Southern Maryland consists of Calvert, Charles and St. Mary's counties as well as the southern portions of Prince Georges and Ann Arundel counties.
- 1 Chesapeake Beach
- 2 Cobb Island
- 3 La Plata
- 4 Leonardtown
- 5 Lexington Park
- 6 North Beach
- 7 Point Lookout — southern most tip of peninsula - site of Point Lookout State Park
- 8 Prince Frederick
- 9 Solomons
- 10 St. Mary's City
- 11 Waldorf
Southern Maryland's economy used to be fueled by tobacco and watermen. Both activities have declined steeply. Oyster and fish stocks in the Chesapeake Bay have suffered dramatic declines since the 1980s, partly due to overfishing but largely caused by reduced water quality and introduced diseases and parasites. Efforts to improve the water quality of the bay are ongoing but because the bay watershed covers four states they are difficult to coordinate. The economy of the area is now largely governed by the heavy military presence, as the area is home to the Patuxent River Naval Air Station, the Navy's primary air-test facility, and Andrews Air Force Base, the home of Air Force One. Many residents commute to Washington DC or Annapolis.
Southern Maryland was the first area in Maryland settled by Europeans. Much of the area was explored by John Smith from Jamestown in the late 1500s. It began as a Catholic colony, and has many lovely 17th- and 18th-century Catholic and Episcopal churches. The area was the hiding place of John Wilkes Booth during much of the manhunt to find him after President Lincoln's assassination, and the home of Doctor Samuel Mudd, who treated him during his escape.
Supreme Court Justice Roger Taney, infamously known as the Chief Justice who presided over the Dredd Scott decision, was from Calvert County. Other famous (or infamous) residents include author Tom Clancy (Huntingtown), and Socks, the First Cat during the Clinton Presidency (now, sadly, deceased) who lived with her owner, Clinton Secretary Bettie Curry, in Saint Mary's County.
Geologically, southern Maryland has been shaped by the Chesapeake Bay which borders it on the east and by the two major rivers which pass through it: the Patuxent, and the Potomac, which forms its western boundary. The area is characterized by low, rolling hills (most of the area is less than fifty feet above sea level); flat fields; and very steep, narrow ravines due to the easily erodable nature of its sandy soil. Most of southern Maryland was underwater many times as sea levels rose and fell over the millennia. Consequently, fossils can be found in many places, especially along the banks of the Bay and the major rivers passing through the area, the Patuxent and the Potomac. The Calvert Cliffs are geologically unique. Occurring along the Calvert County portion of the Chesapeake Bay, these are clay cliffs that range in height from just a few feet to over thirty feet. In many spots, several layers of fossil strata are clearly visible, testament to the sea life that thrived here during periods of increased sea levels. The D-Day invasions were practiced here due to the cliff's similarity to those on the French coast. Southern Maryland is particularly known for its many different kind of fossilized shark's teeth, especially those of Megalodon, an extinct relative of the Great White Shark that grew up to 60 feet long and which was probably the largest shark that ever lived. Megalodon teeth can be up to six inches (15 cm) long.
- Calvert County
- Charles County
- St. Mary's County
- Prince Georges County
- Ann Arundel County
Southern Maryland is served by three regional airports: Washington Reagan National, Dulles International, and Thurgood Marshall Baltimore-Washington International.
A ride-sharing service called the Southern Maryland Express offers comfortable transportation between the region and the major airports nearby.
The major driving routes to the area from Washington, DC include Route 4 (Calvert Country) and Route 5 (Charles and St. Mary's Counties). From points south, take Route 301. From points north, take I-95 South to the Washington Beltway (I-495) and follow the Inner Loop to either the Route 4 or Route 5 exit.
There are no passenger rail lines serving Southern Maryland.
There is commuter bus service to and from Washington, D.C. that is provided by the Maryland Transit Agency.
Drive. It's the only way. If you're hard core, biking is a popular activity in southern Maryland, but be prepared to ride long distances between attractions, and you'll have to bring your own bike.
Saint Mary's City is an easy highlight for any visit to Southern Maryland. It was the first settlement in Maryland, the seat of the Calvert family, and Maryland's first capital. Founded in 1634, Saint Mary's City was the fourth permanent English settlement in North America, and because it was a Catholic colony, it is sometimes considered to be the birthplace of religious freedom in America. The city was almost completely abandoned by the late 1700s. It is now an active archeological site with some reconstructed buildings, notably the original statehouse and the print shop. The city chapel has been reconstructed on the original foundation. Historic interpreters are active on the grounds. The museum shows artifacts discovered on the site and has a collection of over 5 million items. The grounds include the Godiah Spray tobacco plantation, a working colonial-era farm, and a reproduction of the Dove, one of the two English ships that brought colonists to Maryland.
A popular local resort town, Solomons is an island at the inlet of the Patuxent River to the Chesapeake Bay. Many good restaurants, quirky shops with local handicrafts, and a beautiful boardwalk area. Home of the Calvert Marine Museum, University of Maryland laboratories that study the Chesapeake Bay, and the US Navy Recreation Center-Solomons. It is also within short striking distance of beautiful Calvert Cliffs State Park and the Patuxent River Naval Air Museum.
La Plata also has a couple nearby sights worth seeking out, including the Thomas Stone National Historic Site, and the historic, tiny village of Port Tobacco. Battle Creek Cypress Swamp, right by Prince Frederick is also a highlight for visitors from the north, as it is the country's northernmost cypress swamp. Point Lookout State Park, the southern tip of Maryland, near Lexington Park, is also worth a visit both for its natural beauty, and for its Civil War history and museum.
There are many interesting things to do here, but one activity that is interesting is finding shark teeth. An example of a beach where you can find shark teeth is Brownie Beach in Calvert County. Here, they range from barely a millimeter up to several inches. Other items found include skate and ray teeth, porpoise teeth, and other interesting items. Fossil hunting sites include [dead link]:
Flag Ponds Park provides lovely views of the Chesapeake Bay, wide sand beaches, and a fishing pier as well as being an active site for finding shark's teeth.
Calvert Cliffs State Park has access to the Calvert Cliffs, site of rich fossil beds.
Bayfront Park (also known as Brownie Beach-Route 261, Calvert) is possibly the richest shark's teeth hunting site in the area.
The National Oyster Shucking Contest is held at the Oyster Festival each year in St. Mary's County (Leonardtown Fairgrounds). A fun two day event with 4H, crafts, beer stands, tractor pulling contests, and of course oysters.
Water recreation is a major pastime in the region, with the Chesapeake Bay and numerous tributary rivers as well as countless small connected creeks and coves. Motor-boating, sailing, canoeing on calmer waters, jet skis, epic fishing and waterfowl hunting are all essential activities to southern Maryland. High seasonal concentrations of "sea nettles" (the local term for jellyfish) make waterskiing and swimming less common activities, however. Swimming is possible in net protected beach areas, like Chesapeake Beach in Calvert County, for example, or in the transitional season between late spring and early summer.
Gamefish include rockfish (the Maryland word for "striped bass"), bluefish, sea trout and cobia to name some of the most popular. The names of other recreational sport fish species go to nearly a hundred. The upper reaches of Bay tributaries like the Patuxent and the Potomac Rivers have brackish to fresh water and are prime areas for catfish, as well as largemouth bass, bluegill and sunfish, perch and juvenile rockfish. Don't eat fish from the Potomac even if you see locals doing so, the river has dangerous chemical pollution. The Patuxent, other than sediment runoff, is fairly unpolluted and is also a haven for waterfowl.
Crabbing is enormously popular on docks and piers, as Maryland blue crabs cooperate in being caught and are delicious. A simple fifteen foot string tied to a chicken neck plus a long-handled cab net (available for sale almost everywhere near brackish water) are all that is needed. Crabs stubbornly hold onto raw chicken and can be slowly pulled up to the waters surface where a little practice makes them easy to net. Older kids and teenagers can learn how to do this fairly quickly. Handle with care and drop them into a tall bucket. Only hold them by the back "fins" (flat rear swimming legs) - they can easily fracture your fingers with their claws. Those same claws, however are a southern Maryland delicacy not to be missed. 20 minutes on Youtube will teach you everything you need to know about how to boil or steam, crack and eat these magnificent treats.
Crab numbers have been lower commercially of late, but they are still reasonably available near docks and piers. Do not hunt for crabs on river sandbars. Those bars are often near dangerous currents with undertows. Don't let apparently calm waters deceive you, they can hide strong under-surface rips and you can drown in them. In Southern Maryland, locals call them "rips", but unlike sideways ocean rips, these river rips can pull you straight down more than 40 feet. In 1976 seven people drowned in 20 minutes after being pulled off a tidal sandbar and strait down underwater by current on the Patuxent River a half mile from its mouth on the Chesapeake Bay. They had been crabbing on the sandbar in only three feet of water. The word "rip" in the Chesapeake Bay part of Maryland does not have the same meaning as ocean rip currents. It means "undertow" and it can take you deep very quickly.
Southern Maryland isn't exactly dangerous territory, but visitors should take some precautions. Poison ivy is widespread along forest edges. It shouldn't prevent you from enjoying nature, but learn to recognize it before you go off-trail. Ticks, mosquitoes and chiggers abound during summer months. Humidity can be quite high during the summer, so stay well hydrated. The Copperhead, a venomous snake, is found in some areas. Jellyfish live in the Chesapeake Bay during warm-weather season, and can be a hazard to swimmers.
Fish and seafood is absolutely the focus of food in this region.
Much of the regional cuisine of southern Maryland is related to the Chesapeake Bay. Local foods include steamed blue crabs, fried soft-shelled crabs, rockfish (also known as striped bass), oysters, and southern Maryland stuffed ham, a spice concoction of greens stuffed into a cured ham. The Chesapeake Bay oyster population crashed in the 1980s and has not yet recovered, so local oysters are difficult to find.
Southern Maryland also has excellent barbecue, which is similar in style to North Carolina barbecue-smoked, pulled pork, basted with an oil/vinegar sauce.
This area has many vineyards and breweries, including in Leonardtown and Solomon's Island. Country church food events are often advertised in the fall that are open to all and include home cooked food and locally pressed southern Maryland apple cider. It is delicious. Churches will not serve hard cider, however. It is just the sweet, tangy juice.
Local Amish Markets in Upper Marlboro in southern Prince Georges County and Mechanicsville in St. Mary's County serve Amish cider in the fall, which is different and is not to be missed. Don't miss out on Amish fudge either.