Assateague Island National SeaShore. 7206 National Seashore Lane, Berlin, (410) 641-1441,assateagueisland.com. Paddle a kayak or take a scenic drive on over to a more natural beach habitat, away from the tourists and beer cans over at Ocean City. Marvel at wild horses, salt marshes, maritime forests, and undisturbed coasts. Be respectful and keep it that way, and watch out for the island’s defenders: wild horse-flies and mosquitoes.
Deep Creek Lake. 898 State Park Road, Swanton, (301)387-5563, deepcreeklake.com. Get out of the city and head into the Allegheny Mountains for some outdoor adventure. Head for a hike, a swim, a little fishing, or stay in one of many resorts and give your rusty golf clubs a workout. Whatever floats your boat.
Dewey Beach. 711 Coastal Highway, Fenwick Island, Del., (302) 539-6001, deweybeach.com. Choose between the Atlantic Ocean for a few waves or Rehoboth Bay for a calm swim. After a day of sailing and Jet Skiing, head on over to a nightclub or restaurant, depending on the ages of your party.
Elk Neck State Park. 4395 Turkey Point Road, North East, (410) 287-5333,dnr.maryland.gov/publiclands/central/elkneck.asp, $3 in-state vehicles, $5 out-of-state. Elk Neck offers one of the best options to enjoy in the scenic Chesapeake Bay. Wander along the coastline, tour the historic lighthouse atop a 100-foot bluff, or have a nice picnic on the beach.
Hart-Miller Island State Park. 2813 Jerusalem Road, Kingsville, (410) 592-2897. Pretend you’re Robinson Crusoe on this scenic island, only accessible by water. If you can get yourself across the Chesapeake Bay, pitch a tent and and go for a swim while catching rays. However, much of the island is closed off to the public, and no alcohol is allowed. Hope the scenic views are worth it.
North Point State Park. 8400 North Point Road, Edgemere, (410) 477-0757, northpointstatepark.net. Get a dose of history while marveling at the Chesapeake Bay along The Defenders’ Trail—fully functional during the War of 1812. If that doesn’t thrill you, some of the remnants of the Bay Shore Amusement Park still remain, including the original trolley station. Nature has reclaimed most of the area, and offers you sites for fishing, boating, and hiking.
Oregon Ridge Beach. Oregon Ridge Park, Cockeysville, (410) 887-1818, baltimorecountymd.gov. Get away from all the shoobies and check out Baltimore’s secret watering hole for a swim in the spring-fed water from an old quarry. If you’re feeling pruny, play beach volleyball or grill up some hot dogs for a picnic.
Rehoboth Beach. 229 Rehoboth Ave, Rehoboth Beach, Del., (302) 227-6181, cityofrehoboth.com. If you can’t stand the crazy concerts and loud teenagers playing carnival games and devouring funnel cakes at Ocean City, Rehoboth Beach might be a nice, quiet alternative—without forsaking beautiful, sandy beaches. It’s got a more small-town vibe, where people greet each other by name rather than shouting, “Hey you!”
Rocky Point Beach. 2220 Rocky Point Road, Essex, (410) 887-2818, baltimorecountymd.gov. $7 weekdays, children free. Yet another beach outside Essex offers you plentiful picnic tables, a fishing pier, a huge pavilion, boat ramps, and plenty of shady or sunny areas to lay your towel or park your seat. It’s very relaxed, and you might even catch sight or a rare eagle or osprey.
Sandy Point State Park. 1100 E. College Parkway, Annapolis, (410) 974-2149, maryland.gov/publiclands, $5 per person for Maryland residents on weekends, $7 nonresidents. Get a sweet view of the Bay Bridge while wading through calm, cool waters of the Chesapeake Bay. Then grab a snack from the food vendors and sunbathe. It’s just as good, if not better, than a traditional beach, without the traffic and crazy crowds.
Smith Island. 20846 Caleb Jones Road, Ewell, (410) 425-3351, smithisland.org. Grab a boat from the eastern or western shores of Maryland or Virginia and arrive at Smith Island, where opportunities for paddling, crabbing, and of course cakes abound. Stay at a cute B&B and visit a museum for a quiet, cultural vacation.