Annapolis is Maryland’s capital city, but you’ll quickly discover it’s nothing like Baltimore. The walkable city is easy to maneuver with the kids or hitch a ride on the free Circulator bus, which operates daily and does a loop around the city. On Main Street, you’ll find charming boutiques, shops, art galleries and kid-friendly museums including the Annapolis Maritime Museum where kids can check out the oyster-focused aquarium and climb aboard a locally built workboat. If the weather’s nice, grab an ice cream and relax at the City Dock. Kids can feed the ducks, watch the boats and hang out with the bronze statue of Alex Haley, the author of Roots.
Several quaint restaurants and cafes in Annapolis offer respite when tired little feet need a break. Not sure what to order? Get the crab! Crab cakes and the soft-shell crab are staples foods. And yes, Old Bay seasoning is your friend—it comes on almost everything (fries, dip and even ice cream!) and you will love it. Be sure to crab a can to take home in your suitcase. For families looking to experience some classic Chesapeake fare and delicious seafood, you’ll definitely want to dine at Carol’s Creek Cafe. The sea scallops rolled in shredded phyllo with lump crab and shrimp sauce will make your mouth water.
Take the kids for a tour of the U.S. Naval Academy, one of the Annapolis’ greatest sources of pride, and discover what life as a midshipman is really like. If the kids are too young for a guided tour, wander around the campus on your own. During the school year, don’t miss the Noon Formation on weekdays when midshipmen form in front of the student dormitory and march into lunch together. It’s a ritual not unlike the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace kids will love. Tip: don’t forget to bring your passport—you’ll need a piece of ID to get in.
Shiver me timbers! If your kids love pirates, they’ll have a swashbuckling good time at Pirate Adventures on the Chesapeake, a family-friendly pirate cruise. The adventure includes costumes and face paint, and will teach young pirates the rules of the sea and how to read a map. Plus, they’ll get to fire water cannons as they battle (and defeat because the good guys always win!) Pirate Pete, the most rotten pirate on the seven seas. And did we mention there’s a treasure map that leads to sunken treasure?
If pirates aren’t your thing, the Harbor Queen offers a relaxing 40-minute informative cruise along the Annapolis Harbor and the banks of the U.S. Naval Academy with stories from the seas and historical information about the area. Want to test those sea legs? The Schooner Woodwind gives families an authentic sailing experience on a 74-foot wooden schooner (if you’re lucky you’ll get to go on the schooner featured in Wedding Crashers). Kids will love helping the crew to raise the sails and steer the boat but little sailors (and tired parents) are welcome to just sit back and enjoy cruising. Tight on time? Catch a ride on the Annapolis Water Taxi, a fun way for the whole family to get around the city. There are designated pick-up times but you can also be picked up upon request with advanced notice.
Once you’ve had your fill of Annapolis, it’s time to discover some nearby waterfront towns. The Mount Harmon Plantation in Cecil County is located on the upper banks of the Chesapeake Bay. The plantation and nature preserve is one of Maryland’s most beautiful historic sites. Kids will learn how different life was like during the 17th and 18th centuries visiting the restored colonial-era manor house, smoke house, garden, tobacco barn and most importantly, kitchen, where you must try the freshly baked over the fire cookies (the shortbread and ginger drops are to die for!) and lemonade, served to you with a history lesson from a lovely lady in a period costume. At the Education & Discovery Center in the renovated plantation stables, families can learn more about the history of Mont Harmon. Before you leave, be sure to visit the resident deer, foxes and eagles.
Havre de Grace is a city located at the mouth of the Susquehanna River and the head of the Chesapeake Bay. And it’s got a great little collection of museums you can visit in a day. Start at the Havre de Grace Decoy Museum, which has one of the finest collections of working and decorative decoys (representations of ducks and geese made from wood used by hunters.) Decoys played a big role in Chesapeake culture for centuries (first for hunting purposes and then as collectible art) so the kids will get a history lesson too as they learn how this truly unique art form evolved over time. Next, stroll along the boardwalk where the kids can say hello to some real ducks, then climb to the top of The Concord Point Lighthouse for a spectacular view of the river and Upper Chesapeake Bay. At the Keeper’s House, visitors get a history lesson on the lighthouse with some fun interactive activities the kids will enjoy, like guessing the weight of cannon balls. Next up, The Havre de Grace Maritime Museum delves into the history of local fishing with informative exhibits and interactive activities.Little ones will love the kid’s area that includes replicas of antique toys to play with, like a Yo-Yo from 1812, pirate costumes, a boat where they can battle it out with foam swords and an activity that teaches tiny sailors how to tie knots. The museum also has live fish and turtles for kiddos who love to see the real thing up close. Last, head to the Susquehanna Lock House Museum located inside the original 1840 Lock Tender’s House. Learn about the life of the Lock Tender and his family, the history of Susquehanna and Tidewater Canal, as well as Susquehannock tribes and early settlers. If your kids love playing with boats in the bathtub, they’ll love the working model of the lock, which essentially lets kids watch as your guide demonstrates how the locks change water levels with miniature boats and figures. Outside the museum, visitors will find the original lock for the Canal and a working swing bridge. While you admire the spectacular water views and boats, big kids and maybe a kid-at-heart parent, can try pushing the real swing bridge.
Some of the writer’s costs were covered by Visit Maryland.