A day trip to Maryland’s Western Shore of the Chesapeake Bay offers a slice of escapism, within an hour of the Metro D.C. area. Best of all, you won’t have to cross the Bay Bridge or sit in beach traffic to get there.
If you’re a beach bum who’s short on time, short on funds or short on gas, chart your course for the Chesapeake Beach Resort and Spa in the town of Chesapeake Beach. Here you can park for free and walk to surrounding attractions, getting your lay of the land at the diminutive but charming Chesapeake Beach Railway Museum.
Housed in an old railroad station, the museum highlights the intertwined histories of two romantic beach towns that grew up around the Washington and Chesapeake Railway Company’s lavish resort. Woolen swimsuits, antique souvenirs and a scale model of the waterfront amusement district bring into focus a bygone era.
By the beginning of the 20th century, people arrived by train and steamboat to enjoy the mile-long pier and grand boardwalk — featuring a bowling alley, band shell, games of chance, casino and even dancing bears. A spectacular addition, the Great Derby roller-coaster, was built over the water in 1915.
Hurricanes, fires and the Great Depression spelled doom for the development, and the dream of a park to rival Coney Island and Atlantic City was pretty much over by 1935. But while the amusements are now long gone, nostalgia lingers in everything from the architecture to the seafood. And there are plenty of activities for people of all ages and interests to enjoy.
Today’s Chesapeake Beach Resort and Spa is reminiscent of many of the grand old beach resorts of the mid-Atlantic. It boasts two marinas that offer charter fishing excursions and transient boat slips, a day spa that offers pampering massage therapy, and three appealing restaurants the Rod ’N’ Reel, Smokey Joe’s Grill and the Boardwalk Café.
The latter is perched right on the water, and it’s a particularly good place to grab some appetizers and a froufrou drink — because nothing says vacation day like a beverage packed with fruit and rum and an umbrella. If the family wants more action, ask anyone at the hotel for directions to Brownie’s Beach for ancient shark tooth collecting, or visit the water park across the street for plenty of fun in the sun.
For a mere 25 cents you can hop the Beach Trolley to nearby North Beach for a whole ’nother experience. A thriving community of summer cottages back in the day, its residents enjoyed the amusements of Chesapeake Beach along with a few casinos of their own.
Now, a half-mile-long boardwalk is the centerpiece of the town, alongside a petite strand of beach with a Welcome Center that offers everything you need to make your day at the Bay a success. Bike and boat rentals? Check. Umbrellas and chairs? Ditto that. North Beach may be small, but it has all the amenities of the big guys.
One block from the beach is the Bay Avenue shopping district, with unique establishments where you can grab an ice cream cone, some old-fashioned candy and the necessary beach supplies. Two antique stores, an award-winning bakery, an eclectic gift shop, a local history museum, several restaurants and a wine store round out the choices.
North Beach charges admission to the sand and sells fishing and crabbing permits — with some luck, you may even catch dinner. If the fish aren’t biting, just drive over to the dockside bar at Skipper’s Pier in Deale and feast on the local fare.
Skipper’s has traditionally received a slew of awards from Chesapeake Bay Magazine for some of the best oysters, crab cakes and steamed crabs around. The new management has added a Sunday brunch from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at just $13.99. But while you might come for the seafood, you’ll stay for the views. And the Malibu Black Painkillers.
On a recent visit we saw a boat pull up to the dock, unloading its catch and delivering crabs right to the kitchen. Ours tasted just that fresh. Sailboats and other pleasure craft slid past us out on Herring Bay and live music filled the air, along with the voices of our deck mates.
And for the remainder of the day, this was the only spot in the universe. Just sittin’ on the dock of the Bay …
Elaine Jean is a writer with an incurable case of wanderlust. She and husband/photographer Paul are roaming the planet, starting in the mid-Atlantic region. Learn more about this and other day trips at www.roamingtheplanet.com.