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Your Ocean City rental is already booked? Here are three alternative destinations

Hiking and wildlife watching are plentiful on Assateague Island.
Hiking and wildlife watching are plentiful on Assateague Island. (Maryland Department of Natural Resources)

Perhaps you saw those headlines about “Revenge travel” too late and realize your favorite beach is booked. Or maybe you’re bored with the boardwalk. Perhaps during the pandemic you prefer more privacy.

Below are three alternatives to Ocean City or Rehoboth, spots in Maryland where you can likely still get a reservation to celebrate summer. These are spots where you can swim and kayak and camp and canoe, places where you can ride bikes and go crabbing and collect seashells and watch the sun set and — most important of all — take a deep breath.

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Coincidentally or not, all three of the choices below are island retreats. It’s been that kind of a year.

People swim and sunbathe on Assateague Island.
People swim and sunbathe on Assateague Island. (Maryland Department of Natural Resources)

Assateague Island

There’s plenty to do on Assateague Island apart from ponies — though some time spent observing these beautiful wild animals trotting through a field, heads erect and tails flying, is good for the soul.

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A few things to note: The island is split between the states of Maryland and Virginia, and you cannot drive from one end to the other. The Maryland side has both a state park and a national park, so if you have reservations to camp, check the location carefully.

”Assateague is much more undeveloped than Ocean City,” said Angela Baldwin, manager of Assateague State Park.

“When you are walking on the beach, you see the roofs of very few buildings. It’s a much more unspoiled view of nature. You also will experience a wider range of wildlife. You will see more birds and find different types of seashells.”

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Twilight falls on Rhodes Point, one of three villages on Smith Island.
Twilight falls on Rhodes Point, one of three villages on Smith Island. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun)

Smith Island/Crisfield/Princess Anne

Smith Island is justifiably famous for the Smith Island Cake, the 12-layer dessert with almost enough frosting.

“All other cakes should look up to it,” joked Wendy Robinson, a spokeswoman for Somerset County Recreation and Parks.

Cakes are the most celebrated food form in the state of Maryland. The Smith Island Cake, an eight- to 10-layer yellow cake with chocolate frosting, is the official state dessert and the blue crab, the basis for fabulous local crab cakes, is the state crustacean. Milk is also the state’s official drink.
Cakes are the most celebrated food form in the state of Maryland. The Smith Island Cake, an eight- to 10-layer yellow cake with chocolate frosting, is the official state dessert and the blue crab, the basis for fabulous local crab cakes, is the state crustacean. Milk is also the state’s official drink. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Luckily, there are plenty of ways for visitors to work up an appetite, from kayaking and canoeing the Smith Island trails (a ferry to the island leaves daily during the summer), to hiking to touring the island museum, with its exhibits on the waterman’s way of life. (Smith Island was mapped in 1608 by the English explorer Captain John Smith.)

The nearby town of Crisfield has an arts and entertainment district while Princess Anne is known for its historic homes.

“We’re off the grid,” Robinson said. “Visitors find themselves falling into island time.”

Sunset over Thomas Johnson Bridge at Solomons Island.
Sunset over Thomas Johnson Bridge at Solomons Island. (Jesse Williams/Calvert County Department of Communications and Media Relations)

Solomons Island/Calvert Cliffs State Park

The 19th-century oystering community of Solomons Island has evolved into a major boating destination — and by boating, we mean everything from a rowboat for fishing to yachts.

Kelly Robertson-Slagle, director of the Calvert County Department of Economic Development said the county has a “distinctive ambience” that is “miles away from a run-of-the-mill excursion.”

She ticked off an impressive list of area assets: “water views, unique shops, culture, history, trails, boating, art — and the best crab cakes in all of Maryland.”

There’s a kid-friendly maritime museum with Stone Age-era artifacts and the Drum Point Lighthouse, one of the state’s few remaining lighthouses held aloft on stilts that are screwed into the muddy bay bottom.

Visitors can take a break by strolling through the 30-acre Annmarie Sculpture Garden and Arts Center. A paved path winds through a forested setting and past outdoor sculptures on loan from the Smithsonian Institution and National Gallery of Art.

Hang out at the beach, go fishing, wander the trails or look along the shore for fossils that were left behind more than 10 million years ago, when most of Southern Maryland was covered by ocean.
Hang out at the beach, go fishing, wander the trails or look along the shore for fossils that were left behind more than 10 million years ago, when most of Southern Maryland was covered by ocean. (Candus Thomson / Baltimore Sun)

Nearby Calvert Cliffs State Park is a mecca for fossil hunters. When the sea receded more than 20 million years ago, it exposed the remains of more than 600 species, including sharks, whales and giant seabirds.

You may even find a shark tooth — assuming you can tear your eyes away from the magnificent views long enough to look at the ground.

For details about Solomons Island, visit findyourchesapeake.com. Information about Calvert Cliffs State Park can be found at dnr.maryland.gov.

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