Best Beaches to Visit in Maryland

Maryland Beach Destinations 2024

Founded as the sole Catholic colony in strongly Protestant America, and isolated as the northernmost slave state, Maryland has always been unusual.

Within its small, irregularly-shaped area, its attractions range from the frantic, boardwalk beaches of Ocean City to the sleepy fishing villages of the Chesapeake Bay , and the bustling urban center of Baltimore to peaceful Appalachian hill country.

Some of the state’s most worthwhile destinations, from the pretty fishing and yachting town of St. Michaels to the untouched wilderness of Assateague Island, are across the Chesapeake Bay on the eastern shore, connected to the rest of the state by the US-50 bridge but otherwise still a world apart – except for the sprawling resort of Ocean City.

Assateague Island National Seashore

If you find yourself in the Ocean City area in the peak of summer and want to escape the crowds, head just down the coast to Assateague Island National Seashore – a 37-mile stretch of entirely undeveloped beach and marshland stretching into Virginia.

Assateague Island National Seashore
Horses on Assateague Island National Seashore

Until 1933 Assateague Island was attached to Ocean City; then a hurricane drove a wedge between them, and it became a separate barrier island, which is progressively being pushed by the elements back towards the mainland. Another storm in 1962 led to the abandonment of construction plans, under which nine thousand residential lots had been set aside, and instead the island was designated a national seashore.

If you plan to do any walking, pick up the $2.25 booklet detailing the park’s three main trails. Of these, the Life of the Marsh Trail guides you along half a mile of boardwalks through low-lying leeward wetlands, while Life of the Dunes, on the thick white sands just back from the beach, is a little longer, and harder going.

Most visitors, however, come strictly for the beaches themselves, which feel a world away from Ocean City.

Seashore camping facilities on Assateague Island are available year-round, but if you want a bit more comfort, the best lodging is to be found near the southern half of the island, across the Virginia border in Chincoteague.

North Beach

Nestled on the Chesapeake’s western shore, the town of North Beach epitomizes “land of pleasant living.” Its seven-block waterfront contains a public fishing pier, and a new half-mile-long boardwalk with accompanying bike path.

The boardwalk is dotted with benches for residents and visitors alike to linger an Bay-watch.

Located at the northern tip of Calvert County, North Beach also encompasses a wildlife refuge in its tidal marshlands, home to native wildlife and host to seasonal migrations.

Visitors flock to North Beach each June to the North Beach House and Garden Tour and in August for the town’s annual Bayfest.

Local antique stores attract shoppers, while beachcombers delight in the search for fossil sharks’ teeth. Mother nature herself is the town’s greatest asset.

Enjoy a stroll along North Beach’s boardwalk, sun-bathe on public beach, or cast a line off the fishing pier.

Ocean City

With more than ten miles of broad Atlantic beach, a boisterous boardwalk amusement park and hundreds of thousands of visitors every weekend, Ocean City is Maryland’s number one summer resort.

On a skinny stretch of barrier island less than 10 miles (16km) long, the attraction is that wide sandy beach, pounding surf, and ocean breezes. By midsummer, beach blankets cover the hot sand. Ocean City’s entire beach is open to the public.

No matter how you get here – up or down the coastal highway or across the rural eastern shore along US-50 – its tower-block hotels and massive overcrowding will come as a shock; it is so overgrown, in fact, that its northern reaches now encroach into Delaware. If you’re after a quiet weekend by the sea, avoid it like the plague, and take extra care to avoid college vacations.

Ocean City might be good for a day out, or even a long weekend, but it’s hard to imagine anyone wanting to stay very long.

It is, at least, easy to reach: Carolina Trailways buses from DC end up in the southern end of town at Second Street and Hwy-1.

Ocean Pines

Boasting 3,500 acres on the Saint Martin River, the Isle of Wight Bay and Manklin Creek, and just a short drive on Route 90 to Ocean City, “The Pines” is a mixture of waterfront, golf course and wooded lots and homes, as well as businesses, parks and water-oriented recreation.

Within Ocean Pines are a yacht club and marina, an 18-hole golf course and country club designed by Robert Trent Jones, several swimming pools, 16 tennis courts, numerous parks, and a Beach Club in Ocean City that provides easy access to the Atlantic Ocean for Pines members.

With a full-time population of 8,500 and a summer population of about 11,000, Ocean Pines has experienced tremendous growth since its founding as a summer resort by Boise Cascade in 1968.

Tilghman Island

If you want to see the real, workaday Chesapeake, Tilghman Island, west of St Michaels across the Knapps Narrows drawbridge, was once home to most of the Chesapeake’s skipjack fleet.

The island’s rugged beauty is slowly giving way to development, as more and more visitors decide to stay.

Tilghman Island beach
Tilghman Island Beach, Maryland

Partly in response to the continued depletion of oyster stocks, the government has made it illegal to harvest oysters except from small, graceful and hopelessly outmoded sailing boats called skipjacks, of which just a handful are still in use.

You can buy oysters fresh off the boat, or sample them and other local delicacies at two very good restaurants on either side of the bridge: the Bay Hundred and the more upscale Bridge Restaurant. However, many locals and visiting weekend fisherman head straight for Harrison’s, directly across from the bridge, for a traditional Eastern Shore dinner stacked with corn on the cob and fresh fried chicken.

Tilghman is a good place to spend a day with a camera; if you want a real escape, come here for the quiet and the seafood.

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