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Break on the Way to the Beach

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Summertime in the Mid-Atlantic for families often involves long drives to the beach. For travelers from Washington, D.C. and northern Virginia, the 150-mile mile trip can take an excruciating six hours thanks to the slow summer slog.

Pausing along the way for an overnight break may be the very best way to put a stop to the perpetual whine -- "Are we there yet?" -- that emanates from the back seat.

The perfect halfway spot en route to the beach is Easton, Maryland, a historic town known for its arts and culinary scene that spikes off of Route 50.

An easy, inexpensive stay for families is at The Tidewater Inn, a gracious hotel has been at the crossroads of downtown Easton since 1949. The arched brick portico out front and the elegant lobby with its Gone With the Wind-style staircase, fireplace and antiques, is tailor-made for weddings and romantic getaways, but the hotel is also welcoming to children.

Rooms vary in size and, because of the age of the hotel, some bathrooms are a tight squeeze. However, there are quality touches like fluffy duvets and marble-topped bath vanities in all of the rooms. Rooms are individually decorated with a mix of antiques and reproductions, and there are thoughtful little touches like silver trays to corral the coffee fixings and wooden baskets that nest eco-friendly bath products.

Room rates can run as little as $129 a night, depending on the date. Many families choose to upgrade to junior suites, which can add as little as $30 to the room rate.

Although the Tidewater Inn does not have a pool on premises it does give gusts free passes to the nearby YMCA, which also has tennis courts, basketball courts, a rock climbing wall and even a tween/teen handout room complete with fireplace.

What the Tidewater does have is location, location, location. Since it's situated right downtown, families can dump their cars and walk to all of the galleries, art studios, shops, restaurants, pocket parks and museums in this strollable small town.

Here are some of the most family-friendly spots in Easton:

Downtown Easton is blissfully free of chain stores. Indie boutiques make browsing fun.

Families should zero in on Moonvine, which sells an eclectic collection of whimsical ephemera, like fairies and rainbow glass. Nearby, Crackerjacks, an old school toy store, is packed with just about anything a kid could hope for from Rainbow Looms to Legos to books to Madame Alexander dolls to musical instruments to costumes.

Next door to the toyshop is the locally owned Clay Bakers, a paint-your-own pottery studio that's often populated with local kids. Parents won't mind lingering here thanks to the BYOB policy.

The Art Academy Museum, which runs classes for children as well as adults, taps its rich collection to display Motherwells to Rembrandts. It also partners with art museums from DC, New York, and around the world to bring unusual exhibits to the space.

Younger kids will like creating their own puppet show and building blocks at the children's wing of the Talbot County Free Library.

Stop in at Hill's Drug Store for a milkshake at the old fashioned soda fountain that's tucked behind a family-owned pharmacy.

On Saturdays, Easton's Farmer's Market is a hive of activity. Live music keeps the tempo. In addition to local fruit, vegetables and baked goods, there's handcrafted soap, toys and jewelry.

A short stroll along brick-paved sidewalks through a neighborhood of 19th century homes lands you at Idlewild Park, which has an innovative playground with a lighthouse lookout, hidden tunnels and interactive chimes. There's also a secret garden.

Located directly across the street from the hotel, is the Art Deco-era Avalon Theatre, where some of music's superstars like Rickie Lee Jones and Arlo Guthrie appear. Occasionally the theater hosts free kids' and outdoor concerts.

Cinema by Starlight, a free outdoor movie series, runs most Friday nights in the summer. http://theavalonfoundation.com/cinema.html Bring a beach chair and buy fresh popcorn for family-friendly films like Goonies and Grease.

End your evening on the front patio of Hunters Tavern, The Tidewater Inn's restaurant, a prime spot for people watching. As you sip a craft brew and the kids bliss out on a Shirley Temple beside the outdoor fireplace, try not gloat as you think about the thousands of families stuck in traffic on their way to the beach while you have already kicked off your vacation.