For many of today’s tourists, the hardest thing about traveling is the actual traveling part.
Leaving work for a week or two is a challenge, given that many Americans can’t (or won’t) take that many days off. And when it comes to where people go, domestic travel is a top choice, since dealing with airplanes and airports have become a less-than-desirable option (especially in recent months.) One survey found that 45 percent of people would rather visit the dentist than deal with commercial air travel.
In light of people’s desire to stay closer to home and shorten the lengths of their trips, a new travel trend has emerged: the micro-cation, which involves booking a brief getaway to a (relatively) nearby destination.
“There’s more accommodation in places that you wouldn’t expect, and [places] closer to home,” said Jimmy Im, travel expert and founder of blog Travelbinger. “You can have this amazing vacation with great food in nice hotels or inns.” And you “don’t have to go on this far-flung trek to Bali or to Thailand” to do it, he added.
The key part of planning a great micro-cation is picking the right destination, said Im. And for those in the D.C. area, there’s no better place for a short trip than Worcester County, Md. Just a three-hour drive from D.C., the county has natural settings and activities that delight the senses, along with a thriving food scene, friendly locals and unmatched wildlife reserves.
Day 1: Come face-to-face with mystical wildlife
Any traveler’s first stop in Worcester County should be Assateague State Park and National Seashore. Located on Assateague Island, a 37-mile long barrier island that spans the coast of Maryland and Virginia, the park is home to wild ponies that have inhabited the area for over 300 years.
Where the ponies came from is up for debate. Certain folklore suggests that a Spanish ship carrying them sank offshore nearby. But records also show that early local residents kept livestock on islands to avoid fencing requirements and associated taxes on the mainland—and that the ponies survived there ever since.
Liz Davis, chief of interpretation and education at Assateague Island National Seashore, thinks they’re special because of how resilient they are. “They’re making it on their own,” she said. “They’re tough, they look good and they’re living a great life.”
Photography is a popular pastime at Assateague, whether visitors are capturing images of the ponies or the pristine beauty of the island. “[People are] out here taking pictures, just watching what [the ponies are] up to. When a foal is born, that’s usually hugely popular,” said Davis. In fact, four foal have been born this spring, and are bringing tremendous joy to visitors who get to catch a glimpse of them tagging along with their mother.
In addition to the ponies, Assateague has a variety of hiking trails that visitors can enjoy (while keeping a safe distance from other travelers). For shorter treks, try the Marsh and Forest trails; both are easily accessible by wheelchair and are great for families. Those interested in longer journeys can start and stop a hike wherever they want along the national seashore. And travelers can try their hand at surfing, kiteboarding, surf fishing and kayaking during a trip to the island.
Day 2: Focus on food
For 88 percent of travelers, local cuisine is a determining factor in where they choose to go. That makes Worcester—with its vast list of restaurants, cafés, wineries and breweries—an ideal place for journeyers to indulge, especially since most businesses have adapted to regional rules about social distancing, and outdoor seating and take-out are available until restaurants are able to fully re-open.
Start with a tour de food in Ocean City, where high-quality eats meet rich, local history. Kickstart your day with breakfast made from iconic Maryland staples, like lump crab and cheese omelets at The Bayside Skillet. For Lunch, stop by the Angler, the oldest restaurant in Ocean City. Sandy Gillis, owner of OC Foodie Tours, recommends sharing the grouper fingers and the tropical Goombay Smash, a downtown favorite. (Gillis is unsure when she will resume hosting food tours in Ocean City, but hopes to as soon as possible this summer.)
Gillis also recommends Longboard Café for fresh seafood and Mexican street corn; wash the meal down with a prickly pear margarita. For bites with a bay view, try Sneaky Pete’s, where diners can sit outside by the water and eat crabs.
After eating all that Ocean City has to offer, head over to the nearby town of Berlin to grab dinner at Blacksmith Bar and Restaurant, a farm-to-table eatery known for its burgers. Be sure to save room for homemade ice cream at Island Creamery around the corner. Bourbon caramel crunch is a treat, and there are several vegan flavors year-round.
And if the boozy ice cream doesn’t quite hit the spot, head to Windmill Creek Vineyard and Winery, which boasts a dry Riesling that visitors will want to stock up on, or to Costa Ventosa, a winery and brewery in nearby Whaleyville that has regular wine tastings and Friday happy hours.
Day 3: Explore the great outdoors
Today, 54 percent of travelers plan to include some sort of adventure activity in their next trip. “[People] want a relaxing vacation where they can take a breath of fresh air,” said Im.
Start an active day in Worcester with a morning bike ride on the Ocean City boardwalk—try Wobbly Wheel or Dandy Don’s Bike Rentals, which are still offering equipment while taking great measures to sanitize their products. Getting out for a ride early in the morning, according to Gillis, ensures that you can finish your trip before the day gets hot.
Travelers can also mountain bike, hike or camp at Pocomoke River State Park. Located between Snow Hill and Pocomoke City, the park has more than 1,000 acres of pristine land to explore—giving people plenty of space to spread out while enjoying the area. For visitors who want to spend time on the water, they can rent a canoe or kayak, or fish for the 50-plus species that live in the river, including largemouth bass and chain pickerel.
The sunset tour at Ayers Creek Adventures in Berlin is a special way to make a shorter trip feel particularly long. The temperatures are cooler in the evenings, and it’s a great time of day to be on the water, thanks to the unparalleled views and beautiful skies, according to Suzy Taylor, who owns the business along with her husband, Steven.
And for a more leisurely way to stay active in Worcester County, take an afternoon stroll around downtown Berlin. Make sure to take breaks by visiting Berlin’s many charming shops (like the Greyhound Indie Bookstore) and hidden gem cafés (like the On What Grounds coffee shop), which are open and following necessary safety guidelines. There, you can grab a bite, take a quick break or just say hello to the locals—who are always happy to see visitors drop by.
Travelers “just talk about how friendly it is,” said Taylor. “People that come to visit are going to find that small-town atmosphere—[it’s] very welcoming.”
Plan your trip by requesting a free visitors guide and a chance to win a vacation getaway at beachandbeyond.org.