Ready to go beyond the places in Maryland that grab the tourists, the headlines, the buzz? Spend a weekend in the quiet southwest corner of the state and explore the earliest beginnings of Maryland from the first colony on St. Clement's Island to the site of its first capital, St. Mary's City. Along with fascinating history, you'll discover friendly folks, serene landscapes and fresh bay-to-table dining.
Just a sliver of land measuring a mile and a half long, and in some spots it's just the width of a single road, yet Solomons is alive with eateries, shops, a tiki bar, marinas, a scenic sculpture garden and a world-class museum.
Local residents seeking to preserve the maritime heritage of the area began the Calvert Marine Museum as a community project in 1970. It has evolved into a research museum, renowned for local history exploration while actively looking toward challenges of the future, especially environmental issues. Maritime history, estuarine biology and paleontology are brought to life through hands-on experiences. More than 500 artifacts include a 28-foot three-log canoe, a tobacco press and boats from Solomons' long-gone shipyards and oyster industry.
On the surrounding grounds, stroll the marsh walk home of great blue heron, osprey, hermit crabs and more. Nearby is the River Otter Habitat where residents Bubbles and Squeak frolic between naps.
A short distance away, the synergy of art and nature on the grounds of Annmarie Sculpture Garden & Art Center encourages creativity and reflection. Along the walking paths, tiny fairy gardens are dwarfed by rotating artworks on loan from the Smithsonian.
If all the walking makes you hungry, an abundance of dining choices is at hand, from the generous seafood starters at Lighthouse Restaurant & Dock Bar and the savory cheesecake appetizer at CD Cafe to Sunday piano brunch at Charles Street Brasserie. The rooms of Lotus Kitchen, formerly a private home, are decorated with original artwork, and the fresh, elegant food is in itself a work of art. It's a favorite breakfast and lunch stop, and according to locals, it serves Key lime pie rivaling those in the Florida Keys.
Several marinas on Back Creek include the resort-style Solomons Harbor Marina close to the town's center, and the larger, 246-slip Spring Cove Marina that offers a courtesy shuttle to restaurants and shops.
Solomons Island to St. Mary's City 36 NM
"Where's the city?" is a frequent question from arriving tourists who haven't yet realized they are standing on the archaeological site of Maryland's first capital. Tours of replica buildings bring that era back to life. Trails along this historic exhibit on the St. Mary's River wind past a replica of the Dove (one of the ships that carried Catholic settlers), the Godiah Spray Plantation and a fully excavated 17th century building at St. John's Site.
After a 90-year search, a fort-like formation the size of a football field was recently uncovered. Ground-penetrating radar scans revealed a brick cellar guardhouse and dwellings -- possibly Native American -- within the walls. Native communities in the area can be traced back 10,000 years, and a quartzite arrow dating back 4,500 years was unearthed.
Eating options are limited but tasty. Tiny Enso Kitchen has amazing breakfast sandwiches and lunch salads, but its fame comes from scrumptious bread and pastries. Although it's located in a gas station, St. James Deli & Spirits is known for excellent take-out pizza and subs.
Boats can dock for the day on site, and the closest full-service facility, Dennis Point Marina in Drayden, offers gas and diesel.
St. Mary's City to Coltons Point 26 NM
Off-season, the pace of life in this peaceful little community on the Potomac is lower than the speed limit. That all changes as warm weather tourists arrive at St. Clement's Island Museum to learn about the 1634 arrival of two ships, the Ark and Dove, whose English passengers sought to establish a new colony based on religious tolerance.
A half-mile offshore is the 62-acre St. Clement's Island state park and federal nature preserve. A towering white cross marks where the first Catholic mass was held in the new colony. The park includes a hiking trail, beach, picnic pavilion, and fishing and hunting grounds.
In 1967, local preservation groups organized the annual Blessing of the Fleet, a time-honored traditional benediction for the boats and the St. Mary's County watermen. The event also raises awareness about the island's future, currently one-tenth its original size due to rising sea levels.
Visiting boaters can tie up to the piers for the day or take a weekend water shuttle from Coltons Point. Guest piers are on the north and south shores of St. Clement's Island. Overnight slips are available at Coltons Point Marina and Cather Marine just a few miles from the mouth of St. Patrick's Creek.
Before returning to the usual faster pace, mosey up to Morris Point Seafood on Canoe Neck Creek for just-off-the-boat homemade seafood (start with crab dip Florentine) or Sunday brunch featuring Chesapeake eggs and smoked trout platter.