July 15, 2013, Washington, DC: A sandy beach is all we’re after. Nothing fancy, just someplace to float outside the city on a slow, hot Saturday. Somewhere that doesn’t require an overnight trip or Friday night traffic on the Bay Bridge or driving 115 miles to the nearest stretch of Atlantic coast. We’re looking for someplace where the water is wider than our urban rivers and we can vacation for the day, but be home by dark.
Our search brings us to Maryland’s western shore of the Chesapeake Bay, to a pair of old summer resort towns just 31 miles from the front door.
From 1900-1935, the Chesapeake Bay Railway brought families from DC to a pair of towns called Chesapeake Beach and North Beach. They’re a straight shot east out Pennsylvania Ave., the route out of town upon which city quickly turns to farm and farm turns to water. In his articles about the history of Chesapeake Beach and North Beach, writer James Tigner describes the boardwalk’s old roller coaster, carousel and German beer garden. He shares historic photos of the resorts’ earlier days, as well as information about why they never took off to the extent their backers envisioned. In part, each decade brought a massive new hurdle. The 20s brought fires that destroyed the Belvedere Hotel in 1923 and the carousel in 1926. In the 30s came the end of train travel, with the last train trip between the city and the coast running in 1935. The 40s saw the end of steamboat transportation to and from Baltimore when oil and gas was restricted during the war. The 1955 opening of the Bay Bridge gave families new options farther afield. The late 60s gambling ban meant visitors had one less reason to make the trip.
Still, we go searching for remnants of these once-lively resort towns was on a hot Saturday, compelled as DC families have been for decades by proximity to wider water. The region’s accessibility remains an enormous asset. Within an hour of deciding to explore, we are lying on a sandy beach and drinking root beer on the boardwalk and watching crowds of children line up for ice cream. It didn’t take much, but we made our escape. We found someplace to float until dinnertime.
How do you escape summer in the city? Are there coastal towns nearby that you enjoy? How many miles to the closest sandy beach?
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