What New York, Miami, Los Angeles and San Francisco are for city-loving tourists, are the beaches of Florida and California for travellers seeking warmth, sunshine and sandy beaches. But these primary destinations for international vacationers visiting the United States are usually overcrowded and often also overrated. What many tourists from overseas tend to overlook is a hidden treasure on the mid-Atlantic coastline that offers not just beautiful traditional sandy beaches, but also historic landmarks, architectural highlights and some of the best seafood in the country – all to be found along the Chesapeake Bay.
“Heaven and earth have never agreed better to frame a place for man’s habitation.” – Captain John Smith upon exploring the Chesapeake Bay (approx. 1612)
When I first visited the United States in the summer of 2003, at age 15, I did not know much about the Chesapeake Bay or the state of Maryland, which covers most of the bay’s territory. I had heard of Baltimore, Maryland’s biggest city, and I knew that it was close to the capital city of Washington, D.C., but that was about it. Throughout the years, I returned several times and continually discovered new places and learned more about its history, landscape and custom food. Here are some of the most important things you need to know about the natural beauty that is the Chesapeake Bay and the two states it covers, Maryland and Virginia:
- It harbors two architectural masterpieces: The Chesapeake Bay is spanned twice by monumental impressive architectural contructions. In the north, the 6,9 km (4.3 miles) long Chesapeake Bay Bridge connects Maryland’s Western and Eastern Shores. The dual-span bridge offers breathtaking views to the north and south and serves as the main route to holiday destinations on the Maryland and Delaware Atlantic coastline. When its first span opened in 1952, it was the longest over-water steel structure in the world. Further south, at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, the monumental Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel construction connects Virginia’s Northampton County with the state’s primary holiday hotspot Virginia Beach. One of only ten bridge-tunnel-systems in the world today, the 37 km (23 miles) long architectural highlight was opened in 1964 and consists of trestle bridges, tunnels, artificial islands, high-level bridges, causeways and approach roads.
- You get the best crab cake in the country: Growing up in Maryland means eating
crabs! At least that’s what I’ve been told from different people in different areas of Maryland. Catching and eating crabs is more than just the absorption of food, it’s a tradition that is an essential part of family gatherings, summer evenings and lazy Sundays on the water. If you’re not furtunate enough to have a pier available from where to catch your own crabs, you should check out one of the many fine restaurants around the Chesapeake Bay that offer the “originial” Maryland crab cake sandwich. What most of us non-Americans only know from Spongebob Squarepants (yes, they call it a crab burger on German television!) is, in my opinion, the most delicious form in which the healthy crab meat is served. Be aware though that there are good restaurants and bad ones. The bad ones use less meat and lots of filling for their crab patties, as crab meat is expensive and you need a lot for one patty. If you want a really good one, try Pusser’s Caribbean Grille in Annapolis. I have been there twice and their crab cake is just plain delicious! Plus, you can sit out on the deck and have an amazing waterfront view of the fancy sailboats and yachts.
- Annapolis is more than just Maryland’s capital city: Speaking of Annapolis, the capital city of Maryland is a perfect destination for a day visit or a longer stay, depending on your amount of time and schedule. The city that is much smaller than Baltimore or Washington D.C., the two big cities it is closest to, is situated at the mouth of the Severn River and is one of the older cities in the United States. Its first
settlement was founded in 1649 by puritan exiles from Virginia and grew rapidly during the 18th century. Thus, mainly its city center features many old buildings that date back to the earliest days of American colonization. The most important historical fact you need to know about Annapolis is that it served as the temporary United States capital after the Revolutionary War and Congress held its sessions in todays Maryland State House, one of the most remarkable buildings of the city. Besides the beautiful city center with many historic buildings, excellent restaurants and small unique shops, you should also plan a visit to the beautiful campus of the United States Naval Academy, where all officers for the Navy and the Marine Corps are educated in a four-year program. And if you have some spare time and want to do some fine shopping, Annapolis also has one of the most beautiful malls I have yet been to – Westfield Annapolis Mall.
- A visit to George Washington’s home on the Potomac River offers new insights: All the landmark sights in Washington D.C. should definitely be mandatory on your list of things to see during a visit to the capital area, but if you want to breathe in some more historic air and see one of the most beautiful estates in the area, you should plan a visit to Mount Vernon, the historic country home of George Washington. Situated directly on the banks of the Potomac River in Fairfax County, Virginia, the Palladian style mansion was constructed by the first President of the United States between 1758 and 1778. The land surrounding it, which had been in possession of the Washington family since 1674, served as a plantation and currently consists of 500 acres (two square kilometers). Visitors to the estate can walk through George Washington’s study, a privilege only given to few people during the 18th century, and see most of the other rooms the Washington family lived in until George Washington’s death in 1799. Additionally, the estate grounds offer picturesque views of the Potomac River and the opportunity to visit George and Martha Washington’s tombs. From my own experience, I can only recommend visiting this beautiful estate. The tour through the house offers interesting insights and information you do not get during a visit to the American History Museum.
- A secret tip – Solomon’s Island: On the southern tip of Calvert County, right at the mouth of the Patuxent River, where it meets the Chesapeake Bay, you can find a little island that has become very dear to me over the years. Solomons Island, which has been inhabited since colonial times, is a well-known weekend getaway destination for
people in the Baltimore-Washington Metropolitan area. The island offers many beautiful marinas, a boardwalk, gift shops, a sculpture garden that is affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution, the Calvert Marine Museum and the famous Tiki Bar, which attracts tens of thousands of visitors during its annual opening weekend. Another highlight are the many excellent restaurants, which offer some of the best seafood in Maryland. If you get the chance to take a trip out onto the water, make sure to watch out for the impressive Governor Thomas Johnson bridge, which connects the island to St. Mary’s County, as well as the military planes, which take off and land at the Patuxent Naval Air Station on the other shore across from the island’s southern tip. If you want to include a visit to a beautiful summer getaway in your vacation itinerary that is largely unknown to international tourists, make the trip down to Southern Maryland! I have been there every time I travelled to the United States and I’ve never been let down by the natural beauty of Solomons Island and its surroundings.