Maryland is a great place to eat crabs and enjoy the coast, but there are many other opportunities for recreation and interesting adventures in all of Maryland’s regions. Here are some of our favorite stops in each region.
The Eastern Shore
Arguably the most well-known region of Maryland, the Atlantic coast and the Chesapeake Bay both offer natural beauty and enjoyment. Ocean City, MD is one of the most popular beach towns you’ll find, and for good reason. The beach is wide and clean and the town is full of fun things to do. The board walk is long and there is something for everyone.
You can park for $3.50/hour at the Inland Parking Lot and look out onto the jetty, see some record-setting fish on the end of the boardwalk, take a photo with the giant anchor, or visit the Lifesaving Museum for $3 per person. It costs a dollar to go all the way out onto the fishing peer just past the museum, and there are always plenty of fishermen, if you like the camaraderie. There are also tons of locks on the railings, if you are the romantic type. Of, just come for the view and to watch the seabirds and look for dolphins.
You can bike on the boardwalk from 2AM (but remember, it’s still illegal to drink and drive a bike) to noon. We rented a 4 peddler for $35 for our family of 6 this year and we all had a great time. Except for the 8 year old, who decided she wanted her OWN bike. Well, you can’t please everybody.
There is a ride for everyone at Ocean City. There are two areas – the Jolly Roger that is next to the fishing pier and Trimpers that is just across the boardwalk from the pier. They both have carousels and that is the extent that my stomach can handle so I will withhold comments about the remaining rides, except to say that my kids enjoy them all!
Not far from Ocean City you can find both the State Park and the National Seashore of Assateague. Although wildlife is unpredictable, the chances are pretty good that you will see some horses if you visit either one. If you go to the beach there in the summer, you may even see them enter the water for a little cool-down. You’re likely to find them strolling along the side of the roadway into the park in little groups with their foals, or even chilling in the parking lot. Watch out for plops.
The trails are short and pretty as well, and sometimes you can see the tiny deer that live in the park. You will certainly see plenty of birds. One of my favorite memories from the park is noticing a spattering of pinkish-white wild hibiscus, and looking up beyond it at a tree just covered with big brilliant white birds – I think they were egrets or herons.
We are not early risers, but lucky for us, we don’t have to go all the way to the west coast to see the sun setting over the water. The bay is just as lovely. Assateague National Seashore costs $20 per vehicle and the state park costs $5 per person (free for under ten years old).
We’ve never stayed here, or visited the waterpark. The ropes course looks cool but seems to be closed. BUT, after passing it many times on trips to Assateague and Ocean City, we finally decided to check it out, and we really enjoyed it. There are free shows throughout the day (in-season), and they are really fun. You can watch authentic Native American dances in the “Indian Village” area and the Texas Trick Riders close out the day at 7PM. It’s also fun to wander around the “Old West” and maybe get an ice cream at the Saloon or visit the farm animals.
The Salisbury Zoo
This is a cute little zoo with plenty of shade. Not a ton of animals, but considering it’s free, it’s still a really nice zoo, and it also has a super nice playground with a sandy toddler area. This year they have bear cubs. Admission is free, though donations are appreciated.
Elk Neck State Park
Elk Neck State Park is a gorgeous park along the Chesapeake with lots of birdwatching opportunities. You can also swim here if you are brave, though it’s not unheard of to come across a few dead fish, and the bottom is also quite rocky so you’ll need water shoes. There are restrooms with showers to rinse off afterwards.
The Capital Region
Frederick is a charming little town with lots of hiking, including part of the Appalachian Trail. There are historical buildings and small specialty museums. Our favorite is the Roads and Rail museum, which is a fun roadside type of stop, especially if you have a train fan. And what family with small children doesn’t have at least one train fan?? It is not a train museum with actual trains, but rather a model train museum with bazillions of details including a tiny amusement park, tiny drive in theater, tiny factories, and much more.
We stay at the Marriott Springhill Inn and Suites in Annapolis, which always works well for us. The pool, of course, is essential and much used, as well as the hot tub and complimentary breakfast. It’s great for families.
Downtown Annapolis is just a fun, bustling place to be. Visit the Naval Academy and take a boat tour that will point out the various buildings in the Academy and surrounding area from the very pleasant vantage point of the water.
Sandy Point State Park
If you’re wanting to swim, you can visit Sandy Point Park, which is a sandy beach area on the bay, almost under the Chesapeake Bay bridge. It has everything you need – there are restrooms, a playground, picnic tables and concessions. It does get crowded in the summer, especially on weekends!
The Western Region
Washington Monument State Park
Wherever there’s a tower to climb and a view to be seen, we’re interested. This one is great because the climb up the hill to the tower from the parking lot is short and sweet – My soon to be two year old did it on her own, but I’d say we all raised our heart rates for a few minutes, so it was a win-win. It intersects with the Appalachian trail, which is always fun.
The tower I’m referring to is the monument itself. It is enclosed with windows so no risk of anybody falling out. (Am I the only person that worries about this every time we climb a tower?) There is also a playground and restrooms, so this park was a hit for us.
The hike up to Weverton Cliffs is what hiking people call “moderate” and what my family calls “challenging.” We had to leave the weak ones behind (I’m referring to our two year old). But, it was tough on the younger kids too.
Still, it was a lot of fun to scramble over rocks and roots and come out sweaty and tired to a lovely view of the Potomac, and cliffs are always interesting to look at. I was struck by the trees that seem to grow at odd angles directly out of rock, their roots intertwined with the cliffs. You can get way out to the cliff’s edge (and fall to your death if you’re being too risky with the selfies), so please exercise caution.
Crystal Grottos Caverns
Take a 30 minute tour of the caves for about $20/adult, $10/kid over 3 years old, and just enjoy the view and the creepy darkness at the end. (You know, when they turn all the lights off so you can see how it feels not to literally not be able to see your hand in front of your face). I like it better in the lights on.
The plethora of stalactites and stalagmites are really quite beautiful. They glisten deliciously (seriously, it makes me want to take a bite), and form all kinds of crazy shapes, including but not limited to (as named by my children): bacon, potato chips, and popcorn. I told you they look delicious.
The Central Region
Havre De Grace
Havre De Grace is a sweet little town along the Chesapeake Bay, and it’s fun to walk along the “Promenade,” which is a little winding boardwalk along the Bay that ends up in front of the lighthouse for which the town is known. On a hill above the parking lot for the Promenade and Marina, there is a playground which is well loved by local children and visitors alike for it’s array of playground equipment (including a miniature lighthouse) and by parents for it’s lovely hilltop view of the water. There are a number of charming little seafood restaurants nearby.
Gunpowder Falls State Park
Gunpowder Falls State Park is another beautiful one, but it is enormous so you’ll probably want to do some planning before you visit. There are miles upon miles of trails, but wading in one of the rivers and tossing some rocks in is always a favorite activity for little ones. If you want to swim in the bay, navigate to the Hammerman area. It is a large, clean area, with space to picnic on the grass, set up on the sand (water shoes not required), and take a swim in the bay. The water in the bay is often quite warm in the summertime, with little to no surf.
There are lots of things to do in Baltimore, but our favorite places to visit are the Baltimore Aquarium for a day out of the sun, the Inner Harbor for dining and strolling, and the Glen Martin Aviation Museum for our Air and Space Enthusiast. Even our less aeronautically-inclined children liked it because there was a cardboard rocket ship they could play in. (It’s the simple things, right?) The museum itself is tiny but includes an impressive tour outdoors of quite a few planes.
Patapsco Valley State Park
Patapsco is very easy to get to from I-95, and very close to Baltimore, so if you’re looking for a pretty stop on a road trip, this is a great one. It is fun to cross the swinging bridge and check out the ruins on the other side, and just across the parking lot on the other side you can follow a short, kid-friendly trail up to Cascade Waterfalls. There is plenty of parking, and you will pass restrooms, picnic tables and a playground on your way to the Avalon area where the bridge and waterfall are located.