Looking to escape the crowds? The Eastern Shore is dotted with tiny waterfront towns which make great destinations for a quick jaunt outta town.
Crisfield, Maryland: Seafood Capital of the World
Set in the salt marshes of the Tangier Sound, an arm of the Chesapeake Bay, Crisfield is known as “The Seafood Capital of the World.” This small fishing village, previously known as Somers Cove, gained notoriety in 1854. That year, John W. Crisfield helped to push the Eastern Shore Railroad from Salisbury to the town, which was later renamed after him for his contributions to the community.
Railroad access allowed the local watermen a larger market for their hand harvested oysters from the plentiful beds in the waters surrounding the village. With prosperity, the town started to grow, and in 1904 was deemed the second largest city in Maryland with a population of over 25,000.
As people moved to the city from as far away as New England, the seafood market boomed. The story goes that so many oyster shells were discarded into the salt marshes during this time period that a peninsula was formed. Downtown Crisfield, known as “the strip” to locals, was literally built on top of a half mile long pile of oyster shells.
A Main Street Frozen in Time
Unfortunately, as the abundance of oysters in the Chesapeake Bay declined, so did Crisfield’s prosperity. Many of the seafood packing and distribution plants moved out of town, or shut down. In 1976, the railroad that had originally put the city on the map was abandoned, as newer roadways were constructed.
Today, Crisfield is still well known for their seafood, most popularly the Blue Crab. The MeTompkin Bay Oyster Company, established in 1945, still stands and ships seafood worldwide. The Todd family has owned and operated the plant for decades, and were recently honored by Somerset County. They received the Cornerstone Award for positively impacting the area as both an employer, and a local source of fresh seafood.
Walking through downtown Crisfield feels like stepping back in time. A plaque on the MeTompkin building states “Resisting Change Since 1945,” and many of the classic brick facades lining the strip are illustrative of that motto.
Although Crisfield’s population is now around 2,700 residents, Main Street is still a bustling little tourist stop filled with boutiques, coffee shops, and seafood joints. A stop in to the Crisfield Creamery brings a wave of nostalgia. The old time soda fountain feel, along with the delicious selection of frozen treats, help to make this ice cream shoppe popular with locals and visitors, alike.
Explore The Outdoors
Only 61 miles away from Ocean City, Crisfield makes a great destination for day-tripping. And the small town is full of outdoor adventures, such as wandering around the waterfront downtown area.
If you have a thing for old houses, this is the town for you. Much of Crisfield’s “uptown” residential area is zoned as a Historical District, and is a collection of houses, churches and commercial buildings dating from 1870 to 1930.
About three miles away from Main Street, you can find Jane’s Island State Park. No matter your choice of coastal activity, you can find it here. The park also offers miles of hiking trails, and is a great place for flat water canoeing and kayaking. About 100 campsites and a handful of cabins are available, if you are looking to stay the night.
Get Your Fill of Fresh Seafood
Any trip to this region of Maryland would be lacking without a stop at one of the many seafood houses. After all, how can you visit “The Seafood Capital of the World” without indulging? About five minutes before you arrive in downtown Crisfield, you will find Linton’s Seafood on the side of Rt. 413. Locally renowned, Linton’s has been serving up local eats for over 30 years.
This unassuming shop mainly focuses on carryout, but its large screened dining porch makes the perfect spot for a crab feast. The portions here are far from small, so bring your appetite and maybe a friend to help. If you can’t make the trip, Linton’s prides itself on being one of the first seafood distributors in Maryland to perfect the art of shipping seafood all over the country. Don’t miss out on the local Rockfish sandwich. I always get two, because I know I will want another one tomorrow.
The town of Crisfield boasts many seafood-centric events every year. Most well known of these is the National Hard Crab Derby, an annual Labor Day Weekend extravaganza. Beginning on the Wednesday before, this celebration includes everything you could want in outdoor entertainment: carnival rides and games, cooking demonstrations, crab picking contests, and of course crab races. There is live music, arts and crafts vendors, and even a fireworks display. Most of the Derby events are free to the public, and are extremely family friendly.
So, if you are looking for a change of scenery, I highly recommend taking a trip to Crisfield. The rural drive is a great way to shake off any stress, and to get in some historical site-seeing. Of course, in this crazy Covid world, I encourage you to contact any of these establishments which you wish to visit. Most restaurants in the area are still open for outdoor dining and carryout, and shops are open with safety restrictions in place. The National Hard Crab Derby is still on the calendar for September, but be sure to check the website for any change in plans.