Situated on the Delmarva Peninsula, Salisbury, Maryland has been known by many names including “Capital of the Eastern Shore,” and “The Crossroads of Delmarva.” But the city’s tagline is “The Comfortable Side of Coastal,” which seems fitting for this wonderful small city that has more to offer than initially meets the eye.
Whether you’re a history buff in search of intriguing lore, an art lover eager to discover off-beat galleries, a shopper seeking unique items, or a foodie on a quest for the next best dish, Salisbury, the Eastern Shore’s largest city offers fantastic things to do for everyone.
**Disclaimer: This was a hosted stay, however, all opinions are my own. I strive to provide my readers with my most authentic sentiments.
If you seek outdoor adventures, then step beyond downtown and explore pristine parks, bike along scenic roadways, or even take a kayak adventure on the nearby waterways. Nature’s beauty abounds, offering a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
But no matter what thrills you when traveling, you will find plenty of interesting things to do in Salisbury Maryland that will have you coming back time and again.
Explore Lovely Downtown Salisbury, MD
Discover this charming historic city that seamlessly blends the past with the present. While here, explore Salisbury’s charming downtown area with its historic architecture, boutique shops, waterfront parks, art galleries, restaurants, and of course Salisbury University’s beautiful 200-acre campus in the heart of the city.
As you walk along downtown streets you’ll discover a multitude of unique boutiques and one-off shops. Browse the shops to find handmade crafts, antiques, and souvenirs that capture the essence of Salisbury. If you can’t find that unique gift in one of the boutique shops then perhaps the perfect piece awaits in one of Salisbury’s many galleries.
Immerse Yourself in Salisbury’s Blossoming Art Scene
Step into the Salisbury Arts and Entertainment District spanning the area between the river and Church Street and is flanked by Route 13 to the east and Mill Street on the west end of town. Within The District, you will find a collection of small businesses including galleries, artist’s studios, entertainment venues, cultural experiences, dining, coffee shops, and more.
The Salisbury Arts and Entertainment District heads up projects such as the Downtown Steel Sculpture Project, the Heron Mural, and adding beauty and interest to utility boxes in Downtown Salisbury. View the work of this 501c-3 while taking a self-guided Public Art Walking Tour.
During your visit to the district, stop in at the Salisbury Art Space, a unique community art center where you will find eclectic artwork that reflects the creative spirit of the community. There is always something going on at the gallery.
Attend a Community Event
The City of Salisbury hosts numerous community events, festivals, and cultural celebrations throughout the year.
Come out on a Friday and enjoy free live bands in a variety of genres during Friday Night Live (June to August only) at the Pohanka Riverwalk Amphitheater. This event is held Fridays from 5:30-8:30 p.m. It is a BYOC (Bring Your Own Chair) event with food trucks on-site and alcohol is available to attendees 21+ as a fundraiser for the Salisbury Jaycees.
Join in the festivities during 3rd Friday in downtown Salisbury where vendors selling arts and crafts set up along the Plaza. This free monthly community event highlights local artists, crafters, and non-profit organizations. You can enjoy live music and kids can participate in fun activities just for them. The festivities move indoors to The Powell Building on Main Street during the colder months.
Attend a Live Event at Salisbury University
A visit downtown wouldn’t be complete without exploring the campus of Salisbury University. Besides being an institute of higher learning, it also offers cultural events, lectures, and performances that are open to the public and offer opportunities for intellectual engagement.
From Shakespeare and the symphony to interpretive dance and contemporary jazz, Salisbury University brings together students, faculty, staff, community members, and accomplished professionals to provide a range of outstanding performances.
Explore the Salisbury University Art Galleries
Art lovers should consider visiting the Salisbury University Art Galleries, which often host exhibitions and events showcasing a variety of artistic styles and mediums. It’s a chance to experience the creative talents of both students and visiting artists.
But not all the art on campus is in the galleries. Did you know that throughout the campus, you will also find an impressive collection of figurative sculptural works in the Beaux Arts style? As you stroll around the campus you will find notable works by Auguste Rodin, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Antoine-Louis Barye, Jo Davidson, George Grey Barnard, and more.
Visit the Salisbury University Arboretum
Additionally, Salisbury University possesses some of the most horticulturally diverse grounds in the region. This picturesque 200-acre campus was declared, in its entirety, an arboretum by the American Public Gardens Association in 1988.
The award-winning horticultural collection contains over 3000 trees and an extensive catalog of individual woody and herbaceous plant species throughout the campus and showcased in garden spaces, themed gardens, and landscape settings.
Notable areas of interest on campus include the Pergola (near the University Commons), the Holloway Hall Courtyard Garden, the Bellavance Honors Center Japanese Garden, the Miller Alumni Garden and the Link of Nations, an outdoor walkway connecting Guerrieri Student Union (GSU) and The Commons.
The Salisbury University Arboretum features collections of maples, redbuds, crape myrtles, cypresses, magnolias, deciduous azaleas, witch hazels, rhododendrons, vines, hellebores, as well as Maryland State Champion trees, and both native and pollinator plants. The collection continues to expand with indigenous and exotic plant species added yearly.
Stroll Salisbury City Park
On any given day you can find joggers out for their morning run, mothers pushing a stroller, and families enjoying the amenities at Salisbury City Park. Within this historical park and delightful urban sanctuary dating back to the 1930s, you’ll find an octagonal bandstand and an arched footbridge over Beaverdam Creek, which are both designated as historic properties.
But this park isn’t just about history and tranquility; this downtown park that hugs the Wicomico River is a hub of activity. It houses Ben’s Red Swings, a lively community playground, the Salisbury Dog Park, and Salisbury Skate Park. In winter, the hills become a popular sledding spot for children.
Chill out at Schumaker Pond Park
At the east end of City Park, you will find Schumaker Pond Park, an 11-acre wooded haven tucked beside Schumaker Pond. This pocket park is a perfect blend of spaciousness and intimacy. It features a large pavilion with an adjacent grill for gatherings, a playground, shaded picnic tables, a pondside beach, and an 18-hole disc golf course known as “the Schu” for players of all levels.
Meet the Animals at Salisbury Zoological Park
Within Salisbury City Park is the Salisbury Zoological Park which features a variety of over 100 animals, including North American river otters, Andean bears, and colorful birds. Conservation and education are the focus of the zoo. Additionally, the zoo has several pollinator gardens including, an herb garden, Education beds, a bee garden, and a bird garden. Entry is free, making it a budget-friendly attraction.
Visit the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art
Those interested in art and nature should visit the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art (909 S. Schumaker Dr.) Holding the world’s most extensive collection of decoys, the museum showcases exquisite wildfowl art from Native American carvings to contemporary works. The Ward Museum educates visitors about the rich tradition of decoy carving on the Eastern Shore. (Closed until Spring 2024)
Attend the Maryland Folk Festival
Salisbury hosts several festivals and events throughout the year including the Maryland Folk Festival billed as “a diverse celebration of arts, culture, and heritage.“ This free multi-day event celebrates American culture through music, dance, cultural performances, storytelling, artisans, parades, children’s activities, and more.
Cheer on the Delmarva Shorebirds
On a warm summer night, what could be more small-town American than a Minor League Baseball game? Head to Arthur W. Perdue Stadium to cheer on the Delmarva Shorebirds, a Single-A affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles. The stadium is the second-largest venue in Salisbury, seating 5,200 fans, and features the Eastern Shore Baseball Hall of Fame.
Stroll Along the Riverwalk
Salisbury’s Riverwalk Park is a scenic 1.5-mile concrete path that follows the Wicomico River from Route 13 to the Marina. The Riverwalk and the Pohanka Riverwalk Amphitheater are the backdrop for local events such as the Downtown Salisbury Festival. The north side of the Riverwalk features the Riverwalk Games and includes fire pits, bocce ball, cornhole, and tables for chess/checkers. Enjoy license-free fishing between Mill Street and Division Street.
Enjoy a Local Craft Beer
Salisbury leads the burgeoning local craft beer scene on the Eastern Shore. Sample brews from Evolution Craft Brewing Co. and EVO Public House, as well as Burnish Beer Co. which was Voted Best Happy Hour and Best New Restaurant in Wicomico for 2022 by Coastal Style. Or attend the annual Good Beer Festival or the Hops on the River Beer Tasting Tour. Both allow you to sample and savor some of Delmarva’s best hoppy beverages.
Indulge in Salisbury’s Culinary Scene
Try a delightful and delicious meal at Mogan’s Oyster House. Don’t let the name fool you. Mogan’s is much more than a raw bar. The menu includes inspired dishes from both land and sea. As a fine dining establishment, Executive Chef Allison Porter elevates traditionally informal foods to new levels with offerings such as Newburg Mac N Cheese (Delicious!!) and the Rich Boy, Mogan’s take on the traditional Po-boy.
If it’s casual comfort food you crave, then you might want to head to The Irish Penny Pub and Grill. In the tradition of an Irish Gastropub, this bar and eatery, just off the Salisbury University campus, serves your favorites from across the pond including Bangers and Mash, Corned Beef and Cabbage, Shepherd’s Pie, and potato pancakes. And don’t forget to ask about weekly specials. Or try their Sunday Brunch served from 10 am to 2 pm.
Visit Poplar Hill Mansion
Poplar Hill Mansion, a historic house museum and a living chronicle of Salisbury’s past, invites all who enter to journey through time and uncover the stories of those who once called this manor house, “home.”
The earliest inspiration for what is today the Newtown Historic District began with a vision for 357 acres of land near Salisbury purchased by Major Levin Handy in 1795. Levin’s dream was to build a stately Federal-style mansion on the property. But his ambitions were quickly dashed when he succumbed to medical issues and financial concerns forcing the sale of the property and unfinished home.
But it wasn’t long before the property was purchased by Dr. John Huston, Salisbury’s first surgeon. Huston’s use of the home as his medical practice made it Salisbury’s first hospital. During the Civil War, Poplar Hill Mansion played a role in the war effort. It was used as a hospital by both Union and Confederate forces at different times during the conflict. The mansion’s history during this period adds to its historical importance.
After Dr. Huston’s death, ownership of Poplar Hill Mansion transferred to his wife, Sarah who subdivided part of the property in the mid-1800s. Those parcels led to the development of Poplar Hill Avenue and Isabella Street. The area continued to grow modestly throughout the Civil War, becoming “Newtown,” Salisbury’s first suburb.
Stroll Through History at the Newtown Historic District
The cornerstone of the district is, of course, Poplar Hill Mansion. But that is just the beginning. A stroll or drive through the Newtown Historic District reveals many more historic homes including some on the National Register of Historic Places.
That tract of land that Handy purchased to build his dream estate and Dr. Huston’s wife, Sarah subdivided is today the Newtown Historic District. The district contains many structures built during the mid-to late-1800s. As you stroll through this neighborhood of historic homes you will find residences built in the Italianate, Greek Revival, Queen Anne, and Colonial Revival styles.
Some noteworthy addresses include 401 N. Division St. and 200 E. William St. The former is the 1887 Queen Anne-style Gillis-Grier House. The latter is the Perry-Cooper House built in the Second Empire style and recognizable by its mansard roof. Both homes are on the National Register of Historic Places.
Tour Pemberton Hall
The cornerstone of Pemberton Park is, of course, Pemberton Hall and the 2 acres that surround it. The brick residence built in 1741 by Isaac Handy, a plantation owner and one of Salisbury’s founders, features a distinctive gambrel roof that is an unmistakable example of 18th-century Eastern Shore architecture. Notably, the Hall is the only original 18th-century house open to the public on the lower Eastern Shore.
During the mid-seventeenth century, the Maryland colony extended its reach along the Chesapeake Bay’s shores and inland waterways. Explorers and settlers found Maryland’s Lower Eastern Shore to be a land of great promise. Its flat terrain and sandy soil made it ideal for cultivating tobacco, grains, and other crops.
Teeming with plentiful streams, the region was also perfect for powering the mills necessary for processing the harvested crops. Additionally, the areas sheltered inlets and coves provided safe harbors for boats to dock, facilitating the export of plantation goods to both the British market and other international and domestic ones as well.
Seeing the promise of this relatively undeveloped landscape, Handy purchased 960 acres from Joseph Pemberton in 1726 to develop his plantation. Its wharf and roads became a regional hub for commerce and led Handy to become one of the wealthiest men in the area.
Today, Pemberton Hall and the two acres that surround it are owned and maintained by the Pemberton Hall Foundation, Inc. a 501c-3. The Hall has been fully restored to its eighteenth-century appearance including the 1786 kitchen which has been reconstructed on its original foundation.
Paint colors are true to the period and have been replicated through spectral and chemical analysis. The home’s furnishings reflect life in pre-Revolutionary times and are based on probate inventories taken on the plantation.
Within the split-rail fence that surrounds the property, there is an orchard that features tree species dating back to the late 18th century. Visitors will find plaques adjacent to the orchard that identify the varietals. Additional restored structures from that time including a standalone Milk House, wooden-lined well, and well sweep are available to view.
Miraculously, the original wharf known as “Mulberry’s Landing Wharf” remains to this day, though hidden beneath the silted mud of the Wicomico River. It is the oldest known wharf of its kind in the United States.
The restoration of Pemberton Hall is ongoing. Through continued research, the Foundation strives to reproduce and understand all the remaining structures, including the 16-ft. log slaves’ quarter.
Pemberton Hall is open to view from 1 pm to 3 pm on the 1st and 3rd Sunday of the month from May to October. Also, tours are available by appointment and can be arranged by calling 443-235-9616.
But you don’t need to come for a tour. Interpretive signage can be found around the residence and throughout the park which provides quite a bit of information and gives you a good overview of the site’s history.
Hike Through History on the Trails at Pemberton Historical Park
History buffs and outdoor enthusiasts alike are sure to enjoy Pemberton Historical Park. The natural park on the Wicomico River encompasses the 262 acres surrounding historic Pemberton Hall which were once part of the original southern plantation. Visitors can enjoy nearly 5 miles of nature trails that wind through a unique ecosystem of tidal and freshwater wetlands, freshwater ponds, upland pines, hardwood forests, and meadows.
A stroll on the History Trail takes you along the waterfront and passes the location of the original wharf. The Woodland trail leads you through a majestic forest of upland pines. The longest trail, at 1.2 miles, the Bell Island Trail leads to overlooks along the river and marsh offering a serene spot to reflect while taking in the sounds and sites of your surroundings.
The trails are generally well marked, and easy. It should take no more than 1-½ to 2 hours to complete them all. Of course, there’s no hurry. Take time to read the interpretive signage and get a sense of what life must have been like here in the 18th century.
In addition to its hiking trails, Pemberton Park has a Nature Center, picnic area, a small outdoor amphitheater, public restrooms, and plenty of free parking. Dogs are welcome but bicycling is not permitted. The park is open daily from sunrise to sunset.
Ride in the Sea Gull Century Bike Ride
October is the prime cycling season in Salisbury. Leveraging the region’s flat terrain, rural roadways, and cooler weather, the Sea Gull Century is a nationally acclaimed bicycling event that offers cyclists two captivating route options traversing the scenic Eastern Shore. Participants can choose between the challenging 100-mile Assateague Century or the shorter yet equally picturesque 63-mile Princess Anne/Pocomoke Metric route. The race begins and ends on the Salisbury University campus.
Take a Walking Tour of Historic Whitehaven
A town of under 170 people (a population explosion considering it was just 43 in 2010), Whitehaven is the perfect place to unplug. This tiny town listed on the National Register of Historic Places and a designated Maryland historic district, dates back to the 1600s. It has only 25 homes, a church, and an old one-room schoolhouse.
Take a stroll around Whitehaven to view the Victorian-era homes, many with wonderful perennial gardens. They are sure to delight. If you wish to learn more about Whitehaven’s rich history, you can arrange a walking tour through the Whitehaven Heritage Association.
Ride the Oldest Continuously Operating Ferry in the US
The village is also the location of the Whitehaven Ferry, the oldest continuously operating ferry in the country. Locally known as the Lower Ferry, this free car ferry dating to 1692, traverses the Wicomico River between Whitehaven and Mt. Vernon in Somerset County (This ferry is currently out of service for repairs and updates. Use the Upper Ferry at 5420 N Upper Ferry Rd, in Salisbury). Take the ferry to Somerset County to explore antique shops, and enjoy wonderful wineries and breweries.
Kayak on the Wicomico River
Change your perspective and drop a kayak in the water to explore secluded coves and smaller tidal tributaries. This area surrounded by water offers tons of opportunities for kayaking. Bring kayaks to make the most of the natural beauty of Wicomico County.
Visit the New Pirate’s Wharf Park
A 340-acre park, slated to open in 2024, Pirate’s Wharf offers walking trails, picnic spots, and water access. The park located 5.5 miles from Whitehaven will also feature a fishing pier, a wildlife observation deck, and a natural playground for the youngsters.
Take a Side Trip
Get Outdoors at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge
Outdoor enthusiasts should make a point of visiting the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. Often referred to as Blackwater NWR, this nature preserve covers approximately 28,000 acres and contains one-third of Maryland’s tidal wetlands, making it ecologically significant. It is known for its diverse wildlife, including birds, mammals, reptiles, and plant species making it a popular destination for nature photography.
Bring your binoculars because Blackwater NWR is renowned for its exceptional birdwatching opportunities, particularly for migratory species including eagles, ospreys, herons, and waterfowl. It is a critical stopover point along the Atlantic Flyway, making it a prime spot for bird watching.
Wildlife fanciers can drive, walk, or bike along Wildlife Drive, a 4-mile paved road along the Blackwater River offering views of the refuge. Those seeking a more immersive experience will find miles of nature trails, waterways for kayaking as well as 20 and 25-mile bicycling routes.
Ocean City and Assateague
Salisbury and Whitehaven are perfect places to make your home base while visiting this part of Maryland’s Eastern Shore. From here you can make easy day trips to scenic Assateague Island and family-friendly Ocean City.
While both are wonderful destinations, close to one another, they offer very different experiences. Ocean City is a popular East Coast summer vacation destination with beaches, a boardwalk with amusements, large hotels, restaurants, and nightclubs. Whereas, Assateague Island is all about nature, wild horses running on the beach, and wildlife in its natural habitat.
Plan to spend the day enjoying the beach and natural beauty of Assateague Island before moving on to Ocean City for an evening of Maryland Blue Crabs, walking the boardwalk, riding the carnival rides, and a round of miniature golf.
Where to Stay
Book a room at the Whitehaven Hotel, a lovely inn on the shores of the Wicomico River with no television and limited Wi-Fi service. Enjoy nicely appointed rooms and comfortable public areas.
Grab a cup of coffee made from beans roasted in small batches onsite then chill on the wrap-around porch or screened-in porch to watch the boats going up and down the river, ospreys nesting, and the neighborhood ducks that wander about.
Enjoy a walk in the gardens at the inn. Or pull up an Adirondack chair and let your cares slip away. Be sure to check out the gift shop offering that delicious hand-roasted coffee only available at the inn, as well as a range of trinkets, gourmet items, candles, gifts, and more.