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Photo courtesy visitanapolis.org
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Photo courtesy Buddy's Crabs and Ribs
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Photo courtesy Woodwind Schooner Cruise
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Photo courtesy Annabeth's
While crabs and football might be what Maryland does best, it would be a shame to take a trip to Annapolis — just two and a half hours north of Richmond — only to gorge on shellfish after watching the U.S. Naval Academy battle its opponents on the football field. Founded in 1649, "Naptown" combines elements of Maryland's rich Colonial history with modern attractions and sights. Red-brick houses and cobblestone streets intermingle with posh wine bars and the raucous Rams Head Tavern ( 410-268-4545 or ramsheadtavern.com/annapolis ). Panoramic views of the Chesapeake Bay await evening strolls by the docks. And, yes, plenty of restaurants serve fare
of the crustaceous variety.
No trip to Annapolis is complete until you've felt the cool wind of a wooden hammer send a furious gust across your neck bib as you pulverize the soft shell of a blue crab nabbed straight from the Chesapeake. Buddy's Crabs and Ribs ( 410-626-1100 or buddysannap.com ) is a personal favorite. It sits just across the waterfront on the corner edge of Main Street. Steamed blue crabs are sold by the dozen or half-dozen (you can buy them individually, but who are you kidding?), and pricing will be available at the restaurant. A meal at Buddy's tends to work best when you bring friends or family in tow: Plan on getting blue crabs by the dozen, and round out your meal with the restaurant's crab-dip appetizer — cream cheese, crab meat, melted cheeses and Old Bay seasoning.
While some hotels look to mimic the décor of specific historical time periods and succeed only in looking kitschy, the Historic Inns of Annapolis ( 410-263-2641 or historicinnsofannapolis.com ) are the architectural descendants of Colonial times past. Three separate hotels — the Maryland Inn, the Governor Calvert House and the Robert Johnson House — make up the Historic Inns, each possessing its own distinctive character and history. Proximity is the key here, as the inns are close to Naptown's bustling Main Street and a mere hop over to the State House and Governor's Mansion. At the Maryland Inn, prices are quite reasonable, from $89 to $154 per night. A stay at the Maryland also affords guests a wake-up call at its on-site Starbucks. If you're feeling a little more highbrow, try the Treaty of Paris, the Maryland Inn's four-star restaurant.
Opportunities to shop are abundant in Annapolis, with much of the activity centered on Main Street and Maryland Avenue. Annebeth's ( 410-990-9700 or annebeths.com ) packs wines, beers and foods from around the world. (They also have gift baskets, if you need to bring home a present made up of such things.) The beer selection is second to none in Naptown, and the Mix-a-Six option allows customers to walk out with a grouping of any six brews from as far away as Lebanon to as close by as Heavy Seas' micro varieties (which are brewed in Halethorpe, about a 30-minute drive north of Annapolis). On Cornhill Street is the city's Capital Teas ( 410-263-8327 or capitalteas.com ), a regional chain of tea merchants that stock and sell global tea varieties and related accessories. (They're also a fine repository of creative tea recipes, both for cooking and cocktail-making.) Be sure to also make a stop at The Annapolis Bookstore ( 410-280-2339 or annapolisbookstore.com ), a word-lover's playground that sells new, used and rare volumes. Grab a title you like — I found a fairly put-together copy of Native Son for just $6 — and lounge in one of the store's leather seats.
Named for astronomer Benjamin Banneker, who grew up in what is now Ellicott City, and Frederick Douglass, the runaway-slave-turned-abolitionist who was born on Maryland's Eastern Shore, the Banneker-Douglass Museum ( 410-216-6180 or bdmuseum.com ) serves as the state's official repository of African-American cultural materials. (An ad for the slave auction in which Kunta Kinte, the main character of Alex Haley's Roots, was sold is one piece of ephemera.) The current exhibit, "Flee! Stories of Flight from Maryland in Black and White," celebrates the 1864 passage of Maryland Constitution Article 24, which made slavery illegal in Maryland. Also on display are pieces from the museum's permanent exhibits, including a look at native Baltimorean Thurgood Marshall's work to overturn school segregation.
Take to the high seas on a Woodwind Schooner Cruise ( 410-263-7837 or schoonerwoodwind.com ). The Woodwind family owns and operates these sailboat cruises on the Chesapeake Bay, which take place on one of two identical, 74-foot-long schooners. Two-hour daytime sailing jaunts start at $36 per adult, but an additional $3 gets you passage aboard a sunset cruise. No two routes are identical, although every cruise departs from the Annapolis Marriott Waterfront Hotel, and passengers are guaranteed an under-the-bridge look at the impressive Chesapeake Bay Bridge. Tuesday sunset sails feature a beer tasting of three regional microbrews. To take advantage of this beer-and-boating expedition, it's worth the wait to visit Annapolis when Woodwind's sailing season is in full swing, from April to the end of October.