Before you reach the beach

We've pulled out all the stops to make your car trip to the ocean more enjoyable

Cover Story

July 18, 2002|By Lisa Wiseman | Lisa Wiseman,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

It's only about a 2 1/2 - to three-hour drive from Baltimore to the beach, if your destination is Ocean City or the Delaware shore. And if, of course, you don't hit major traffic.

If you head down the ocean during peak hours - Friday after 5 p.m. or early Saturday and Sunday morning - you'll definitely spend considerably more time in your car.

Instead of trying to make up time by driving nonstop (no breaks for you or any member of your family) or enduring a soul-crushing, mind-numbing eight-mile traffic backup in your car, why not take a break and make a few stops along the way?

Check out a produce stand or see a local artist in his or her studio. Visit one of the Chesapeake region's numerous beautiful parks and nature centers. They're all worth a little side trip and some extra time.

It will do you some good to get out of the car and stretch your legs, anyhow. And aren't you tired of fast food? Instead of gulping down a burger in 10 minutes, why not sit down for 30 and enjoy a decent meal?

Below are some places that are definitely worth checking out on your way to the shore. Don't worry about taking a little time off from the drive. After all, the ocean isn't going anywhere. It will still be there when you arrive.

(Note: All stops are in order as you make your way to Rehoboth and Dewey beaches in Delaware or Ocean City in Maryland.)

Section 1: These stops are from Baltimore to the intersection of routes 404 and 50.

1. Bay Bridge toll plaza: You have to stop to pay the toll, right? While you're there, pick up a free "Bay Game" for any kids in the car. They'll receive puzzles, games, stickers and clues relating to 15 interesting and important places relating to the Chesapeake Bay. As you make your way to the Maryland and Delaware beaches, the kids have to spot these places.

2. Stevensville: If you have to sit in a lot of traffic to cross the Bay Bridge, you'll probably need a break on the other side. Stevensville offers antiques, restaurants, a great pastry shop and numerous artists' studios. If you visit one of the latter, you can buy a piece of pottery and see the kiln where it was fired, or you can watch a watercolor being made and talk to the artist who created it.

Take the very first exit past the bridge, and head north on Route 8 to historic Stevensville. Follow the signs that point you to the area's main street. For more information, contact the Queen Anne's County Office of Tourism, 3100 Main St., Grasonville. 410-827-4810.

3. Cross Island Trail: You can stop at either end of this five-mile trail - at the Terrapin Park and Nature Center in Stevensville or the Chesapeake Exploration Area in Kent Narrows.

Terrapin Park includes more than 4,000 feet of shoreline and 73 acres of wetlands, making it a great destination for nature and wildlife enthusiasts. From the two observation blinds, you can see turtles, bullfrogs, herons, ospreys, swans and a variety of other birds.

The Chesapeake Exploration Area offers a nice diversion, with hiking and biking trails. There's also an information center that offers directions and travel suggestions for visitors.

To reach Terrapin Park, take Route 8 toward Stevensville. At the top of the exit ramp, make a left onto Route 8 at the light, crossing over Route 50. At the next traffic light (Skipjack Parkway), make a left into Chesapeake Bay Business Park. At the end of the road, make a left and follow the circle around the business park to Terrapin Park.

To reach the Chesapeake Exploration Area, follow Route 50 across Kent Island and exit at Kent Narrows. Park underneath the Route 50 bridge, located right next to the trail. For more information, contact the Department of Natural Resources at 877-620-8DNR (8367).

4. Holly's Diner: At Holly's Motel and Diner, they've been serving weary (and not-so-weary) travelers heading to the beach for more than 30 years. Service is quick and you can get a real burger, instead of some mass-produced thing. Or you can enjoy a BLT or a chicken-salad sandwich like the ones Grandma used to make.

The diner is located at 108 Jackson Creek Road in Grasonville, Exit 43 off Route 50. Call 410-827-8711.

5. Prime Outlets of Queenstown: This is possibly the best darn place on the trip to use the restroom. Even the shopping center's Web site boasts that the place is a good pit stop. The facilities are clean and nice, and for some reason, you don't feel guilty using them without buying anything, the way you do in a fast-food restaurant.

If you do decide to shop (and why not?), you'll find everything from clothes, toys and shoes to gourmet food, perfumes and kitchen wares.

The Prime Outlets is located at 441 Outlet Center Drive, in Queenstown, 10 miles east of the Bay Bridge on Route 50. Call 410-827-8699.

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