Growing up in Maryland, I never wanted to spend summer anywhere else; Maryland just had too much to offer. I feel the same way today. To me, summer is a giant pile of crabs and corn on newspaper on a steamy Saturday afternoon, washed down with cans of Natty Boh. It’s the beauty of a multicolored sunset over a grassy inlet on the edge of the Chesapeake Bay. It’s the smell of Fisher’s popcorn wafting down the Ocean City boardwalk, mingling with the cries of seagulls and ringing bells from the arcade. It’s the Preakness, the Maryland-pride party and middle jewel of horse racing’s Triple Crown that signals the unofficial start to summer. It’s leisurely weekends in historic towns on the Eastern Shore, discovering cool music and engrossing art at a Baltimore street festival, or swimming in a lake deep in the Western Maryland woods.
This week, we’re setting you up with an entire summer’s worth of activities and plans to illustrate what makes spending warm, lazy days in Maryland so great. Next week, we’ll do the same for the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Hit the Orioles Grand Slam
Marylanders love their Orioles: Cal, Brooks, Eddie and Earl are practically saints in some parts of the state, with no last names needed. Every baseball fan owes themselves a summertime pilgrimage to Oriole Park at Camden Yards, an absolute gem of a ballpark, but it can be just as much fun to travel to different parts of the state to see the next generation of Manny Machados and Zach Brittons. Four Orioles minor league teams play in Maryland: The Frederick Keys, Delmarva Shorebirds and Aberdeen Ironbirds are in various levels of Class A and the Bowie Baysox compete in Class AA. Each park has its own flavor: Frederick Keys fans shake their car keys during rallies, while Aberdeen's Ripken Stadium is surrounded by youth baseball stadiums resembling Wrigley Field, Oriole Park and other landmarks. All four teams pack their schedules with fun promotions, ranging from fireworks to bobblehead giveaways. Pick a game, get in the car and go.
Aberdeen Ironbirds: 873 Long Dr., Aberdeen. 410-297-9292. www.ironbirdsbaseball.com.
Bowie Baysox: 4101 Crain Hwy., Bowie. 301-805-6000. www.baysox.com.
Delmarva Shorebirds: 6400 Hobbs Rd., Salisbury. 410-219-3112. www.theshorebirds.com.
Frederick Keys: 21 Stadium Dr., Frederick. 301-662-0013. www.frederickkeys.com.
Explore the Great Outdoors
From Assateague Island beaches to the Appalachian mountains, Maryland boasts a startling array of natural beauty. The best destination on a warm weekend is in the eye of the beholder, but it's hard to argue with Cunningham Falls State Park, located about 90 minutes northwest of Washington. A number of hiking trails wind up into the picturesque Catoctin Mountains, while others skirt the cascading falls. (At 78 feet, the falls are the highest in the state.) The 44-acre Hunting Creek Lake offers swimming (Memorial Day to Labor Day), fishing, and canoe and paddle boat rentals. Word to the wise: The park can hit capacity on weekends, so arrive as early as possible. Campsites and cabins are available if you want to make a weekend out of it, though reservations fill up quickly.
Cunningham Falls State Park, 14039 Catoctin Hollow Rd., Thurmont. 301-271-7574. www.dnr.maryland.gov. Park open 8 a.m. to sunset through October. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, admission to the Houck Area, which contains the falls and lake, is $5 per person on weekends and holidays, $3 per person on weekdays. Nonresidents pay an extra $2 per day.
Drink Some Beer
The stereotypical Maryland beer is National Bohemian, a cheap lager that was born in Baltimore but hasn't been brewed in the state since 1996. Natty Boh's enduring popularity on T-shirts and taps is a slight to a flourishing craft brew scene that extends from Hagerstown to Ocean City. Established producers such as Flying Dog and Heavy Seas have been joined by a new generation of trailblazers, including Burley Oak and Union Craft Brewing. There are so many new names - Jailbreak, Manor Hill, Monument City - that it can be hard to keep track of them all, let alone try them all. If you'd like to sample beers from around the state without putting hundreds of miles on your car, head for the annual Maryland Craft Beer Festival in downtown Frederick on May 30. At least 30 breweries are bringing their wares to this day-long party, which offers music and food trucks as well as many of the finest ales and lagers Maryland has to offer. Admission includes six four-ounce samples, with extra tastes for $1 each.
May 30 from 1 to 6 p.m. Carroll Creek Park, 44 S. Market St., Frederick. www.mdcraftbeerfestival.com. $30.
Eat Some Crabs
A true Marylander can't go a few weeks without a crab feast. Jimmy Cantler's, a waterfront crab house outside Annapolis, is legendary - but so are the long lines and endless waits outside for a table on summer weekends. Instead, go a little further off the beaten path when you're craving blue crabs. (The following restaurants are participants in the statewide True Blue program, selling Maryland crabs when possible.)
Harris Crab House, on a dock overlooking the Kent Narrows, offers all-you-can-eat crabs and two sides for $45 from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays. The hush puppies are excellent; those who prefer snow crabs to blue crabs can get those, too.
The Point Crab House and Grill in Arnold, north of Annapolis, is more upscale, occupying part of the Ferry Point Marina on the Magothy River. In addition to live, steamed-to-order crabs and soft-shell sandwiches, the Point has a full seafood menu. It justifiably won "Best Outdoor Dining" and was a finalist in other categories, including "Best Dock Bar," in the Annapolis Capital's 2015 Readers Choice Awards.
Farther out, the Ocean Odyssey restaurant in Cambridge grew out of the Todd Seafood company, which produces the crab meat served to diners. (It's owned by the third generation of the family.) The Outdoor Crab and Beer Garden, which sounds like heaven on a summer day, offers steamed crabs and seafood, crab cakes and the famous Bay on a Bun, which holds a stack of soft shells, fried fish, oysters and multiple sauces.
Harris Crab House: 433 Kent Narrow Way N., Grasonville. 410-827-9500. www.harriscrabhouse.com.
The Point Crab House and Grill: 700 Mill Creek Rd., Arnold. 410-544-5448. www.thepointcrabhouse.com.
Ocean Odyssey: 316 Sunshine Hwy., Cambridge. 410-228-8633. www.toddseafood.com.
Sample Baltimore's Culture at Artscape
From Edgar Allan Poe to John Waters to DJ Scottie B, Baltimore has served as Maryland's capital of culture. Plunge in during the weekend-long Artscape Festival, the largest free arts festival in the United States, which features live music, obscure films, art cars, underground theater, ballroom dancing and activities for children, plus food trucks, late-night DJs and other surprises. Look for an announcement of 2015's schedule in June. Last year's concerts included Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, Ozomatli and Anthony Hamilton. The festival is clustered within walking distance of Penn Station, making it easy to ride the MARC train up for the day.
July 17-19. Locations and times vary. See www.artscape.org for more details. Free.
Get on the Water
Ever since English colonists arrived on the Ark and the Dove in 1634, Marylanders have enjoyed a special relationship with the water. Shipbuilding and shipping turned Baltimore into one of the largest cities in post-Revolutionary War America, while oysters, crabs and fishing made Maryland's aquaculture an economic powerhouse. The perfect way to explore Maryland is to explore the Chesapeake Bay, the largest estuary in the United States, and its many tributaries.
Every Saturday from May through early October, Watermark Cruises runs a day-long cruise from Annapolis ("America's Sailing Capital") to historic St. Michaels, home of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. The trip takes two hours each way, with 3 1/2 hours to explore St. Michaels, including free admission to the museum. The trip operates rain or shine in a two-level cruising boat, and sailing under the Bay Bridge wows passengers of all ages.
If you want a more authentic maritime experience, head to Cambridge and board the Nathan. It's a traditional sailboat known as a skipjack, the type of craft that served as the workhorse of the Maryland seafood industry in the 19th and early-20th centuries. Few remain; the Nathan is a modern ship launched in 1994. On Saturdays and Sundays from May through October, the Nathan takes visitors for a trip down the Choptank River and, on Saturdays, offers a demonstration of oyster dredging techniques.
Day on the Bay to St. Michaels: Saturdays and various weekdays from May 23 to Oct. 3. Departs Annapolis City Dock at 9:30 a.m. 410-268-7601. www.cruisesonthebay.com. $75 weekends and $68 weekdays; age 12 and younger $30.
Skipjack Nathan of Dorchester: Saturdays from 1 to 3 p.m. and some Sundays from 1 to 2 p.m. Long Wharf, High and Water streets, Cambridge. 410-228-7141. www.skipjack-nathan.org. Saturdays: $30, ages 6 to 12 $10. Sundays: $15, ages 6 to 12 $7. Children ages 5 and younger free.
Take an Eastern Shore Road Trip
If you've driven to the Maryland or Delaware beaches, you've passed exit signs for St. Michaels, Wye Mills, Denton, Easton and Cambridge, towns that have histories stretching back to the Colonial era. They're all worth a pit stop, or a visit as the destination for a weekend road trip. Easton's tree-lined streets are packed with art galleries, antique shops and boutiques, as well as acclaimed restaurants and performing arts centers, including one for children. St. Michaels is a vacation escape full of B&Bs and shops, but its heritage shines through at the 18-acre Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. It's also home to Lyon Distilling, which specializes in rum, and the Eastern Shore Brewing Company.
Cambridge boasts the Harriet Tubman Museum, the starting point of the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway, and waterfront recreation, such as the Long Wharf and its Choptank River Lighthouse museum. It also has excellent seafood restaurants and the RAR craft brewery. Denton, the seat of Caroline County, is another hot spot for history buffs: It's home to the Choptank River Heritage Center and the Museum of Rural Life, which features a 19th-century log cabin. There's not much in Wye Mills, other than the 17th-century grist mill, which still grinds flour, grits and corn meal; the pretty little 18th-century Wye Parrish church; and the remains of the Wye Oak, the state tree of Maryland, a white oak tree that was more than 400 years old when it fell during a storm in 2002.
Go to the Beach
When I was younger, I thought Ocean City was the perfect beach: the widest strip of sand I'd ever seen; arcades where you could sink your allowance into video games, Skee-Ball and Whac-A-Mole; the rickety haunted house and other cool rides; boardwalk fries; and an endless stream of T-shirt shops. But now I realize there's something for everyone: family-friendly movies and fireworks on the beach; brew pubs with gorgeous sunset views across the bay; a rad skate park; fishing charters that lead anglers to white marlin; waterfront restaurants; and that boardwalk, which the Travel Channel once called the best in America.
I know the suggestive T-shirts, occasionally rowdy boardwalk crowds and hordes of "June bugs," or newly graduated high-schoolers, are not to everyone's tastes. But, hey, there are other beaches right up Route 1.
For a less commercial destination, try Point Lookout State Park, located at the spot where the Potomac River meets the Chesapeake Bay. The bay location doesn't offer much in the way of waves, but it's perfect for swimming, canoeing, fishing, hiking nature trails and picnicking and grilling on the beach. There's a lighthouse to tour and a museum detailing the park's Civil War history. Because it's a state park, it lacks the T-shirt shops and rides that some parents would prefer to avoid in Ocean City.
Point Lookout State Park: 11175 Point Lookout Rd., Scotland. 301-872-5688. www.dnr.maryland.gov. Open 6 a.m. to sunset. From May through September, admission is $5 per person on weekends and holidays, and $3 per vehicle on weekdays. Nonresidents pay an extra $2 per day.
Get Your Preak On
The Kentucky Derby thinks it's special: seersucker, elaborate hats, bourbon cocktails. The second leg of horse racing's Triple Crown is far more egalitarian. You can "do" the Preakness in that fashion if you wish, but the real Maryland experience is being at the beating heart of InfieldFest, where "dressing up" means wearing a shirt with sleeves and the drink of choice is a bottomless mug of domestic lager. It's not as rowdy as it was a decade ago, but it's not a church social, either. (It wasn't that long ago that the mascot was a fratty centaur named Kegasus. Never forget.) This year's event is headlined by DJ Armin Van Buuren, Childish Gambino and Trampled by Turtles, who will perform when the ponies aren't running. That endless stream of beer costs $20 on top of a regular InfieldFest ticket. "The People's Party" indeed.
May 16. Pimlico Race Course, 5201 Park Heights Ave., Baltimore. 410-542-9400. www.preakness.com. General admission to InfieldFest $70; $90 with Mug Club privileges.