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10 Things to Do in . . . Annapolis

Wednesday, April 28, 2004; Page C02

There are at least four reasons why Annapolis doesn't spare a lot of envy for the much more powerful seat of government 30 miles to the west: The city served its own stint as the nation's capital (before D.C. even existed, thank you very much); it has its own swarm of expense-account-wielding lobbyists and politicians (although with cheaper shoes and louder ties) to drive the local martini economy; seemingly half of Washington's workforce lives in Annapolis anyway; and, most importantly, who cares what's going on in Congress when the wind is up over the Severn River, the jib is set and the crabs are steaming? It's amazing Maryland's business gets done at all (oh, wait) in a waterside setting so beguiling as this. Info: Annapolis & Anne Arundel County Conference & Visitors Bureau, 888-302-2852, www.visit-annapolis.org.

-- Steve Hendrix

William Paca House and Garden. (Historic Annapolis Foundation)

The Escapes column in the April 28 Style section incorrectly indicated that astronaut Alan Shepard was a member of the U.S. Naval Academy class of 1944. Although Shepard did graduate in 1944, a year early because of the war emergency, he is considered a member of the class of 1945.

Add Escapes to your personal home page.

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1. U.S. Naval Academy. The shady, august grounds of the academy are still refreshingly open to visitors -- just show your ID at the gate and stroll about "the Yard" at will. Walking tours will take you past the chapel where John Paul Jones is buried and many a midshipman is wed, the bronze figurehead of Tecumseh, and dock after dock of the boats on which our sailors learn to sail. Any trip should start at the impressive new visitors center, where you can watch a short film, see the actual Freedom 7 space capsule flown by Alan Shepard ('44) and shop for all manner of Navy stuff. Visitors Center open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (guided tours from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., $7), 410-263-6933, www.navyonline.com.

2. City Dock. The Annapolis waterfront, largely unchanged in a century, is a reviewing stand of all things nautical. Shop for a brass bell at Fawcett Boat Supplies or a brass crab at one of the gift shops. Dockside dining ranges from the venerable Middleton Tavern to the excellent rum punches at the Marriott's Pusser's Landing. And it all wraps around the deep-water inlet known as Ego Alley, the runway for an ongoing marine fashion show. Grab a cup of coffee from the old city market and watch the preening powerboats glug-glug to and fro.

3. Rams Head Tavern. The Rams Head is the Birchmere of Annapolis, the venue where serious national acts come to play a small room full of serious -- and attentive -- fans. No dancing, please, but nobody seems to mind, what with table service for cocktails, a worldwide selection of beers, good pub food and headliners like Aaron Neville, Lyle Lovett, John Hiatt, Bruce Cockburn, Little Feat, Ralph Stanley, David Byrne, Taj Mahal. You get the idea. 33 West St., 410-268-4545, www.ramsheadtavern.com.

4. Historic Inns of Annapolis. You can't sleep more in the thick of things than in one of these three 18th-century homes, now converted into hotels. The Governor Calvert House and the Robert Johnson House are on State Circle; the Maryland Inn, a hostelry during the Revolution, is on Main. Be warned: Not all rooms are charming. Our first had a view of nothing but an indoor banquet hall. So we moved to a nice ground-floor room that overlooked the statehouse and the parking place of the governor's chief of staff. Weekend rates start at $159. 58 State Circle (reception desk), 800-847-8882, www.annapolisinns.com.

5. State House. When the legislators and influence-peddlers aren't sullying the place, this simple, symmetrical red-brick hall with the white dome is a charming and receptive civic space. Old enough to have housed the Continental Congress in the 1780s, Maryland's HQ is a walk-in museum of state and colonial history. Wander freely from the House and Senate chambers (including where George Washington came to formally end his military career) to the fully rigged 15-foot reproduction of the Federalist. Open daily, with tours usually given from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., 410-974-3400, www.mdarchives.state.md.us/msa/homepage/html/statehse.html.

6. Chick and Ruth's. There's a reason for the line that forms outside this deli on weekend mornings. It's not just that the eggs and hash and home fries are so well cooked (they are), or that the thick milkshakes seduce you so easily (they do, even at breakfast). It's the jammed and jumbled and jolly personality of the place, from the ensemble Pledge of Allegiance at 8 a.m. to the bow-tied proprietors and zany waitresses. 165 Main St., 410-269-6737, www.chickandruths.com.

7. Kayaking in Quiet Waters Park. A few miles from downtown is a meadow-path-and-pavilion-filled city park along the South River that is well known to locals. For tourists, it offers a way to work off the day's milkshakes, crabs and rum drinks in a rented kayak. Harness Creek is a calm backwater just off the South River. One meandering, cove-filled bank is lined with forest, the other with houses and docks. The herons, egrets and ospreys don't seem to have much of a preference. 600 Quiet Waters Park Rd., open 7 a.m. to dusk, 410-222-1777, www.aacounty.org/RecParks/Parks/quiet_waters_park/index.cfm. Park admission: $5 per car. Kayaks, canoes and paddle boats are available through Amphibious Horizons Sea Kayaking, from $10 an hour weekends, 410-267-8742, www.amphibioushorizons.com.

8. Cantler's Crab House. If the corkscrew driving route to this dockside crab palace on Mill Creek ever kept the crowds to a minimum, it doesn't now. Expect to wait if you go at weekend meal times during the summer crab harvest and especially if you want to sit on the sunny deck. But the weathered ambiance, the cold beer and the filthy finger ritual of eating steamed crabs make the short but confusing drive worth it. Call for directions! Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. (Friday and Saturday till midnight), 458 Forrest Beach Rd., 410-757-1311, www.cantlers.com.

9. William Paca House and Garden. Annapolis is so full of lovely old colonial houses, it's a relief to actually go in one of them. The 1763 Paca house is a noble pile flanked by an expansive formal garden. Inside is the usual look at the austere lifestyles of the rich and long dead. This one is amazing because it was once subsumed by a 200-room hotel. The Historic Annapolis Foundation carefully dismantled the shell and restored the house. Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday noon to 5 p.m. Mandatory guided tours are $5. 186 Prince George St., 800-603-4020, www.annapolis.org. The foundation maintains other historic properties and offers an audio walking tour of the old district, narrated by Walter Cronkite, available at its Museum Store on 77 Main St.

10. Aqua Terra. A tight downtown shoebox of a restaurant with a New York feel (cool bluish interior of glass and candles, servers in all black). Bag one of the two storefront tables and let all of Annapolis watch you enjoy the inventive variations on surf and turf (aqua terra, get it?). The tuna au poivre turned our heads, but the seafood "tower" won out -- a hearty stack of tempura patties, sea bass, bok choy and shrimp cakes. And we would've said yes to one of the ambitious desserts if a Chick and Ruth's milkshake hadn't been beckoning from across the street. 164 Main St., 410-263-1985; entrees in the mid-$20s to $30s range.

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