Often hailed as one of the prettiest small towns in the country, Havre de Grace is on the waterfront where the Susquehanna River flows into the Upper Chesapeake Bay.
The beauty of this place was not lost on Lafayette (1757-1834), who helped coin the town’s name, and in 1789 Havre de Grace was a vote away from becoming the first capital of the United States.
The downtown area is on a low hill that swoops down to a long line of marinas, and a scenic promenade leading to the second-oldest lighthouse in Maryland.
Havre de Grace is postcard-pretty, but also has a contingent of museums, and an animated downtown that will keep you under its spell for longer than you might expect.
1. Havre de Grace Promenade
For spellbinding views of the Chesapeake Bay and a riveting history lesson you can walk this stretch of boardwalk, arcing round from Tydings Park to Concord Point.
Havre de Grace Promenade is around ¾ of a mile in length, and is furnished with plenty of benches so you can idle for a while and make the most of the cooling breezes and dreamy scenery.
If you happen to make this walk in winter you stand a good chance of spotting bald eagles swooping overhead. Early birds meanwhile will be rewarded with a sunrise that will live long in the memory.
The boardwalk is almost like an outdoor museum, with interpretive signs charting the 1813 Raid on Havre de Grace in the War of 1812, and helping you identify waterfowl.
2. Concord Point Lighthouse
The Havre de Grace Promenade will bring you to the foot of the city’s emblematic landmark, an historic tower lighthouse at the very point where the Susquehanna River meets the bay.
Operating until 1975, the Concord Point Lighthouse dates to 1827, and is the northernmost lighthouse on the bay. Constructed from Port Deposit granite, this structure is 36 feet tall, and its beacon was originally illuminated with nine whale-oil lamps.
The Lighthouse Keeper’s House is a few steps away, and you can visit both buildings for self-guided tours on weekends from April to October. Concord Point is also significant as the site of one of the city’s batteries during the Raid on Havre de Grace in the War of 1812.
3. Downtown Havre de Grace
Havre de Grace’s historic city center is up the slope from the waterfront, and surprises you with occasional panoramas over the bay.
Mostly set along St John St, Washington St and their side streets, this is an easy neighborhood to enjoy on foot, and there’s an assortment of galleries, gift shops, antiques stores, quirky design boutiques and candy shops to catch your eye.
Every few steps you’ll find yourself in front of yet another inviting coffee shop, tea room, bakery, restaurant, wine bar or pub.
There’s something for all tastes, but, as you would hope, the scene is dominated by Chesapeake Bay seafood specialties like crab cake, soft shell crab or crab dip.
Downtown is framed by historic residential neighborhoods, and within a couple of blocks you’ll be on tree-lined streets admiring opulent 19th-century homes.
4. Susquehanna State Park
A rocky and densely forested stretch of the Susquehanna is waiting to be explored a short way upstream from Havre de Grace.
Susquehanna State Park encompasses more than 2,750 acres, with around 15 miles of trails, and some of the best terrain in the region for mountain biking. One especially scenic route is the Susquehanna Ridge Trail, with majestic vistas of the valley.
Preserved at the Rock Run Historic Area are a number of interesting sites, like the Rock Run Grist Mill (c. 1800), and a fragment of the Susquehanna and Tidewater Canal with accompanying toll house, and the Carter-Archer Mansion (1804), built for the mill’s owner.
The park’s river is a fishing hotspot, either from the banks or via the boat ramp, with perch, pike and bass often caught here.
5. Havre de Grace Decoy Museum
Something that has been elevated to high art on the Chesapeake Bay is the production of lifelike wooden waterfowl decoys.
Originally intended as lures, coaxing waterfowl to within shooting distance, the best decoys are now highly sophisticated collector’s items, fetching thousands of dollars.
This skill is celebrated at the Havre de Grace Decoy Museum, founded in 1986 to preserve a unique facet of local culture. On the first floor you’ll get to know how the Susquehanna Flats and its waterfowl bounty became a magnet for hunters in the 19th century.
The second floor is the Carvers’ Gallery, filled with exceptional carvings by masters of the art like Steve and Lem Ward, Charlie Bryan, Paul Gibson, Evans McKinney and Bob Litzenberg.
6. Lock House Museum
One intriguing piece of Havre de Grace’s 19th-century history is the Susquehanna and Tidewater Canal.
Constructed between Wrightsville, PA and Havre de Grace in the late 1830s, this 43-mile waterway provided an alternative shipping route to the difficult Susquehanna River.
For some 60 years, the canal brought coal, lumber, flint, slate and agricultural goods from Pennsylvania’s interior to the coast. Set in a preserved lock house from 1840, this museum tells the story of the canal, its industries, cargo and the intricate mechanics of its locks.
The two-story Greek Revival building is part of the museum’s appeal, serving as a residence for the lock tender, as well as an office for the canal’s toll collector.
7. Havre de Grace Maritime Museum
A necessary stop by Concord Point, the Havre de Grace Maritime Museum goes into depth on the region’s fascinating maritime heritage.
One permanent exhibit deals with the Underground Railroad in the Havre de Grace area, studying the role of the waterways and the people who worked on them in helping enslaved people escape via the free state of Pennsylvania.
Changing exhibits document many different aspects of the Chesapeake Bay, such as its famously productive fisheries, early 17th-century exploration, historic ice harvesting, the story of the Coast Guard, recreation, fluctuating waterfowl, shipbuilding, navigation and much more.
8. Havre de Grace Farmers’ Market
On Saturday mornings from May to mid-December, Havre de Grace hosts an acclaimed farmers’ market, for ultra-fresh fruit and vegetables, pasture-raised meats, cheeses, eggs, honey, baked treats, local wine, and a range of artisanal items like pottery or woodcarving.
The location is Hutchins Park, a scenic waterfront space directly southeast of the downtown area, and at any other time, you may stretch your legs here after a bite at one of the many eateries nearby.
This park also hosts Havre de Grace’s annual Independence Day concert, and is the perfect vantage point for the fireworks that follow.
9. Steppingstone Farm Museum
A separate entity, this private museum in Susquehanna State Park is on a preserved farm, frozen in time at the turn of the 20th century.
This tract of land, known as the Land of Promise, has a history reaching back to 1684. In an ensemble of buildings you can discover the different skills and technology that were intrinsic to rural life in Maryland more than a century ago.
Around the stone-built farmhouse there’s a wheelwright, blacksmith, woodshop, cannery, machine barn, carriage barn, corn crib, orchard and barnyard. The museum also has a stage and field for annual events like the Folk and Bluegrass Festival in August.
10. Ripken Stadium
The beloved Oriole shortstop and hall of famer, Cal Ripken, Jr., “The Iron Man” was born in Havre de Grace and grew up next door in Aberdeen.
In 2001 Ripken purchased the Utica Blue Sox, and relocated them to his hometown, building the magnificent, 6,000-seat Ripken Stadium for their opening season in 2002.
When we compiled this list, the Aberdeen IronBirds, were playing in MiLB’s South Atlantic League, and are the High-A affiliate of the Orioles.
One famous former player is the multiple all-star Manny Machado. An ideal family outing in summer, Ripken Stadium has between-innings entertainment, Friday night fireworks, and a design evoking Camden Yards, including a replica of the B&O Warehouse looming over right field.
11. Havre de Grace Marine Center
From Concord Park all the way up to the Thomas J. Hatem Memorial Bridge, the waterfront in Havre de Grace is an unbroken series of marinas, docks, piers and jetties.
Two of those marinas, in the north (Havre de Grace Marina) and center (Log Pond Marina), are managed by the Havre de Grace Marine Center, providing dock slips, moorings, a two-ton lift and a wide range of services, from washing to canvas repairs.
One service that will appeal to everyday visitors is kayak and SUP rentals, available from two to six hours, for the chance to see more of the Upper Chesapeake Bay at your own speed.
12. M/V Summer Breeze
To get out onto the Chesapeake Bay, discover its nature firsthand and find out more about its long history, you can always take a cruise.
The most convenient option is M/V Summer Breeze, which is actually a pair of Trident USCG COI passenger vessels, 45 feet and 35 feet long.
May through October the company organizes a set schedule of public sightseeing tours, with a friendly, knowledgeable crew.
There’s always something interesting to check out on the estuary, from large commercial vessels to beautiful waterfowl. There are three cruises to pick from: Happy Hour Cruise, Signature Cruise (usually on weekends), and the Relaxation Sunset Cruise.
13. Millard Tydings Memorial Park
At the west end of the promenade this quiet park is posted on the slope overlooking the Havre de Grace Basin Marina and Park Island to the south.
As well as the promenade, Tydings Park has a system of interconnecting paths, with benches, sweeping views and no lack of tree cover.
There’s an adorable gazebo on the east side, as well as a children’s playground to the west, and a public boat ramp next to the marina.
Tydings Park is also the setting for one of Havre de Grace’s favorite eateries, The Promenade Grille, for burgers, Maryland crab cake and a wide selection of seafood platters.
14. Mount Felix Vineyard & Winery
Growing in the hills behind Havre de Grace is one of the largest plantings of Chambourcin grapes in the state.
This is Mount Felix Vineyard & Winery, which has a breathtaking location, at an historic brick mansion from the 1830s, with views of the Chesapeake Bay and Susquehanna River.
At the tasting room you’ll be invited to step outside and marvel at those views with a glass in hand.
This is an ideal spot for growing wine grapes, with gentle ocean breezes, fertile and well-drained soils, and consistent sunshine bathing the southeastern slopes.
The winery produces a selection of dry blends, most made with Chambourcin, along with a lineup of sweet fruit wines.
15. Bulle Rock Golf Course
Also posted on the high ground, just inland from Havre de Grace is the best public golf course in Maryland.
Designed by noted course architect Pete Dye, Bulle Rock Golf Course has won multiple awards since opening in 1998, and hosted the LPGA Championship from 2005 to 2009.
The combination of spectacular tee locations and first-class course conditions will make you feel like you’re playing a major.
The course is known for its length, with a front nine on open ground, exposed to the wind, and a back nine through tight corridors of pines.
Bulle Rock Golf Course is on land once occupied by the Blenheim Golf Course and is named for the first thoroughbred racehorse to be brought to America, in 1730.