Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge (DOUG KAPUSTIN, Baltimore Sun / September 28, 2007)

Go here: Set against the picturesque backdrop of the Choptank River waterfront, Cambridge is a still-quiet vacation spot poised for discovery as restored 19th-century buildings become home to contemporary boutiques and art galleries, and streets are outfitted with new plantings and period lighting to accentuate the old-fashioned charm of the historic district. A walk downtown will reveal restaurants, antique shops, thrift shops, maritime museums, spas and more. For a more official walking tour, take one of historic High Street, guided by a docent in Colonial costume who will reveal the fascinating history of downtown Cambridge (West End Citizens' Association, 410-901-1000). Or take a cruise aboard a genuine Chesapeake Bay skipjack, the Nathan of Dorchester (410-228-7141). Also call to arrange a tour of M. Clayton Co., the world's oldest working crab house (108 Commerce St., 410-228-1661, jmclayton.com).

Stay here: Cambridge House Bed and Breakfast, 112 High St., 410-221-7700 or 800-551-2409; cambridgehousebandb.com. This former sea captain's manor in the historic district dates to 1847 and has six large guest rooms with private baths. Breakfast is served each day on the porch overlooking the lily pond. Cambridge House - within walking distance of shops, galleries and museums - offers eco-friendly lodging as a member of the Green Hotels Association, using toxic-free cleaners and energy-saving lighting, as well as participating in composting, recycling and buying organic foods from local produce markets. Room rates start at about $125 per night, but vary by season. Packages are available, from romantic weekends and cruises to afternoon teas and fresh-caught crab feasts.

Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay, 100 Heron Blvd. at U.S. 50., 410-901-1234; chesapeakerbay.hyatt.com. The seven-story hotel fronting the Choptank River is a luxury resort with restaurants, a full-service spa, a marina, tennis courts, an 18-hole championship golf course and indoor and outdoor swimming pools. The Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay recently underwent a $7 million renovation of its 400 guest rooms, updating to flat-screen televisions and new furniture. Public rooms, including the ballrooms and restaurant, also received a full makeover. Room rates vary from $230-$450 per night, however package specials can be found online.

Eat here: Bistro Poplar, 535 Poplar St., 410-228-4884; bistropoplar.com. Located in the historic Hopkins Building, the restaurant serves fine French cuisine in a relaxed bistro setting. It is open for lunch and dinner, offering a menu that changes seasonally and serving twists on traditional French dishes such as duck confit, crepes and even pommes frittes (french fries). Bistro Poplar also has a late-night menu and dessert menu. Dinner entrees start at about $18.

Snapper's Waterfront Cafe, 112 Commerce St., 410-228-0112; snapperswaterfrontcafe.com. For a casual dinner with a view of the water, Snapper's is a prime destination, with a back deck that looks more like a dock than a restaurant. Deck parties and live music can be found during the week along with drink specials and casual fare including burritos, burgers, pasta, ribs, sandwiches and wraps.

Don't miss this: There is always something going on at Sailwinds Park (200 Byrn St., 410-228-7245; sailwindscambridge.com), from bingo to dog shows and yard sales, to fundraiser walks and the Hoopers Island Gun Bash. The most popular event is Rescue Fire Company's annual seafood "feast-i-val," featuring live entertainment, crafts and antiques.

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, about 10 miles outside of town, is also well worth a visit. The 24,000-acre refuge, established in 1933, is home to a variety of migratory birds and is a prime wintering area for Canada geese. The visitor center has an informative 20-minute film, and there are hiking and walking trails, in addition to a wildlife drive where you can spot heron, osprey and other wildlife.

Get here: Cambridge is 85 miles from Baltimore, about a two-hour drive. From the Bay Bridge, follow U.S. 50 east toward Ocean City for 33 miles, turn right at Crusader Road and right again at Washington Street.

For more information: www.baydreaming.com, tourdorchester.com.