With more miles of shoreline than the entire West Coast of the United States, the Chesapeake Bay is a treasure trove of delights. The water enchants at every turn, whether kids are observing dolphins frolic at the mouth of the Bay, pulling crab pots, exploring salt marshes and tidal flats, combing the beach for shells and fossilized shark teeth, sailing along the smooth water at sunset, or cooling off in it after a day of hiking and biking through waterside national parks. Kids will marvel at Chincoteague's wild ponies, dream of playing Major League Baseball while touring Oriole Park at Camden Yards, and find creative inspiration while searching for mermaids in Norfolk. Whether you base your Chesapeake Bay vacation in bustling Baltimore or serene Solomons, it'll be an unforgettable adventure for the whole family.
Summer is the peak time to visit the Chesapeake Bay. Visitors flock to the area for outdoor fun -- swimming, fishing, boating, hiking, biking, and more. The warm weather also ushers in the regatta season, including the Leukemia Cup Regatta and Vintage Race Boat Regatta in June, the Cambridge Powerboat Regatta in July, and the Annual Governor's Cup Yacht Race and Hampton Cup Regatta in August. Many businesses in smaller, tourism-focused areas close for the winter, typically the Monday after Thanksgiving until the Monday after Easter -- call ahead to inquire if you're considering an off-peak trip.
The Chesapeake Bay is characterized by relatively mild winters; hot, humid summers; and pleasant springs and falls. Although temperatures vary in different parts of the Bay, the average temperature in Baltimore in January ranges from 24 F to 41 F, 43 F to 65 F in April, 67 F to 88 F in July, and 46 F to 68 F in October; in Norfolk, January temperatures range from 32 F to 48 F, 48 F to 68 F in April, 71 F to 88 F in July, and 53 F to 70 F in October. Annual rainfall around the Bay generally averages a little more than 40 inches, with slightly increased amounts during the late summer and early fall (corresponding to the thunderstorm and hurricane seasons, respectively). Baltimore (averaging nearly 21 inches) receives considerably more snowfall than Norfolk (averaging just over 7 inches) per year.
The Chesapeake Bay area is served by four major airports: Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI) is the farthest north; Norfolk International Airport (ORF) is the farthest south; between the two are Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA, generally referred to as "National"), and Richmond International Airport (RIC). Visitors to the bay benefit from the multitude of airports, and can often find reduced airfares by comparing flights into the different airports. The Salisbury-Ocean City Wicomico Regional Airport (SBY) is the only commercial airport on the Eastern Shore, handling approximately a dozen flights per day. Because of the limited number of flights, visitors to the Eastern Shore typically fly into Norfolk (the closest airport to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel) if visiting cities such as Chincoteague, or to Baltimore if traveling to cities further north (such as St. Michael's). Visitors traveling to the west side of the Bay by car typically take Interstate 95 to the general area, then transition to smaller county roads until their destination is reached. Eastern Shore visitors mainly utilize U.S. Route 13, which notably includes the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, as well as U.S. Route 50 and 301.
A car is essential for traveling to the various parts of the Chesapeake Bay, but the small towns (and even the downtown areas of larger cities like Baltimore and Norfolk) are easily explored on foot or by bicycle. While in Baltimore, visitors can also take advantage of Ed Kane's Water Taxis for visiting Fort McHenry and the Fells Point neighborhood. Water taxi service is available to more than 35 attractions ($9 for an adult all-day pass; kids 10 and younger $4). While in Virginia Beach, use the convenient and inexpensive VB Wave trolley and avoid the Atlantic Avenue traffic. Three lines service the area from May 1 until Sept. 30; fares are $1.50 (adults) and $1 (kids 38-inches and talerl; those shorter than 38 inches ride for free). An all-day pass can be purchased for $3.50 (adults) and $1.75 (kids).
The Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association maintains an extensive Web site tailored to the needs of tourists, as does the Norfolk Convention and Visitors Bureau at and the Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Conference and Visitors Bureau to name a few.
While in Baltimore, save 20 percent off individual admission prices by buying the Baltimore Harbor Pass (visit four attractions in four days; $42.75/adults and $31/children 3-12) or Harbor Pass Plus (adds an extra day and three additional attractions; $59/adults and $41 children 3-12). Purchase at the Baltimore Visitor Center on the West Harbor of the Inner Harbor, or online for even greater savings.
Norfolk visitors save 25 percent off admission fees to many popular venues (including Nauticus, the Norfolk Botanical Garden, and Virginia Zoological Park) and 10 percent to 20 percent at restaurants and local retail stores by purchasing the Passport to Fun ($19.95 plus tax).
The Chesapeake Bay is about 200 miles long, and stretches from Havre de Grace, Md., to Virginia Beach, Va. It's about 3.5 miles across at its narrowest point (near Aberdeen, Md) and 35 miles across at its widest point (near the mouth of the Potomac River).
The Bay and its tidal tributaries have nearly 11,700 miles of shoreline, more than the West Coast of the United States.
Scientists believe an asteroid impacted the earth 35 million years ago to create the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay.
The Chesapeake Bay Estuary is the largest in the western hemisphere. It attracts nearly 300 species of fish to its food-rich waters, and has fresh, brackish, and saltwater habitats.
The deepest point in the Chesapeake Bay is 174 feet, but most of the Bay is shallow; it averages only 20 feet deep.
Norfolk has the largest natural harbor on Earth, and is home to the world's largest naval base -- it's port to more than 100 ships of the Atlantic fleet.
Numerous state and private campgrounds in both Maryland and Virginia make it easy to camp along the Chesapeake Bay. Baydreaming.com maintains a comprehensive list of campgrounds along the Bay with basic information about campsites and facilities. Visit the Eastern Shore Visitor's site for details about Eastern Shore campgrounds in both Maryland and Virginia; visit www.virginia.org to learn about campgrounds across the state of Virginia.