For years, we thought of Kent Island as little more than a stretch of traffic-clogged, shopping-centered Route 50, a place to fly over on our way to the beaches of Maryland and Delaware.
Boy, were we wrong.
On a recent spring day, we found plenty to do on this little chunk of land at the eastern base of the Bay Bridge. The trick was to get off the main drag, slow down, and enjoy the beautiful natural setting.
We rode our bikes on flat, perfectly paved paths that wound through woods and tidal marshes. We listened to the gentle shush of waves on a quiet white-sand beach. We sipped beers and ate oysters and rockfish on the sprawling deck of Hemingway’s Restaurant, as the sun sank into the Chesapeake Bay.
We almost hate to tell you about it, because then those bike paths and beaches and restaurants might get more crowded. But here we go.
We’ll start with an amazing fact about Kent Island: It’s the third oldest still-existing English settlement in America, becoming a colony in 1631, after Jamestown, Va., and Plymouth, Ma. Of course, the English weren’t the first to reside here. The Matapeake tribe, members of the Algonquian nation, lived on the island for more than 12,000 years.
In the years before the Industrial Revolution, the largest island in the Chesapeake Bay was defined by tobacco and corn farms. Now, it’s basically suburbia, with residents able to commute to Annapolis, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., thanks to construction of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge in 1952 and a second span in 1973.
Kent Island, bounded to the west by the Bay Bridge and to the east by the Kent Narrows Bridge, is about 31.6 square miles, with a population of fewer than 20,000 residents. Like much of Maryland, the island is a confusing mishmash of place names — part of Queen Anne’s County and home to the unincorporated communities of Stevensville and Chester.
Here’s how to spend a day on Kent Island:
Sit on the sunny dock while enjoying a cup of coffee and a muffin from Dessert First, the coffee and pastry shop next door to the Harris Crab House along the Kent Narrows waterfront (technically Grasonville).
Walk around historic Stevensville, a little stretch of cute local businesses, including the Amalfi Coast Restaurant and Wine Bar and the Tasty Toucan ice cream shop, featuring ice cream and pops made with Eastern Shore ingredients.
The historic buildings, including the post-and-plank Cray House constructed in 1809; the Christ Episcopal Church of Kent Island; which opened in 1880; and the Stevensville Train Depot built in 1902, open for tours the first Saturday of each month pre-pandemic, and will likely resume that practice soon.
Also be alert for the return of factory tours at the Paul Reed Smith factory, where the famous guitars are made. The factory is located in an office park not far from the historic stretch of Stevensville. From the outside, it’s hard to believe the bland beige building provides the instruments that artists like Carlos Santana, John Mayer and Kat Dyson use to make their magic.
Take a walk at Terrapin Nature Park. The county-run 276-acre nature preserve has trails that border tidal pools, wetland and meadows, ideal for wildlife-spotters. The park also has 4,000 feet of shoreline, and we were delighted to stumble on a quiet beach with a view of the Bay Bridge. Of note (and worth a round of applause): The park has year-round portable toilets.
Terrapin Beach Park is the western terminus for the Cross Island Trail, which takes bicyclists, runners, walkers, roller-skaters, dogs (leashed of course) and kids in strollers on a flat, paved 6.5- mile route past Kent Island High School and ball fields, through meadows and over bogs, ending up at the Chesapeake Heritage and Visitor Center at Kent Narrows. The path was completed in 2001, but seems brand new, with not a single pothole.
The Kent Island area boasts several well-known waterfront seafood restaurants where you can eat excellent crab cakes while watching the sun gradually turn the sky and water pink. These include the Narrows Restaurant, Kentmorr Restaurant and the Bridges Restaurant – either on the eastern edge of the island or along Kent Narrows. Other choices include the Fisherman’s Crab Deck and The Jetty Dock Bar.
We opted for Hemingway’s Restaurant on Kent Island and scored a table on the deck, where we watched the sun glisten on the water and listened to traffic crossing the Bay Bridge.
We’re not saying you should definitely order the Hemingway house lager and the grilled rockfish Reuben, we’re just saying they were pretty close to perfect – the sprightly and cold lager complementing a generously portioned grilled sandwich loaded with fish, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Russian dressing. Fried oysters were just as satisfying. Even the house-made potato chips were excellent – a little crunchier and more potato-y than what you find in a bag.
You know what to do. Drive over the Bay Bridge, and then stop.
[Editor’s note: This post has been updated to reflect corrections and clarifications noted by readers in comments.]
We that live on KI appreciate our unique spot in the bay, most people will continue to fly through on Rt. 50, which is fine with most residents.
Thanks for the nice article.
A minor, but important correction. Bridges and The Narrows and Dessert First are not on Kent Island. They sit on the eastern side of the Kent Narrows Waterfront, which is on the Delmarva Peninsula. All three businesses are in a Grasonville Zip Code. You can watch the sunset over the water and Kent Island from every restaurant in the Kent Narrows.
Thanks for alerting us; we will tweak the wording!
Thanks for Nothing. Go back to where you came from. You obviously have no idea what the locals have to deal with. Glad you enjoyed your day. You are just trying to make a buck for yourselves. We have no problem attracting people here. They visit our beaches, leave trash, etc. The scam is that you visited in very early spring. Come back to the beach there in the summer and see what you think. But like I said, you wrote the review with the hope of the $.
I think you misinterpret the pleasure of day trips. You are welcome in my neighborhood any time!
She is right. You have no idea what you’re doing to us locals by posting an article like this. “You are welcome in my neighborhood any day”…..okay we’ll see how you feel when you can’t get into YOUR neighborhood park because county workers have to limit occupancy due to the sudden influx of summer tourists. Or when YOUR childhood neighborhood is destroyed with tourist trash. Or YOUR childhood walkways are littered with so many tourist bikers you can’t walk there anymore. Or when all the farms on YOUR favorite drive home have been torn down to make room for more new residents. Or when theres a 2+ hour wait to get into YOUR family’s classic restaurants because tourists have taken over. Think about the people living here. Thanks.
So you want your town like Federlsburg? Dead abandoned buildings and no jobs. Careful what you wish for. I injoy the bike path. I live in Easton so I’m not exactly a tourist. It does get crowded. Maybe positive ideas to control traffic and people would be a better solution. Saying stay home go away is just sad. That isn’t the American way.
Dont move over here… the traffic sucks. stay on your side. We, the locals dont need any more complainers who donrt appreciate it. stay over there…
Well that’s not very neighborly, is it?
Geez listen these sour people. Boy am I glad I moved away from Kent island
God …. Why would you do this to us ?
It’ll be fine. Deep breath!
“Deep breath” Wow that’s as obnoxious as this article is
Alyssa: deep breaths are intended to be calming. Let’s take one together! 🙂
David, try to stay calm when it takes YOU four hours to get out of your neighborhood every weekend because tourist traffic on the bridge is locking you in. “TAKE A DEEP BREATH” I’m literally stuck in my house this weekend and can’t get to the grocery store. So glad you can deep breathe and enjoy the plenty of food in your home while we starve. DEEP BREATH
This is the first time I have heard of ‘Native Americans’ called “settlers’. This would indicate that they came from somewhere else just like the English. Interesting.
Well, sure — but everybody comes from somewhere. We can refine the wording!
Kent Island is not Ocean City and not equipped to handle the onslaught of people and deal with additional traffic (people that live here have a hard time getting to the grocery store on weekends). Our small non touristic town is fantastic and your article is great for pointing out great spots to stop, visit and eat. But, until another bridge is built, please keep driving to OV
Terrapin is the western side of the island. You mainlanders don’t know direction..
Some of us are a little directionally challenged but we appreciate the correction!
Thanks for highlighting only a few things. Let’s keep the other “gems” for the locals!
Enjoyed the article, but one small correction…Terrapin Park is the western terminus of the trail, not eastern.
Thanks for pointing that out! Will fix.
To learn more about Kent Island special history, visit the Kent Island Heritage Society website kentislandheritagesociety.org.
I live on Kent Island. It is a beautiful place. I enjoyed your article!
David! You missed a very important attraction on Kent Island that exists in downtown Stevensville! Did you actually walk through the town? If you did you would have seen the many art galleries that exist there. Kent Island is Homs to the largest art colony on the Eastern Shore!! It dwarfs any other areas in Maryland! The talent that exists there is extraordinary! When I lived on Kent Island I was the Art Rep for these amazing artists and we held shows all over Maryland and in neighboring Virginia. Our opening show was held at Saks in Tysons Corner where we held a fundraiser for the victims of the Indonesian tsunami . It was a huge event that had Indonesian dancers and hosted the Indonesian Ambassador and other dignitaries. The art colony is a group of amazing artists , many of whom are painters, sculptors , potters and wood carvers -all amazing talents. How. Ould you have missed this extraordinary community!! If you had visited the waterfront hotel in The Narrows you would have seen the large, beautiful paintings they bought from many of the local artists . You did not do your due diligence when researching Kent Island. I you had actually walked through historic Stevensville you would have seen the many art galleries in the historic part of the village. What a shame that you didn’t do your due diligence. If I had been living there when you were doing your research, you would not have missed this important , large , talented artist community of Kent Island.
Margo: We DID walk through, but I don’t doubt that we missed something significant. Thanks for pointing this out! Feel free to share and post links here!
David-can you please reach out to me on the email provided with this post. Thank You!
Another local attraction is our charmingly xenohobic residents! I live here, and I can state that our local roads getting choked by summer tourists truly stinks. But not everyone here is quite as cranky as these comments indicate. Sorry!
Dave: I am chuckling, and also glad that “Charmingly Xenophobic” doesn’t fit in a headline. I truly struggle with the mindset that seems to be — “I’m here and I love it, and because of that no one else should move here or even visit.” And that’s a general observation, not directed solely at lovely corners of Queen Anne’s County.
I am very glad most of you are truly enjoying your quality of life!!
Wow, the area is beautiful but from the few comments I just read from the “locals” it doesn’t sound like the area breeds nice people. I’m sure their the same ones that act like their “proud locals” and love their city…bringing outsiders to any town that appreciate the small town vibe im sure could be helpful especially with the hurt small businesses have experienced over the years..I do have a friend born and raised over there who is one of my favorite people so I know a few bad apples doesn’t spoil the batch but u complainers about some good press, my goodness! David so patient with them, I sure hope their were some locals that were happy with your article!
David and Brady, I am sorry to get so frustrated. It has gotten to a point where us locals have to sit in several hours of traffic every weekend just to do basic errands that are 3 miles from our home. I was born and raised here and now have to move away to make room for the tourists. It is extremely disappointing, traumatizing, when you move somewhere expecting it to not be as bad as OC, and it becomes that in just a matter of years. Your friend is probably from the eastern shore and not Kent island. The Eastern shore is large and can accommodate extra visitors. Kent island is just 15 miles long, 4 miles wide.
I agree with the locals. I was going to comment something to that effect and was really glad to see that others feel the same. I hate articles like this. They ruin places. People find hidden gems across the country and the reason they enjoy them is because they are undiscovered by the masses. Then some idiot with a blog has to visit and blab to the whole world. And then, to varying degrees and on different scales, it ruins it for the people who were already enjoying the area and/or living there. A good example is an article like “Top ten small beach towns”. Yeah thanks
… Still small but now crowded. Here’s another: “Top ten places to live”. This one is ruining Colorado. People like you really annoy me. Just visit, enjoy, and keep your mouth shut. No one asked you to promote anything. Find something else to write about.
It in no way excuses poor behavior by Kent Island residents, but it is truly infuriating that we cannot freely travel around the island on summer weekends because of the hundreds of beach bound cars that have clogged our local roads in a vain effort to reach the beach 2 minutes sooner.
That is perhaps a good idea for a follow up story.
Those who call anyone who lives here xenophobic don’t understand that the passers-through who leave U.S. 50 and clog our local roads, trying to gain a few minutes (the vast majority of whom are NOT stopping for dinner or to enjoy local sites), make it nearly impossible for those living here to get anywhere expeditiously from Friday through Sunday between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
What is needed are express lanes to/from the Bay Bridge, with access to local roads discouraged through clever traffic engineering.
We don’t hate visitors; we do strongly dislike those who treat our backyard as a way to skirt traffic or, worse, as a a garbage dump.
For goodness sake. Let me move to an island, on the Chesapeake bay, with great fishing, cute things to see, nice restaurants, beaches, history, etc and then let me complain because others want to come here. If you don’t want to deal with tourists, move to Kansas.
I grew up in NJ within view of the Statue of Liberty. I graduated from a small college(72) in Annapolis. For all but four years I have lived on the Shore and on the surrounding waters.
It is not the amenities that make a place special. It is where you didn’t go that reveals the terminal wound from which this island will never recover.
If possible, I would post an album…an indictment of those who have capitalized by providing the ways, means, and waivers that allow for the marauding of the island by outsiders.
Anyone whose sensibilities have not been assaulted by the Air(sound, smell, pollutants), Water(surface irredescence, trash, turbidity), View(hotels, boatels, building lots) is num(b)mer than the dock piling my old boat is tethered to!
Do I feel that my treasure has been stolen? No…but it has been debased, vandalized, and disrespected; it is after all reflected on the Firmament.
It is sacred.
Inevitably, the island, in fact the entire Bay will remain but its evolution will not be another chapter fitting for Mischner’s magnificent ‘Chesapeake’. Rather, I think it goes like…”doesn’t it always seem to go? You don’t know what ya got till it’s gone. Pave Paradise, put up a parkin’ lot. Ya take all the trees and ya put ’em in a tree museum..and charge everybody a dollar and a half just to see’um.
As a Kent island native it’s wonderful to see my hometown getting some love. Word to the wise, disregard those naysayers who push the ‘locals only’ nitwits, 9/10 they came from somewhere else themselves ???? may i suggest kentmoor next time you’re in town!
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