, but Oriental also offers kayaking, canoeing, fishing, tennis, museums (Oriental’s History Museum), historical walking tours, local theater and musical performances, festivals (including the upcoming Croaker Festival on 4th of July), art galleries, shopping (Nautical Wheelers) a local winery (Neuse River Winery), and more.
Small and safe as it is, the town is also an excellent spot for cyclists. Hop on your bike, cruise to The Bean for a coffee, sit outside and chat with your fellow “Porch Pirates,” then pedal a couple streets over to relax on a colorful Adirondack chair by the river with a book.
Home to several new upscale real estate communities—including River Dunes, which relies on a historic Charleston aesthetic for its home architecture—Oriental is the type of town you sail or drive into, perhaps unexpectedly, only to find yourself unwilling to leave. Year-round, a portion of the town’s homes remain unoccupied as their owners work in nearby cities like Raleigh, Charlotte, or Cary, but Oriental is the spot to which they most often seek to return. Residents embrace a funky, fun, and laid back yet active lifestyle by the water.
Though named after the Sailing Steamer Oriental (SS Oriental), the town boasts an authentic 40-foot Chinese dragon. Actually, you’ll find dragons all over the place, especially if you’re in town August 8-9 for the town’s annual Dragon Boat Festival. While teams race in boats decorated with dragon heads to raise money for charity, bike through town and you’ll find several “nesting areas” for baby dragons, noted with fun (but official!) wildlife nesting warning signs.
Want to plan a visit? Consider booking a room at the beautiful Captains’ Quarters Bed & Breakfast, The Inn at Oriental, or—if you want to be right on the harbor— The Oriental Marina & Inn. For more suggestions, click here.
Unlike other vacation destinations, there is no “right time” to visit Oriental, no season more suitable than another. Whenever you show up, whatever the season or reason, you’ll be welcomed with open arms; open arms, a cold drink, and a dragon.
Andrea Fisher is an online marketer and content specialist for Choose Home Security. Her work has been published in The Chicago Tribune and Business Insider, among other publications. You can find her on Google+ and Twitter.