My Favorite Summertime Spot – Solomons Island, MD
By Bob Tagert
My Favorite Summertime Spot – Solomons Island, MD
There is a reason to write about Solomons Island this time of year. Number one: warm weather is here and Solomons is where the Patuxent River and the Chesapeake Bay meet. My sailboat is in a slip at Calvert Marina so I happen to be there a lot during the summer. However, if you don’t have a boat to head down to, there are a lot of cool places to explore, a ton of fun restaurants on the water and…the TIKI BAR! Open after two long years of being closed, it is back into full swing. I think Solomons Island is the closest place we have to a Key West. Not quite the same, but it sure beats the city.
I have been going to Solomons for over 40 years. Not much has changed except the scope of things. It is still a laid back town but I think, in recent years, the new people that discover Solomons don’t appreciate its history or life style. There are a lot of folks there that call it home and reside year round…not just the breezy summer days when sailboats race but the cold of winter when you have to walk down a frozen, snow covered dock with frozen water on each side of a five foot gangway and no railing. But hell…it’s almost summer so let’s take a road trip.
Most people think of Solomons as a party place…well, they are right. I have grown older, not wiser, and have slowed down some (damn knee, ankle, hip…). I will get to the party places in a minute but first let’s get a little culture.
Solomons is home to a number of galleries and shops as well as events celebrating the arts and the environment throughout the summer. First there is Annmarie Sculpture Garden and Arts Center on Dowell Road. (Watch for the Hilton Garden Inn and the very visible American flag on your left off of Route 4 South. This is where you turn before getting to the Solomons Island turnoff.) The sculpture garden features a 1/4 mile walking path that meanders through the woods past permanent and loaned sculptures – including over thirty works on loan from the Smithsonian Institution and the National Gallery of Art. The Arts Building includes rotating exhibition space, a gift shop, and a sunny patio. They have just done a replanting of grasses and shrubs so stay on the path. A “new to us” discovery on our last trip was Solomons Gallery on the main drag. This gallery has been around for awhile but this is the first time we stopped in. What a nice surprise. Award winning Maryland photographer Terry Quinn has his work on display and that should be enough to get you in the door. Check him out during your adventure. There are several other shops that will peak your interest but we only have so much room for this column.
Closer to the water you will find the Calvert Marine Museum, a true wonder of discovery. The Calvert Marine Museum pre-history and maritime heritage come together to tell a unique story of the Chesapeake Bay. This is a family-friendly museum that offers live animals, fossils, interactive exhibits, daily activities, and a furnished cottage-style lighthouse – something for every age. Included in the wonders is the Drum Point Lighthouse which was relocated to the museum. Like the Thomas Point Lighthouse on our cover, both are screwpile light houses…a means of securing them to the sea bed. Next to the light house you will find the Buyboat Wm. B. Tennison. Take a cruise around the harbor and learn what a Buyboat was and their importance to the crabbing and oystering industry of the Chesapeake and her tributaries. Also check out the J.C. Lore Oyster House to see how it was done long ago. For you concert goers, they host great concerts in the pavilion about three times a year. Oh yeah…and don’t forget to check out the otters!!
For you science buffs or doubters check out the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory (CBL) at the end of the island. The CBL is the oldest publicly supported marine laboratory on the east coast. Founded in 1925, it has been a national leader in fisheries, estuarine ecology, environmental chemistry and toxicology for more than 90 years. Their scientists conduct research from the Chesapeake Bay and around the globe. They have recently been studying the return of bottle nose dolphin to the Chesapeake Bay and tributaries. I have sailed with these dolphin the past few years…what a treat. Since it is a working facility, visiting hours are minimal, so call ahead. This is also where you can find the research vessel Rachel Carson.
If you made it to the CBL then you passed the Tiki Bar. This place has been an institution for many years with opening and closing weekends that drew literally thousands of people from all over the DMV for the annual rites. The hotels were happy to have the guests. The police were happy that the guests were taking the hotel shuttles around town and the restaurants were happy because the Tiki Bar did not serve food – other than the free popcorn. However, some good BBQ was available from Grill Sergeants BBQ (now closed) across the sand strip. Two years ago the place closed after the untimely death of the owner and, in the long run, it definitely had a negative economic effect on the island. The good news is that a new tenant – the owners of the Union Jack Pubs in Annapolis, Gaithersburg and Columbia – has brought it back. It opened for business in mid-May and while the opening weekend wasn’t quite what it used to be it was still deemed a big success. In my opinion, it doesn’t have the same vibe, but hell, I am 72…maybe I changed. My partner isn’t of the same opinion and she isn’t exactly a spring chicken at 65. She has the same enthusiasm for the place that she had back when we knew several of the bartenders and patrons. She isn’t as adverse to change as I am. We will see if I change my mind as the season goes on since I know it will be a regular stop when we are there. Regardless, it is a destination place and everyone should experience it at least once in their life.
The Tiki Bar is just one of a number of really cool gathering spots on the island. Across the parking lot from Tiki Bar is Harbor Island Marina and the Charles Street Brasserie owned by our pal Jimmy Z. They have a little bit of a different twist of food on the island and is a good stop. Going back up the island there is The Pier, the most significant building because of how it juts out into the Patuxent River. Across the street is the Island Hideaway on Back River. Great food and a wonderful deck. A short drive or walk up the island is Kingfishers Seafood Bar & Grill. Our pal Eric has done a great job with this restaurant featuring Stoney’s original crab cake recipe…the best you can find. There is water front dining and I recommend the happy hour and most everything on the menu…you can find their ad in this magazine every month. Go there!
Most of these restaurants are typically seafood restaurants, but leaving the island, if you are looking for a good steak or “land” food, try Boomerangs. Rounding out the choices there is CD Cafe, Dry Dock Restaurant and Ruddy Duck Restaurant. Some of these places offer entertainment as well. One of the draw backs that we “city slickers” find a little annoying is that everything pretty much shuts down at 9 pm Sunday through Thursday and at 10 pm on Friday and Saturday….except the Tiki Bar that closes at the big city hour of 2 am.
A little off the beaten path and further down Dowell Road at Calvert Marina (Note: Remember this is where I keep my boat and if you want to bring your boat to Solomons…this is the place) is Hidden Harbor, a very engaging spot that sits all alone near one of the charter fishing piers. This place is small but is worth the visit. You can’t go wrong with $1.97 Natty Boh beers. I go there often.
Also, on the way to Solomons or going home, if you need a break, check out the original Stoney’s Seafood House at Broomes Island. Not a part of Solomons but proprietor Jeanie Cousineau-Stone and husband Phil have left a huge foot print in Solomons. The Tiki Bar at this place is another popular spot to check out by land or sea. Well, actually by the Patuxent river but you get the idea.
If you have never visited Solomons, Maryland you should go. There are three hotels that have great rates as well as some pretty cool B&Bs. Small boat rentals are available, sailing lessons at Sail Solomons and a waterfront boardwalk with great views of the lower Patuxent River and lots of water craft treading the waters. For events and more info on the island, log on to solomonsmaryland.com.
Authors Note: Forgot to give you directions…take the Beltway to Route 4 South and drive until you see the exit for the island. It’s about an hour drive in medium traffic.