Eastern Shore, Eastern Shore, Maryland
Concierge.com's insider take:
The Eastern Shore is a bucolic, baking-sheet-flat landscape of corn fields, tidal rivers, and centuries-old towns tied to farming and fishing. Though it's just 90 minutes from Washington, D.C., tourism is largely seasonal and development is minimal. Main-street shops haven't given way to gourmet coffee bars, except in well-heeled St. Michaels (800-808-7622; www.stmichaelsmd.org), a town so quaint that even its police station resembles a B&B. Its part-time residents include former Vice President Dick Cheney, but St. Michaels's working roots are still found in places like Big Al's Seafood Market (302 North Talbot St.; 410-745-3151), which sells remarkable crab cakes as well as the necessities to catch your own (dipping net, hand line and crabbing permit). To explore the Eastern Shore, it's best to simply wander the two-lane roads through thriving, well-preserved settlements like Chestertown (410-778-0416; www.chestertown.com), a trove of architectural styles from Georgian and Federal to Italianate and Queen Anne, and especially the sleepy Oxford (410-745-9023; www.portofoxford.com), a village of boatyards and clapboard homes founded in 1683 that was once an international tobacco port. If you travel there from St. Michaels, you can cross the mile-wide Tred Avon River via a seasonal, nine-car ferry (410-745-9023; www.oxfordferry.com), the oldest privately owned ferry in America, which cuts the travel time in half.
The charming county seat of Easton (410-770-8000; www.eastonmd.org) springs to life every November when its annual Waterfowl Festival attracts thousands of hunters, bird-watchers, and decoy collectors. Though the summer crowds pack the chain restaurants and kitschy boardwalk of Ocean City, the real star of Maryland's brief strip of Atlantic coastline is Assateague Island National Seashore (410-641-1441; www.nps.gov/asis), a pristine, 18,000-acre barrier island that's home to herds of the wild horses made famous in Marguerite Henry's classic children's book Misty of Chincoteague. There are no hotels in the park, but drive-in and walk-in campsites are available.