So, here you are in the sailing capital of America, one-time capital of the United States, current capital of Maryland and the home to more 18th century buildings per square foot than . . . well . . . practically the 18th century itself. How do you take it all in? Happily, there are about as many ways to do it as there are symmetrical features in Georgian architecture. We've put together some of the most popular to give you a leg up (so to speak) on visiting our favorite maritime mecca, but if all else fails, simply put foot to pavement and venture forth to see for yourself. You can't go wrong.
ONE IF BY LAND
For a good overview of the town and its many landmarks, take one of the town's several walking tours led by people in quaint costume (and we don't mean the ones in khakis, boat shoes and pastel polo shirts--those are your fellow boat-show attendees). We mean the ones dressed as 18th-century fishmongers and town criers and so forth. Watermark offers two-hour walking tours daily from the Annapolis Visitors Center on West Street at 10:30 and 1:30 daily. You can buy tickets there (cash only) or online at www.annapolistours.com. Capital City Colonials offers walking tours Thursdays through Sundays at 10:30 and 2:30 leaving from Hard Bean Coffee & Booksellers. You can purchase tickets at www.capitalcitycolnials.com. These tours take in many of the town's most historic sites, including the State House, Naval Academy and William Paca House and Gardens (all of which, incidentally, offer their own tours, as well) and make a good starting place for further exploration of the town. Or at least the incentive to move on to a tour of the town's historic inns and taverns.
Speaking of food and drink, if you want something out of the ordinary, you can try the yummy 3-hour Food and History Walking Tour offered through Historic Annapolis Foundation on Saturdays through this month. Tickets are $45 and include food from local restaurants. See www.annapolis.org for ticket information. Or you can choose an after-hours visit with the town's many and varied ghosts. Annapolis Ghost Tours leaves from the Maryland Inn at the top of Main Street eveningly. Tickets should be purchased in advance at www.ghostsofannapolis.com. On Fridays and Saturdays after dark, Watermark offers haunted tours of the town from the Museum Store at 11 Main Street. Advance tickets are recommended and available at www.annapolistours.com.
One of our favorite ways to see the city is with one of Historic Annapolis Foundation's several self-guided tours. For the price of $5, you'll get a map and the loan of a speaker device loaded with hours of information on dozens of historic buildings around town. You simply punch in the appropriate number (indicated on the map) and listen. If you want more details, simply press the continue button when prompted. This way, you can listen in front of the appropriate building, while sipping a cold beer at a nearby pub, or while seated under a nearby shade tree. You can take the tour in any order. You can take all day. We love it! You can also take special tours, such as the Civil War tour and the African-American History tour. Or several all at the same time. And you can combine it all with a tour of the Historic Annapolis Museum on Main Street, which is where the audio devices can be obtained.
But what if your own two feet are already too tuckered out from walking the docks at the boat show? Try one of a variety of sit-down tours, including one of the Discover Annapolis trolley tours. These generally leave several times a day from the Visitor Center on West Street and come in varying lengths. See www.discover-annapolis.com for times and places. Or you can slip serenely back a century or two with an elegant horse-and-carriage tour of the town (www.annapolis.org). Carriages too old-school for you? Then climb aboard a Segway instead and two-wheel it through the old town. SegZone offers one- or two-hour tours of Annapolis daily except Wednesdays. Just a warning: You might want to reserve these early because they tend to sell out. See www.segzonetours.com for details. Segs in the City (www.segsinthecity.com) has one-and-a-half-hour tours several times daily.
TWO IF BY SEA
Wait a minute. Walking is all very well and good, but we're all boaters here, aren't we? What about visiting Annapolis by water? Say no more . . . we're on it! There are nearly as many ways to tour the area by water as there are by land.
Let's start with one of our favorites, which combines the two and which we made up ourselves, so we're particularly proud of it. First, pick up a water taxi just outside the boat show, between the Marriott Hotel and Spa Creek bridge (next to Tent L), and ask to be dropped off at the Annapolis Maritime Museum on Back Creek. As you wind through the city of moored boats, you'll get a good view of Annapolis Harbor, Spa Creek, Horn Point and Back Creek. Stop to visit the museum, then pick up a brochure for the Eastport Walking Tour. Now you can either buy the audio CD that goes with it and borrow one of their CD players or use your smart phone or tablet to play the mp3 audio of the tour as you go. (Go to www.amaritime.org/ewt.index.htm, then just click on each of the 14 sites to hear the narration.) The walking tour will take you through Eastport's maritime past, from oystering to shipbuilding. When you finish, you can catch a water taxi back to the boat show or simply walk back across Spa Creek bridge.
In addition to making use of the town's great water taxi system, you can take the water taxi Miss Anne for a 40-minute tour of Spa Creek, from the residential area up the creek to the Naval Academy at its mouth. No reservations needed, but the captain accepts only cash.
During the boat show, the big-boat tours of the harbor and Severn River aboard the Harbor Queen will not be running since their slip is lost in the maze of temporary docks. But the 74-foot schooners Woodwind will be sailing from within the boat shows. Check www.schoonerwoodwind.com for times.
Finally, you might want to consider sending the junior scallawags in your party to sea on a pirate ship. The Pirate Adventures ship sets sail from the Spa Creek end of Third Street in Eastport.
There you have a quick overview of just some of the ways you can tour Annapolis while you are visiting the boat show. There will be special one-time tours as well, such as a two-hour Civil War Tour on Saturday, October 8, and the Pirates, Rum & Reggae Cruise on the Harbor Queen on October 1. Tickets are available online at www.watermarkjourney.com. Whatever you decide to see and however you decide to see it, we know you'll have a good time.