19 Aug Solomons Island: A Taste of the Beach on Maryland’s WESTERN Shore
It’s no secret that I love the beach. I love everything about it: from the salt-laden air to picking crabs to the natural symphony of lapping waves. But my home, located right outside of Washington, D.C., makes it a little hard to easily get to a beach. To get my fix, I usually have to traverse the Bay Bridge… and its often terrible traffic.
On a recent weekend adventure, I found a new beachy destination to add to my list… the waterfront town of Solomons Island, Maryland! While I should note that there aren’t any actual beaches in Solomons, a beachy vibe is present all throughout town, and some nearby beaches provide ample sand for those wanting to lay out or splash around in the Chesapeake’s waters.
In Solomons Island, mounds of traditional Old Bay-spiced Maryland crabs are dished up right on the pier, and orange crushes (the oh-so-refereshing boozy blend of freshly-squeezed orange juice, vodka and triple sec) and super-stunning water views are plentiful. The best part? It is incredibly easy to get to.
“From the White House to the Light House” is a phrase heard often around Solomons, and indeed, it’s a straight shot down Pennsylvania Avenue/ Route 4, literally “from the White House”, until you reach Solomons… and the historic Drum Point Light House. Leaving from the Washington D.C. area, you should arrive in about an hour and a half, even during the weekend rush hour.
The island is small — just 1/2 mile long — with a number of off-island attractions within 5-20 minutes driving. It’s charming, with lots of B&Bs and independently-run restaurants that highlight the area’s local produce and cuisine specialities.
The bottom line… Solomons Island is effortless and casual. It’s made for strolling, for exploring, for resting and for savoring life at a slower pace. It’s a town where everyone seems to know everyone else, but are happy to chat with weekend visitors and share town gossip, inform about local history or give advice on the best places to visit. It’s beachy and close… and I enjoyed it so much, I’ve been back 2 more times since my first visit!
Here are the top things to do in Solomons Island:
Stay in a B&B
A B&B is the best kind of place to stay to feel at home in Solomons Island. Three B&Bs are within easy walking distance of the main strip (Blue Heron Bed & Breakfast, Solomons Victorian Inn and Back Creek Inn) and I just loved my stay at the Back Creek Inn. Dating back to 1880 (!), this B&B features 7 unique rooms named after different herbs like “Rosemary” and “Thyme”, and is located right on the water. The common spaces are very serene, including a big front porch, living room, dining room and gardens with Adirondack chairs ideally arranged for enjoying the view. The Back Creek Inn also offers the private “Lavendar Cottage,” a restful retreat complete with a private screened-in porch– perfect for a morning coffee overlooking the water.
Get the Lay of the Land at the Calvert Marine Museum
As part of my travels, I’ve visited a lot of museums, but the Calvert Marine Museum is truly a must-see. This engaging museum is unexpectedly sophisticated, highlighting the best of Southern Maryland’s local maritime history, the estuarine life of the Patuexent and Chesapeake local waterways and –my favorite– the paleontology of the famed nearby Calvert Cliffs. Here you’ll find the largest collection of miocene fossils outside of the Smithsonian, found right here in Calvert County, and kids and adults alike will love the Estuarium- with tanks filled with playful river otters, skates, rays and fish. It’s an essential starting off point for any weekend adventuring in Solomons. (FEE: $9/ adults, $7/ seniors, $4/ children 5-12, under 5: free)
Hunt for Fossils
After visiting the Calvert Marine Museum and seeing all of the fossils to be found in this surprisingly fossil-rich area, chances are you’ll want to try to find some of your own! I’ve covered the area’s two fossil hot spots, Flag Ponds Nature Park and Calvert Cliffs State Park in depth here in a recent post. It’s an activity not suited for the impatient, but dedicated searchers may find treasures like shark’s teeth, whale bones or stone crab claws!
Visit the beach!
While you’re hunting for fossils, you’ll most likely end up at one of the best beaches for lounging and swimming: Flag Ponds Nature Park. Here, the wide beach with gently lapping water is the true star! The beach is the perfect place to spend a sunny afternoon. (The fact that it’s only a simple 1 hour and 15 minute drive away from downtown DC makes it one of the closest lay-out beaches in the area.) There’s a brief hike to the beach from the parking lot– around 1/4 to 1/2 mile each way– so leave the heavy coolers at home. (FEE: $6/ car daily parking pass for out-of-county residents.)
Kick back with an Orange Crush
The Tiki Bar in Solomons is something of a local legend. Each spring, the town essentially closes down to celebrate this tropical drink joint’s April opening with a huge street party, drawing thousands of people to revel in the start of summer. After opening day, the vibe at this cash-only, drinks-only bar becomes laid-back, and it’s a fine place to sip your favorite fruity-flavored drink overlooking the water with tropical jams like Bob Marley or Jimmy Buffet setting the scene. Try their signature Kokomai (1/2 Mai Tai, 1/2 Kokomo- a non-frozen piña colada-type concoction) for $7.50, or their Orange Crush for $8.00.
Check out the Patuxent Wine Trail
The Patuxent Wine Trail is made up of 9 wineries in Calvert, Prince George’s and St . Mary’s counties. For visitors to Solomons Island, several wineries are easily accessible for an afternoon of tasting.
Closest to Solomons is Solomons Island Winery, known for their sweet “Solomons Island Mist” grape/fruit blends. Grab a bottle of “Kiwi Pear Sauvignon Blanc” or “Black Raspberry Merlot” and chill to enjoy on your B&B’s porch during the evening’s sunset. (8 minutes away from Solomons Island)
Stop by the 5 year-old Perigeaux Winery to sample their red’s (the Patuxent River Pinot Noir was my favorite) in their spacious new tasting room. Enjoy the views of 8 acres of grapes under vine and the live music on Sunday’s. (25 minutes away from Solomons Island)
On your way home at the end of the weekend, stop by the unexpectedly European Running Hare vineyard. Nestled in the rolling hills, you’re transported to Tuscany… complete with tall cyprus trees and a grand villa ambiance. I found this secluded spot, known for dry reds and whites, to be a completely unexpected treat… with really good wine, too! (36 minutes away from Solomons Island)
Nosh on Fresh Local Fare
Despite Solomon’s small size, there’s no shortage of places to get an affordable, delicious meal sourced with locally-grown produce and proteins. Here are a few of my favorites:
Bistro Belle Maison on the ground level of the Blue Heron Inn feels like five star dining… at a friend’s house! Chef Amanda Comer’s small menu, handwritten on a chalkboard, changes weekly based on what’s in season, and with 8-10 tables and a veranda overlooking the water, it’s the kind of place that encourages a leisurely meal. The Bistro has a number of gourmet touches, like cucumber water and french press coffee, but the food speaks for itself. I ordered torn pasta with peas, mint, pine nuts and cherry tomatoes and it tasted like spring on a plate!
Chef Comer is also part-owner of another Solomons establishment, Lotus Kitchen. With light breakfast and lunch fare like seasonal soups, salads, quiche and sandwiches, this cozy spot is just made for laid-back Sunday mornings. Bring a book or your laptop (there’s free Wi-Fi!) and enjoy deliciously fresh and simple food with peaceful views overlooking the boardwalk and the Patuxent River. Don’t miss a slice of Kim’s famous Key Lime Pie, a Solomons staple for decades.
As is the trend I’ve found in Solomons, eating at the CD Cafe feels… like you’re eating in someone’s house. I know, I know. I keep saying it, but it’s true! This restaurant is in a small roadside building filled with offices and stores, but there are only 11 tables, providing a very homey atmosphere. The lunch menu at the CD Cafe is full of inspired salads and inventive sandwiches, but if you’re having trouble deciding, the popular Curry Chicken Salad pita is a solid go-to. Chicken diced and spiced with spicy curry, crunchy walnuts and sweet apples and grapes are stuffed into a toasted pita and served with a generous side salad topped with mandarin oranges, silvered almonds, cucumbers, onions and perfectly drizzled with a zippy Asian vinaigrette. Delish!
Watch the Sunset from the Riverwalk
After a full day of beaching, fossil-hunting, wining and dining, end your day with a leisurely stroll on the Solomons Island Riverwalk, a wooden-planked boardwalk that runs along the Patuxent River parallel to the island’s main street. Snag one of the boardwalk’s many benches (if you’re lucky enough to find one unoccupied!) and admire the changing colors as the sun fades from sight.