Step inside Concord Point Light, built in 1827.

Havre de Grace, Maryland

Fast facts

  • Located 33 miles northeast of Baltimore, where the Susquehanna River joins the Bay.
  • Founded in 1782, and is Maryland’s second oldest municipality after Annapolis
  • Named by Marquis de Lafayette, who was charmed by the natural harbor
  • Was nearly destroyed in the War of 1812

What Makes It Unique

This quiet little town up at the mouth of the Susquehanna River has a singular, colorful past. The town was named in the 17th century by visiting general Le Marquis de Lafayette, who was reminded of the French port Le Havre. In the 19th century, it became a nationally known center for duck hunting, and a sporting ground of the rich and famous, from presidents to robber barons. In the early 20th century, “the Graw” horserace track brought gamblers and mob bosses to see legendary racers like Seabiscuit, and thirsty visitors to enjoy Maryland’s relaxed stance on Prohibition. And in the 21st, it settled down to become what it is today: a charming, friendly and relaxed city full of graceful Victorian homes, curious antiques shops, interesting restaurants and one-of-a-kind museums.

One of the town’s colorful murals depicts “the Graw,” its famous horse-racing track.

Getting There

By boat

The channel into Havre de Grace is easy to follow but you will find it more than a little circuitous due to the broad, shallow expanse of the fish- and fowl-rich Susquehanna Flats. Boaters with shallow-draft boats who know the waters can find their way across, but the rest need to dutifully follow the channel markers around the shoreline. The Havre de Grace/Susquehanna River Channel leaves the main Chesapeake Channel just after green “5” and red “6”. You can begin cutting over any time after green “3”. There’s plenty of water here at the grand intersection of the Bay with the Elk and Northeast rivers and the Havre de Grace/Susquehanna River Channel. Just make sure you pick out the red-green intersection buoy “A” and treat it as a red, keeping it to starboard as you enter the channel. The next marker, green “1S”, is a mile and a half north-northwest. There is plenty of depth on both sides here, but the channel narrows after “1S” and the water around it shallows. The markers are spaced closer together, though, so it’s easy to follow.

From there, the channel skirts the Flats and shadows Spesutie Island, a restricted area of the U.S. Army Aberdeen Proving Ground. As you turn north toward Havre de Grace, you’ll pass through a half-dozen tiny spoil islands to port and the historic Fishing Battery Light to starboard. Three miles beyond these little islands, you’ll find yourself at the south end of Havre de Grace and the channel into the city yacht basin at Tydings Memorial Park, with other marinas further up the channel.

By car

Havre de Grace is approximately 40 miles north of Baltimore and 35 miles south of Wilmington, Del. From I-95, take exit 89 to MD SR 155/Level Road and follow it eastward; it ends in Havre de Grace.

The steel arch of circa-1940 Thomas J. Hatem Bridge overlooks the 1906 Susquehanna River Rail Bridge.

Marina Basics

A slip at Havre de Grace City Yacht Basin in Tydings Park on the south end of town will put you within reach of nearly all that Havre de Grace has to offer. The catch is the depth: generally about five feet on the approach and at the slips. The marina has slip-holder restrooms and showers, fuel, pump-outs, and 30- and 50-amp service.

Family-owned Tidewater Marina has been a go-to for nearly 60 years, and offers comprehensive services and a large mooring field in addition to slips. You’ll find fuel, restrooms, showers, full repair services and a good chandlery.

The Marinas at Marine Center has two full-service marinas. The oldest, Havre de Grace Marina on the north end of town, has plenty of depth, but sailboats will have to be able to negotiate the Amtrak railway bridge, which has a 52-foot closed clearance (though we have occasionally found as little as 49 feet). Those who can get under the bridge will find 45 floating dock slips; moorings that accommodate yachts up to 35′; a bath house and laundry; boatyard amenities including a fast-turnaround sail repairs at the Sail Loft, and easy access to restaurants. The larger Log Pond Marina is farther south, near Concord Point Lighthouse, and has floating docks and 68 slips that can accommodate boats up to 48′, as well as transients larger than 100′ at the main floating dock. If you’re headed upriver to Port Deposit, Tome’s Landing Marina is the sole facility there, offering both service and storage.

Tidewater Marina’s Regatta Room is available for private events
The Decoy Museum celebrates this unique art form, then and now.

Staying on Land

Even in a town full of glorious Victorian homes, the Vandiver Inn stands out with its chic interiors and beautiful porches and grounds, making it a top venue for weddings and events. The Spencer-Silver Mansion is an 1896 stone mansion that feels like stepping back in time, with antique-filled rooms and a stand-alone, two-story Carriage House.

Small-boat sailing is a time-honored tradition.

Exploring by Water

For trailer boaters, the Havre de Grace City Yacht Basin ramp gives you easy access to the spoil islands just to the south, including the Susquehanna National Wildlife Refuge at Battery Island. Just north of the Amtrak railroad bridge is the boat ramp at Jean S. Roberts Memorial Park, which sits at the mouth of the Susquehanna River.

You’ll find some nice paddling both north and south of town, and there are some very pleasant ways you can get out and enjoy the Susquehanna River. Early in the 20th century, a series of energy-producing dams—including the mighty Conowingo, 10 miles north of Havre de Grace—put a stop to any through-transportation, but now, if the river is quiet and the Conowingo is not dumping water, kayakers and jon-boaters with local knowledge can get within 400 yards of the dam. It is important to be sure of conditions before venturing out and to understand that snags and rocks can play havoc with boats and motors. The area in front of the dam draws photographers and birders from all over the world to watch eagles soar over the rocks and dam, picking off fish downstream. Kayakers and trailer boaters can put in at Susquehanna State Park and kayakers farther upstream at Shuresville Landing at Fisherman’s Park.

An alternative is for boaters whose mast-height does not exceed 50 feet to make the trip upriver out of Havre de Grace, past Garrett Island as far as Port Deposit. The geography here is unlike anything else on the Chesapeake, with steep bluffs rising high above the water.

Havre de Grace Marine Center offers kayak and SUP rentals (18 and older only). BaySail School of Sailing offers accredited instruction as well as two daysailers available for half- or full-day rental. Want someone else to do the work? Board the 45-food Trident M/V Summer Breeze for a two-hour cruise along the Susquehanna and North East rivers, including weekday happy hours.

Exploring by Land

Follow the bright blue French fleurs-de-lys painted on Havre de Grace’s sidewalks along the Lafayette Trail, a three-mile loop that encompasses many of the town’s historic buildings. You can pick up the brochure at the visitor center, or listen to a tour via the free Distrx app.

If you only visit one museum, make it the Decoy Museum. This museum represents a big part of the history of the Chesapeake Bay, and the decoys created by Bay carvers are astonishing. Then stroll the Promenade, a three-quarter mile walkway that wanders through the waterfront, to Friends-Concord Point Lighthouse, the second oldest in Maryland. The Havre de Grace Maritime Museum has exhibits on the Underground Railroad (Havre de Grace was a major stopping point) as well as watermen’s heritage, and edges a lovely boardwalk over the marsh. The Lock Tenders Museum lies at the north end of town, where the short-lived Susquehanna Canal once met the Chesapeake.

One of the best things about Havre de Grace is its shops. There are fun antiques shops like JoRetro Vintage Market, which specializes in mid-century everything, and two-story Bahoukas Antiques Mall and Beer MuZeum. Galleries include Arts by the Bay and The Artists’ Emporium, while Vincenti Decoys sells decoys old and new. Washington Street Books and Music has books and music, but also toys, old movie costumes and props. Even Havre de Grace’s food shops are one-of-a-kind, from Goll’s German bakery (established in 1934) to the famous Bomboy’s Ice Cream and Bomboy’s Candy Shop across the street.

Bar Crawling

If you like cozy Irish bars, you’ll love Coakley’s Pub, with its brick-walled interior and live music on weekends. The Vineyard Wine Bar offers a well-curated selection of wines for tastings or to purchase, as well as a menu of small plates. Hit historic State Theater for live events from bands to stand-up to theater, or head upriver to Port Deposit for a Key West party vibe and dock-and-dining at Lee’s Landing.

The view from Tidewater Grille
Seasonal small plates at Vineyard Wine Bar.

Dining

We love the view from Tidewater Grille’s four-seasons porch and expansive dining lawn, and the food is just as impressive, be it the fresh fish sandwich or scallops marsala. Tidewater has its own docks for a convenient stop, and all-day happy hour on Fridays. Visit Backfin Blues: Creole de Graw for its unique Chesapeake twist on French creole cooking, with dishes like blackened crabcakes, crab-and-crawfish dip and seafood-topped red beans & rice.

FARTHER AFIELD

If you are towing your boat and have a hankering to pitch a tent or rent a rustic cabin, consider a couple of nights at Susquehanna State Park, a 20-acre riverfront park just 15 miles northeast of town. From there you can launch your boat and easily drive into town for the day. You’ll have plenty of activities in the park itself and the kids can run, jump and whoop to their heart’s content. Just be sure to reserve in advance, especially if you are going on a summer weekend.