Living on Solomons Island Time
Easy in, easy out, and very easy to love
By Jody Argo Schroath
Solomons Island, ideally situated at the foot of the charming Patuxent River, wasn’t always a big deal. Far from it. At first, nobody lived there. Later the few hundred who did were either watermen, boatbuilders, or cannery workers. Even as late as the 1950s and ‘60s, tourists found more enticing places to visit and cruising boaters chose to bypass Solomons in favor of St. Leonard Creek, a few miles upriver, and a stop at Vera’s Restaurant where the exotic Vera Freeman would dive off the dock and swim out to welcome incoming boaters with a fresh orchid. Who could blame them?
My, how times have changed! Now little Solomons Island is chock-a-block with boats of every make and description, most of them tied up in first-class marinas and boatyards in its well-protected harbor. Solomons’ Calvert Marine Museum is both child-centric and first among museums in its paleolithic maritime collection. Half a dozen of its restaurants are well worth the visit—can you say, “fresh seafood”?—and as many shops lure visitors inside to catch the town’s laid-back resort-island vibe. And just about all of it is within walking distance.
You can tie up at a marina, anchor up lovely Mill Creek, put in your trailer boat at Solomons Island Boat Ramp and Fishing Pier, or launch your kayak, canoe or SUP at any number of locations. If you have fishing in mind, you’ll find that Solomons has one of the largest charter fleets around, with the middle Bay’s rich hunting grounds just minutes away. And, yes, there’s plenty more, but we’ll get to all that in a few minutes.
What You Can Expect
Solomons Island is a little bitty thing, which makes it both charming and entirely walkable. It’s thin (only a single road wide in spots) and not very long, only a mile and a half long from stem to stern. It’s connected to the outside world by a short, puddle-jumper-sized bridge, and from St. Mary’s County by a lovely soaring bridge across the Patuxent River. At the north end of the island, you’ll find Calvert Marine Museum and at the south you’ll run out of road at the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory. In between, you’ll find a succession of marinas plus the Maryland Pilot’s station along the east side and Solomons boardwalk and downtown of shops, restaurants, a fishing pier and a couple of churches on the west, or Patuxent River side. North of the island, along Route 4, you’ll find a couple of strip shopping plazas with a convenience store, a few more restaurants and a couple of nice hotels.
From the water, Solomons is best accessed by its back doors, the Narrows, where you can dock at many of the restaurants; Back Creek, where most of the marinas are located; and Mill Creek, which is popular for anchoring.
How to Get There
One of Solomons’ most attractive points for cruising boaters is that it lies almost exactly halfway between the C&D Canal on the north and Norfolk/Portsmouth to the south. It’s a day cruise from Baltimore or Deltaville, and, let’s be honest, unless you want to drop anchor in an inconveniently located creek, it’s the only place to stop between the two with good protection from bad weather, a good slip in a great marina and an easy walk to some world famous crabcakes and a cold beer. Solomons is your place! Also near the top of the list: Solomons is particularly easy to get into by boat.
If you trailer a boat in, you can check out Solomons and then explore the beautiful Patuxent River. If you’ve brought your kayak, canoe or SUP, you can explore not only the Narrows, Back Creek and Mill Creek around Solomons, but you can also drive back up to Jefferson-Patterson State Park and put in for even more glorious adventures.
If you are arriving by boat
Whether you are coming down from the Upper Bay or up from the Lower Bay, the entrance to the Patuxent River presents no obstacles, other than the occasional pound net to avoid. The only caveat from the north is to honor the restricted area around the liquid natural gas dock off Cove Point. It’s well marked on your charts and chartplotter. This facility is active again—this time as an exporter rather than an importer—so keep your eye out for the occasional LNG tanker coming and going.
The mouth of the Patuxent River is wide and deep, though the channel narrows briefly between Drum Point and Fishing Point before opening up again into a wide deep bay. Naval Air Station Patuxent River lies along the south shore, while the entrance to Solomons lies along the north. The river itself continues northwest under the 139-foot-tall Johnson Bridge.
Immediately on entering the harbor you’ll be confronted by a small unnamed island which is known as Molly’s Leg. Following it around to port, The Narrows shoots off first. This is a short waterway that provides a back door to part of Solomons, including the Tiki Bar, Harbor Island Marina, Lighthouse Restaurant and Dock Bar and Bunky’s Charter Boats. Here you’ll also find a number of small-boat docks for restaurant access and for visiting the town.
The bulk of the town’s marinas lie up the second spoke in the wheel, Back Creek. Solomons Yachting Center occupies the western point, followed by Safe Harbor Zahniser’s Yachting Center, Spring Cove Marina and Solomons Harbor. Nearly the entire east side of Back Creek is taken up with Calvert Marina, with Washburn’s Boat Yard occupying the cove at the end. Beyond that you’ll find private homes, two hotels, and three or four anchoring spots.
The final spoke in the Molly’s Leg wheel is Mill Creek, the spot of choice for most boats looking for a good anchorage. The creek has no public marinas, but it does have more than a half-dozen fine spots to anchor, including a couple on Mill Creek’s tributary, St. Johns Creek, which continues north after Mill Creek and makes a jog to the east. Many choose the area around Bow Cove for its handiness to Solomons.
If you are trailering in
Solomons Island and the surrounding Patuxent River area, including St. Leonard Creek, are great places to weekend with the family with your trailer boat. And when your thoughts turn to fishing, the water just outside the harbor entrance and the middle Bay beyond the Patuxent River are famously productive areas.
Directly after the turnoff, you’ll come to Solomons Island Public Boat Ramp and Fishing Pier. This facility has a large parking lot that’s open 24 hours a day. Launching is free, but there is a fee for parking. An important note, however: The Solomons ramp is also handy to Calvert Marine Museum, which is just across the street. If you are retrieving your boat for the night and staying nearby, you can arrange for parking at either the hotel or bed & breakfast (more on those later).
You’ll find plenty of dinghy docks for shopping (Holiday Inn dinghy dock, $2), dining (Kingfisher, Charles Street Brasserie and Island Hideaway, to name a few), downtown shops (Solomons municipal dinghy dock) and even the museum (Calvert Marine Museum dinghy docks).
If you are launching a kayak, canoe or SUP
Once you are settled in and are ready to launch your paddle craft, you have several choices. As always, the local boat ramps mentioned above make good entry points. In Solomons, you can also put in next to the town dinghy dock and pump-out station, which is located behind the public rest facility on Patuxent Street (the main street), across from the Solomons Boardwalk. If you come early in the day, you should be able to claim a convenient parking space on the street. There is more parking in the boardwalk area. Launching near Calvert Marina’s transient docks is another option. Just check in with the office first.
Where to begin? This is going to be tough, because Solomons Island has a marina for every occasion, from resort-plush to Spartan-basic. Really, you could hardly go wrong with any of them. So instead, here are a few of our favorites.
Safe Harbor Zahnisers
This is kind of the grand-old Solomons Marina. The docks are good. The Dry Dock restaurant is excellent and reason enough for a visit. The location on Back Creek is convenient. And the tradition of fine boat work is legendary. While Zahnisers has all the usual amenities, there is one little thing that we find particularly endearing. If you tell them you are going to be arriving after hours, the staff will attach a sign with your boat name on your assigned slip, clearly visible, so you can be sure you’re in the right place. We can tell you from experience, it’s a welcome sight.
Running neck and neck with Safe Harbor Zahnisers in cruiser popularity is Spring Cove Marina, also located on Back Creek. Yes, it also has a full-service yard; and yes, it’s an easy walk from the marina into town and the marine museum. It has all of the usual amenities. So what sets it apart? Beautiful trees (our young dog Bindi discovered the bittersweet charm of chewing pine cones here), shaded riverside picnic facilities and a very special pool that comes with its own underwater piped-in music. Try that at the end of a hot day!
We’ll conclude this marina short-list with a stop at Calvert Marina, a particular favorite. Yes, it has the usual amenities, although they are rather more rustic than the first two marinas. The transient docks are two long floating piers at the north end of the marina. No, it doesn’t have a boatyard, so if you need one, head for Safe Harbor Zahnisers, Spring Cove or next door at Washburn Boat Yard (not a marina). Like the others, Calvert is also located on Back Creek, but on the opposite shore. So, it requires a dinghy trip or an Uber ride into town.
What sets it apart? First, lots and lots of walking room—70 acres’ worth. The marina occupies practically the entire western Back Creek shoreline, including what feels like an alphabet’s worth of piers, some of them covered. In fact, each pier seems to have a personality of its own, with slipholders often festooning the entrance with flowers and signs.
Second, history. At the end of the peninsula, you’ll find a statue of a young sailor, reminding visitors that during World War II, this was the site of the country’s first amphibious training base. More than 67,000 officers and enlisted personnel came through here.
Holiday Inn/Solomons Harbor Marina has their own docks, so does the Quality Inn. We recommend the Holiday Inn for transients, whether you stay in the hotel or not. It’s an easy walk or bike ride to the small shopping center, with West Marine and Port of Call Liquors, as well as a few other shops. Weis Market is farther up the highway.
If you are trailering in and would like to keep your boat in the water while you stay in a hotel, these would be good options. There is a nice Hilton Garden Inn (no marina) another mile or so north of that.
Bed and Breakfasts
Located in the heart of the island, Solomons Victorian Inn is convenient to everything in town and has its own parking. The rooms are lovely, of course, and the breakfast is to die for. Of particular interest is the fact that this was the home of Clarence Davis of the famous Solomons boatbuilding family, M.M. Davis & Son. During its long run, M.M. Davis company built practically every kind of boat, from commercial fishing vessels to tugs and elegant recreational boats. The most famous, however, was probably Manitou, a graceful 53-foot yawl built in 1937, and sailed by John F. Kennedy while he was president.
This 125-year-old waterman’s home on the banks of Back Creek has been a bed and breakfast for more than 30 years. In addition to lovely rooms, great views and grand trees, the inn has two boat slips available for its guests. The Back Creek innkeeper, Carol Pennock, is an artist, working in oils, watercolors and stained glass.
A Charleston colonial in Solomons? Sure, why not. Solomons definitely has that southern beach-casual feel. But the Blue Heron Inn has much more than chic architecture. For one important thing, innkeeper Regan Thompson conjures up the breakfast of your dreams. The inn has four large rooms and a slip for those who come by boat. It is also strategically located for visiting town. Sound good?
Cove Point Lighthouse
If you plan ahead, you can stay in the Cove Point 1828 Lighthouse Keeper’s Quarters in Lusby (now booking into 2022). Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this 2-1/2 story duplex has been renovated from top to bottom with all the modern comforts and conveniences of home. However, many of the home’s original features have been retained and restored, including hard pine floors, cast iron heaters, deep windowsills, doors, moldings, and eyebrow windows. The interior is decorated with a mix of old and new and includes photos from museum archives, locally built furniture, as well as a one-of-a-kind table made from the reclaimed wood of the dismantled Cedar Point Lighthouse. The grounds are completely fenced with a private entrance and beach access. Guests can rent the site for three, four or seven days, and can choose to rent one side of the duplex or open up the doors dividing the two sides and use all six bedrooms. Since this mixed-use lighthouse site is still a fully functioning site in addition to being a vacation rental, it will continue to welcome the public during the summer season for tours of the grounds. Find it on AirBnB.
Explore the town
What better place to start than the wonderful Calvert Marine Museum? The museum is a one-of-a-kind, all-purpose entertainment center. Oh yes, it takes its displays and its education mission very seriously indeed with a completely intriguing learning center on skates and rays, for example. Along the way, however, it also sponsors boat tours in several of the Bay’s iconic craft, the skipjack Dee and the buyboat William Tennison. Rent a rowboat or pedal boat and explore the museum basin. Watch scientists work in the Paleontology Prep Lab. Enjoy the most engaging river otters you’re likely to come across. There are boat exhibits. Lighthouses. Just about everything you could think of.
You can walk or bicycle to the museum from most of the nearby hotels, beds and breakfasts and marinas (except Calvert Marina across the creek). Alternatively, you can dinghy or kayak into their dinghy dock. Get all the information and schedules of events and cruises at calvertmarinemuseum.com.
Next, take a walk down the boardwalk along the Patuxent. Poke into the shops on the other side of the street. Stop for lunch or buy an ice cream at the boardwalk stand. (Don’t worry, we’ll get to food in a minute.) Toss a fishing line into the water off the pier next to the boat ramp. Explore the back streets. With a good pair of shoes or a bicycle you can easily take in the island in an afternoon. Sit at a picnic table along Back Creek and watch the passing scene. Need a bathroom break? There are nice clean public facilities opposite the boardwalk. Behind the building, you’ll find a nice shady area with picnic tables, and beyond that, the town’s self-service pump-out dock.
Explore the waterways
Take your trailer boat, dinghy, kayak or SUP and meander through Solomons waterways, from the Narrows to Back Creek, and admire the view from the water side. Feeling more adventurous? Take a cruise up Mill Creek.
If you didn’t bring a boat, no problem. You can rent one at Solomons Boat Rental or Bunky’s Charter Boats. Itching for a fishing excursion? Solomons has charter opportunities galore, like Half Shell Adventures, Marauder Charters, Miss Susie Charters and more. Take a stroll along the Narrows to pick one out.
If you want to try something different, stop by Sail Solomons in Safe Harbor Zahnisers who offer yachting and sailing instruction plus rentals.
At the tip of Solomons, where it joins the Patuxent River, you’ll find the oldest public marine research center on the East Coast, the Chesapeake Biological Lab. While the visitors center is currently closed, check back in the future as there’s a lot of fascinating research happening here, including a Citizen Science Seminar.
Time to Eat
If you are one of those people who wakes up with the sun and immediately yearns for two eggs and a short stack, you’ll want to head over to Angler’s Seafood Bar & Grill on Lore Road. Anglers has a full and filling menu of breakfast items on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. They are also open for lunch and dinner every day.
On the other hand, if you like a more leisurely approach to the day’s first meal, then you will want to saunter over to Lotus Kitchen on Solomons Island Road (the main street). Lotus has a delightful choice of breakfast combinations. Lotus opens at 9 a.m. for breakfast Wednesday through Sunday and stays open through lunch. No matter when you stop in, be sure to take one of Kim’s key lime pies home with you.
Lunch and Dinner
We’ve given you two options with the breakfast list, but here are a couple of others for lunch and dinner that we particularly like.
The CD Café on Solomons Island Road has long been one of our favorites. The food is fresh, local when possible, and artfully prepared. CD is open for lunch and dinner. There is often a wait. It’s worth it. Seafood, steaks, pasta—it’s all good.
Charles Street Brasserie at the other end of town is one of our favorites. The choices are fun and the service sublime. Smoked salmon boards, crab fondue, rack of lamb. And jazz piano. It even has a dock for docking-and-dining and a killer view.
Those are just two special options. You could eat every meal out for a week in Solomons and still be happy. The Pier has the best view in town and Kingfishers’ crabs are everything a Chesapeake crustacean gourmet could wish for. We could go on . . . ⚓︎
Special Spots in Solomons
Spring Cove Marina
This Back Creek marina is considered to be one of the finest on the Chesapeake Bay and a great family getaway destination. Spring Cove provides everything you need for your weekend on the water. A full-service yard, fuel service, boat rentals, year-round and transient dockage, block and cubed ice, pump-outs, a pool and The Wheelhouse Bar & Grill—all in a gorgeous location. Slipholders and transients can also check out their new fleet of bicycles for cruising around town. Spring Cove Marina, 455 Lore Rd., Solomons, 410-326-2161; [email protected]; springcovemarina.com.
If you are traveling by car or can grab a ride, a day trip to Annmarie Sculpture Garden and Arts Center up the road in Dowell is absolutely warranted. A place where art and nature meet, this center features a ¼-mile walking path that meanders through the woods past permanent and on-loan sculpture, including over 30 works from the Smithsonian Institute and the National Gallery of Art. Artists in the collection include Antonio Tobias Mendez, Barbara Hepworth, Cesar, Robert Engman, Jean Arp, Kenneth Snelson and Fransisco Zuniga. The indoor galleries are home to a myriad of various exhibits and events in a rotating exhibition space, with a gift shop and sunny patio. The Studio School offers classes taught by professional artists and arts educators. Annmarie hosts numerous events throughout the year including a fairy and gnome home festival, Halloween in the Garden, craft fairs, Christmas light displays, a Green Life Festival and much more. Annmarie Sculpture Garden and Arts Center, 13470 Dowell Rd., Solomons, 410-326-4640, annmariegarden.org.
This fun little shop offers gifts for the body, mind and spirit. This metaphysical shop promotes holistic health and healing using a variety of modalities. Step inside and find a selection of crystals, sage, incense, jewelry, tarot card decks or indulge in massage therapy, aromatherapy, crystal healing, reiki and more. Inner Equinox, 14560 Solomons Island Rd., Solomons, 410-326-6586, InnerEQ.com.