It was beach season and the weather was gorgeous. I had vacation time to use, but my husband and two daughters were still tethered to their Zooms. So, I set out by myself to see how many sandy beaches in the Chesapeake watershed I could visit within a reasonable drive from our Annapolis, Maryland, home. Over five days, I made it to 32 beaches and enjoyed one of the most epic adventures of my life, sharing the journey along the way with my friends on social media. A year later, I challenged myself to do it again. This time I made it to 37 different beaches in five days.
When I returned, my colleagues with the Chesapeake Conservation Partnership asked if I would share a few highlights from my trips. My first thought was, “How lucky am I? If the lines between vacation and work life blur together, you must really be doing something you love.” This is true. I’m especially excited to share this with fellow Chesapeake Bay lovers because, as you can imagine, there was a lot more to this journey than just sand.
First, I had some ground rules. To qualify for this quest, the beach must be on the Chesapeake Bay or one of the tributaries and must be publicly accessible. This doesn’t necessarily mean public land, however. One beach is privately owned, but anyone can visit for the day or even camp there for a fee. For the most part, however, I visited federal, state, county and municipal lands. Some of the parks I visited have free admission, but many charge a fee ranging from $2.50 to $15.00 per person or vehicle.
For one day I cheated on our beloved Chesapeake and traveled to Delaware Bay, which I also love, but I wore plenty of Chesapeake swag to make my true allegiances known.
To plan my trips, I used FindYourChesapeake.com, a partnership website from the National Park Service Chesapeake Bay Office and Chesapeake Conservancy. In addition, I also used Google and even aerial imagery to detect sandy stretches of shoreline. Then I researched if they were publicly accessible.
A journey to the beaches of the Chesapeake Bay is also a journey through its history. Some of that history is quite painful, and the effects are still felt by many even to this day. Thoughts of the American Indians who lived here for more than 10,000 years before the European colonists (reflected in so many of the parks’ names: Kiptopeke, Chippokes, Matapeake, and Aquia) and thoughts of the enslaved people whose labor enabled the many plantations that line the Chesapeake’s shores make standing on a beach not just standing on a beach. I could literally feel the history of the place, and it was heavy.
I was really struck by how many of the parks were former plantations. As a conservationist, I can appreciate how these large tracts of intact land made them ideal for conservation. Sometimes the family bequeathed the land to the state, or sometimes funds were raised to purchase the land. These are places with stories to tell—and certainly not just the stories of the plantation owners.
Throughout my trips, I typically took a silly selfie photo on the beach, a way to mark that I had reached another milestone on the quest. But looking back at my pictures, I am reminded that at quite a few places, I just couldn’t. At some places—like Fort Monroe, where 402 years ago the White Lion carried 20-30 enslaved people from Angola ( considered to be the beginning of race-based slavery in America)—the history was too heavy, and the moments were just too solemn.
But isn’t that the point? What I am describing is a vital part of many park experiences. These are places where we can learn about and reflect upon the people who came before us. While not an expert on the Chesapeake’s history, I do have an insatiable curiosity. I want to learn more, and I want to ensure that my daughters learn more. Helping us better understand how we got to where we are now is a huge part of why these places are so very important to conserve and share.
I do a lot of reading and writing about the Chesapeake, both professionally and personally, even as part of my own genealogical research. Thanks to these beach trips, I have a much deeper sense of place.
Here is just one example: One day, I was following my car’s GPS directions, basically on autopilot, when I happened to notice on a few street signs that I was traveling through San Domingo, an area established in the 1800s by free Black men and women in Maryland’s Wicomico County. Of course, I paused on beaches and spent a little more time exploring San Domingo, which I had read about in the Chesapeake Bay Journal and The Baltimore Sun. Thanks to that fortuitous stop, I now will have a sense of place as I learn more about this area in the months to come.
At Beach #6, Guard Shore Beach, near Bloxom, Virginia, and the Saxis Wildlife Management Area I met these self-proclaimed “Shore Folks” who had moved to West Virginia and were back visiting their beloved Shore in Accomack County. I asked them which they liked better, and they said, “Shore! Without a doubt!” In this area, English explorer Captain John Smith met the Pocomoke Indians in 1608.
The most memorable parts of both trips were the people I met. Something about being at a beach breaks down social barriers. You may remember making beach friends when you were little: you start building a sandcastle with another child, who you would probably be too shy to speak to were it not for the magic of the beach. I feel like I’ve been on a grown-up version of that. I work in public relations, and I’ll have a conversation with anyone who is willing, but there is just something different when it comes to the beach.
At Beach #20, Gloucester Point Beach Park on the York River, Gloucester Point, Virginia, I met Louis, another avid fisherman. It was his first time at the park. This landscape, once known as Tsenacomoco, was home to some of the tribes in the Algonquian-speaking alliance that paid tribute to Wahunsenacawh, whom the English called Chief Powhatan.
I heard from many people during my trips: my own Facebook friends, of course, but also people who heard about the trip—from a county leader in tourism thanking me for stopping by, professional colleagues and even a Maryland cabinet secretary who took the time to write. They often asked: “What’s your favorite beach? Which one would you recommend?” Each beach has a different personality, but I love them all. My honest answer is the best beach is the one that you can get yourself to.
So, I made it to 69 beaches in 10 days of exploring. Although drop-by visits to the Chesapeake’s diverse beaches are not ideal, I consider these whirlwind trips to be reconnaissance for choosing places to return to with family and friends when there’s time to truly enjoy what each place has to offer.
This probably sounds like folks who live or visit around here have plenty of beach access. You may have noticed that my photos show few people. Consider, though, that I had the luxury of taking vacation time and doing my exploring during the week in the off-season, something not everyone can do.
It’s a different story in peak season, especially weekends, when many of the places I traveled to are filled to capacity, and park employees must turn people away at the gate. Or, if there is no gate, there’s simply no parking left for all the people who want to visit. This was true even before the pandemic, but now, even more people are turning to nature for solace and recreation. Our demand for water access and outdoor recreation is pushing our parks to the limits.
At Beach #35, Chapel Point State Park on the Port Tobacco River, a tributary of the Potomac River near La Plata, Maryland, I found four happy fishermen reeling them in! Back in the day, this is where the Charles County Fair took place, and the site once offered an amusement park and roller-skating rink. The land belonged to the Jesuits from 1638 until it was acquired by the state in 1972. The area is the ancestral homeland of the Piscataway Conoy Tribe.
One natural area preserve that I visited this year had no trash cans and no bathrooms, and there were just a handful of unofficial parking spots. Many of you know this is customary for nature preserves meant for low human impact. This worked fine for my off-season, weekday, brief visit, when I was the only one on the beach for most of my time there. But a local woman told me that on summer weekends, there are hundreds of visitors a day, many of whom stay for a significant amount of time. Hundreds. Remember, there are no bathrooms and no trash cans and very little parking. Remember, too, that every single one of those hundreds of visitors a day has the right to be there.
Just down the street from the last beach I visited this year (North Beach in North Beach, Maryland), is the resort town called Chesapeake Beach. To visit their public beach, called “Bayfront” or “Brownie’s Beach” by locals, you must literally be a local. Since 2020, it’s only open to municipal residents as a Covid-related precaution. Potential for collapse along the cliffs area there is another concern. This is a reminder to check for the latest information on beach closures before you go.
Communities are grappling with how to provide public access, including near my home, where Sandy Point State Park fills to capacity and turns people away on the most glorious summer weekends.
I certainly don’t have the answers, but I do know that we need more parks. Parks don’t make themselves. Here’s a shout-out to everyone working in conservation and trying to create more opportunities for people to visit beautiful places like these. Now more than ever, it is important that our federal, state and local governments, along with nonprofits, foundations and private donors, work to conserve more sites for public access to the Bay.
What started out as a Covid-safe, solo “staycation” adventure turned out to be so much more. We’re lucky to live where we are surrounded by beauty in nature, amazing wildlife and the opportunity to learn the history of the Chesapeake and its people, past and present.
Small world! At Beach #31 Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Park in Pasadena, Maryland, there was only one other person at the park—my big brother! Neither of us had been to this park before, and it’s not near our homes. A phenomenal coincidence!
You can see a list of all 69 beaches, view photos and follow along the two journeys at www.flickr.com/photos/beachweek; also a list of all the beaches, with links to their album pages below.
P.S. There are so many more to see! Same time next year!
Note: Click “Show More” under the header to read Jody’s trip notes.
Note: Click “Show More” under the header to read Jody’s trip notes and more information about the beach.
BEACH WEEK 2020
Beach #1 Beverly Triton Beach, Edgewater, MD
Beach #2 Sandy Point State Park, Annapolis, MD
Beach #3 Matapeake State Park, Stevensville, MD
Beach #4 Terrapin Nature Park and Beach, Stevensville, MD
Beach #5 Sand Beach, Wye Island Natural Resource Management Area, Queenstown, MD
Beach #6 Betterton Beach, Betterton, MD
Beach #7 Ferry Park Beach, Rock Hall, MD
Beach #8 Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge, Rock Hall, MD
Beach #9 Broadkill Beach, Milton, DE
Beach #10 Fowler Beach, Milford, DE
Beach #11 Slaughter Beach, Slaughter Beach, DE
Beach #12 Big Stone Beach, Milford, DE
Beach #13 Bennett's Pier Beach, Milford, DE
Beach #14 Bowers Beach, Frederica, DE
Beach #15 Pickering Beach, Dover, DE
Beach #16 Woodland Beach, Smyrna, DE
Beach #17 (withheld/private, for-profit)
Beach #18 Sandy Beach at the Kayak Launch, Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum, St. Leonard, MD
Beach #19 Myrtle Point Park Beach, California, MD
Beach #20 Beach Area at Greenwell State Park, Hollywood, MD
Beach #21 Snow Hill Park and Beach, Mechanicsville, MD
Beach #22 Newtowne Neck State Park, Leonardtown, MD
Beach #23 Beach at Piney Point Lighthouse, Piney Point, MD
Beach #24 North East Beach Area, Elk Neck State Park, North East, MD
Beach #25 Hammerman Beach, Gunpowder Falls State Park, Middle River, MD
Beach #26 Miami Beach, Miami Beach Park, Middle River, MD
Beach #27 Masonville Cove, Baltimore, MD
Beach #28 Rocky Point Beach and Park, Essex, MD
Beach #29 North Point Beach, North Point State Park, Edgemere, MD
Beach #30 Beach Area at Fort Smallwood Park, Pasadena, MD
Beach #31 Beach Area, Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Park, Pasadena, MD
Beach #32 Dog Beach, Downs Park, Pasadena, MD
BEACH WEEK 2021
Beach #33 Cove Road Beach, Bivalve, MD
Beach #34 Roaring Point Park, Nanticoke, MD
Beach #35 Raccoon Point Beach and Park, Westover, MD
Beach #36 Wellington Beach and Park, Crisfield, MD
Beach #37 Cherry Beach Park, Sharptown, MD
Beach #38 Guard Shore Beach, Bloxom, VA
Beach #39 Savage Neck Dunes Natural Preserve Area, Cape Charles, VA
Beach #40 Cape Charles Beach, Cape Charles, VA
Beach #41 Kiptopeke State Park, Cape Charles, VA
Beach #42 First Landing State Park, Virginia Beach, VA
Beach #43 Ocean View Beach Park, Norfolk, VA
Beach #44 Sarah Constant Beach Park, Norfolk, VA
Beach #45 Fort Monroe Outlook Beach, Hampton, VA
Beach #46 Buckroe Beach, North First Street, Hampton, VA
Beach #47 Grandview Nature Preserve, Hampton, VA
Beach #48 Fort Boykin, Smithfield, VA
Beach #49 Chippokes Plantation State Park, Surry, VA
Beach #50 Jamestown Beach Park, Williamsburg, VA
Beach #51 Yorktown Beach,, Yorktown, VA
Beach #52 Gloucester Point Beach Park, Gloucester Point, VA
Beach #53 Haven Beach, Diggs, VA
Beach #54 Bethel Beach Natural Area Preserve, Onemo, VA
Beach #55 Hallieford Beach, Cobbs Creek, VA
Beach #56 Wake Beach, Wake, VA
Beach #57 A little beach on the Rappahannock by the bridge, Topping, VA
Beach #58 Hughlett Point Natural Area Preserve, Kilmarnock, VA
Beach #59 Dameron Marsh Natural Area Preserve, Kilmarnock, VA
Beach #60 Belle Isle State Park, Lancaster, VA
Beach #61 Fossil Beach, Westmoreland State Park, Montross, VA
Beach #62 Colonial Beach, Colonial Beach, VA
Beach #63 Caledon State Park, King George, VA
Beach #64 Historic Port of Falmouth Park, Falmouth, VA
Beach #65 Aquia Landing State Park, Stafford, VA
Beach #66 Widewater State Park, Stafford, VA
Beach #67 Chapel Point State Park, Port Tobacco, MD
Beach #68 Elm's Beach Park, Lexington Park, MD
Beach #69 North Beach, MD
Sandy Point State Park is located in Anne Arundel county just before the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. The 786 acre park provides a variety of recreational opportunities such as swimming, fishing, crabbing, boating, and windsurfing.
Terrapin Park sits on 276 acres of Bay front land north of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. The park includes over 4,000 feet of shoreline and 73 acres of wetlands, making it a destination for nature and wildlife enthusiasts.
Located in the tidal recesses of the Chesapeake Bay between the Wye River and the Wye East River, Wye Island offers 2,800 acres of habitat for wintering waterfowl populations and other native wildlife.
Myrtle Point Park is a 192-acre natural park is located on the western shore of the Patuxent River. The park is distinguished by its nearly two miles of pristine shoreline, tidal wetlands, salt ponds, mature forests, and more.
Elk Neck State Park boasts 2,188 acres of sandy beaches, marshlands, and heavily wooded bluffs within the peninsula formed by the North East River, Elk River, and the Chesapeake Bay.
Gunpowder Falls State Park protects the stream valleys of the Big and Little Gunpowder Falls and the Gunpowder River. The long, narrow 18,000 acre park ranges from tidal marshes and wetlands near the Bay to steep, rugged slopes upstream.
Masonville Cove is 70 acres of water and 54 acres of cleaned-up wetlands, nature trails, and a protected bird sanctuary, all soon-to-be protected by a conservation easement and part of the Shores of Baltimore Land Trust.
Located at the mouth of Back and Middle Rivers, Rocky Point Park features a 300' beach, a 20' x 30' beach front tent, a large and small pavilion, seven shaded picnic groves, fishing pier, two boat ramps, and a bathhouse with first aid station.
North Point State Park is a 1,310-acre Bay-front park with more than six miles of shoreline along the Chesapeake Bay, Back River, and Shallow Creek. The park offers public access, a wading beach, and crabbing and fishing opportunities.
Fort Smallwood Park became the newest regional park in the Anne Arundel County Park System, located on the Patapsco River, the park offers experiences for fisherman, boaters, swimmers, birdwatchers, and admirers of local scenery.
With structures built between 1885 and 1920, Cape Charles has one of the largest concentrations of late-Victorian and turn-of-the-century buildings on the East Coast. Visitors come to Cape Charles to experience its history and architecture.
Kiptopeke State Park's location near the tip of the Chesapeake's Eastern Shore makes the park a prime location for bird-watching. Migrating birds congregate at this point on the Delmarva before moving on to breeding or wintering grounds.
First Landing State Park is located near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay close to the spot where Captain John Smith landed in 1607. First Landing is Virginia's most popular state park with over a million visitors each year.
Fort Monroe National Monument was a military installation in Hampton, Virginia on the southern tip of the Virginia Peninsula. Within its 565 acres are 170 historic buildings and nearly 200 acres of natural resources on the Chesapeake Bay.
Chippokes Plantation State Park is one of the oldest working farms in the United States. Chippokes is a living historical exhibit located in a rural agricultural area along the James River, directly opposite Jamestown Island and has a wide variety of traditional park offerings.
Jamestown Settlement is a historical site and museum at the site of the first successful English settlement on the mainland of North America. Expansive exhibits trace Jamestown's beginnings in England and the first century of the Virginia colony.
Located on Virginia’s Northern Neck, Hughlett Point Natural Area Preserve is situated on a small peninsula on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay. The preserve contains tidal and non-tidal wetlands, an exemplary undeveloped beach and low dunes, and upland forest communities.
The 316-acre Dameron Marsh Natural Area Preserve is one in a series of protected lands that line the shore of the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia. This preserve contains one of the most significant wetlands on the Chesapeake Bay for marsh-bird communities.
With seven miles of waterfront on the north shore of the Rappahannock, Belle Isle State Park features diverse tidal and nontidal wetlands, lowland marshes, tidal coves and upland forests.
The park extends about one and a half miles along the Potomac River and offers hiking, camping, cabins, fishing, boating and swimming. Visitors can enjoy the park's vacation cabins as well as spectacular views of the Potomac.
Widewater State Park is located on a peninsula of the Potomac River where it converges with Aquia Creek in Northern Virginia. The Park provides access to both bodies of water for canoeing and kayaking as well as various other activities across its 1,089 acres.