Annapolis, the capital of Maryland, is tiny, picturesque and diverse. Within its seven square miles are centuries of history and architecture, public art, culinary options, pampering, sophistication, down-home friendliness, patriotism, quirkiness, gardens, and accommodations ranging from quaint to cookie-cutter.
“This is the town,” say the locals, “that Williamsburg, Va., had to be rebuilt to resemble.”
Because of the abundance of historic buildings, they call it a museum without walls.
A map of Annapolis reminds me of a jigsaw puzzle. The United States Naval Academy, St. Johns College, the State House and Governor’s mansion, and the numerous marinas are puzzle pieces. The Spa, Back, and College creeks and Severn River connect the pieces as the waterways head out to the Chesapeake Bay.
The town is compact. The streets and sidewalks, some brick-paved, are narrow. Most of the buildings are only two or three stories tall. Flowers and plants adorn doorways and balconies. It’s also a town that, despite nearly six million visitors a year, has plenty of secrets and little pleasures.
All visitors should see the Naval Academy at least once. I aim for a little before noon so I can join the crowd watching the noon formation created by some of the 4,000 midshipmen gathering before they’re dismissed for lunch. It’s a guaranteed chest-swelling moment. Then, it’s off to the crypt of John Paul Jones, and, my favorite, the museum in Preble Hall with its collection of miniature boats.
With 130 or so weddings held at the chapel each year, I check the schedule or look for wedding guests exiting the chapel. If the timing is right, I stop and admire the precision of the ceremonial sword arch raised in salute to the newlyweds. Civilians can attend religious services held at the chapel for those of Catholic, Christian Science, Jewish, Orthodox, Muslim, Protestant, and LDS faiths.
The Academy’s 18-hole, par-71 golf course is usually restricted to retired or active Naval or Academy personnel, but my civilian golfing friends know the secret to enjoying this private course is to request a “playing lesson” from the pro. The request should be made a couple of weeks ahead . People with a Navy connection can simply book a tee time for access to the course. The scenic seventh hole, over a fountain water hazard, is the course’s signature hole.
Walk, bike or motor across the Naval Academy Bridge over the Severn River for two often-missed sights. The first stop is the World War II memorial, which was dedicated in 1998. An amphitheater surrounds a ring of four dozen 9-foot-tall gray granite pillars, representing the 48 states of the union at the time of the war. Two 14-foot granite globes show the locations of key battles. Twenty stainless steel panels describe the war and Maryland’s part in it.
There’s a spot on the river by the memorial known as the Ritchie overlook that offers a one-of-a-kind view of the Naval Academy and Annapolis.
Tucked under the bridge is Jonas Green Park, which usually is relatively quiet, although it can be busy on a summer day. You can fish the Severn River for rockfish (striped bass), catfish, yellow perch, hardhead, and, of course, crabs. Fishing is from the truncated piers formed when the old bridge was destroyed and when you fish there, you don’t need a license.