Road Trip

Give It the Old College Park Try

Sunday, September 23, 2007

WHERE: College Park.

WHY: Mall sprawl, we all scream for Terps and Eastern dorm decor.

HOW FAR: About two miles from start to finish.

At the University of Maryland, "back to school" means more than study-group cram sessions and carb-heavy cafeteria food. For incoming freshmen, it's about discovery; for returning students, it's about reuniting; and for alumni, it's about reliving the glory days.

College Park, home of the University of Maryland, has all of the college-town requisites: bagel shops, pizza joints, bars and a brain-relaxant comic book store. To be sure, the school has gone urban since its early years as Maryland Agricultural College (chartered in 1856), which sat on 420 acres of Charles Benedict Calvert's Riverdale plantation. The College Park location is now the flagship of the five U-Md. campuses, with more than 35,000 students tromping over 1,250 acres to get to class or frat bashes.

On campus, sculptures of Testudo, the diamondback terrapin mascot, mix with Georgian architecture -- "big brick buildings with big white columns," explains Visitor Center welcomer Nora Thomas. Other highlights include Fraternity Row, which was featured in the 1985 flick "St. Elmo's Fire," the campus library, the bookstore and Memorial Chapel, which honors those with U-Md. ties who died while serving in the U.S. military.

Off campus, Route 1 (Baltimore Avenue) is packed with new student housing, liquor stores and fast-food restaurants. To avoid the "freshman 15," swing into Berwyn Cafe. When the eatery opened in the 1970s, the hippie owners didn't even have a cash register, current owner Tal Brosh says. Instead, they passed around a hat to collect money for the tofu burgers. Today, the bohemian spirit still is free, but you'll have to pay for the falafel, vegetarian gyros (spiced tofu sliced off an upright spit, like traditional Greek gyros) and other healthful fare.

Nearby, College Perk Coffeehouse offers dorm-cramped students broken-in sofas, free WiFi and a daily happy hour with beer and wine. On weekends, those who have studied -- or partied -- a bit too hard refuel at Plato's Diner, which serves a collegiate diet of greasy burgers and fries.

-- Samantha Cleaver

© 2007 The Washington Post Company