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A Side Trip to Rock Hall

This sleepy little fishing village was once a major crossroads: In Colonial times, travelers had to stop here on their way to Philadelphia. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison all really did sleep here. Now Rock Hall, on a peninsula between the Chesapeake and Swan Creek, is better known for its marinas, fishing charters, and some good restaurants. Water's everywhere, so pleasure boaters consider this a good destination for dinner. It's an enjoyable day trip, too.

To get here, follow Route 20 west out of Chestertown, about 15 miles away. If you come by boat and want to go into town -- or if you just want to stay out of your car -- get on the Rock Hall Trolley (tel. 866/RHTROLY [748-7659]; www.rockhalltrolleys.com). It runs Friday evening and all day Saturday and Sunday between downtown and the various marinas, including Tolchester. In summer, the trolley runs every day. Call to arrange pickup. All-day fares are $3 for adults, $1 for children. The round-trip to Chestertown is $5 for adults, $3 for children.

What to See & Do

Several evenings a month, the Mainstay on Main Street (tel. 410/639-9133; www.mainstayrockhall.org) presents a wide assortment of acts for $10 to $25 a ticket. It's small, with 120 seats, but it gets big acts, including the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and Bonnie Rideout, and plenty of local musicians. Buy tickets in cash at the door.

For such a small town, Rock Hall also has three museums, all with a focus on local history. Tolchester Beach Revisited, Main and Sharp streets (tel. 410/778-5347; www.rockhallmd.com/tolchester), is a two-room museum at the end of the Oyster Court shopping area. Anyone who has ever taken the ferry to the Eastern Shore beaches or heard stories from a grandparent will appreciate this collection of memorabilia, photos, and trinkets -- all given by people who remember Tolchester Beach, the Ocean City of its day. From the 19th century until construction of the first Bay Bridge, thousands of people escaped the city heat by heading to Tolchester's beach, amusement-park rides, and hotel. The museum is free and open March through December Saturday and Sunday from 11am to 3pm, and by appointment.

The Waterman's Museum, Haven Harbour Marina, 20880 Rock Hall Ave. (tel. 410/778-6697; www.havenharbour.com/hhwatmus.htm), focuses on the people who harvest the bay. The reproduction shanty house has three rooms of photographs, carvings, and tools of the trade. There's free admission, and it's open daily from 10am to 5pm. Get the key from the shop at nearby Haven Harbour Marina.

The Rock Hall Museum, located in the Municipal Museum at 5585 Main St. (tel. 410/639-7611; www.rockhallmd.com/museum), features the usual small-town exhibits: boat models, old tools, a charming sleigh, and photos of all the Chesapeake Bay ferries. What makes it worthwhile is a tiny vignette in the corner, a creative display of a duck-decoy carver's studio. Admission is free, and it's open Saturday, Sunday 11am to 3pm, and by appointment.

Outdoor Activities

Biking -- This is easy biking territory, flat and quiet. Rent a bike from Haven Harbour Marina (tel. 800/506-6697 or 410/778-6697; www.havenharbour.com).

Boating -- Blue Crab Chesapeake Charters (tel. 410/708-1803; www.bluecrabcharters.com) has room for six on its 36-foot Crab Imperial. The 90-minute sail costs $50 a person; overnight charters start at $300. The 48-foot Jennifer Ann II (tel. 410/705-9751 or 639-7063; www.fishfearus.com) takes six fishermen out twice a day. Haven Harbour Marina (tel. 800/506-6697 or 410/778-6697; www.havenharbour.com) has slips that can accommodate visiting boats of up to 50 feet as well. Don't know the difference between tack and jibe? Learn to sail at the Maryland School of Sailing & Seamanship (tel. 410/639-7030; www.mdschool.com). It offers 4-day live-aboard cruises for both new and experienced sailors. Rock Hall Yacht Club hosts Friday Night Sailing Races on the 2nd and 4th Fridays between May and August; see www.rockhallyachtclub.org for details.

If you like your boats smaller, see Chester River Kayak Adventures, 5758 Main St. (tel. 410/639-2001; www.crkayakadventures.com), for kayak rentals and tours.

Shopping

Barely a block of downtown is devoted to shops. Most are open only on weekends but that is beginning to change. The shops of Oyster Court (tel. 410/708-0057), just off Main Street, are open 9am to 5pm Wednesday through Sunday. Stop by for all kinds of gifts from gardening treasures to luscious locally made soaps. Smilin' Jake's, at 5745 Main St. (tel. 410/639-7280), sells Hawaiian-inspired garb and is open daily. If you see something you like in Tallullah's window (Murano glass jewelry and gifts, mostly), call tel. 410/639-2596 and the innkeepers will open the shop at 5750 Main St. for you. For ice cream, stop by the 1930s-era soda counter at Durding's Store, at Main and Sharp streets (tel. 410/778-7957). Before going home, visit Miss Virginia's Crabcakes, 5793 Kent St. (tel. 410/639-7871), for some tasty souvenirs.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.