Though it’s sometimes overlooked in favor of quaint St. Michaels (roughly 30 minutes north), the 17th-century port town of Cambridge, along the Choptank River, is rich in history and character—and has a scene melding Eastern Shore traditions with a new generation of brewers, mixologists, and chefs.
Visitors—and their pups—can start the day at Black Water Bakery (429 Race St.). The bright cafe is big on Chesapeake flavor, with locally roasted coffee, crab-stuffed omelets, and Old Bay–spiked Bloody Marys. (Our dog loved the egg-and-bacon bowl with homemade biscuits.) Another favorite: Cindy’s Kitchen (3127 Aireys Spur Rd.), a general store turned diner where a dry-erase-board menu yields such tasty finds as biscuits and gravy or fried catfish. Also just outside downtown, newcomer Taqueria Floritas (1721 Race St.) opens early for huevos rancheros and breakfast burritos—and serves excellent street-style tacos and sopes.
Lunch-seekers can fuel up at Porter Soul Food (309 Sunburst Hwy.), a rare Black-owned Eastern Shore restaurant. The diner-style space—and drive-through window—dishes up trays of smothered pork chops and fried seafood.
In the late 1900s, Cambridge buzzed as a hub for seafood canning and processing. You can still pick up packs of crab at the picking house J.M. Clayton (108 Commerce St.), a fixture since 1890—though best to call in orders ahead. It sits next to the waterfront tiki-dive Snappers (112 Commerce St.)—a good stop for plastic-cup cocktails and crab dip.
See how Cambridge’s famous “Choptank Sweets” are grown at Choptank Oyster Company’s sustainable farm (6035 Castle Haven Rd.), a 15-minute drive out of town. Pick up a box of oysters—or just some cool merch—on the pier. Want to crack crabs? Ocean Odyssey (316 Sunburst Hwy.), a roadside seafood shack and beer garden, is a go-to for steamed seafood and hushpuppies.
It’s easy to spend time bar-and-restaurant-hopping downtown. Start at RaR Brewing’s three-in-one complex (504 Poplar St.). There’s a taproom with a dozen drafts; the loungy LabRaRtory, where barkeeps experiment with seasonal cocktails; and Chessie Burger, which dishes up smash burgers and boozy snow cones with a side of ’80s vibes. You can also fill up on meaty eats such as sticky burnt ends and jalapeño-cheddar beer sausage at the new Lil’ Bitta Bull BBQ (520 Race St.) down the road.
More into wine? The women-owned Vintage 414 (414 Race St.)—a wine bar/market—pours crowd-pleasing French rosés alongside surprises such as Hungarian Pinot Blanc, plus tasty cheese boards. For cocktails, speakeasy-like Blue Ruin (400 Race St.) is a must. The only thing better than the whimsical drinks—say, blue-cheese-and-beet vodka martinis—is the live music on weekends.
If you’re having only one sit-down meal in Cambridge, head to Bombay Social (413 Muir St.). Chef Paul Gomes, a 40-year industry veteran, turns out stellar Indo-Chinese dishes, fragrant curries, and tender tandoori lamb chops. Gomes’s son, Romeo, mixes terrific Indian-accented cocktails such as a rum-spiked mango lassi.
Where to Stay
The Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Golf Resort, Spa, and Marina (100 Heron Blvd.) is an attraction in itself, offering indoor and outdoor pools, water sports, nature trails, and six dining venues. Rooms start at $289.
Things to Do
Bird lovers flock to Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge (visitor center at 2145 Key Wallace Dr.), 12 miles south of Cambridge. The 32,000-plus-acre reserve—a mix of forest, marsh, and shallow waterways—is a key stop for migratory waterfowl on the so-called Atlantic Flyway. Nearby, the Harriet Tubman Visitor Center (4068 Golden Hill Rd., Church Creek) offers multimedia exhibits near where Tubman was born and led enslaved people to freedom. It’s one of 30 sites along the Tubman Byway, a scenic, self-guided driving tour.
Icons by Connie Zheng.
This article appears in the May 2022 issue of Washingtonian.