Calvert County is about one hour away from Washington DC, but you probably don’t know much about these sandy beaches along the Chesapeake Bay. Though there are no waves here, this area has picturesque Chesapeake Bay waterfront, and best of all, you don’t have to cross the Bay Bridge to get there. Since there’s so much to do and see, plan to make a weekend of it!
Calvert Cliffs is one of Maryland’s most beloved state parks. This haven for families has miles of shoreline with picnic tables, a playground and tree lined paths for hiking. Most people visit this park to comb the Calvert Cliffs’ seashore for fossils and sharks teeth. The cliffs were buried under water more than 10 million years ago, and as the shoreline receded, remains of prehistoric species were uncovered and washed ashore. Today there’s a large natural gas platform not far off the shore, so what was once a beautiful view is now obstructed and sad. But the park itself has gorgeous wetlands and lovely hiking trails.
The best collecting occurs after a storm, when the fossil supply is replenished, or during low tide. The public beach at Calvert Cliffs State Park is quite small due to erosion of the cliffs, but it’s still safe for wading and beachcombing. From the beach, there’s a view of Cove Point, a spit of land that once plagued sailors traveling up the Chesapeake Bay to Baltimore. At the end of that spit is Cove Point Light Station, with the oldest continuously working lighthouse in Maryland. It was built in 1828 and is still operational, although via automation. On the property, the keeper’s home was restored so visitors can stay there overnight.
Another place to collect fossils is Flag Ponds Nature Park, a preserve with 500 acres of protected shoreline, shady hiking trails and a welcoming Nature Center. It’s a popular place for beach combing, birding and swimming. In the early 1900’s, local fisherman netted fish here, until the 1950’s when the supply ran out. The fishermen’s shanties are being restored, but the big attraction is still hunting for fossils. Along the shoreline, beachcombers regularly find horseshoe crabs, scallop shells, sand dollars, sea turtle shells and whale vertebrae. The species you find varies as the weather, seasons and tides change. The rangers at the visitor’s center offer educational programs, including kayak trips commemorating the War of 1812, osprey watching, and even weed foraging for food.
Down the road is the ethereal Battle Creek Cypress Swamp, one of the northernmost naturally occurring stands of bald cypress trees in the United States. These trees are found predominantly in states far south of the Mid-Atlantic, and they are truly a strange and beautiful sight to see.
Visitors can explore this unique habitat by walking along the half-mile boardwalk to see up close the “elbows” that stick out of the ground anchoring the bald cypress trees into the swampy, moist land. Battle Creek Visitors Center has multiple exhibits and environmental programs that support wildlife in this ecological sanctuary.
Solomon’s Island—Just south of these natural wonders is the historic fishing town of Solomons Island, located at the tip of Southern Maryland where the Patuxent River meets the Chesapeake Bay. Solomon’s is known for being a terrific place to dine on local blue crabs, but the town also has shops, antiques, a wonderful art gallery and a day spa.
Solomon’s legendary Tiki Bar hosts outdoor happy hour every evening where you can watch the fisherman return to the dock with their catch of the day. Stop at one of the many seafood restaurants with views of the Chesapeake Bay, or visit the Ruddy Duck Brewery for a taste of the local brews.
To learn more about the proud history of this Early American colony, one of the first to be settled in America, check out the Calvert Marine Museum in downtown Solomon’s. If possible, I recommend staying overnight here to enjoy the gorgeous sunsets and have enough time to properly explore this area. If you’re looking for a family friendly hotel, check out the Holiday Inn Solomon’s Island with spacious waterfront rooms, or for something more romantic, the Solomon’s Victorian Inn run by a charming British couple who make the best high tea I’ve had in years.
Solomon’s has a few festive restaurants I can recommend as well. I love the seafood at Angler’s Inn, where everything tastes like it was just pulled from the Bay or Atlantic Ocean nearby. The waterfront restaurant Charles Street Brasserie serves up tapas, live music and has an upbeat atmosphere. EZ Thai has authentic Thai specialties with heaping portions. This family owned restaurant makes everyone feel welcome.
But my favorite place to eat in Southern Maryland is just up the road in Prince Frederick, the excellent Brick Wood Fired Bistro, known for their crab pizza and Beefsteak sandwich (a grilled tomato with fried goat cheese on a brioche bun).
North of Solomon’s Island are the twin towns of Chesapeake Beach and North Beach. If you’re looking for upscale accommodations with stunning views of the Bay and lots of nearby entertainment, consider staying at Chesapeake Beach Resort and Spa in Chesapeake Beach. The hotel’s Rod n Reel restaurant has served their legendary fresh seafood since 1946. The resort also has two marinas with the largest charter fishing fleet on the bay, old fashioned bingo and a casino that rocks into the night. Every room has an panoramic view of the Bay, beaches and seabirds; some even have a fireplace, so it’s actually a lovely place to come in colder months too.
This tiny seaport has touring boats that depart from the local docks, and is directly across from Chesapeake Beach Water Park and adjacent to the Chesapeake Beach Railroad Trail for biking and hiking.
Calvert County also has historic lighthouses to tour, including Drum Point, Piney Point and Point Lookout. For locations and visiting hours, click here.
This mostly rural county has more than nature parks and stellar seafood. Calvert County’s Annmarie Sculpture Garden and Arts Center has one of the most whimsical collections of contemporary art I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen a lot of art galleries!). This two-story art complex is surrounded by a quarter of a mile walking path through woods peppered with art installations, including more than 30 on loan from the Smithsonian. Annmarie hosts festivals, rotating exhibitions, family activities, and Annmarie’s Studio School offers classes in pottery, painting and dance, open to all ages and abilities. This is a must-see gallery, so give yourself plenty of time to explore both inside and out.
The Southern Maryland Wine Trail includes five wineries located in Calvert County—Running Hare, Cove Point, Solomon’s Island, Perigeaux Vineyards and Friday’s Creek. These are all boutique and family owned vineyards that welcome visitors to sample and purchase. For more information, click here. Rather avoid the crowds driving to the MidAtlantic beach towns, but still want to spend some quality time on the water? Then put Calvert County on your must-visit list this summer!