The past is never far away from the present among the coves, rivers, and creeks of the Chesapeake Bay's lesser-known western shore. In the lively port of Annapolis, Colonial Maryland continues to assert itself. Today "Crabtown," as the state capital is sometimes called, has one of the highest concentrations of 18th-century buildings in the
nation, including more than 50 that predate the Revolutionary War.
The region's counties—Anne Arundel, Calvert, Charles, and St. Mary's—have been supported since their 17th-century founding through tobacco fields and fishing fleets. More recently, the northern parts of the counties have emerged as prime residential satellites for the Annapolis–Baltimore–D.C. metro triangle; but despite the subdivisions and concomitant shopping centers, southern Maryland maintains much of its rural character. With the exception of the fair-weather getaway enclave Solomons Island and the archaeological site-in-progress Historic St. Mary's City, the region remains largely undiscovered. All the better for travelers who come to enjoy stunning water vistas, miles of scenic roads, dozens of historic sites, and a plethora of inns and bed-and-breakfasts on the water, in tiny towns, and in the fields and woodlands of its unspoiled countryside.
The long, narrow peninsula between the Patuxent River and the Chesapeake Bay is Calvert County, an area that has not yet been completely overrun by tourism. Two principal routes—Route 2 from Annapolis and Route 4 from Washington, D.C.—merge near Sunderland and continue on together to the county's southern tip. Exploring the bay-side and riverside communities to either side of the highway, as well as the inland sites and attractions, will immerse you quickly in the tangible history and heritage of agriculture and fishing. Although southern Maryland is best known as a fishermen and boaters' paradise, it is also popular with cyclists. Its flat terrain and relatively uncongested roads make for perfect conditions to tour the area by bike.
"Just at the mouth of the river, we observed the natives in arms. That night, fires blazed through the whole country and since they had never seen such a large ship, messengers were sent in all directions, who reported that a 'canoe' like an island had come with as many as there were trees in the woods."—Father Andrew White, recounting the arrival of the Ark and the Dove in 1634.
Father White arrived in the New World in 1634 as a member of Lord Baltimore's contingent of 140 colonists. The two "canoes" the Native Americans spotted were the tiny sailing vessels that had just crossed the Atlantic to reach the southernmost tip of Maryland's Western Shore, where the Potomac River meets the Chesapeake Bay. The peninsula between the Potomac and the Patuxent rivers is today St. Mary's County—easily one of the state's most beautiful regions. It is gradually attracting development because of its easy access to Washington, D.C., to the north.
Like so much of Maryland south of Annapolis and Washington, many scenic drives throughout St. Mary's County bring together charming inland and waterside towns and historic sites. Hearty food and homey places to stay are easy to find.
Looking for an unusual find? Numerous liquor stores in St. Mary's County sell popular brands of U.S. beer in rare 8-ounce and 10-ounce cans.