I’ve lived in Maryland all my life. She’s just a little over 10,000 square miles, but this state has all a visitor or native could want for recreation and fun.
Two major cities – Baltimore and Washington, DC, offer unparalleled venues for culture, entertainment, food and art. To the west is Mountain Maryland with thick forests, mammoth rocks, and scary wildlife (lots of black bears). Cutting the state nearly in two is the great Chesapeake Bay, the largest estuary in the northern hemisphere and the most studied estuary in the world.
On the east side of that Bay – where I live – is those most pristine, undeveloped landscape in the mid Atlantic region. Maryland’s Eastern Shore has Atlantic beaches, rolling farmland, historic small towns and thousands of miles of shoreline and tidal waterways and very few inhabitants per square mile. It’s as flat as western Maryland is hilly.
Maryland has all the geographic aspects of America in one small state (except maybe the desert, but if you’ve ever been out on the dunes at Assateague in July or August between noon and 3pm, you might be able to argue the desert thing), which is why it’s nickname is America in Miniature. Mega opportunities for recreation rise out of that diverse geographic landscape. So many choices.
Here are what I would consider the top 10 things to do for fun in Maryland:
1. Go to the beach. Whether it’s taking the family to Ocean City, camping at Assateague, spending an afternoon at Sandy Point, or finding a small strand near Calvert Cliffs, the beaches in Maryland are beautiful all year round. There’s over 10,000 miles of shoreline, so a beach within the Chesapeake Bay watershed isn’t too hard to find.
2. Go fishing. The photo above is of my husband, Dan Burgoyne – a fly-fishing fiend – casting in the Youghiogheny river at Swallow Falls in Mountain Maryland. The state park there is one of Maryland’s best, and it also has the largest virgin forest (never been cut) of Hemlocks in the country, which hikers can freely and easily walk through. Every part of Maryland has fishing. We are a fishing people. Even Baltimore City and Washington DC have spots where locals and visitors can cast a line and relax. (Get your fishing license, though). Fly fishing, charter fishing, surf fishing, fishing from the dock, fishing from a bridge on a country road. We fish everywhere.
3. Eat Crabs. C’mon, even if they look gross, you’ve got to try them. Eating crabs to a Marylander isn’t just eating a seasonal food. It’s a social experience. It’s the smells of Old Bay and vinegar, the taste of beer and melted butter, the feel of the wooden mallets crusted up with seasoning, the damp newspaper full of shells, the feel of the summer heat, and if you’re lucky … a view of the water and the company of great friends. It’s the quintessential Maryland experience. Tip … don’t eat crabs out of season, and don’t reheat them…. which for the sake of this article means … don’t eat them until next month – at least.
4. Visit Museums. Maryland is the Museum MECCA. There is the Smithsonian complex in Washington DC, and well-known museums like the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum and the Walters Art Museum. But there are fabulous lesser known like the Lifesaving Museum in Ocean City, and the Cryptology Museum in Jessup, plus scores more. Maryland’s entire history and culture has been chronicled and interpreted in hundreds of museums across the state and Washington DC. Incidentally DC was carved right out of Prince Georges County so if it had to be part of any state, it would be Maryland. Us Washingtonians pretty much consider it part of Maryland.
5. Explore the Waterways. Maryland’s strongest scenic element is her waterways. From small creeks, to dense marshes, to wide rivers to Deep Creek Lake, the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean, Maryland has every kind of waterway to explore. White water rafting and more adventurous water sports are available in Mountain Maryland. There are hundreds of water trails for canoeing and kayaking throughout the state. Charter boat fishing and small cruise ships are available in almost every region. My personal favorites are: Transquaking River (Blackwater, Dorchester County), Bohemia River (Kent County), Dividing Creek (Somerset / Worcester Counties) and the Heron Alley Trail at Point Lookout (St. Mary’s)
6. Spend at least two hours in a small town. Maryland has 157 incorporated municipalities and most can trace the date of incorporation to the nineteenth century. The oldest small towns are on waterways, as that was Maryland’s first mode of transportation. Later, towns grew up around the railroads. All these towns have a historic center, and many have been revived and converted into upscale retail and arts districts. Carve out a two hour time period and get to know a small town … Suggestions? Crisfield, Annapolis, Easton, Chestertown, Cambridge, Takoma Park, Elliicott City, Cumberland, Port Deposit, Frederick, and Solomon’s Island. All of these towns have 2 or more hours worth of entertainment activity available to the visitor most days.
7. Do a ghost tour. Maryland is very haunted state. There’s Big Lizz, Tench Tillman, George Washington, Patty Cannon, tons of soldiers from the Civil War, Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Kitty Knight. Maryland has two of the most haunted sites in America – the Antietam Battlefield and Point Lookout. Ghosts are synonymous with Maryland. We spawned Edgar Allen Poe. Even the Blair Witch Project was staged here. You may want to check out Chesapeake Ghost Walks.
Some good public haunted sites are Decoursey Bridge in Lower Dorchester (ghost of Big Lizz), Judges Bench (Ellicott Citty), Point Lookout (former Civil War POW camp), Old Bohemia (Cecil County), Kitty Knight House (Kent County), Pocomoke Forest (Worcester County) or just about any place in Frederick or Annapolis. Those towns reek of ghosts. For more information on haunted site, check out my book, Haunted Eastern Shore; Ghostly Tales from East of the Chesapeake.
8. Visit Smith Island. Maryland has one inhabited off-shore island. The island was settled centuries ago and some of the descendants of original colonial families still live on the island. Their culture of close knit communities making a living off of harvesting the Bay is still thick and undiluted. Every day a boat leaves from Crisfield to go out to the island. In the warmer seasons, larger boats bring groups of tourists. A visit to the new museum on Smith Island that interprets the island heritage, along with the scenic landscape makes a trip over any time of the year a worthwhile venture. And, of course this island – Smith Island – is where Maryland’s State Dessert originated, the Smith Island Cake.
9. Go camping. Maryland’s state park system offers affordable camp sites in remote settings throughout the state. We camp because we love the outdoors. Choose your campground based on the activities you like – swimming, surfing, kayaking, hiking, hunting, sunbathing, heritage tours, rafting, cycling, photography, or bird watching. Our favorite Maryland campgrounds are, Swallow Falls, Rocky Gap, Point Lookout, Elk Neck (love this park), Janes Island and Assateague Island.
10. Collect accents. People from Mississippi have an accent. People from Maine have an accent. People from Texas have and accent. But people from Maryland have lots of different accents. It’s amazing, really. I grew up in Prince Georges County near Washington, DC, and the first time I went to Baltimore, I couldn’t understand what people were saying. Baltimore has a definitive accent. The Mountain Marylanders have more of a dialect. Those folks have their own way of phrasing things. Southern Maryland has slow soft-on-the-consonants accent with diphthongs I still can’t repeat – similar to the Eastern Shore. But the Eastern Shore, especially in the far-reaching communities of the lower bay, including Smith Island, Lower Dorchester, Tilghman Island, and Crisfield. The accent has had so little foreign influence over the decades that linguistic experts compare the Lower Eastern Shore accent to the Elizabethan accent of the colonials. Listen, you’ll be amazed.
Get to know a Marylander. What I didn’t mention above is the crucial element of all fun in Maryland. Spend some time with a Marylander. We are such a diverse people, with so many faces, so many cultures and such a vivid history. We are a friendly people. A resourceful people. We have the directness of New Yorkers with the hospitality of Southerners. We have a love of the land, respect our history, have a zest for creativity and are noted for being able to celebrate with very little coaxing.
Many of you readers will have your own suggestions about the most fun things to do in Maryland. I encourage you to share them in the comment section below. I’m always looking for new places to go.
Happy birthday, Maryland – and happy Maryland Day to all.
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