With Memorial Day weekend upon me, I packed a bag and drove east, following a 80-mile path trodden for many years by fellow Washington residents on the lookout for calmer seasonal locations. After crossing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and heading south on windy again roads, I lastly stepped out in St. Michaels, Md., a waterfront vacation spot typically celebrated as one of many crown jewels of Maryland’s Japanese Shore.
Tucked away within the brackish wetlands of the Chesapeake Bay, the city of St. Michaels preserves the surroundings of its Nineteenth-century previous, when the shipbuilding business was dominant and oyster and crab harvests flowed plentifully from its docks, producing small fortunes for native retailers.
Immediately, its transformation right into a resort city is all however full, however the lasting imprint of its maritime roots and touches of affluence from its heyday have helped it stand out even in part of Maryland ample in small cities that evoke the USA’ early years. Over a brief three days, I got here throughout a trove of early American structure and a wealth of alternatives to discover the Chesapeake panorama by land and by water.
My first night time, I arrived on St. Michaels’ quick predominant road hungry for dinner, and located a lot of the eating places on the town tended to be bistros, steakhouses, and seafood-focused bar-and-grills. A great showcase of Chesapeake Bay seafood — recent oysters, soft-shell crab and blackened rockfish — was already drawing crowds to favourite spots like The Crab Claw and Awful Arthur’s. However in the long run, I set my sights on Ruse, a vibrant, recent venue that opened in 2021, in the course of the pandemic, and operates out of the city’s uncharacteristically trendy Wildset Hotel.
Moderately than the traditional Maryland crab desserts which are ubiquitous within the space, I indulged in blue crab rangoon, made with a lightweight granular ricotta as an alternative of cream cheese and delicate, candy crab meat. For an additional twist on native fare, I attempted Ruse’s vivid and citrusy scallop ceviche, which got here served on a tostada shell as an alternative of the standard half shell.
Lots of the extra stately mansions round city now function as bed-and-breakfasts, and as nightfall fell, I headed to the George Brooks House, a manor from the Civil-Struggle period on a quiet eight-acre plot. I set my issues down on the ornate four-poster mattress dealing with a hearth in my room and stepped out by way of a personal aspect door onto the home’s rear veranda to absorb the golden-hour lighting because it hit the again backyard and pool.
The following morning, as I ate a do-it-yourself breakfast of French toast full of honeycrisp apples, the property’s proprietor and innkeeper, Will Workman, regaled me and different friends with native lore from the early 2000s, when St. Michaels turned a well-liked sanctuary for senior members of the George W. Bush administration.
In these years, a number of prime officers within the White Home orbit — together with the previous vice chairman, Dick Cheney, and secretary of protection, Donald H. Rumsfeld — began snapping up multimillion dollar estates. By making the most of the city’s tranquil seclusion, nonetheless inside attain of Washington, they started turning St. Michaels into an unofficial weekend retreat.
On a kind of weekends, he stated, the Secret Service motorcade defending Mr. Cheney bumped into St. Michaels’ conventional St. Patrick’s day festivities, throughout which locals shut down the primary thoroughfare to race buying carts down the road. As the story went, in a present of native pleasure and independence, the city’s leaders and chief of police refused to clear the best way, forcing the previous vice chairman’s motorcade to attend.
After breakfast, I ventured simply past the city limits and crossed the drawbridge to Tilghman Island, which sits on the finish of the peninsula to the west of St. Michaels. Rental bikes are available in town and the trip to the island, whether or not by bike or by automotive, charts a winding path down a slim spit with secret seashores and nice views of the bay on both aspect.
Like most of Talbot County and the encircling areas, the richly biodiverse Tilghman Island makes a well-liked vacation spot for chook watching. As I approached Black Walnut Point on the island’s tip, a pair of bald eagles made low passes overhead, and osprey nests have been seen at common intervals alongside the shore. The stroll to the purpose follows the shoreline till the highway ends, however for these wishing to go additional onto the bay, outfitters on Tilghman lease out every thing from paddleboards and kayaks to sailboats and jet skis.
I put aside my final afternoon to discover the St. Michaels historical district. In lower than an hour, I walked by almost two dozen manors and church buildings, stopping at every web site and taking within the spectacular spectrum of Victorian, Italianate and federal structure. Among the oldest buildings within the space date to the 18th century and survived the city’s small position in Struggle of 1812 by which it was raided twice by British troopers throughout their marketing campaign within the Chesapeake.
Overwhelmed down by the summer time warmth, I gave in and headed to Justine’s Ice Cream Parlor, the place a dizzying menu of milkshakes takes up a whole wall. With ice lotions akin to rum raisin and spumoni, or rainbow sherbet and orange juice, Justine’s blends a seemingly infinite variety of shakes and shake-adjacent creations which have dazzled visitors for 35 years.
Whereas marinas and boat launches dot the shoreline all through the area, the marina in St. Michaels advantages from the presence of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, which hosts a floating fleet of preserved historical vessels, akin to crab dredgers and Chesapeake log canoes in addition to a replica of a colonial-era tall ship.
The view of those classical ships towards the fashionable backdrop of powerboats, waterfront eating places and tour boat firms was jarring. Then someplace between a cluster of small yachts and what gave the impression to be a purposeful skipjack (an outdated picket business sloop, now used for personal charters), I got here throughout a ship emblazoned with the Talbot County seal. The Latin phrases beneath it, “tempus praeteritum et futurum,” appeared to supply an evidence: “time, previous and future.”