By Taylor L. Bromante
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
Often called “A museum without walls,” “America’s family capitol,” and “the gateway to the Chesapeake Bay,” Historic Downtown Annapolis’ jagged brick walkways are the most pleasant route for winding passed archaic buildings, eccentric shops and charming eateries. The best part- you don’t need to own a boat to have the privilege of gazing at the horizon from one of the oldest ports in America.
Home to some of our Founding Fathers and Declaration of Independence signers, Annapolis has seen history in the making as the nation’s first peacetime capitol. Visitors can roam timeless architecture like the Hammond Harwood House and several museums, then enjoy live local music dockside while feasting on Maryland’s tastiest treat-blue crabs.
A day in Downtown Annapolis calls for a packed itinerary, and everything on it can all be done within a couple of blocks.
“It’s an 18th century town with 21st century living,” said Susan Steckman, Annapolis vice president of communications. “People feel embraced by centuries of architecture and heritage, like they’ve experience history. I have just as much fun walking around as our visitors do.”
Not only do visitors get a great dose of historical knowledge, they can fill their day with tons of nautical activities fun for all ages and munch on anything from Mason’s Famous Lobster Rolls, to inventive and mouthwatering tapas plates at Level Lounge, to Chick and Ruth’s Delly where they can attempt to finish the biggest milkshake in the world (good luck).
“The Chick and Ruth’s staff says the Pledge of Allegiance every morning, which gives you a real taste of Americana,” Steckman said. “Here, we offer history; not just the water.”
William Paca’s house and garden is one of Annapolis’ most popular attractions, offering a tour through the elegant all-brick 18th century mansion and a children’s program that teaches where food comes from and how to preserve it. The house overlooks a narrow and quaint Prince George Street, home to a number of Annapolitan families, seniors and young businessmen and women.
“They have these plaques on all the historical buildings Downtown and different color plaques represent different time periods the houses were built,” said Chelsea Horton, 28, lifetime resident of Annapolis. “I love getting lost in my own city finding new plaques I didn’t know existed.” Chelsea recalls growing up in Annapolis and walking around town to her favorite familiar spots. “It’s not too touristy. There are a lot of locals who live downtown and the surrounding areas,” Horton said. “It’s very laid back and easy to adapt here, I think that’s why it’s different.”
The town hosts countless events and festivals year round that get just about everyone in the community out of the house. “The Annapolis Art Walk is probably my favorite because there’s something for everyone,” said Henry Green, candidate for the Maryland House of Delegates and Annapolis pastor. “There are exquisite paintings from artists like Annapolis’ own Lisa Masson, pottery and artists painting right before your eye. Annapolis devotes a whole street for the walk.”
The Maryland seafood festival is another event everyone marks their calendar for. Dozens of Annapolis restaurants compete in a crab soup cook-off and chef demos are given that you’ll want to see and steal for next week’s dinner.
Don Finnegan, 59, a longtime resident of Annapolis, says his favorite event is Annapolis’ city wide egg hunt during Easter. Sixteen-inch elaborately decorative eggs are hidden in trees, alleyways and other clever hiding spots with donated prizes inside from local businesses. “It puts everyone in a great mood,” Finnegan said. “It gives the community a sense of generosity in a creative way.
You don’t have to mark your calendar for all the good stuff, though. Kayak, canoe and stand-up paddleboard or SUP rentals are available every day and it’s a two minute walk down Dock Street to catch the water taxi. “You can take the water taxi to see the Thomas Shoal lighthouse which has been standing since the 1830s,” Green said. It’s the best nautical culture you’ll see on the east coast.”
Children can board the Sea Gypsy and live a pirate’s life for an hour or two, shooting sea cannons at dingy in the water, while parents can enjoy wine tastings at Harness Creek Vineyards or experience what colonial life was like at the Hogshead Interactive Museum. Regardless, it’s a must to get on the water at some point.
People know Annapolis as a key maritime destination, but they might not know that it is the sailing capital of the United States and home to the National Sailing Hall of Fame. “The community is engaged with the sport and recreation of sailing year round,” said Lee Tawney, executive director of the Sailing Hall of Fame. “You can’t walk anywhere without seeing a sailboat. Annapolis is the living emblem of sailing.”
The organization offers a free sailing program for everyone on classic wooden boats, woodwinds and schooners and exploration of all the boats are open and free to the public. “Yacht clubs from all around the country come to cruise the Chesapeake Bay because it’s a location you can’t pass up,” Tawney said. “The sailing community here is enthusiastic. Every college sailing team visits the Naval Academy at some point because of its robust sailing program.”
Don Finnegan prefers to navigate the Chesapeake’s waters by speedboat, but enjoys in nonetheless. “The sailing/boating community is one of the most welcoming,” Finnegan said. “Everyone wants to make sure you’re having as great a time on the water as they are.”
When you’re on land, you’ll be sure to the catch countless midshipmen inhabiting the sidewalks. A tour of the Naval Academy is highly recommended by the locals. Everyone is admiring the vast, eloquent buildings, and you’ll definitely know when there’s a home football game because everyone will be dressed head to toe in navy and gold.
Maryland Avenue intersects with Gate Three of the Naval Academy and might as well be called the pathway to a number of hidden Annapolis gems. The State House is in the heart of the town off of Maryland Avenue and State Circle, a slightly more serene location. It is the oldest legislative building still in use and probably the most intricate as well.
“Guys can get a straightedge shave at Capistrano’s barber, people can discover antique shops… there are really a whole spectrum of things,” Steckman said. “We get people from all over the country and international travelers as well. DC Residents find it to be a good place to get away.”
There are a number of historical inns and bed and breakfasts in the area that make you feel at home but always give you a unique experience. “All our boutique hotels including the Robert Johnson inn and Governor Calvert house tend to have individual props with their own personalities,” Steckman said. “There’s a real energy in the air and a lot of people enjoy that.”
When beginning your day in Annapolis, it’s no secret that Iron Rooster is the best option for breakfast. After all, they specialize in serving up breakfast all day long. “I would recommend getting the shrimp and grits,” Finnegan said. “Real taste of southern hospitality and a great view of the sunlight hitting Ego Alley.”
Kyle Algaze, owner and chief operating officer of Iron Rooster, feels humbled to be a part of the Annapolis community. “It’s got charm and small town qualities that make it so appealing to visitors,” Algaze said. “The locals support the businesses and you get to see the same faces on a day to day basis.”
Iron Rooster and several other one-of-a-kind shops surrounding the harbor hang bright Maryland flags from crooked buildings that embody the town’s deep-rooted history. “It’s the entire city. You just feel it when you get here,” Algaze said. “People were here long before you and you can feel it. It’s authentic.”
If it’s Wednesday in Downtown Annapolis, it’s time for the infamous sailboat and speedboat races. Community members and visitors from all over sit dockside or on the Spa Creek Bridge, feet dangling above the water, watching breathtaking races and enjoying some sun accompanied by the settle shoreline breeze.
“I have five kids, all have graduated high school and will always call Annapolis home,” Finnegan said. “They are sure to never miss a Wednesday night boat show or forget to guilt me into buying them all ice cream cones from Annapolis Ice Cream Company.”
Whether it’s the proximity to water, diverse eats, living artifacts, love for tradition, oceanic charm or hominess of Annapolis that has your heart, one thing’s for certain, you’ll feel like a local when visiting from miles away and you’ll be back again.