Home of the main branch of the University of Maryland, College Park is a small college town conveniently situated between two large metropolitan cities - Washington and Baltimore. Thus it enjoys the cultural, political, and social benefits of the two big cities and is still able to remain a small-town, college area ambiance. TIMING

Visiting the area varies seasonally. During semester or summer breaks, the nature of the community is distorted by the scarcity of population inhabiting the campus and the surrounding environs. And during finals weeks, the distortion is of different nature - an overabundance of bleary-eyed, starving fanatical individuals hunting out the last crumbs from a Macke vending machine. So the most opportune time to visit is mid-semester ( now, for instance), when the atmosphere is at its most vital, most natural level. EATING OUT

College Park is essestially a junk-food haven, with most meals easily falling into three categories - pizza and subs, burgers or ice cream. Route 1 is the main drag, housing many but not all of the most prominent junk-food dispensaries.

Among the best for pizza and subs are Ledo's, Hungry Herman's, the Pizza Shoppe, Howie's Subs and the Italian Gardens. For burgers, try McDonald's, Roy Rogers. Arby's or Little Tavern (for 24-hour service).

Ice cream is by far the most interesting face tobe found in College Park, with the most delicious sold at the University's own dairy outlet; homemade and served in extremely generous portions, this ice cream far surpasses the many nearby rivals - Swensen's, Howard Johnson's, High's. Then there are some departures from the norm - freshly squeezed lemonade at Albrecht's drugstore, natural and organic foods at the Berwyn Cafe, steak and salad at Emerson's or Ponderosa or Lefty's Steakhouse, and the ever-popular Tippy's Taco House for Mexican food. SPORTS

With the University of Maryland dominating College Park, sports is an integral part of life. Basketball season is currently under way, with "Lefty" Driesell's Terps playing two home games in the near future - Feb. 4 against Nevada/Las Vegas and Feb. 8 against North Carolina. The most popular participation sport - pinball - is availble while you eat subs at Hungry Herman's and Howie's; the Student Union building on campus also houses a fair-sized game room with a variety of machines. Ice skating is possible on University Boulevard's duck pond or a new indoor rink on Calvert Road. HISTORY AND FOLKLORE

Originally opened as the Maryland and Agricultural College in 1859, the College Park campus of the University of Maryland has grown into a dynamic and multi-faceted institution of higher learning. With this growth, various traditions have accumulated, including rivalries among student living areas Fraternity Row, "the Hill" and "the complexes" (high-rise dormitories). Testudo-and-the-virgin myth is the most popular piece of folklore; it says that the campus mascot, Testudo the terrapin (turtle), will fly away when the first virgin graduates from the university. As of this writing, Testudo still enjoys his prominent position in front of McKeldin Library at the top of the Mall. TRANSPORTATION

All roads lead to . . . no, that was Rome. But College Park is easy to get to. Two major roads intersect at the University of Maryland - University Boulevard and Route 1. (Also known as Baltimore Boulevard, Route 1 is an extension of Rhode Island Avenue over the District line.) Metrobus serves the area and a university shuttle bus covers areas within a few mile radius of campus. For information, call Metrobus at 637-2437 and Shuttle UM at 454-5375. Parking is generally sufficient on weekends, exceptions being when the Terrapins are playing or a rock concert is being held at Cole Field House. The University is spread out, so once there, plan to do lots of walking - a good way to lose weight after all the pizza, ice cream, Milky Ways, beer and chocolate milk. SHOPPING

Categories of merchandise are extremely limited and prices tend to be high, with merchants taking advantage of many student's no-car status.

After food, the two biggest items are easily records and books. For books, the main shops are the UMPorium in the Student Union, Maryland Book Exchange and Little Professor. Among several record stores is the Record Co-op in the Student Union offering a mere 10 per cent markup on albums and tapes. Several interesting crafts stores can be found on Berwyn Road and you'll have little difficulty finding places to buy jeans, shoes, bicycles and liquor. NIGHT LIFE

There's a lot to do at night, if you like drinking and listening to music.

Favorite local watering holes include "the Vous" (short for Rendezvous Inn), Town Hall and the Varsity Grill. If you like mixing music with your beer, there's Italian Gardens, Yesterday's (where Mr. Henry's used to be,) the Bastille, the Abbey, O'Brien's Pit Barbecue, and the Back Room of the Varsity Grill - all off campus.

On campus you find the Pub in the old main dining hall, the Terabac Room (Cabaret spelled backwards) in Cambridge Community Center and the nightclub in the Student Union's Colony Ballroom.

College Park is also the site for a plethora of cheap flicks (cheap in price, not necessary quality). Admission to showings at Company Cinematheque is usually $1.25; coming films include "Harold and Maude" and "Pink Flamingos" (Jan. 27-29), "Happy Days" (Feb. 3-5), "Jabberwocky" and "Month Python and the Holy Grail" (Feb. 10-12). The Student Union's William Hoff Theater has showings every evening, with features changing every few days; in the next several weeks, films such as "Rolling Thunder," "Annie Hall" and "War of the Worlds" will be shown. Non-student admission price is $1.50. Adult Education offers "Camille" Jan. 27 for 75 cents. "The Women" Feb. 3 and "The Gay Divorcee" Feb. 10, both without charge. Call 454-2594, the Maryland Student Union movie line, for a recorded listing of times and features at all three theaters. Off campus, Roth's College Park offers all seats for $1.50 if purchases between 5:45 and 6:00.

At Tawes Fine Arts Theatre, Shakespeare's "As You Like It" - a comedy dealing with mistaken identities - will be presented Feb. 2 to 11 on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, with a Sunday matinee Feb. 5.

Call University of Maryland's Dial-an-Event at 454-4321 for a recorded message reporting doings and goings on for the week, including events in sports, theater, concerts, movies and class schedules.