Stand anywhere in Oxford and you’ll likely find yourself peering through a cluster of sailboat masts toward peaceful waters beyond. The heart of this quaint village with shipyards and marinas galore rests on a peninsula jutting into the Tred Avon River, due south of St. Michaels on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
“We have more boats than people!” says Judy Bixler, who for the past 30 years has co-captained (with husband, Tom) the historic Oxford-Bellevue Ferry (oxfordbellevueferry.com)—the lifeblood of this town at the end of the road. Established in 1683 (as was Oxford itself), the ferry is a favorite of both road trippers and cyclists making a loop through St. Michaels and Easton. Crossing the river from 9 a.m. to sunset every 15 to 20 minutes from April through October (and weekends in November), it offers one means of parting the local waters.
Oxford’s proximity to the Chesapeake Bay made it an official port of entry during the colonial era when it was a center for international shipping and the local tobacco trade. Another heyday came at the waning of the 19th century when trains, steamships, and the local oyster industry still boomed. However, over the years the pace of life in this village has slowed to what locals refer to as “Oxford time.” To trace the town’s ebb and flow through the last three centuries, drop by the Oxford Museum (oxfordmuseum.org), open from April 22 through the fall.
With a brand new public boat landing and several new businesses welcoming visitors this spring, this hamlet of watermen, families, and retirees is experiencing a quiet renaissance. Now is the perfect time to stroll Oxford’s brick sidewalks and admire its bright frame homes where rocking chairs and flags festoon the front porches. As Ben Sheets, a local resident and the co-owner of Capsize (capsizeoxmd.com), a new waterfront restaurant scheduled to open in late April, describes it, “Oxford is as close to a Norman Rockwell town as you can get.”
Old-Fashioned Festivities Not surprisingly, most of Oxford’s special events celebrate the surrounding waters and local history. Oxford Day on April 22 features an old-fashioned parade, live music, vendors and local cuisine. For something entirely different, head to town on June 24 for the cardboard boat races. Or watch the fascinating and historic log canoe races during the Oxford Regatta on August 12 and 13.
Want to own a piece of Oxford? Every spring, local artists paint sections of picket fences to celebrate the town’s idyllic qualities. Their work is displayed in town throughout the summer, then sold to the highest bidders at the annual Picket Fence Auction on October 7, with proceeds benefiting the artist’s charity of choice.
Call of the Water Those arriving in Oxford by water will find ample slips for tying up boats. Or rent your vessel of choice at Dockside Boat Rentals (docksideboatrentals.com), which offers inflatables, wave runners and powerboats as well as kayaks, paddle boards—and bicycles for landlubbers.
To spy the yacht of your dreams, visit the elegant Cutts & Case Shipyard (cuttsandcase.com), which harkens back to the days of classic wooden boats and superb craftsmanship. And on Friday evenings from May through September, cheer on sailboats competing in these inviting waters during the Oxford Amateur Racing Series.
Clues and Sundries Oxford’s zoning laws keep the commercial district small, but the shops that call the town home are gems. The figure of a fierce dragon guards the eclectic treasures at Americana Antiques (americanaantiques.net), which specializes in furniture, folk art, and vintage carousel animals; take a gander at the miniature portraits, vintage political buttons, and maritime landscapes. Across the way, the newly opened Yacht and Home (yachtandhomeoxford.com) showcases sunny accent pieces—pillows, rugs and local art—to personalize your home or boat. Here you can shop for resort apparel, designer doorknockers, gifts and nautical finds.
And don’t miss the comfy bookstore Mystery Loves Company (mysterylovescompany.com), located in a former bank. Complete with an open vault stocked with books, it’s owned by a former librarian who, upon hearing your predilections, matches you with a mystery. The store also specializes in local authors and Chesapeake-related reads.
Mouth-Watering Menus For a teeny town, Oxford offers an array of dining options to set a foodie’s heart aflutter. When master chef Mark Salter and his partner, Ian Fleming, (both formerly of the Inn at Perry Cabin) refurbished and reopened the Robert Morris Inn (robertmorrisinn.com) in 2010, they put Oxford on the map as a dining destination. Salter’s emphasis on seasonal and locally sourced ingredients keeps the menu fresh and varied, and the inn offers to dine both indoors and out. Mark your calendar for Salter’s delightful cooking demonstrations and themed dinners with music, comedy or wine pairings throughout the year.
With 30 slips available to those coming by boat, Capsize will capitalize on its waterfront setting by offering deck seating for 130—including on lounge chairs. Diners can relax under the awning sails and bring Fido along (hush puppies served daily.) Chef Doug Kirby —who also oversees Easton’s Washington Street Pub—will serve locally sourced fare, such as softshell crab tacos with wasabi and watermelon salsa. Also slated to open in late April, Doc’s Sunset Grill will welcome guests to watch the evening colors shimmer on the water as they dine. And Latitude 38 (latitude38.biz) features an outdoor patio and creative delights such as hazelnut-infused profiteroles.
Oxford’s Town Park, with its sandy beach, play equipment, and tables in the shade, provides a tranquil setting for picnics and watching the world float by. Pope’s Tavern at the Oxford Inn recently opened Pope’s Pantry (oxfordinn.net) for gourmet carryout. And On the Park, a cafe envisioned by Yacht and Home’s owners as the town gathering spot is scheduled to open Memorial Day serving trendy nitro teas and sustainably grown coffees, along with light lunches, tapas, and desserts.
With its award-winning gelato-style ice creams and sorbets, Scottish Highland Creamery (scottishhighlandcreamery.com) alone is worth the trip. Its 600 flavors include sugar-free and gluten-free options—and even Old Bay sorbet.
Landlubber Lodgings Ideal for nature buffs or couples seeking quiet romance, the Combsberry Inn (combsberryinn.com) boasts a secluded setting outside of town. Guests can stay in the stately manor house or have a charming cottage all to themselves. Hoping to ditch your car in favor of walking, paddling or biking? Then Sandaway Waterfront Lodging (sandaway.com) is ideal. With a sandy beach complete with Adirondack chairs facing the sunset, this tranquil spot is minutes from the town’s attractions and includes a continental breakfast delivered in a basket to your door.
The 1710 Robert Morris Inn (robertmorrisinn.com) supplies a more social and historic setting with mostly tech-free rooms and a complete Maryland breakfast. Within these walls, George Washington likely raised a glass with the wealthy financier, Robert Morris, and writer James Michener also outlined his novel Chesapeake here. If you want a nightcap, you’ll find a warm welcome in its brick and timber-beamed Salter’s Tavern. The circa-1880 Oxford Inn(oxfordinn.net) also offers seven cozy rooms above Pope’s Tavern and its own porch with rocking chairs.
Amy Brecount White launches her search for nautical views and delicacies from Arlington, Virginia.