Taste, Tour and Explore the Eastern Shore
With summer upon us, many District dwellers will participate in their annual early summer excursions. On long weekends—such as our gone-too-soon Memorial Day—Washington area residents retreat to their preferred fair-weather getaways. Resorts and B&Bs throughout Maryland and Virginia play host to those reveling in the year’s most vibrant and blooming weather.
When making plans, finding less conventional avenues and avoiding throngs of tourists is a recurring trend. The Eastern Shore is less than a two-hour drive from DC and promises some of the season’s best activities. Spending the weekend on the Eastern Shore is an unconventional yet unparalleled experience, one sure to enliven your season.
Talbot County, Maryland is a great escape—a world apart on less than one gas tank’s distance. The setting is rich with history and offers some of the best cuisine, family activities and outdoor activities to be found. What’s more, Talbot County presents visitors with several distinctive towns to choose from, each with a personality all its own. Guests to the area may choose to intimately explore one or town-hop for a taste of the entire area.
Oxford Founded in 1683, Oxford is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Few towns have endured the marked phases of change that Oxford has. The landscape, once dominated by tobacco plantations and home to famous figures of the Revolution, later gave rise to oyster harvesting and packing industries. Despite the increase in tourism to the area, Oxford retains its small-town feel. It is a town that lets you feel at home almost as soon as you arrive.
Perhaps the biggest draw to Oxford is the world-class cuisine. Those looking to dine in town would do right to give Pope’s Tavern, or else the Robert Morris Inn, a try. Both restaurants provide impeccable service and dining ambiance while affording incredible views of the water.
At the Robert Morris Inn, Chef Proprietor and British Master Chef Mark Salter, brings a modern British sensibility to the kitchen combined with classical feeling. A Bay resident since 1993, Salter has immersed himself in the region’s cooking and seafood bounty. A friend to local farmers, artisan producers and the seasons, Salter turns to sustainability and the richness of Maryland’s local bounty of herbs, fruit and vegetables at every opportunity. His signature dishes go well with the wide array of vintages the inn has stocked. Dine in Salter’s Tap Room & Tavern or one of two 1710 dining rooms, a few feet from Oxford’s ferry dock.
As an after dinner treat, The Scottish Highland Creamery is a choice find, offering premium handmade icecreams—some of the best and freshest you’ll ever taste. The creamery sources local ingredients, fresh milk, cream and flavorings imported from Italy. And with over 600 flavors to choose from, there’s sure to be one that suits everyone’s fancy. The Mexican vanilla, double Belgian chocolate, fresh crushed strawberry and pumpkin pie are all must-haves.
Perhaps no other event captures the spirit of Oxford like the annual Cardboard Boat Races staged each June since 1988. Launched from the shore of the Tred Avon River, the festive and colorful event begins at 11 a.m. and continues until all five races are complete. Boats are intended to be inexpensive and biodegradable, and contestants are strongly encouraged to be creative in their designs.
The Oxford Picket Fence Project is another annual treat. Begun in 2009, the process begins with 18 unpainted red cedar wood picket fence segments. Local artists decorate the posts, reconfiguring and reinventing the fence in the process. Completed fences are then placed on display from Memorial Day to mid-September., scattered throughout town in fun and surprising locations, the locations designed around a town-wide treasure hunt. This is a unique event that showcases local artists, town history, charm and beauty.
St. Michael’s St. Michaels rests along the “Bay Hundred” stretch that runs to Tilghman Island. In its heyday, St. Michaels was a major shipbuilding center that produced such models as the Baltimore Clipper, which served as privateers during the Revolutionary War and War of 1812. Thus, it should come as no surprise that the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum is one of its premier attractions.
Founded in 1965, the Maritime Museum occupies 35 buildings across 18 waterfront acres and features 10 exhibits that explore the geological, social, and economic history of the Chesapeake Bay. The museum also houses the largest collection of indigenous Chesapeake Bay watercrafts in existence. Ava’s Pizzeria & Wine Bar and The Crab Claw Restaurant are two popular local eateries. Ava’s is complemented by its diverse selection of beer and wine. The Crab Claw has served steamed Maryland blue crabs since 1965. Also worth a look is Bistro St. Michael’s, which rounds out the town’s wide range of restaurants.
Not far off is the Inn at Perry Cabin. An elite escape, the Inn’s waterfront property offers a gorgeous panorama of the Shore at its finest. Though the inn has lost some of its exclusivity with an expansion to 78 rooms, the lavish accommodations and amenities make this less noticeable. In addition, the inn’s convenient location makes it the perfect place to stay if you plan on seeing the sights around “The Town that Fooled the British.”
Easton The most urban of Eastern Shore towns, Easton just celebrated its 300-year anniversary, adding historic flavor to the vibrant atmosphere. But nestled just outside the town are family-owned farms, such as Chapel’s Country Creamery. Dairy cows graze its sprawling fields, attesting to Easton’s pastoral grandeur. The farm itself sells its all-natural produce on site. Additionally, many of the Shore’s best chefs use local creamers and farmers as their purveyors, strengthening Easton’s communal bonds.
One such chef is Jordan Lloyd, whose Bartlett Pear Inn recently received the second highest Zagat rating in all categories for the East Coast. Lloyd owns the inn with his wife Alice, his fourth grade sweetheart reunited by fate 10 years later. The two embarked on a journey that led from Mason’s, another local favorite, to Michel Richard’s Citronelle here in DC, New York, Atlanta, Miami, and back again. Along the way, Lloyd apprenticed with four-star chefs at five-diamond and five-star enterprises, including DC’s Four Seasons Hotel. The end result is his upscale American bistro, where classic French techniques meet contemporary plate design, in an impressive 220-year-old establishment. You can easily spend a long weekend in the warm embrace of the Bartlett Pear Inn.
Poplar Island Known as “the island that almost vanished,” Poplar Island amounted to around 1,000 acres in the 1800s. By 1990, erosion had cut the island into three separate chunks of land and squeezed it to less than 10 acres. Today, thanks to a successful restoration effort led by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, it has returned to 1,140 acres and may grow by another 570 acres before the project is finished.
For now, it’s a unique destination for eco-tourism, where visitors can charter boats around the premises, viewing wildlife and a burgeoning ecosystem in its infancy. The island is already drawing scads of wildlife—almost too much for biologists to keep track of. Ospreys, egrets, terns, herons, eagles, double-breasted cormorants, black ducks and other wild fowl have already been discovered on the island, unfazed by workers and heavy equipment that move and shape the dredge material that is bulldozed onto the island from barges. Diamondback terrapins are nesting in large numbers on the island, predominantly along the sandy beaches of the southeast.
The Eastern Shore is an often overlooked and underutilized travel alternative. Add to this its breathtaking vistas and insulated townships, and the Shore might just be among the most well-guarded vacation secret in the country—for now. Now is a great chance to see it before it inevitably catapults into the national tourism limelight.