By Stephanie Kalina-Metzger
As a kid, your idea of a great beach vacation may have meant playing in the sand and the ocean by day, on the boardwalk by night.
But you’re an adult now, so your tastes have matured, right?
Fortunately, you don’t have to abandon your love of sea and sun—you just need to make some adjustments. A short drive away from central PA, you’ll find dozens of quiet, quaint towns situated on beautiful waterways, many with a grown-up vibe.
Rock Hall, Md., is one of those.
The small, waterfront town on Maryland’s eastern shore offers visitors a respite from the hustle and bustle. Fishing, sailing, birding, hiking, swimming and biking are among the outdoor activities available in the area.
Those who visit early in the summer season may feel as if they have the entire town to themselves. When I arrived in early June, there wasn’t a soul in sight, not even a lifeguard. If you prefer a livelier atmosphere, mark your calendars for Aug. 10 when the town comes alive with the annual “Pirates and Wenches Fantasy Weekend.”
Whatever your scene, chances are that Rock Hall will fit the bill, just as long as you’re a fan of the great outdoors.
Upon arriving in Rock Hall, you’ll certainly notice the town’s charm.
Petite, candy-colored buildings dominate the town center, where shopkeepers sell a variety of items ranging from clothing to gifts, accessories, ice cream and confections. Additional shops and cafes are located just a few steps away on Main Street.
For a unique retail experience, check out Rock Hall Marine Consignment to get a glimpse into the world of boating. There, you’ll find an array of duck decoys, along with a multitude of boat accessories. I even saw a model of a miniature duck blind for sale.
Speaking of wildlife—about 10 miles from Rock Hall, near historic Chestertown, is the Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge, a 2,285-acre island that offers areas for fishing and trails for hiking and biking. The park headquarters operates out of a 1900s-era log cabin, where friendly volunteers are on hand to answer questions. Wildlife abounds in this unspoiled area, and you’ll likely to see kingfishers, ducks, turkeys, turtles, loons, wood ducks, songbirds, peregrines and more. Don’t leave before checking out the butterfly garden, which, along with the rest of the refuge, is open daily 7:30 a.m. to sunset.
If you’re like me, the only thing better than being near the water is being on the water.
So, I chatted with Capt. Andrew Seligman, who commandeers the Shardana, which sails from Rock Hall’s Osprey Point Marina. The boat accommodates up to six passengers and is equipped with three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a full galley, where seasoned chefs prepare delicious dishes.
Groups are invited to create their own customized tours, which could include stopping for a swim, soaking in the sights of a spectacular sunset, or enjoying an onboard cookout. Overnight guests have the option of exploring towns like St. Michaels and Solomon’s Island or docking in cities like Annapolis, D.C., or Philadelphia.
“We made our decision from the very onset to build a sailboat that would provide memorable experiences for seasoned sailors, but also create a ‘magic carpet ride’ for those people new to sailing who want to enjoy the serenity and excitement of being on a sailboat, plying the waters of the Chesapeake Bay,” said the co-owner, Capt. Davis Jones.
Nature, of course, offers its own show along the way, with a variety of wildlife appearances—herons, osprey, cormorants and the occasional bald eagle.
For a different take of life on the sea, Rock Hall hosts the annual “Pirates and Wenches Fantasy Weekend,” occurring this year from Aug. 10 to 12. The waterfront-themed party includes live music, pirate performers, contests, rum tastings, sing-a-longs, a 5K run/walk, costume contests and the popular “decorated dinghy” contest. This is the 11th year for the event, which attracts both locals and out-of-towners.
Stay a Spell
You could do Rock Hall as a day trip, but you probably will want to make a weekend out of it, as there’s so much to do in the area.
Fortunately, the Inn at Haven Harbor offers comfortable rooms in five buildings scattered about town. Included in the room rate are amenities ranging from free bike and kayak rentals to pool access, free breakfast and Wi-Fi, a fitness room, laundry facilities, picnic pavilions, a children’s playground and a beach area with a fire pit. Guests who feel like engaging in a little competition can take part in anything from lawn chess to shuffleboard, croquet and bocce ball.
During my stay, I rented the Lazarette room. Clean, comfortable and pet-friendly, the attractively decorated, one-bedroom cottage allows a guest to live like a local, with all the amenities of home. The full-sized kitchen is especially convenient for those who prefer to prepare their own meals.
But, seriously, who wants to cook during a short jaunt out of town?
Situated along the water, the Waterman’s Crab House draws tourists for its ideal location. Enjoy a bite while sitting outside along the water and listening to live music.
In my opinion, the best crabs in the area can be found in a simple joint called Ford’s Seafood. This is where the locals go, which is enough of a recommendation right there. What Ford’s lacks in ambiance, it more than makes up for in quality.
For fine dining, visit the Osprey Point Restaurant, located along the Swan Creek Marina at the Osprey Point Inn, where the chef serves up American cuisine with a local focus, with dishes like scallops, duck, crab cakes and tuna. After dinner, enjoy a walk on the pier among the many boats docked at the marina.
After dinner, grab an ice cream and enjoy what Rock Hall is most known for—its beautiful sunsets. So, are you relaxed yet?
To learn more about Rock Hall, Md., visit www.rockhallmd.com.