(Algerina Perna, Baltimore…)
Envision escaping to a secluded island destination where even your iPhone doesn't roam. Paradise.
Images of idyllic, uninhabited beaches and authentic local fare instantly flood your brain. Then you start thinking about long flights, passports and pricey accommodations, and the idea quickly flees your mind.
Wait — come back! Did you know that there are exotic islands just off the coast of Maryland?
Yes, really. We've uncovered three remote retreats, all within a three-hour drive from Baltimore, where you can unplug, recharge, and, blessedly, not know a soul.
St. George Island
At 2.77 miles long, St. George Island is so small it doesn't even warrant its own ZIP code. (It shares it with nearby Piney Point.)
Surrounded by St. George Creek and the lower Potomac River in southern St. Mary's County, the narrow isle has uninhabited pale-sand beaches spotted with saltwater foliage. Its landscape of tall timbers and indigenous undergrowth harbors myriad habitats for nesting birds. Native seagrass tickles age-old wharf planks, which are festooned with clinging oysters. A campsite, hotel and restaurant are the only commercial venues.
Founded in 1634, St. George Island was the scene of Maryland's first Revolutionary War battle; it was taken over by British soldiers then and again during the War of 1812. Peaceful today, it's home to watermen and summer residents seeking coastal tranquillity.
Check in at the waterfront Island Inn and Suites, where the accommodations include decks with Adirondack chairs for viewing spectacular Potomac sunrises and sunsets. Bicycles, canoes and kayaks are available to guests.
Launch a kayak and circumnavigate the island — about a 7-mile trip. For up-close views of herons and nesting osprey, cut up the midisland creek next to the Chesapeake Bay Field Lab, a nonprofit devoted to restoring oyster beds, river fauna and historic skipjacks. On the island's southern tip is the pristine, rustic beach of Camp Maryelande.
Paddle across to the mainland, to the circa 1836 Piney Point Lighthouse, the oldest on the Potomac. Climb its spiral stairs to panoramic Potomac views, and visit the museum's exhibit on the German U-1105 submarine, which sank just offshore.
Charter an afternoon boat tour of the lower-Potomac shoreline. Meet Captain Will Weston at the hotel dock and cruise to St. Mary's City, the living-history museum of Maryland's first colony (think Williamsburg in Maryland), and the replica of The Dove, the 1634 trade vessel from Lord Baltimore's expedition to Maryland. End the day with a plate of garlicky mussels and a frosty Land Shark lager, at sunset from the deck of the Island Inn Crabhouse.
Getting there: St. George Island is 100 miles from Baltimore, about a 21/2-hour drive.
Stay: Island Inn & Suites, where rates start at around $79. 16810 Piney Point Road. Go to stgeorgeislandinnandsuites.com or call 301-994-1234.
Dine: Island Inn Crabhouse, 16810 Piney Point Road, 301-994-1234.
Activities: Captain Will Weston Charters, lisaannecharters.com, 301-481-0478. From $200 for a half-day. Also, check out Piney Point Lighthouse, 44720 Lighthouse Road, 301-994-1471. Adult admission is $3.
Its secluded setting surely explains why Smith Island remains an obscure destination for many. A tiny chain of marsh-laden islets, its bird and dragonfly populations overwhelmingly outnumber its 240 human inhabitants. Getting there requires driving to Crisfield, in Somerset County, and catching a 12:30 p.m. ferry — crowded with bundles of provisions and mailbags — 12 miles across the Chesapeake Bay. Captain Larry Laird, operator of the Smith Island ferry, advises visitors that "reservations aren't necessary but have your feet onboard 10 minutes before departure."
Visited by John Smith in the 17th century while he was charting the Chesapeake, the island is named for Henry Smith, one of the original landholders. Most present-day natives are descendants of the original settlers. They speak quirky "Tidewater English," a fusion of Elizabethan English and American Southern drawl: "Ye" instead of you, house sounds like "hay-ose," about is "a-bow-t." And there's backwards talk too. "Her cake tastes bad" means it tastes great.
Smith Islanders reside amid three fishing villages; Ewell (pronounced "YUL"), Rhodes Point and Tylerton. Tylerton is the most primitive — and authentic — accessible from the others only by boat.
Tylerton's only innkeepers, Linda and Rob Kellogg, meet guests at the town dock in a golf cart. The Inn of Silent Music has three cozy guest rooms. Happily, Linda Kellogg is a gourmet cook, since Tylerton's single public eatery is a lunch counter. Her four-course dinners, served on the porch at sunset, feature regional treasures, including crab and rockfish. Since Smith Island is a dry island, guests are encouraged to discreetly BYO.