- Located 13 miles up the Choptank River from the Chesapeake Bay
- Settled in 1684 and named after the English university town in 1686
- Home to the Harriet Tubman Museum and Mural, and a key stop on the Harriet Tubman Byway
What makes it unique
Cambridge is one of the first English settlements on the Chesapeake, but the city has been hit by several devastating fires during its long history. The area suffered another blow in the mid-1960s when Phillips Packing Company (Cambridge’s largest employer) closed. But in the decades since, the citizens of Cambridge have worked hard to bring the city back with new businesses, museums, restaurants and all the other things that attract happy visitors. Today, its protected basin and deep-water cove make it an ideal location for boaters to stroll the tree-lined streets dotted with beautiful old houses and walk to great restaurants. Soak up her unique history at Long Wharf and Ruark Boatworks, and pay homage to her hometown hero, Harriet Tubman, who is rightly honored with a museum, stunning murals and a historic trail national newspaper which traces his life and travels in Cambridge and through the neighboring countryside of Dorchester County.
On a boat
The entrance to the Choptank River is about 23 miles south of the Bay Bridge. It is then about 13 miles upstream from Cambridge. You can cut a few miles off by taking the Knapps Narrows Traverse near Tilghman Island, which is a shortcut from the bay to the Choptank. It has a control depth of 8 feet and gives you the ability to cross what has been called the busiest drawbridge in the world.
If you are coming from the Norfolk area, you will find the entrance to the Choptank about 100 miles up the bay. Either Deltaville or Crisfield would make a good stop along the way. From Deltaville, the Choptank is about 65 miles.
Travel up the Choptank River to green 25, the last marker before the US 50 bridge, then head to the Cambridge Municipal Yacht Basin or find markers 1 and 2 for the Cambridge Creek Inlet Channel. The other, equally delightful option is to continue below deck (watch out for sailboats, the vertical clearance is only 50 feet) and dock at the Hyatt Regency Marina.
If you’re driving, you’ll find Cambridge just off US 50; you’ll know you’re there by the sail-like canopy of the Visitors’ Pavilion on the southeast side of the Choptank River Bridge. From the Baltimore area, it’s about a 90-minute drive over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. From the Norfolk area, it’s a three-hour drive, taking the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel and US 13 to Salisbury, then US 50 the rest of the way.
If you want to be within walking distance of almost everything in town, slip inside the Cambridge Yacht Basin breakwater, run by Oasis. Or better yet, try the Cambridge Yacht Club, which shares the basin with the town’s marina and usually has slipways open to visitors. (They also have reciprocity for members of Chesapeake Bay Yacht Club Association clubs.) The Long Wharf Farmers Market and Events, as well as the Choptank River Lighthouse, are just steps away along Water Street, and restaurants, shops and museums will take a little longer. walk up High Street.
If you like the idea of dropping anchor or mooring at the town’s free wharf, follow the channel to Cambridge Creek, one of the deepest in the Chesapeake and one of the main reasons for the long success of the city as a port. On entry you will pass Yacht Maintenance Company and then the turning basin. Here you will find JM Clayton Company Seafood, immediately on the right. The company was founded in 1890, is still family owned and is said to be the oldest continuously operating crab processing plant in the world. On the adjacent wall, you’ll find the free partition, behind several Dorchester County office buildings. There are plenty of cleats, but be very careful to protect your boat from the long bolts sticking out of the bulkhead in several places. If you prefer to anchor, be sure to leave plenty of room for JM Clayton’s Crabeaters.
Also try Generation III Marina, which is located at the head of the creek; it is 8 to 12 feet deep and slides for transients or anyone in need of repairs. Cambridge is a great city for boating and commerce, and the Wheatley family are known for their fine craftsmanship and attention to detail in all types of service, which has earned them a loyal clientele for over 30 years. in the business.
River Marsh Marina/Hyatt Regency Chesapeake
If you’re looking to be spoiled, then the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Marina (or the Hyatt Regency itself) is the place for you. You might think of this as a destination in its own right, but it’s easy to get to Cambridge city center from here.
By boat, just continue under the US 50 bridge (remember that 50ft vertical clearance, sailboats) to the 27 green. From there, head south and you’ll see the marina breakwater, with the entrance facing downstream. The marina has all the usual amenities, although a bit of a walk away, and the added resort fee gives you access to everything the resort has to offer.
Stay down to earth
Cambridge House Bed & Breakfast is a circa 1847 former captain’s house on the High Street with six period bedrooms, a lovely lily pond and an outdoor hot tub.
Explore by water
There is a great launch area with plenty of overnight parking at the Franklin Street boat launch. There you will find two docks, four ramps and a breakwater to launch yourself directly into the Choptank. The boat launch near Trenton Street is much smaller but will launch you into Cambridge Creek. Neither requires a license to use. North of town, you can launch at Gerry Boyle Park at the Great Marsh boat launch.
Vintage Skipjack Nathan of Dorchester was built by volunteers in 1994 as a tribute to the unique wooden vessels used for centuries to dredge oysters in the bay. Join her on a Saturday for a two-hour outing in the river and learn how boatmen worked the bay from these unique vessels, which were named Maryland’s State Boat in 1985.
Just 12 miles from Cambridge, Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge is a nature sanctuary established in 1933 to protect migrating wild birds along the Atlantic Flyway. Bring your own kayak or SUP, or join Blackwater Adventures Chesapeake Bay for guided paddle tours of the waterways that traverse the landscape. Blackwater has a full range of rental boats, as well as bikes, and they can deliver gear if booked in advance.
Just downstream of the US 50/Choptank river bridge, the short but deep Cambridge Creek bisects the city. Most of the old town, with its old buildings, newer restaurants, Long Wharf and the municipal marina and yacht club, is located on the west side of the creek. Leafy residential streets are lined with beautiful old houses, while the main part of downtown is a few blocks inland. If you walk up High Street (which starts at Long Wharf) and then turn left onto Poplar Street, you’ll find yourself right in the center of things. Continuing, Sailwinds Park and Visitor Center, Ruark Boatworks (part of the Richardson Maritime Museum), and other businesses are a short walk east of the cove.
Like many cities in the Chesapeake, water dominated the economy for centuries, and Cambridge, with its deep-water inlet, served as the main port for the surrounding region. It was here, at Long Wharf, that tobacco, tomatoes and, yes, slaves atrociously, came and went. Today, crabbers continue to pass through Long Wharf en route to Cambridge Creek for JM Clayton Seafood, whose crabmeat is sold nationwide. Enter the Choptank River Lighthouse to see artifacts of the bay lighthouse culture and enjoy a good view.
The free, downloadable Visit Dorchester Audio Tour Guide app is a great way to discover more of the city’s oddities, including the turbulent history of the Dorchester County Courthouse and the house where sniper Annie Oakley and her husband briefly lived. And you will discover Groove City, the name given to the Pine Street district where Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie and Duke Ellington came to play. The third tour tells fascinating stories about all the murals on the Chesapeake Mural Trail, including the viral mural that depicts Harriet Tubman with her arm outstretched, which is at the Harriet Tubman Museum & Education Center on Race Street.
Across Cambridge Creek, the Richardson Maritime Museum is closed for work, but you can still catch a glimpse of the restoration work they’re carrying out at Ruark Boatworks, a celebration of the long and colorful history of the east coast shipbuilding. You’ll see volunteer boat builders build and restore iconic Chesapeake watercraft, including the skipjack, pungy schooner, and log canoe.
RAR Brewing is a national success story that started here. They make great beer (try the Nanticoke Nectar IPA) and make great dogs and burgers at their annex restaurant Chessie Burger. Then, cross the street where retro speakeasy Blue Ruin specializes in the lost art of creative cocktails, with over 150 on the menu, paired with small plates. The Vintage 414 is both a wine bar (with beer and cocktails as well), a restaurant (flatbreads and cheese boards) and a delicatessen.
Portside Seafood Restaurant has been serving fresh seafood overlooking Cambridge Creek for 25 years. Cambridge is home to two popular restaurants you may know from St. Michaels: Ava’s Pizzeria & Wine Bar and Theo’s Steaks, Sides & Spirits. Ava’s offers fantastic brick oven pizzas, while Theo’s offers steaks and more. Harriet’s Homemade Ice Cream & Cakes is a sweet new addition to town. Maryland Blue is located right on the water in nearby Madison, and well worth the trip by boat or car.