Where: The forgotten retreat of Forest Glen.
Why: Funky art, fantasy architecture and exotic ice cream.
How far: About four miles or 15 minutes from start to finish, but plan for three to four hours of sightseeing.
For connoisseurs of quirk, few things beat savoring once-forgotten places before they're trampled by hipsters and transformed by developers. So quickly trek to the National Park Seminary in Forest Glen, which is slated for redevelopment starting this fall after decades of decay.
Initially developed in 1887 as a retreat from the city heat, the site morphed into a finishing school for young women in 1894. Amid the lush trees blossomed fanciful buildings, including a grand ballroom and a gymnasium fashioned after a Doric-style Greek temple. But after subsequent stints as an Army convalescent center and medical facility, neglect took hold in the '70s. In 1988, local preservationists formed Save Our Seminary; now they're working with a preservation-minded developer to artfully transform the campus into a residential community.
The quiet oasis makes a dreamy picnic spot with charming replicas of an English castle, Swiss chalet, Spanish mission, Dutch windmill, Japanese pagoda and the Art Nouveau "Porch of the Maidens." You'll hardly believe that the hidden, historic woodland campus is mere moments from the Beltway bustle. Overgrown stone paths wind through the glen, past graceful statues of Minerva, Justice and the mythical young hunter Actaeon, who's grieving the dying deer in his arms. Yellow caution tape reminds visitors to keep out of the deteriorated buildings, but the grounds themselves are worth the trip. A guided glimpse into the seminary's secrets is offered once a month; the next tour is July 23 at 1 p.m.
En route to the enchanted escape, refresh your senses with edgy artwork, funky finds and mouthwatering summer fare. At James Gallery in the District, you can feel the love of "Sunday Service" and Michael Spears's other soul-steeped oils. Or nose around for scent-sational homemade soaps, hand-painted silk-shade lamps and big metal bugs at Alchemy, where a new drum circle starts Tuesday at 6 p.m. Then see what mind-tripping prints and paperworks have popped up in Pyramid Atlantic. Don't think beer and ice cream mix? York Castle will change your mind -- and you won't get carded when you ask for the Guinness. This local secret is hidden in a strip mall that's just a few licks away from your final destination, the ultimate magical hideaway -- for now, anyway.
-- Robin Tierney
National Park Seminary, Linden Lane and Woodstock Avenue, Silver Spring. 301-589-1715. nationalparkseminary.com. www.saveourseminary.org. Open daily, 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Tours at 1 p.m. on the fourth Saturday of each month. $5 requested donation.