Betterton is a beach resort town that used to be somebody. Now, it’s a village at the end of a long peninsula with little nearby but farms. The summer town hung on through the years when such places were out of vogue and is turning into a year-round retirement community with homes on top of the hill overlooking the bay. For visitors, there’s a good-sized swimming beach at the bottom of the hill.
100 Main Street, Betterton, MD 21610
Directions: MD-213 north to MD-297[Worton Road] turn left; continue to MD-298 [Lambs Meadow Road] turn right; continue to MD-292 [Still Pond Road] turn left; follow to Betterton.
Betterton was a big Chesapeake Bay summer beach resort at the end of the 1800s through the 1940s; a major stopping point for ships going up the Chesapeake Bay and through the Chesapeake-and-Delaware Canal, which connects to the Delaware Bay and on to Philadelphia and New Jersey. The town sits on top of cliffs overlooking the Chesapeake Bay. Back in the day there were several hotels, restaurants, dance halls, bowling alleys and amusement arcades. The town’s tourism withered when the Bay Bridge was built and steamships stopped running out of Baltimore. The big hotels are gone, only a few Victorians remain. But the beach is still there.
The Betterton Beach Waterfront Park is five acres of landscaped waterfront near the mouth of the Sassafras River, where fresh water currents lower the salinity of the upper Chesapeake Bay. That keeps Betterton Beach free of sea nettles, common in late June or July. It has a bathhouse with public restrooms. There are tree-covered benches and picnic tables near the beach and a picnic pavilion on a bluff overlooking the beach. The swimming beach is about 300 feet of the 700 feet of shoreline access.
The park has a large parking lot next to the beach. There is a fishing jetty with a surface walk and a public pier. Boating is allowed from a public landing and pier. Be aware there are no stores — no convenience store, general store, nothing — in town.
There are now two year-round restaurants in town. Barbara’s By The Bay is across the street from the beach park. It has a tasteful, friendly bar and a deck where you can enjoy your meal prepared by chef Barbara Esmonde while looking out over the scenic northern Chesapeake Bay. The other restaurant in town is Marzellas, a pizza place on the main road coming into town, but check to see if it’s open. The nearest general store is three miles away in Still Pond, Maryland. Chestertown is the largest nearby town, about 12 miles away.
Betterton has fewer than 400 year-round residents. But while Tolchester Beach, a similar turn-of-the-century beach resort, died out, Betterton survived. Town leaders, with the help of state funds, turned Betterton into a summer-home/retirement getaway village.
The main attraction is that mid-sized public swimming beach. The small Betterton Heritage Museum is just up the hill from the beach in a former Catholic church turned into the community hall. Outside the hall is a rehabbed fisherman’s shanty that you can walk through.