Walking through Silver Spring’s downtown feels like strolling in an open-air museum. A glistening steel sculpture of lotus leaves and petals by Honduran artist Wilfredo Valladares towers over one intersection, while farther down on the same block, a curved stainless steel sculpture by David Hess is suspended artfully on four poles. They’re just two of over 50 pieces of public art dispersed throughout this community—and a small sampling of the artistic attractions on hand in Montgomery County, Md., a vibrant multicultural region right outside the nation’s capital.
Located just a short Metro ride or drive from downtown Washington, the county offers a diverse array of attractions at a slightly more relaxed pace (and more affordable prices) than D.C. With large immigrant populations from Korea, China, El Salvador, Ethiopia, India and beyond, “each area of the county has pockets of its cultural diversity so their traditions come through in their festivals and celebrations,” said Kelly Groff, president and CEO of Visit Montgomery. Celebrations like October’s World of Montgomery Festival bring those communities together, while marquee cultural events like June’s AFI Docs Film Festival draw travelers from around the world. And the area’s urban attractions are accompanied by significant stretches of serene countryside, thanks to the county’s decision to preserve a third of its land as an agricultural reserve.
“What’s unique about us is the urban and green space,” Groff said. “You could be sitting at the agricultural reserve drinking wine and within 20 minutes be sitting in a very urban area with shopping, dining, bars and entertainment.”
Whether you’re a culture vulture, thrill seeker, fervent foodie, or just looking for a laid-back long weekend, Montgomery County, Md., has a little something for every traveler.
For Culture Vultures
Founded by Quakers in the early 1800s, Sandy Spring is home to the Woodlawn Manor Cultural Park, where the Woodlawn Museum is set inside a three-story 19th century stone barn. Today, the barn hosts interactive exhibits on the area’s agricultural landscape, including ones that delve into the history of African American life in the county. The park’s most visited attraction, however, is the two-mile-long Underground Railroad Experience Trail—“a storytelling mechanism to help people better understand what it might have been like to try to escape on the Underground Railroad,” said Jennifer Legates, manager of the park. The trail takes you through the woods via numbered posts along a path, each corresponding to an interest point on the trail map, which offers details about how freedom seekers used the natural landscape to find their way north.
The Woodlawn Museum features interactive exhibits on the history of African American life in Montgomery County, Md. Photo credit: Montgomery Parks
If you’re a fan of contemporary art, don’t miss Bethesda Fine Art, a gallery hosting “museum-quality art—comparable to what one might see at the National Gallery or other Smithsonian museums,” said Lori Rapaport, the gallery’s director. The site holds an impressive collection of work from the likes of Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Frank Stella, with a special focus on artists from the Washington Color School art movement.
For Thrill Seekers
The Adventure Park at Sandy Spring Friends School is the largest manmade outdoor climbing park in the world. Photo credit: The Adventure Park
With 13 trails, 29 zip lines and almost 200 bridges stretching through towering treetops, the Adventure Park at Sandy Spring Friends School is the largest manmade outdoor climbing park not only in the Washington region, but in the world.
The setup of the park allows visitors to pick activities that suit their comfort levels, explore different levels of difficulty, and “push limits,” said Matt Hines, sales manager at the Adventure Park. “It gives you the chance to always come back and find something new for a different adventure.”
Closer to sea level, water sports enthusiasts will want to check out whitewater rafting trips through the dramatic Mather Gorge. This slice of the Potomac River features moderately difficult rapids that give way to flat sections, where you can take a break from paddling and enjoy the lush scenery.
You don’t need to leave the outdoor attractions of Montgomery County, Md., behind to enjoy the fruits of the land. A family-friendly ambiance is on hand at Brookeville Beer Farm, where the taproom and brewery are set among hop yards and patches where the owners have planted blueberries, raspberries and mushrooms that are used in the Beer Farm’s innovative brews, as well as the creative pies cooked up in the on-site pizza oven.
More sudsy options like coffee-flavored stout and honey-infused pale ale are on tap at Waredaca Brewing Company, where the idyllic setting features green pastures and roaming horses. The brewery’s name comes from the first two letters in each word of “Washington Recreational Day Camp,” a boys-only camp founded at this serene site in the 1930s.
Waredaca Brewing Company is set on the grounds of a 1930s boys camp. Photo credit: Visit Montgomery
For locally grown fare with a retro spin, head for breakfast at Silver Diner in Rockville, where the original location of this chain was founded. Each booth has a mini jukebox and red and white leather seats, but the food is a cut above your typical diner fare, with local farms supplying the goods for unique dishes like lamb merguez benedict.
Taking the “farm-to-table” mantra extremely seriously, Founding Farmers in Potomac is supplied by family farms and owned by a union of more than 47,000 farmers. The menu features hearty dishes such as chicken-fried steak with mac and cheese and green beans.
For Long Weekenders
A visit to Montgomery County, Md., wouldn’t be complete without a hike along the historic Chesapeake & Ohio Canal. Stretching almost 185 miles along the Potomac River, the scenic canal features sweeping views along the rapids and cascades of Great Falls.
Visitors kayak on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, which stretches almost 185 miles along the Potomac River. Photo credit: Michael C. Mitchell
While the Canal is a popular daytime spot, fewer travelers know about the option to stay there overnight. The Canal Quarters initiative features a series of historic lockhouses now available for rent. Each has been rehabilitated and furnished in the style of a different time period, so at the end of your hike you can step back in time and get a taste of what it was like to live in Montgomery County, Md., 60, 90 or 150 years ago.
Whether you’re visiting the region for the cultural sites, outdoor adventures, or smorgasbord of food and drink options, these charming lockhouses provide a unique option for extending your trip to Montgomery County, Md. into an overnight stay or an invigorating long weekend.