Rock Hall is a fishing village carved out of a marsh. That marsh can be both beautiful and isolating as it’s on a peninsula jutting out of the eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay. The peninsula points west, making for some amazing sunsets, and at night, the lights of Baltimore shine across the Bay.
The town began in 1707 as a tobacco port at what was then called Rock Hall Crossroads. The crossroads (Main Street and Rock Hall Avenue) is the only place you’ll find a traffic light in the small town. That light is often the starting point for directions in town.
After tobacco used up the soil, the community became known for fishing and crabbing. Today, it’s a hub for docks and marinas that encapsulate the peninsula. Many marinas have inns and rooms for those who travel by land. And the marinas can be an attractive getaway, with swimming pools and small intimate restaurants.
Downtown Rock Hall is inland, well away from the shore, and goes a few blocks along North Main Street. Much of it consists of historic buildings, several of which are barely hanging together.
But in attempt at modernizing, the community has constructed a Rock Hall Village near the traffic light, consisting of small free-standing shops. You’ll also find the Rock Hall Visitor’s Center there.
What to do there? Aside from the festivals, it’s quiet. Visitors go Rock Hall for a relaxing weekend of strolling about and sunsets or an outdoors weekend of kayak, sailing, crabbing, fishing and/or hunting
A must-stop for many boaters is the historic ice cream shop in Durding’s Store (5742 North Main Street). The store has the original 60-year old marble and stainless soda fountain where teenage “soda jerks” still hand-scoop milk shakes behind the counter. The 100-year old store also contains original “penny candy” and drug counters, and sells cards and gifts.
Quaint shops are scattered throughout the community. The biggest cluster is along Main Street and by the traffic light. Those include antique, crafts, clothing and gifts. Some unique shops are stashed just off Main Street, down a nearly hidden walkway on the side of The Mainstay (the local music hall).
There are also shops tucked into the neighborhoods, and some that combine marine supplies and gifts can be found at marinas, or along the roads to the marinas. Many of those are along Rock Hall Avenue, the main road down the peninsula toward the beach.
There are not a lot of them, so don’t expect a day of shopping. But storeowners have an interesting selection of unique items and marine-themed gifts.
Longtime visitors say there used to be a more vibrant crafts and artisan shopping experience, but it was knocked-down during the recession. The Greater Rock Hall Business Association is working to bring it back.
Several of the shops close during winter, so check times.
Bayside Foods is the downtown grocery store, which also sells wine and beer. It offers free pick-up and delivery for boaters docked at a Rock Hall marina (open daily 7am-10pm).
There is a public swimming beach on Beach Road. It’s called Ferry Park, although no ferry goes from there anymore. It has a short boardwalk with benches, grills and a gazebo, and is known for great sunsets. To get to the beach, continue west to the end of the peninsula on Rock Hall Avenue. There are signs pointing to the beach.
Rock Hall is mainly known for boating. Kayak and small boat rentals are available. Charters are available for fishing and crabbing excursions. In the fall, the area turns to duck and geese hunting. Excursions are available for that too.
To draw in visitors during the summer and fall, the town holds a number of special events. That’s when Rock Hall comes alive. Independence Day fireworks and Waterman’s Day in July, Pirates and Wenches Fantasy Weekend in August and Fall Festival in October are the largest. The town closes Main Street and local artisans & merchants set up booths.
To make Rock Hall a weekend getaway outside of the events and festivals, you should be ready for a quiet, relaxing time away from home.
Food & Libations
Here’s a list of Rock Hall’s restaurants.
The biggest & best-known bar is Waterman’s (21055 Sharp Street), a crab shack that has turned into a huge outdoor bar and gathering place for boaters. It has bands or karaoke on most weekends. Waterman’s has its own docking area for boats (2-hour limit on docking). There’s air conditioned, slightly more formal dining inside and picnic tables for casual dining outside by the water.
There’s also the Harbor Shack (20895 Bayside Avenue), which really is a waterside shack with a large deck in a marina. It’s a big, roomy casual place with a sense of humor, and features traditional Chesapeake Bay bar food — seafood, burgers and sandwiches. The bar features bands on the weekends and there’s an outdoor tiki bar by the water. .
Bay Wolf, (21270 Rock Hall Avenue) is a smaller, intimate place. It provides an inexpensive lunch menu and a higher-priced, more formal dinner menu featuring gourmet seafood choices.
None are close to each other. All are highly recommended by many. They welcome, but don’t necessarily cater to, visitors; you should be ready to accept them in their localness. And don’t be in a hurry.
The Mainstay is a 120-seat concert hall downtown, known for jazz bands, but also hosts other music and plays. Seating in the 100-year old building can be a straight chair, wicker armchair or sofa. It’s run by a nonprofit group, and the website says there’s not a bad seat in the house; meaning for sight and sound, but the comfort of the seats can vary depending on how lucky you are. All seats are general admission.
Some performances are free (donation requested for local causes), but tickets vary depending on the act. The concession offers beer, wine, soft drinks and home-baked goods. Check their website for schedule information.
The town has three museums, each offering a unique experience.
Rock Hall Museum (Municipal Building, South Main Street) is off Main Street and focuses on community lifestyle and traditions. A special feature is its decoy carving section, showing the work of master carvers. The museum is located in the Municipal Building and is open weekends 11am – 3pm & by appointment.
Waterman’s Museum (20880 Rock Hall Avenue) explains the life of professional fishermen, who on the Chesapeake Bay are called “watermen.” The sign on the door says it’s open daily (except winter holidays) from 10am – 5pm. But you have to get the key from the business next door; the museum operates on an honor system.
Then, there’s Tolchester Beach Revisted, a museum about a late 1800’s amusement park that once dominated the region.
Tolchester started before Rock Hall, down the shore a bit. It eventually became an amusement park in 1877, the most popular beach resort on the Bay. You should go to the museum to learn the rest of the story. The museum is behind The Mainstay on Main Street in downtown Rock Hall. It’s open Saturday and Sunday, 11am – 3pm.
Rock Hall is much easier to get to by water than by land. When the village began, the only mode of transportation was boat. Now, it’s long, but scenic, drive across rivers and down the peninsula.
It’s pretty sleepy when there are no events, so street parking is easy to find and there are a number of parking lots.
During festivals, parking is well organized near the events a short walk away. But close-by parking will fill-up. The community provides shuttles to the venues, usually a $1 donation per person. There are specific shuttle stop locations, but they often will pick up people who flag them down if there’s room.
During Pirate’s weekend, shuttles fill-up fast and the wait can seem long, but nearly everyone is in a good mood so getting to know your fellow stand-bys is a good time until the shuttle comes around.
Many people get around by walking or riding bikes, but it can be a long walk. For example: it’s a little more than a mile from downtown to the beach, and about a half-mile from downtown to Waterman’s restaurant. For those not wanting that much exercise, bikes can be rented at some marinas.
The channel is narrow and boaters need to keep a sharp eye out for markers. Sailboats, especially, are known to plow into shallows and have to be towed out or wait for high tide. The Rock Hall harbor was dredged in 2013 to a minimum depth of seven feet below low water and now follows the Coast guard marked channel straight out of the harbor.