Virtual Cruise of the East Coast: Baltimore, Maryland

This mid-Atlantic gem offers a window into iconic moments in American history, baseball, culture and all the crab cakes you can handle.

Our summer cruise through New England has taken us as far as Isle au Haut, Maine, and along the way we’ve discovered and rediscovered some of the finest waterfront destinations in America. Starting in Annapolis, our major stops have been Block Island, Plymouth, Portland, Rockport and Newport. We’ve also spent time on the hook in some of the most beautiful anchorages in the Northeast, including Shelter Island, Seal Cove and the Thimble Islands. As fall approaches, we are heading south in search of milder weather, colorful foliage and even more adventure. Leaving New York’s Liberty Landing Marina, we take one more look at the Statue of Liberty before heading under the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and threading our way through a sea of freighters, tugs, ferries and commercial fishing boats. We’ll be visiting several big cities during the next few months, but nothing will compare to the bustling scene of New York Harbor.

After receiving a fair weather forecast, we run 125 miles down the New Jersey coast, stopping in Cape May for the evening. We fuel up and get a slip at South Jersey Marina, which has undergone a major renovation after experiencing the double whammy of a fire followed by Superstorm Sandy. The all-new facility includes the Saltwater Cafe, where we have a hearty breakfast the next morning before heading up the Delaware Bay. We’re glad that one of our favorite marinas has not only reopened, but is now better than ever.

Approaching Chesapeake City, Maryland, on the C&D Canal, we see that Schaefer’s Canal House, the legendary restaurant and marina with its 750-foot dock along the canal, is open after being closed and abandoned for several years. It’s lunchtime, so we decide to stop and see what’s new. The place is packed, and after our delicious Maryland crab cakes (naturally) and friendly service, we see why. With a history that dates back to 1936, this landmark had been a mandatory stopover for generations of boaters making the trip between the Chesapeake Bay and points north and south. Thankfully, its new ownership seems committed to bringing it back to its glory days.

Baltimore, our next major stop, is less than 50 miles away. Running down the upper eastern shore of Maryland, we pass the beautiful Bohemia, Sassafras and Chester rivers as well as the popular gunkholes of Still Pond and Worton Creek. With more than 150 rivers and tributaries, the 200-mile-long Chesapeake Bay is a place where exploring could take a lifetime.

We've reserved a slip at the Baltimore Marine Center at Inner Harbor, located downtown in the middle of all the action. Updated in 2007 with state-of-the-art floating docks, a boater's lounge, Wi-Fi and access to a pool and health club, this marina is a gem. The view from our slip is quite spectacular. To our left, the USS Constellation is docked at Harborplace, one of the flagship marketplaces developed by visionary James Rouse. Directly across the harbor is one of Baltimore's main attractions, the architecturally photogenic National Aquarium, which has been wowing visitors with its breathtaking exhibits for more than 30 years.

It’s been a full day on the water, so we take the easy way out and simply walk down the dock to the Rusty Scupper Restaurant, where we are pleasantly surprised. The food is excellent, and the view of the city lights is an added bonus.

We start day two with a tour of the National Aquarium and are treated to a number of new exhibits including the Black Tip Reef, a replication of Indo-Pacific reefs complete with 65 species, including sharks, rays, tropical fish and sea turtles. Sitting in the underwater viewing area, we see the exhibit really come alive.

After lunch in Harborplace, we visit the Maryland Science Center just a couple of hundred yards away. This is a wonderful place to spend the day, especially if cruising with kids, because the hands-on exhibits both entertain and educate. Following a fascinating, virtual voyage through the human body and an hour in the exciting Davis Planetarium, we catch a captivating movie about the Arctic in the five-story, 3-D Imax theater. Kids of all ages love this place.

After enjoying happy hour on our boat, we walk the mile and a half to Little Italy, where we have dinner reservations at La Scala. On the way, we discover Saint Leo’s Bocce Park on Stiles Street and watch as the neighborhood elders enjoy some friendly competition. There are nearly 30 restaurants, many with rave reviews, in the 20 square blocks of Little Italy, so it’s not hard to find a great meal here. We certainly did.

The next morning we visit the American Visionary Art Museum just around the corner from our marina for some lighthearted fun. This is a museum like no other, exhibiting art produced by self-taught individuals who aren’t part of the mainstream art establishment. There are 4,000-plus pieces of fascinating art in the museum’s permanent collection, and the museum shop will surely give you some creative, if not bizarre, gift ideas.

Entering the harbor the day before, we had passed the Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine, a star-shaped structure known for its role in the War of 1812, during which Francis Scott Key penned “The Star-Spangled Banner.” We take a water taxi to the fort and enjoy a 10-minute orientation film at the visitor’s center followed by a one-hour, self-guided tour. This was time well spent. It gave my wife and I a case of patriotic goose bumps.

We take the water taxi to Baltimore’s Fell’s Point neighborhood, famous for having one of the highest concentrations of pubs and drinking holes of any U.S. city. Its maritime past is celebrated not only by its saloon atmosphere, but also by its variety of funky antiques shops, waterfront cafes, fun festivals and lively music. We stop by Duda’s Tavern, grab a seat at the bar and order a cold brew and a crab cake sandwich. I know I’m back in Baltimore when the female bartender calls me “hon.”

Topping off a great day, we walk from the marina to Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the beautiful ballpark of the Baltimore Orioles. One of the last games of the regular season is tonight, and the O’s are playing the Boston Red Sox. As the crowd stands to sing the national anthem, we think of our earlier visit to Fort McHenry. The first pitch is thrown as the sun begins to set over the Baltimore skyline. Is this a great country, or what?

As morning dawns we head to our home port of Annapolis, where we’ll catch up with family and friends and make plans to attend the Annapolis boat shows. As we pass by the mooring field near the U.S. Naval Academy, we see boats hailing from up and down the coast, a few from Europe and even a couple from Down Under, a sign that early fall is the best time to be on a boat in the Chesapeake Bay. The weather is mild, the leaves are starting to turn, and the Annapolis power and sailboat shows are about to begin. After we spend a day at each show, we begin our exploration of the surrounding area with trips to St. Michaels, Oxford and Tilghman Island. And as the Canadian geese begin to arrive, we turn our bow south for the winter.

Move cursor over image to locate Baltimore attractions

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**Rusty Scupper **location on the waterfront adjacent to Harborplace makes it a popular destination for tourists, but that doesn’t detract from its overall good food and service. You’ll get a panoramic view of the Inner Harbor while enjoying Maryland’s famous crab cakes and crab soup. 402 Key Highway. 410-727-3678

La Scala One of Little Italy’s most popular, family-owned restaurants and with good reason. Try their grilled Caesar salad and mussels steamed with spicy marinara sauce. An indoor bocce ball court can be reserved. During peak hours, parking can be a challenge, so take a taxi or walk from the harbor. 1012 Eastern Ave. 410-783-9209

**Bertha’s ** For real character, nothing quite compares with Bertha’s in Fells Point. Stay in Baltimore for a day or two, and you’ll likely see a bumper sticker that says, “Eat Bertha’s Mussels.” Try the mussels prepared with garlic butter or with Guiness and onions. Great beer selection, too. 734 South Broadway. 410-327-5795.

**Jack’s Bistro ** We didn’t even know what “sous vide” cooking meant until we discovered Jack’s Bistro in the Canton neighborhood. By slowly cooking certain dishes in airtight plastic bags placed in a hot water bath, overcooking is avoided and flavors enhanced. Try the Mac & Cheese & Chocolate appetizer and Guiness-braised filet mignon entrée. 3123 Elliot St. 410-878-6542.

**Duda’s ** A popular tavern in Fells Point known for their crab cakes and burgers. Sit at the bar and get free peanuts and pretzels. Choose from a number of beer buckets that feature six different “theme” brews – the “Polish Bucket” was a real treat. First opened in 1949, today it is the oldest family owned tavern in Fells Point. Closed Sundays. 1600 Thames St. 410-276-9719

DOCK

**Anchorage Marina ** Located in the Canton neighborhood and near a water taxi stop, this is an alternative to getting a slip in the Inner Harbor. The location is great, so don’t be too disappointed that the docks and restrooms could use some TLC. 2501 Boston St. 410-522-7200.

**Lighthouse Point Marina ** Also located in Canton,**** this is close to a Safeway, Ace Hardware and West Marine store. As part of the Baltimore Marine Centers (BMC), it offers first class amenities including a health club, pool, floating docks and on-site restaurants. 2775 Lighthouse Point East. 410-675-8888.

Baltimore Inner Harbor Marina ** Also part of the BMC,** this is one of the most popular marinas in Baltimore. Ideally located, it is convenient to the city’s main attractions as well as a water taxi stop and the Rusty Scupper restaurant. Renovated in 2007, it offers wide concrete floating docks, a pump out at each slip and a fuel dock. 400 Key Highway. 410-837-5339

Inner Harbor East Marina Close to Little Italy and Fells Point, this 200-slip marina can handle yachts up to 125-feet. All the amenities including a pool with health club, floating docks, showers, laundry and 24/7 security. One of the best spots to watch the fireworks on the 4th of July. 40 International Drive. 410-625-1000.

**Harborview Marina ** Located in the district of Federal Hill among the tower and pier homes of Harbor View. Once a favorite place for liveaboards, it had earned a somewhat sullied reputation. But after BMC took over, things have changed for the better. A Tiki Barge Bar is on site, and you can pay a modest hourly fee to dock here while you visit the city. 500 Harborview Drive. 410-752-1122.

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SEE

American Visionary Museum Don’t miss this wonderfully different collection of art created by untrained, self-taught artists. And be sure to visit the gift shop where you will find a fun selection of uniquely creative items. 800 Key Highway. 410-244-1900.

**Fort McHenry National Monument ** Take the water taxi from the Inner Harbor or Fells Point and see this national treasure where the Star Spangled Banner was written. Watch the 10-minute orientation movie and take either a self-guided or guided tour. 2400 E. Fort Avenue. 410-962-4290

**Maryland Science Center ** Fun and entertaining for children and adults, this museum is conveniently located in Harborplace. Tickets cost between $14 and $21 depending on age and admission to IMAX theater. Favorite exhibits are the Dinosaur Mysteries, Mummies of the World and Follow the Blue Crab. 601 Light Street. 410-685-2370.

**National Aquarium ** One of the world’s best aquariums, you can easily spend a half day or more here. Three pavillons of exciting attractions with more than 16,000 animals from over 600 species. Daily dolphin shows and a 4-D Immersion Theater. Tickets: $22-$35. 501 E. Pratt Street. 410-576-3800.

Walters Art Museum Internationally recognized for its art collection, a visit here is worth the taxi ride from the downtown marinas. See an overview of art from pre-dynastic Egypt to 20th-century Europe. Check out the calendar of special events at www.thewalters.org/events/ Open Wednesday-Sunday 10am-5pm. General admission is free. 600 N. Charles St. 410-547-9000.

Cruising The Chesapeake Bay

After attending the Annapolis Boat Shows, we join the many other “snowbirds” who are heading south for the winter. Since October is one of the best times to cruise the Chesapeake Bay, we take our time to revisit our favorite destinations.

Tilghman Island ** 38° 43.17’ N 076° 19.96’ W **

Years ago, we would simply pass through the island’s cut at Knapps Narrows to continue to the Choptank River and Oxford, Maryland or our favorite gunkholes. But we’ve since discovered that Tilghman Island is a cruising destination in its own right. The western channel is constantly shoaling, so it’s important to follow the narrow alley marked by the newest buoys. We tie up along the 1000-foot face dock at friendly Knapps Narrows Marina & Inn, which offers clean restrooms, showers, fuel, a pool and a complimentary continental breakfast. For dinner, the nearby Bay 100 Restaurant is always a treat. In the morning we walk across the bascule bridge and head south to Crawford’s Nautical Books, where we browse the selection of new and used books about the Bay while chatting with local expert Gary Crawford. Next door is the small but entertaining Tilghman Watermen’s Museum, which has a selection of beautiful boat models built by local watermen. We’ll grab a hearty breakfast at “Two If By Sea” and then head back to the marina to continue our journey.

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**St. Michaels ** 38° 47.22’ N 076° 13.07’ W

This charming Eastern Shore town reflects its historical past as many of its beautifully restored homes were built in the 18th and 19th Centuries. As members of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, we would normally tie up along its docks, but since we are already south of Eastern Bay, the normal route to St. Michaels, we leave Tilghman Island and head up the Choptank River to Broad Creek and then San Domingo Creek, which leads to the “back door” of St. Michaels. After dropping our hook, we land our dinghy at the public watermen’s dock and have a pleasant mile-walk into town. Lunch at the Carpenter Street Saloon is a winner, and afterwards we head to the Museum to see what’s new. Joining the non-profit Museum will help continue its many fine programs that educate and celebrate the Chesapeake Bay’s culture, seafood and history. We can’t help but aroma Old Bay Seasoning and steamed crabs escaping from the nearby Crab Claw Restaurant, so we get an outside table and indulge in a couple dozen of these local delicacies.

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**Oxford **38° 41.68’ N 076° 10.00’ W

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Continuing east on the Choptank and then up the Tred Avon River, we head into Oxford and get a slip at Mears Marina. Smaller and far less commercial than St. Michaels, Oxford exudes a very civilized, relaxed atmosphere centered on a number of fine boatyards and in particular, one legendary boat builder. Campbell’s now has three boatyard locations, and in addition to their superb service they also build a line of “Downeast” style boats ranging from 31 to 42 feet. Oxford Boatyard was founded in 1866 and is still a very busy place, providing top-notch service. It’s also the home to Oxford Boatyard Yacht Sales, the Bay’s Sabreline dealer. For lunch we revisit a very old favorite, Pope’s Tavern, where the food, service and company are still worthy of the walk from the marina. One of Oxford’s main attractions for boat lovers is the Cutts & Case Shipyard, which continues to build, maintain and restore some of the world’s finest wooden yachts. We had the honor of meeting Ed Cutts before his death in 2009, and we’re glad to see his legacy is being carried on. Again, we rely on our past experiences and choose Latitude 38° for dinner. Both our pan-seared scallops and grilled Ahi tuna entrees are superb. As we had back to our boat we see the last ferry leave on its short ride over to Bellevue, connecting Oxford to St. Michaels.

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Solomon's Island **38° 19.24' N 076° 27.09' W **

Knowing that cooler weather is on its way, we head down the Bay trying to stay a few steps ahead of the approaching change in season. Across the Bay from the Choptank and about 20-miles south is the beautiful Patuxent River and Solomon’s Island. We get a slip at Zahniser’s, one of our favorite marinas and boatyards on the Bay. This is a real working yard, and it’s always interesting to see what projects are being worked on. The marina, part of the state’s Maryland Clean Marina program, offers a pristine setting, modern facilities, a marine supply and gift shop, complimentary bicycles, a pool and the Dry Dock restaurant – where we always try to catch the specials at Happy Hour. A bike ride into the village brings us to the Calvert Maritime Museum which features a number of live exhibits – the tank of skates and rays is among are favorites. A 6,000 square foot building houses a fine collection of small, locally built craft. Don’t miss the restored Drum Point Lighthouse, one of the remaining screwpile, cottage-styled lights that served the Bay at the beginning of the 20th Century. Our walk along the boardwalk is highlighted by a beautiful sunset across the river.

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Smith Island **37° 59.77' N 076° 01.57' W **

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Remote and detached from the modern world, Smith Island provides a fascinating look back into Chesapeake Bay history. It’s a living, breathing museum occupied by just 300 or so hardy folks who make their living on the water and continue to speak a local dialect that somewhat resembles what is spoken in Cornwall, England. The island’s culture and, in fact, the island itself is in danger of disappearing due to erosion and rising water levels. Houses are being jacked up on cinder blocks and front yards are adorned by high capacity pumps in an effort to keep the Bay at bay. But the island’s uniqueness and authenticity attract more than 5,000 tourists each year, most of them arriving on passenger-only ferries from Crisfield, Maryland, 12-miles away. We thread our way through the narrow channel to the tiny town of Ewell, tie up at the town dock and take a walk through the residential neighborhood, noting the ubiquitous crab traps in every yard. Returning to our boat we stop at the Bayside Inn Restaurant for fried soft shell crabs and a slice of the world famous 10-layer Smith Island Cake. We have an odd feeling of sadness though, knowing that the island and lifestyle may be on its way to extinction.

Turning our boat due south, we are now headed to Norfolk, Virginia for the continuation of our virtual East Coast Cruise.