Toward the end of a gloomy, frigid northeast Ohio winter, nothing boosts the spirits more than a vacation to anyplace the sun is shining and trees are green. Each year, my husband Jack and I try to do just that, if only for a few days.
This April, our destination of choice was Solomons, MD, where Jack could take photos of the Drum Point Lighthouse and a couple of other lighthouses in the area. We’d spend a couple of days there, then pop on over to Virginia to finish the weekend visiting old friends.
Jack booked a room at the Comfort Inn Beacon Marina in Solomons, knowing it overlooks the marina where the Drum Point Lighthouse, built in 1883, was moved in 1975. Our room didn’t have a view of the water, but we didn’t care; we use motel rooms for downloading digital photos to a laptop, catching a few ZZZs and little else.
Spending our first night en route in Winchester, Va., we arrived in Solomons in mid-morning, driving straight to the motel as if we’d been there before. We checked out the exterior, then made a beeline next door to the grounds of the Calvert Marine Museum and Drum Point Lighthouse.
And what a fine lighthouse it is! The screwpile style makes it one of the most unique lighthouses we've seen yet. We snapped what seemed like dozens of pictures before venturing into the museum. Guided and self-guided tours of the lighthouse are scheduled periodically, and we had about 20 minutes to kill before the next one started.
The main museum building contains exhibits, displays and aquariums highlighting maritime history, estuarine biology and paleontology as well as a gift shop and an auditorium. In another building, river otters swim in a natural setting, surrounded by aged wood walkways leading to marshes, a waterfront dock and a workroom for boat restoration.
Back at the lighthouse, we climbed the steps and squeezed our way on up to the lens tower at the top. On the way down, the tour guide was easily coaxed into taking our picture so we can prove to friends and relatives back home we really were there together.
It was tough to leave this beautiful place, but weather folks were predicting sprinkles for the following day. Not wanting to push our luck, we figured we’d better take advantage of the current sunshine and drive about seven miles to the Cove Point Lighthouse, the oldest continuously operating lighthouse in Maryland. This lighthouse, also a project of the Calvert Marine Museum, was built in 1828 to mark one of the narrowest parts of the Chesapeake Bay and guide ships into the Patuxent River.
The lighthouse, which continues to shine, is owned and operated by the U.S. Lighthouse Service and U.S. Coast Guard. Since it’s closed October through May, we couldn’t get inside. Still, Cove Point’s location offers a view of Calvert Cliffs as well as marine traffic up and down the Bay, making our visit well worth while even in the off-season.
Then it was back through Solomons, where we spent some time on the boardwalk, technically in Solomons Island, that overlooks the water and the impressive Gov. George Thomas Johnson Bridge. By that time, we were pretty hungry; looking across the road from the boardwalk, we spied a place named Catamarans and distinctly heard the outdoor dining patio calling our name.
Long before we got here, I'd said I wouldn’t leave Maryland without trying one of the Old Line State's famous crabcakes. Warning: They don’t come cheap. A sandwich was a pricey $13.99 with fries (two cakes sans bun was a budget-ruining $27), but I decided I had to go for it. Jack ordered peel-and-eat shrimp, also relatively expensive at $13.99 for only 10 (in fairness, they were large).
One bite of the broiled crabcake left absolutely no doubt about why Maryland is known for them. First, it was huge. Better yet, unlike the crabcakes I've had in other parts of the country, this one had almost no "filler" -- just a minimal amount of whatever they use to bind the copious amount of tender crabmeat into a patty. It was without doubt one of the most mouth-watering delicacies I've had the pleasure of eating.
In an attempt to walk off some calories (or so we told ourselves), we stopped at a few of the little shops that line the street across from the boardwalk. Some weren't open yet -- the "season" doesn't start for another month or so – so that was a bit disappointing; on the other hand, it was great not to have to fight crowds as we strolled up and down the quiet street.
Checking into our motel room, we noticed The Captain’s Table restaurant behind the motel on the marina near the Drum Point Light. Within minutes, we were plopped on the outdoor deck, cold beers in hand, scoping out the dinner menu. We liked what we saw.
After downloading the multitude of pictures we'd taken earlier in the day, we headed back to The Captain's Table for our evening meal. The prices here were a little better; two crabcakes were going for $19.99. Jack stopped looking when he saw broiled scallops, which he ordered with onion rings and a cup of clam chowder. The fish of the day, red snapper, got my attention, as did a cup of creamed crab soup. Both meals were $13.99, and each came with a broccoli, cauliflower and carrot mixture and a tangy thousand island-style tartar sauce.
We ate till we nearly exploded, starting with the soups – both thick enough that a spoon would stand by itself in the middle of the cup. Not inisignificantly, they also were absolutely delicious.
The following day unexpectedly dawned under brilliant sunshine and an expectation of nearly 70 degrees. Still, weather gurus were predicting afternoon clouds, so we hustled to get to nearby Point Lookout State Park and the lighthouse there before the rays disappeared.
There's a park visitor fee of $4 per car, but on the off-season it's based strictly on the honor system. The lighthouse itself is on government property and surrounded by a chain link fence, so getting really good photographs is nearly impossible.
At one time, the land was the site of a prison camp that imprisoned as many as 52,264 Confederate soldiers during the Civil War – so there’s plenty to do in the park including swimming and boating on the Potomac River and visiting the Civil War Museum/Marshland Nature Center. Outdoor-lovers can pitch tents and RVs at 143 campsites, and a six-person cottage is perched right on the shores of the Potomac River.
Our next destination was the Piney Point Lighthouse; the view of the water from here is gorgeous. The lighthouse and keeper’s house are located on the northeast side of the Potomac River near Callaway, Md.
The lighthouse, built in 1836, stands 35 feet tall, and the wall at ground level is four feet thick. Visitors can climb to the top only during the annual celebration in May and other special occasions. Although the house isn’t open to the public, there’s a small museum and gift shop that’s run by the Friends of Piney Point, and the grounds are open every day during daylight hours.
Then it was back to Solomons, where we went on a search for a different restaurant. Just down the road from our motel we found what we wanted nestled in the Spring Cove Marina -- the Naughty Gull Restaurant & Pub.
One look around convinced us this laid-back place would be a favorite haunt if we were staying longer. Jack thought the crab-stuffed potato skins, which came with a salad, sounded filling enough for him. Since I still craved those wonderful crabcakes, I ordered one here (even though the only choice was fried) and it arrived with hushpuppies and potato wedges. Once again, the crabcake was awesome – even at a rather hefty $11.95, it almost seemed like a bargain.
Needless to say, we took many, many pictures while we roamed around, even though the weather was somewhat less than perfect. Our only real wish was that we’d had more time; this is a great place that deserves to be explored far more in-depth than we were able to do on this trip. To paraphrase Arnold, "We’ll be back!"
If you go:
Calvert Marine Museum, 14200 Solomons Island Road, Solomons, MD. (410) 326-2042.
Catamarans Restaurant, 14470 Solomons Island Road, Solomons, MD. (410) 326-8399.
Comfort Inn Beacon Marina, 255 Lord Road, Solomons, MD 20688. (410) 326-6303.
Cove Point Lighthouse, c/o Calvert Marine Museum (above).
The Naughty Gull Restaurant & Pub, Spring Cove Marina, Solomons, MD. (410) 326-4855.
Piney Point Lighthouse, Piney Point, MD. (301) 769-2222.
Point Lookout State Park, 11175 Point Lookout Road, Scotland, MD. (301) 872-5688.