The Bay Life

A Different Kind of Beach Awaits in Southern Maryland

By Gina Gallucci-White | Posted on 05.27.16 – Destinations, Travel

In your desire to smell the hint of salt in the air and grip the coarse sand between your toes as the cool water meanders around your feet (see page 72) you may also want all of these things without the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and its notorious Friday evening and Sunday afternoon gridlock. But is it possible to have the beach without the traffic?

With a population just under 6,000 residents, Chesapeake Beach is a picturesque waterfront town in northern Calvert County—about an hour and a half drive from Frederick, on this side of the bay. “It would be a great day destination or even a two-day weekend trip,” says Connie O’Dell, town community development and utility administrator. “We have lots to offer here for such a small community.”

ON THE SHORE

With the completion of a short-line railway from Washington, D.C., the town was formed in the late 1800s by developers planning a resort community. Travelers could stay at the posh Belvedere Hotel, opened in 1900, and walk along a nearby boardwalk featuring a roller coaster called “The Great Derby,” a bandstand, performing bears, games of chance, a carousel, casino, theaters and multiple restaurants. “This was the destination for Washington and Baltimore socialites,” says O’Dell.

For those who want a taste of the history, head to the Chesapeake Beach Railway Museum, which features a number of artifacts from the town’s beginnings, including a carousel kangaroo seat, railroad memorabilia and equipment and clothing of the era. “We have a lot of photographic images that show life as it was lived and the town as it was, and then some that show the town as it is now in comparison,” says Harriet Stout, museum curator. “We try to tell the story from the time the town started. … The town and the railroad more or less developed together. It was part of the same story.” Be sure to take note of the railway station building because it is housed in the same location where the original was first built in 1897. “It’s the connecting link from the past to what the town has become today,” Stout says.

A portion of the abandoned concrete path used by the railroad has been converted into The Chesapeake Beach Railway Trail. Mainly consisting of a wooden boardwalk hovering above and along Fishing Creek—a wetland and marsh area—residents and visitors can walk or bike along this two-mile path. Don’t be surprised to see ospreys, great blue herons and kingfishers flying or diving into the water nearby. “It’s a great place to just walk and observe nature,” O’Dell says.

IN THE WATER

The one thing visitors must do, assuming the temperature and weather cooperates, is get into the bay, says Joyce Baki, tourism specialist with the Calvert County Office of Economic Development. “Take your time to smell the salt air and find a way to get on the water, be it a kayak or be it going fishing or just finding a way you can get on the water.”

For those who love to raid Poseidon’s lair, be ready to catch some rockfish and more of the bay’s unseen residents. The local marina, the Rod N’ Reel Dock, is the place to charter or board a vessel. Some local restaurants will even cook your catch. “We are known as the fishing capital of Maryland,” O’Dell says. “We have the largest charter boat fleet on the Chesapeake Bay. … It’s really important to our economy but it is a great enticement because it only adds business to the rest of the community.”

Head to Bay Front Park, formerly known as Brownie’s Beach, if you want to hunt for fossil shark teeth. Southern Maryland was home to a warm, shallow sea occupied by various species of sharks about 17 million years ago. “If you know what you are looking for, you can find [the teeth],” Baki says. “Having hunted for sharks’ teeth with my grandchildren, I find that the spring and the fall storms that you get really churn up the waters and allow you to find the big ones.” Visitors must pay to get on the beach during the summer months and O’Dell cautions that parking can be limited, especially on the weekends.

If the beach is too busy, head over to the Chesapeake Beach Water Park to find eight water slides, fountains, waterfalls, a lagoon and kids activity pool. Before meandering down the two tallest slides, be sure to take in the spectacular view of the bay, says park general manager Marilyn VanWagner. Visitors are encouraged to buy their tickets ahead of time, and you might want to bring your own chairs because the ones the park has are occupied fast.

A trip to the bay is meaningless if you don’t get some seafood and this town has several great family-owned restaurants to try. Pull up your sleeves, sit down to a paper-covered table and get ready to crack some steamed crabs open at Abner’s Crab House. Traders Seafood Steak and Ale has been a town staple for more than 50 years and features freshly caught local seafood and an outdoor deck with a bar and dining area. Owned by the same family for three generations, the Rod N’ Reel Restaurant can be found at the Chesapeake Beach Resort and Spa and serves hungry diners jumbo lump crab cakes, a lobster you chose from the tank or crab imperial. Each of these three locations have gaming slots on site to either make your wallet lighter or heavier.

Right next door to the town, visitors will find the pedestrian-friendly municipality of North Beach—a spot billed as The Jewel of the Chesapeake Bay. The town features a pay-as-you-go beach, boardwalk, antique shops and wetlands overlook park. “You can visit Chesapeake Beach and North Beach all in the same day and they both have different things to offer,” O’Dell says.