One of the things that I like best about southern Maryland is that it’s a laid-back place to visit—but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a lot of things to do. On a recent visit, I found myself having fun by land, sea and air….and that was just over a long weekend.
Visiting Sotterley Plantation, located in St. Mary’s County, is like taking a trip back in time. Wandering among the grounds and through the exquisite Colonial Revival garden outside of the home, which was built in 1703, one can imagine what it was like in the days before cell phones, cars, and even electric lights. As the only remaining tidewater plantation in Maryland that is open to the public, Sotterley is a reminder of the state’s agrarian past, and showcases more than 300 years of history, including a rare, original slave cabin dating to the 1830s.
Battle Creek Cypress Swamp Sanctuary in Calvert County is another must-stop. Almost otherworldly, this site is one of the northernmost stands of bald cypress trees In the United States. A quarter-mile long boardwalk winds throughout the swamp, so that you can get up close to the towering trees that live in the 100-acre flood plain; just watch out for the poison ivy that also loves this wetland habitat.
Of course, you can’t go to southern Maryland without visiting a beach, so stop by Flag Ponds Nature Center in Calvert County to search for sharks’ teeth, or check out the towns of North Beach or Chesapeake Beach to see what’s happening along the waterfront.
While technically still on land, the Calvert Marine Museum in Solomons, MD, is an awesome way to learn more about the area’s marine heritage and the animals that inhabit the Chesapeake Bay. My two favorite exhibits are the Paleontology Gallery, which features iconic fossils from the earth’s prehistoric past, as well as a massive, 35-foot skeletal restoration of the extinct Miocene giant white shark—trust me, you’re going to want to get a selfie with this. I also love visiting with the otters on-site as they play in their own 8,000 gallon freshwater pool.
There are a lot of ways to get on the water, but one of the coolest trips I’ve done is to kayak out into Mallows Bay, where you can paddle through the World War I Ghost Fleet, the largest ship graveyard in the Northern Hemisphere. Vessels in the bay include an 18th century schooner, Confederate blockade runner and a Revolutionary-era longboat, as well as almost 100 wooden ships from the U.S. Shipping Board Emergency Fleet, which were built to replace shipping vessels sunk by German submarines during World War I. Paddling through the husks of the disintegrating ships is a pretty eerie experience; just make sure not to get too close; not only for safety reasons, but also because some ships, like the steel-hulled ferry, the Accomac, now serve as homes for nesting (and very vocal) ospreys.
I didn’t actually get up in the air in an F-14 Tomcat, which is a good thing, considering that I crashed in the simulator every time I tried. If you’ve ever wanted to know what it’s like to fly a Tomcat, F-8 Crusader or a P-51 Mustang (the same plane that Gen. Chuck Yeager flew), look no further than the Patuxent River Naval Air Museum, located in St. Mary’s County. The museum pays homage to the Patuxent Naval Air Station and its importance to the area, and holds everything from a collector’s replica of the A-1 Triad built by Curtiss, which was the first airplane the Navy ever bought in 1911, to the Lockheed Martin X-35C and Boeing X-32 flight demonstrators that competed in the Navy’s Joint Strike Fighter competition. The museum opened in May 2016 in its new location—a $5.6 million, 20,000 sq. ft. building that was designed specifically to showcase the history of Naval aviation.
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