Rich in seafaring heritage, outdoor recreation, water sports, fishing – and, of course, great seafood — southern Maryland’s western shore offers a wide array of cultural attractions, historical and maritime sites, and unspoiled natural beauty. Althought it has temperate weather in winter, this region of Twin Beaches really shines in late spring, fall and summer for family vacations.
Less than an hour’s drive from Washington DC, Annapolis and Baltimore, the Twin Beaches – North Beach and Chesapeake Beach – in northern Calvert County are the region’s gateway. Both beach communities are a great choice for families looking for fun and relaxation. It’s so close to the Capitol that you really can get “from the White House to the lighthouse” with a short drive — and there are plenty of lighthouses in southern Maryland to experience.
North Beach and Chesapeake Beach are Home Bases
North Beach has a quaint, small-town atmosphere and a seven-block waterfront with a fishing pier and half-mile boardwalk and bike path. Whether the family just relaxes on the beach, or gets more energetic with biking, kayaking, canoeing, fishing and crabbing, visitors will find plenty to do in North Beach. Families will love the summer concerts, movies and campfires on the beach. Also make a visit to the Bayside History Museum in North Beach for a further look into the by-gone days of the Twin Beaches.
Next door to North Beach is Chesapeake Beach, home to the Chesapeake Resort and Spa and the Bay’s largest fishing fleet. The resort has rooms with fabulous views of the Bay, a great selection of restaurants, an indoor pool, a full service spa and salon, and a wealth of history. A visit to the Chesapeake Beach Railway Museum presents an intriguing, nostalgic history of this bayside resort and its amusement park, band shell, and the once-popular railroad from their early beginnings to their heyday in the early 1900’s.
Other attractions in the Twin Beaches area include the Chesapeake Beach Water Park, Bayfront Park where hunting for fossil shark’s teeth is popular, and Breezy Point Beach.
A number of special family events are held throughout the year in both communities, so check their websites for information.
Maritime Heritage in Solomons & the Western Chesapeake
The Western Shore’s maritime heritage is never more obvious than in the once-quiet waterfront fishing village of Solomons, now a popular spot for the yachting set. This charming town, located where the Patuxent River meets the Chesapeake Bay, is a good base to enjoy the beauty and history of the bay. Sailboat and fishing charters will get you out on the water, while a variety of waterfront dining choices provide outstanding views and some of Maryland’s great seafood.
Families will love the Calvert Marine Museum, the only museum on the East Coast with two lighthouses. Kids love the skates and rays exhibit, where they can touch these live sea creatures; the fossil exhibit, where kids can search for real shark’s teeth to take home as souvenirs; and the river otters exhibit, where kids love to see these playful creatures cavorting in their habitat.
Located at the Calvert Marine Museum, the Drum Point Lighthouse is a beautifully restored cottage-type light, one of only three remaining from the 45 that once served the Chesapeake Bay at the beginning of the 20th century. In addition to exploring the lighthouse, families can enjoy a one-hour cruise aboard the Wm. B. Tennison, the only Coast Guard-licensed log-hulled vessel in America.
Other attractions in Solomons include the J.C. Lore & Sons Oyster House, a restored seafood packing house with exhibits that explore all aspects oyster processing. The Annmarie Garden Sculpture Park & Arts Center has an exquisite collection of outdoor sculpture, much of it on loan from the Smithsonian Institution. Families will enjoy the Children’s Discovery and Nature Trail and the Sunday FUNday afternoons, when admission is free and hands-on art activities are conducted by the faculty and staff. Check the website for an activities schedule as well as special exhibits for families. We enjoyed a stroll through the sculpture garden and delighted in the special exhibit of handcrafted fairy houses.
The Chesapeake Biological Laboratory in Solomons, a part of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, is a great place to learn about the ecology and natural resources of the Chesapeake Bay.
Natural Beauty of Southern Maryland’s State Parks
Families that enjoy the great outdoors will love the many parks and beaches of southern Maryland, said to be “where time and tide meet.” A fairly easy two-mile hike will bring you to the beach and the majestic cliffs of Calvert Cliffs State Park in Lusby. Among the local Calvert Parks, Flag Ponds Nature Park in Lusby, Kings Landing Park in Huntingtown, and Battle Creek Cypress Swamp Sanctuary are great places to explore, hike, hunt for fossils, and enjoy the natural beauty of this unspoiled area.
In addition to Calvert County, Maryland’s Southern Shore is also comprised of St. Mary’s County and Charles County, both of which have numerous state and county parks that offer a full range of outdoor activities. Visit their websites for a full listing of their parks and recreational opportunities, as well as listings of outfitters for renting canoes and kayaks and numerous fishing and sailing charters.
Lighthouse lovers will find four of them in St. Mary’s County, including the Potomac’s oldest lighthouse at Piney Point and its newest, Blackistone Lighthouse (it was totally reconstructed in 2008) at St. Clement’s Island State Park.
Sites Commemorate the 19th Century History of Maryland
A family vacation can be educational as well as fun. In addition to the great recreational choices and the maritime heritage of Southern Maryland, history buffs will find a vast array of historical sites and attractions, from pre-colonial times of the early settlers to the War of 1812 and Civil War sites. Historic St. Mary’s City is an outdoor museum with living history exhibits. Located on the site of Maryland’s first colony and first capital, Historic St. Mary’s City brings the past to life as costumed interpreters interact with visitors amongst the meticulously recreated colonial structures of this early settlement.
With over three hundred years of history – older than Mount Vernon or Monticello – Sotterley Plantation, with its nearly 100 acres of rolling meadows and beautifully manicured gardens, is an historical treasure. Sotterley Plantation stands majestically on the banks of the Patuxent River and features a plantation house dating back to 1703 and an authentic 19th century slave cabin, as well as a number of other historical structures.
Point Lookout State Park has a Civil War Museum, a recreation of Fort Lincoln, and monuments erected to commemorate Confederate soldiers who died while at Point Lookout Prison Camp. Enthusiasts of modern military aircraft will get a kick out performing an aerial dog-fight in a Navy fighter plane simulator at the Patuxent River Naval Air Museum in Lexington Park. Many more historical sites and attractions can be found throughout Southern Maryland.
Whether it’s the maritime heritage, rich history, wide variety of recreational choices, beautiful scenes of nature, or delicious cuisine, families will find it all just about an hour’s drive from our nation’s capital – on Southern Maryland’s Western Shore. It really is just an hour “from the White House to the lighthouse.”
Dear Reader: This page may contain affiliate links which may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Our independent journalism is not influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative unless it is clearly marked as sponsored content. As travel products change, please be sure to reconfirm all details and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.