Solomons Island

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Located where the Patuxent River meets the Chesapeake Bay and separated from the mainland by just a small stretch of water, Solomons resembles a peninsula more than a typical island. The Southern Maryland destination is a quaint, self-sufficient town that has something to offer any visitor that comes to her shores

Once a privately owned tobacco farm called Sandy Island, the 80-acre town played a small yet significant role in the War of 1812. Joshua Barney, a retired naval captain, constructed a fleet of small, easily maneuverable sailboats and rowboats to help fend off the much larger British navy as the attackers sailed up the Patuxent River to burn Washington, D.C. After the war ended, peace reigned and the economy boomed. Isaac Solomon, a Baltimore businessman, bought the island and turned it into an oyster canning facility. This economic endeavor brought jobs and new residents to the island. The Island's first U.S. Post Office opened in 1870, making the isolated island almost entirely self-sufficient. Shipbuilding and repairing industries increased, and grocery and general stores began to open.

By the 1930s, a steamboat traveled twice-weekly from Baltimore, serving as a major connection to the rest of Maryland and allowing residents to shop and visit relatives in the city. Changes in the American economy and lifestyle did not overlook Solomons, however, and a Naval Amphibious Training Base opened on the island during World War II. This military facility brought in new jobs, and all but ended the island's reliance on the oyster and fishing industries as the sole sources of income. Today, tourists bring most of the business to the island, and restaurants, charter-boat fishing, recreational boating and gift shops are the main attractions for visitors.

As you approach Solomons from the north, driving down the long, straight and wide Route 4, rows of upscale mini-malls, expansive fields and Asbury Solomons Island -- a retirement community located just outside of the island -- signal that you are about to enter another world. Only an hour from the busy metropolitan center of Washington, D.C., the quiet lifestyle found on Solomons makes you forget that the beltway even exists. You can find just about everything you need in this beautiful and quaint town. Just before you reach Solomons, find out about special events and new attractions by stopping by the Visitor Center.

As retired Prince George's County firefighter Ray Nieves says, "Everyone from bikers to people in Cadillacs come to Solomons Island." The last safe harbor in which to stop to refuel, eat and shop before Norfolk, Va., many boaters from Baltimore (or even as far north as Canada) dock their boats and spend some time on Solomons. Whether you are in a boat, on a motorcycle road trip, on a day trip with the family or you just need a chance to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life, a visit to Solomons is fun, refreshing and relaxing.

Fun for families

If you're just on the island for the day, and you've brought the family along, park your car in the free public parking lot. The island is so small and easy to navigate that you will want to take it in on foot. The Riverwalk, a wooden planked boardwalk that spans the length of the main drag of the island, is the perfect place to begin your visit to Solomons. Sit on a bench and people-watch while the kids play on the playground. You can then head over to Kim's Key Lime Pies & Coffee Shop to enjoy a cappuccino or a fruit smoothie to get you going.

If you've packed a picnic lunch, charter a sailboat at Baileywick Sailboat Charters and enjoy an afternoon at sea. Children will enjoy watching the water and looking for the many types of birds and fish that populate the Patuxent River. Fishing enthusiasts can head to Fin Finder Charters and spend the day fishing on a chartered boat.

When the family has tired of the active aquatic life, get back in the car and head over to the Calvert Marine Museum. Tour the Drum Point Lighthouse, meet two live otters, explore plant and animal communities in their natural habitats in the Boat Basin and Marsh Walk and allow the kids to engage in hands-on learning in the Discovery Room. As the day gets cooler, take another short drive to Annmarie Garden. This outdoor sculpture garden features many pieces of artwork from local and international artists that can be enjoyed during a stroll in the woods.

A long day of sightseeing will have the whole family hungry for some Maryland seafood. For folks with families, The Captain's Table offers a casual atmosphere and an array of seafood dishes, pastas, sandwiches and burgers, in addition to a kids menu. You can also try the Naughty Gull, which advertises the "Best Crab Cakes in Solomons." The relaxed atmosphere and kids menu is great for families, but the pub will please adults. Enjoy a leisurely dinner and then spend the final minutes of your day watching the sun set across the Patuxent River

Cozy couples

The fact that Solomons is home to three bed and breakfasts reveals a large part of the island's clientele. Couples on romantic getaways and retired vacationers love coming to Solomons to relax, shop and dine. A weekend trip for two is easy to plan, and you will barely need to leave the island during your stay.

The first step in the vacation process is finding a place to stay. Bed and breakfasts are the lodging of choice, and the only trouble is deciding which one best suits your needs.

For comfortable rooms and spa services, choose Solomons Victorian Inn. Originally owned by Clarence Davis, a yacht maker, the eight rooms in the Victorian Inn are named after yachts he built. Relax with an hour-long massage given by an in-house masseuse.

For those who enjoy the outdoors, the Back Creek Inn sits right on the water and features a delightful botanical garden and a goldfish pond. If you traveled by boat, dock it in one of Back Creek's deep water slips.

Stay close to the local shops at the Blue Heron Bed and Breakfast. With only two large suites, the Blue Heron is the most intimate bed and breakfast on the island. Spend time with the innkeeper, Captain Richard Rogers, and peruse his collection of handcrafted, extremely detailed model ships.

After a hearty breakfast, head into town for a day of shopping. The shops may be small, but the trinkets, jewelry and antiques are plentiful and deserve a great deal of attention. Stop in every shop and you will most likely meet every small business owner on the island. Often running businesses on the main floor of a small home, the shop owners take great pride in their stores and will stop what they are doing to chat with a friendly customer.

The Silver Gecko, which is located in the front of Kim's Key Lime Pies, houses handcrafted glass jewelry from a local artist. You can also find blown glass dishware and other locally made, handmade items.

Sea Gull Cove Gifts has been on Solomons for 17 years, and it features nautical novelties. A line of Solomons Island sweaters, jackets and blankets is available exclusively from Sea Gull Cove. Take a break from shopping and enjoy a cup of coffee or some ice cream on the large front porch of the shop.

For mystic shoppers, Whispering Hoop offers feng shui classes, reiki and meditation, in addition to the more traditional nautical gifts and souvenirs. Select a piece of unique jewelry or a book on relaxation to read in a comfortable chair in your bed and breakfast suite.

Dinner is quite an event on Solomons, and fine dining is not hard to find. Many of the restaurants serve seafood, such as the classy Lighthouse Inn and Restaurant and the slightly more casual Dry Dock Restaurant, both of which also feature outdoor dining. DiGiovanni's Dock of the Bay, however, offers upscale Italian food right on the water. Drink like a local and order a bottle of wine provided by the Solomons Island Winery, which is available at these and many other Solomons restaurants.

Stroll the Riverwalk after dinner, and, if you went elsewhere for your meal, have a drink at the unique Boat Bar at the Lighthouse Inn. The bar is shaped like the hull of a boat, and it was hand carved by local craftsman "Pepper" Langley. If the thought of creating functional art interests you, take his carving class or simply see his other work at the Calvert Marine Museum.

Busy boaters

A very popular way to get to Solomons is by boat. Many people sail in from Baltimore and points farther north for a mini-vacation on the tiny island. Others use the harbor as a rest stop on their way to Virginia, the Carolinas or Florida. No matter what their reasons are for coming, boaters enjoy the convenience and entertainment of a trip to Solomons.

If you have arrived by boat but only wish to stay for the evening, sail right into the harbor and dock your boat in one of the many slips provided by restaurants such as the Dry Dock Restaurant. Enjoy a delicious meal and relax from your day at sea. Following dinner, walk down the street to the Tiki Bar for drinks. Solomons may not be Hawaii, but you will forget that you're in Maryland as you relax in this tropical paradise.

For those wishing to stay overnight, many marinas will gladly house your boat. The beautiful Spring Cove Marina is conveniently close to the Holiday Inn Select, and it houses the Naughty Gull Restaurant and Pub. You may also dock at the Calvert Marina. After your boat is docked and you have eaten, head over to the Harbor Sounds Restaurant to dance the night away with New Orleans-style food, drinks and music.

Hopefully, you've saved a little bit of energy, because there is much to do during the daylight hours. Explore the scenery of the island and its surrounding waters and spend a whole day at sea, fishing and sunbathing. Popular pastimes of visitors also include wind surfing, sailing and jet skiing. Gather your friends and spend the day in the sun, enjoying the water that gives Solomons its fun factor. Take your midday break with a late lunch at the quirky C.D. Cafe, Inc. and a leisurely bike ride around the island.

The island life is quaint in Southern Maryland, but there is more than enough to keep you entertained for the length of your visit. No matter what occasion brings you to Solomons, you will find that its hospitable residents, extraordinary scenery and delightful restaurants are perfect reasons to keep coming back

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