I haven’t been to the Eastern Shore since Memorial Day, but I’ve been craving a relaxing trip to the beach. While we all dream of heading to Rehoboth or Ocean City for the day, the truth is you don’t need to head to the Atlantic coast to spread out your blanket and work on your tan while enjoying a juicy summer novel — there are county parks close to Washington that offer everything you need. Even if you work downtown, it’s possible to leave the office early and find yourself picnicking on the sand an hour or two later.
2846 Brooke Rd., Stafford, Va. 540-658-4871. www.staffordparks.com. Open daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Free.
State of the sand: This attractive golden beach at the confluence of Aquia Creek and the Potomac River was named one of the Best Restored Beaches in America by the American Shore and Beach Preservation Association in May. The 27-year-old park features more than a quarter-mile of sand, which faces a series of calm, crescent-shaped tidal pools. There’s plenty of room to lay out beach towels and catch some rays.
Swimming report: The water is perfect for wading. It’s so calm and clear that it’s easy to watch minnows darting in the shallows. Kids will have fun splashing around. Even if you go far out, the depth never reaches more than two or three feet.
Beyond the beach: The small park away from the beach has picnic tables on the banks of the river, horseshoe pits and a pair of large shelters with grills (call 540-658-5019 to reserve the pavilions). Kids can run and play in a large grassy area. Several interpretive signs discuss Aquia Landing’s role in the Civil War and as a stop on the Underground Railroad.
Parking, bathrooms and essential info: The parking lot is steps from the beach and park areas. A small building houses a concession stand (only open during special events) and public bathrooms with changing stations.
Where to get a picnic: Sam’s Pizza and Subs, a Stafford-based chain, specializes in steak-and-cheese sandwiches, veal Parmesan subs and traditional stromboli and calzones. There’s one on Jefferson Davis Highway, just after leaving Interstate 95. Check the Web site for coupons.
2142 Jefferson Davis Hwy., Stafford. 540-720-9797. www.samspizza.com.
1202 Triton Beach Rd., Edgewater, Md. 410-222-7317. www.aacounty.org/recparks. Open daily from sunrise to sunset. Free.
State of the sand: After years of closure and semi-public access that required daily permits, Beverly Triton Beach Park fully reopened to the public last fall. This is a rustic, beautiful and, even on a summer weekend, mostly deserted beach on the Chesapeake Bay. It’s not very wide — the main stretch is about 20 to 30 feet from the water to the grass, and tapers to nearly 10 feet as you walk along the eroding sand dunes. There’s room to spread out towels and lie down, but not much. (You also may have to move a washed-up fish head or the hard shell of a horseshoe crab.)
Swimming report: As at other Anne Arundel County parks, no swimming is allowed, though I’ve seen children splashing in the surf while building sandcastles. But the sand and the view of the water — watching sailboats and looking across the bay to Kent Island, almost seven miles away — make up for the lack of swimming.
Beyond the beach: The park is a popular place to launch kayaks and canoes, and to go windsurfing on the bay. Fishermen can try their luck at Beverly Lake and Deep Pond, or from the two stone jetties that jut out at the ends of the beach. Nature trails run through the woods, but this is a very basic park.
Parking, bathrooms and essential info: The parking lot is tiny, with room for about 10 cars. Once parked, you have to walk about two-tenths of a mile to the beach. There are no shelters or buildings in the park. The restrooms consist of a sole portable toilet near the parking lot.
Where to get a picnic: A short detour off the road to Beverly Triton will take you to the homey Edgewater Restaurant, which has some of the best (and biggest) jumbo lump crab cakes I’ve ever tasted. Daily lunch specials, including a backfin crab cake, are available for takeout before 3 p.m. 148 Mayo Rd., Edgewater. 410-956-3202. edgewaterrestaurant.blogspot.com.
1525 Flag Ponds Pkwy., Lusby, Md. 410-586-1477. www.calvertparks.org. Open Monday-Friday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday-Sunday 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. through Labor Day. Beach closes 30 minutes before the rest of the park. $4 per car for Calvert County residents, $6 nonresidents through Oct. 31.
State of the sand: This is an enormous beach, which curves around sandy peninsulas and stands of sea grass. The sand is studded with stones, shells and fossils, including many Miocene-era sharks teeth, as well as some sticks, so you may need to clear the ground before putting down a blanket. There are great views of the stratified Calvert Cliffs and, on a clear day, Taylor Island across the Chesapeake Bay. If you’re bringing the kids, take note of the shared toys at the entrance to the beach and feel free to grab a shovel or a bucket.
Swimming report: The waves are constant but gentle, and although the floor of the bay is rocky, it’s sandy enough that you’ll sink a little. Kids will love splashing around in the shallow tidal pools. Boogie boards are common, but the waves aren’t usually that big.
Beyond the beach: You could spend a day doing everything but lying on the beach. There’s a nature center with fossils on display, hiking trails that explore the changing topography of the area and lead to a pair of freshwater ponds, and a pier for fishing and crabbing.
Parking, bathrooms and essential info: Parking is near the visitors’ center, and a half-mile trail leads to the beach. (Be warned: It’s uphill on the way back.) There are full-service restrooms at both ends of the trail, and the bathrooms near the beach have an outdoor shower. The visitors’ center has soda machines and grills but does not have food for sale. Dogs are allowed on the beach but must be kept on a leash.
Where to get a picnic: The family-operated Jerry’s Place, in Prince Frederick, specializes in grilled crab cakes, barely breaded haddock and oyster sandwiches. (Chicken tenders are the only non-seafood item on the carryout menu.)
1541 Solomon’s Island Rd., Prince Frederick. 410-535-3242. www.jerrys-place.com.