Spectacular views of the Chesapeake Bay are just one reason to visit the Havre de Grace Promenade. Any time of day along this waterfront boardwalk you will find mothers pushing little ones in strollers, children gleefully frolicking at the water’s edge, and anglers casting their lines from a fishing pier. These are just a few of the things you can expect to see and do along this beautiful waterfront promenade.
**Disclaimer: This was a hosted stay, however, all opinions are my own. I strive to provide my readers with my most authentic sentiments.
This one-mile boardwalk promenade built on the banks of the Susquehanna River and meandering through an oasis of tidal marsh is a little slice of heaven. Not only is the walkway a good place for a pleasant walk the marshlands provide a natural habitat for waterfowl and other flora and fauna.
In addition to nature and outdoor activities, this bustling waterfront features natural gardens, art, monuments, museums, and historic sites including the Concord Point Lighthouse and the Keeper’s residence.
About Havre de Grace, MD
Havre de Grace is a quaint historic town situated where the mouth of the Susquehanna River meets the majestic Upper Chesapeake Bay. Located in Harford County, it is easily accessible from I-95 and is under an hour’s drive from Baltimore and less than two hours from both Philadelphia and Washington DC. Its convenient location makes it perfect for a day trip or a weekend escape.
This bayside city was originally known by the name, Harmer’s Town until during the Revolutionary War when the visiting Marquis de Lafayette, a French General, commented it reminded him of the port city of Le Havre in France. When the city was incorporated in 1785 it was renamed.
The city’s name translates to “Harbor of Grace” and is pronounced Haver-dee-grace.
In 1789, George Washington overnighted in Havre de Grace on his way to New York for his first inauguration.
That same year, during the First Continental Congress, members considered potential locations for the new nation’s capital. Havre de Grace was proposed but lost to Washington, DC by just one vote.
Nevertheless, the city remained influential and played a significant role in the early history of this fledgling country. First during the War of 1812 and then as a stop on the Underground Railroad, as well as in more recent years as an industrial hub.
In 1987, the historic district of downtown Havre de Grace was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. This charming town is only about a mile and a half from end to end making it very walkable. You will find antique shops, art galleries, independently owned coffee shops, and of course a fantastic food scene.
Perhaps before heading to the Promenade, especially if you plan to visit in the morning hours, you stop by one of the local coffee houses. You will find two conveniently located on Washington St in the main shopping district. Try either Concord Point Coffee or Java By the Bay2. Both are small independently owned shops serving specialty brews.
If you are looking for a meal to go with that cup o’ Joe, try Vintage Cafe. They offer a full breakfast and lunch menu and claim to have the “best breakfast and coffee around.”
Things to see and do on the Havre de Grace Boardwalk
Situated on the south end of Havre de Grace at the end of Lafayette Street, the Promenade is part of an effort started in the 1980s to redevelop the waterfront. Today this end of town is fully developed and anchored by the Concord Point Lighthouse and the Havre de Grace Decoy Museum.
If you start at the north end and work your way south you can enjoy all the outdoor stops at a leisurely pace leaving the museums to the end. Finally, finish your time along the Havre de Grace Promenade with lunch or ice cream in Tydings Memorial Park.
Of course, this is only a suggested route. There is no one way to enjoy the waterfront. But here are the things you won’t want to miss along the way.
Visit the Havre De Grace Maritime Museum and Environmental Center
The Havre de Grace Maritime Museum is a small local museum dedicated to nautical history on the Chesapeake Bay. It includes historical exhibits pertaining to life in the region for the early settler as well as the Susquehannock Indians before them.
Other exhibits include the legacies of commercial fishing, shipbuilding, and racing on the Chesapeake. Visitors will find displays showcasing the importance of the Conowingo Dam, the Coast Guard, and recreation on the bay.
In early 2021, the museum unveiled the addition of a 600-square-foot exhibition centered around the Underground Railroad, titled, “Other Voices of Freedom.” This feature will remain a permanent exhibit of the museum. It stresses the role of the waterways and railways in the journey to freedom for slaves.
Located at the Maritime Museum is the Havre de Grace Environmental Center. The purpose of the center is to educate residents and visitors to the Lower Susquehanna River and Upper Chesapeake Bay about environmental issues affecting the region. The goal is to inspire through exhibits, educational experience, and support of scientific research. This is achieved with outdoor, onsite, and online experiences.
Discover the Havre de Grace Decoy Museum
As the earliest feature of the waterfront redevelopment, the Havre De Grace Decoy Museum remains an anchor for the surrounding waterfront revitalization.
Because of the city’s long history of waterfowling and the art of decoy carving, Havre de Grace has been called the “decoy capital of the world.” This museum is dedicated to that tradition.
This museum holds one of the finest collections of decoys anywhere. Visitors will find everything from crudely chopped utilitarian pieces made strictly for luring ducks to decorative Chesapeake Bay decoys that are truly works of art.
Attend a Festival
As you can imagine Concord Point Park, Tydings Park, and the Promenade make a wonderful venue for festivals and events. And since Havre de Grace has a thriving arts community, the city has put the area to good use by using it for music festivals, art fairs, and annual events such as the Waterfront Festival.
Visit the pollinator garden
You will find an area set aside by the Environmental Center for flora that attracts butterflies, bees, hummingbirds, and other pollinating fauna.
Identify flora and fauna along the waterfront
The Upper Chesapeake Bay is home to a wide array of waterfowl. Bald eagles, ospreys, herons, geese, and of course, ducks can all be seen from the boardwalk. Use the interpretive signage along the walkway to help with the identification of some of the lesser-known waterbirds. Markers will also inform you about the other animals that call the waterfront “home.”
Note the signage on some of the vegetation identifying the various plant and tree species indigenous to the area.
Learn about Havre de Grace and the Chesapeake Bay History
As you make your way along the bay’s edge, watch for the informational plaques detailing the maritime history of Havre de Grace and the role the Upper Chesapeake Bay played in history. This can be a primer for your visit to the Maritime Museum or if you don’t have time to visit the exhibits, you will still get a bit of a background about this historic city.
Climb the Concord Point Lighthouse and visit the Keeper’s House
This small lighthouse constructed in 1829 of locally mined granite, is the second oldest lighthouse in Maryland. The stone structure standing at only 26 feet tall is topped with a Fifth Order Fresnel Lens bringing it to a height of 36 feet overall. Climbing this restored lighthouse shouldn’t be a problem as there are only 27 steps to the top.
But despite its compact size, the Concord Point Lighthouse stood as a guiding light for mariners for 148 years before being decommissioned in 1975.
Historians and non-historians alike will enjoy learning about the colorful history of the Keepers House. It was, of course where the lighthouse keepers once resided. But in more recent years it operated as a restaurant, boarding house, and a bar.
Also, legend has it that Captain John O’Neill the light’s first keeper is buried on the premises. But like so many folk tales, this is simply an urban legend.
In 1995 President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore marked the 25th Anniversary of Earth Day at the Concord Point Lighthouse. Also in attendance that day was Senator Gaylor Nelson, Earth Day’s founder. Today there is a plaque marking the event.
Reel in a fish
Try some fishing from either the Alliance Street fishing pier on the north end of the boardwalk or at Tydings Memorial Park. License-free fishing is permitted in the park within the designated areas. However, fishing from the pier will require an MD Fishing License. Small- and largemouth bass, striped bass, and black sea bass are a few of the fish that can be caught from the shores.
Enjoy the amazing views
The boardwalk is the perfect spot to grab a seat on one of the many benches along the waterfront to take in unparalleled views of the Susquehanna Flats and bay breezes.
Ponder some public art
At the north end of the Promenade, you will find “Big Fish, School of Fish,” a large stainless-steel sculpture by Carroll County artist Tom Sterner. The 600-pound sculpture is made up of 557 small fish assembled to depict a huge rockfish. It was commissioned by the City of Havre de Grace and the community’s Public Art Committee in 2019.
Pay your Respects at the Gold Star Families Memorial
The monument recognizes the families of service members who gave their life defending the United States. Families are so often the forgotten sufferers. The memorial and its symbolism are a beautiful tribute to those who served and those left behind.
Watch the sailboat races
If you happen to be visiting on a Thursday, head out to the boardwalk to watch the sailboat races. The Havre De Grace Yacht Club hosts the weekly events on the upper Chesapeake. These sailing regattas take place from mid-April through early September. The races start at 5:30 PM. You can find the full schedule on the yacht club’s website.
Admire the Bayou House
Perched high above the wooden platform, overlooking the Susquehanna Flats you will see an old historic hotel. Built in 1917, the Bayou Hotel, constructed of Harford County fieldstone, features 18-inch walls and 14-inch wood beams. During Prohibition, it welcomed visitors from Washington DC, New York City and beyond. And, while today it is condominiums you can’t help but imagine what it may have been in its heyday.
Grab a meal or an ice cream at the Promenade Grille
At the south end of the boardwalk, near the city yacht basin, you will find the Promenade Grille. This is a grab-and-go kind of place with picnic table seating under a covered deck area. The menu includes burgers, fries, full platters, and even Hershey’s Ice Cream.
Picnic in Tydings Memorial Park
Bring a picnic lunch from home or grab something from a local restaurant and head up into the park for a picnic lunch. Find yourself a shade tree to sit under. The picturesque square features gardens, walking paths, and a playground for the kids.
Things to know before you go
- Bikes and skateboards are not permitted on the Promenade.
- Sorry, only service animals are allowed. If you are looking for dog-friendly places on the Upper Chesapeake Bay, Cecil County offers many places that welcome Fido.
- Public restrooms are located behind the Keeper House.
- There is NOT a city parking lot but there is ample street parking.
- Bed and Breakfasts are a hallmark of this town. I recommend the Vandiver Inn. It’s clean, quiet and the rooms are beautifully appointed.
If you are thinking you might like to get out on the water, Baysail Sailing School and Charter offer single-day introductory courses. You will learn the basics of sailing, including tacking, jibing, points of sail, parts of the boat, rigging, and more from a professional instructor. One-day courses cost $225 pp and require two participants. The school is located at the Tidewater Marina.