Frederick is a Perfect Getaway in Maryland
The charming town boasts shopping, dining, culture and easy access to nature.
All of us around the breakfast table at 10 Clarke had come to Frederick for different reasons. A mother and daughter were setting out to explore Civil War sites. A cyclist was ready to test his limits on the area’s extensive network of trails. A 60-something couple were trying a B&B for the first time.
I was there to stroll the downtown streets and green spaces, soak up some history, and check out the local food and craft beverage scene. Was it possible that one small city near Maryland’s Catoctin Mountains could satisfy such wide-ranging interests? We’d have to compare notes the next morning and find out.
The Visitor Center is the best place to get acquainted with Frederick’s past and present while gathering information. Start by watching the short film. You’ll learn about the city’s significance in the Revolutionary and Civil wars, its architecture, its most influential citizens, the contributions of the westward roads, the C&O Canal and the B&O Railroad, and why Frederick continues to thrive in the 21st century. A self-guided walking tour with a brochure or app gives context to local sites, or you can just amble along the delightful streets in no particular order.
The jewel running through the center of town is Carroll Creek Linear Park, which features pedestrian paths and bridges, attractive plantings, fountains, and an amphitheater. Restaurants and arts venues dot the banks as well. It reminded me of San Antonio’s River Walk, albeit on a more intimate scale.
Water lilies steal the show in early fall, followed by spectacular autumn colors reflected in the creek as the seasons change. Winter has its own appeal: lit, decorated boats are anchored for the Sailing Through Winter Solstice fundraising event, which runs from late November to early March.
The success of Carroll Creek Park is a microcosm of Frederick itself. In the late 1970s, the city suffered from social ills, decaying infrastructure and competition from suburban shopping malls. Then came the devastating rains of October 1976 that flooded the entire downtown. Rather than roll over, government and civic leaders made the commitment to revitalize. The entire 50-block town grid was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, which protected hundreds of 18th- and 19th-century Federal, Greek Revival, Georgian, Italianate and Romanesque buildings.
Downtown Frederick Partnership, Celebrate Frederick, Frederick Arts Council, Historic Preservation Commission, Visit Frederick and others shared a vision for the city’s future and made it a reality. Because of their efforts, Frederick has maintained its centuries-old charm while fully embracing the present. Sidewalks were widened. Flood control and economic development initiatives were enacted.
Visitors can take in the views of the “clustered spires” immortalized in John Greenleaf Whittier’s poem, “Barbara Frietchie,” learn about battlefield medical innovations at the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, take a walking tour that celebrates black luminaries, see artifacts at the Museum of Frederick County History, and browse for antiques.
Those who relish outdoor activity will find many opportunities to bike, kayak and hike. Anyone who enjoys the visual and performing arts should stop in at the Delaplaine Arts Center, take in a performance the Weinberg Center for the Arts (formerly the Tivoli movie palace), take an art stroll, and see the unique open-air theater known as Sky Stage.
Hundreds of boutiques and specialty shops welcome shoppers—and food options are equally eclectic. Whether your taste runs to meat and potatoes or vegan tacos, Frederick’s restaurants can accommodate. Firestone’s Market on Market, Maxwell’s Kitchen, Hometown Harvest and Family Meal are popular spots. In the mood for Thai? Try Sumittra. Mediterranean? Ayse Meze Lounge awaits. Locals are quite proud of VOLT, where executive chef and Top Chef runner-up Bryan Voltaggio, a Frederick native, presents innovative seasonal entrées prepared with fresh local ingredients in a 19th-century brownstone mansion oozing with atmosphere.
Breweries, wineries and distilleries abound in the area. My new favorite is Tenth Ward Distilling Company, whose motto is “Ward off ordinary.” Tasting flights are available during regular hours; barrel room tours and tastings are offered on Saturdays. If you’re ready to channel your inner Edgar Allan Poe, Tenth Ward now offers Maryland’s first absinthe. The distinctive green color of this extremely potent potable comes from natural herbs and botanicals.
Nearby, the Schifferstadt Architectural Museum is a 1750s German colonial home with heritage garden. Rose Hill Manor Park & Museums includes a manor house, log cabin and children’s museum. A short, scenic drive from town, Cunningham Falls offers three covered bridges you can drive over. Don’t miss Monocacy National Battlefield, where, on July 9, 1864, Confederate forces were delayed from marching on Washington by a small band of Union soldiers. Although the Confederacy won that day, the holdup was long enough for Union forces to protect the nation’s capital. The confrontation is known as “the battle that saved Washington.”
Fall and winter have their own special allure. Held Sept. 27-28, Frederick’s Oktoberfest is an authentic German experience, with food, drink and entertainment. Heritage Frederick offers Murder & Mayhem tours on Saturday evenings in October. For the winter holidays, there’s Museums by Candlelight, a free program for all ages. On the first weekend in December, Celebrate Frederick presents the Candlelight House Tour, a self-guided look inside private homes—all of them elaborately adorned with holiday décor.
And speaking of fabulous homes, 10 Clarke’s Victorian charm and modern amenities provide the perfect respite after a full day of touring. The B&B has the abundant architectural details and plethora of furniture typical of the 1880s, with updated bathrooms and hand-pressed linens providing the ultimate in comfort.
After a good night’s sleep at 10 Clarke, I joined the other guests in the peacock-themed dining room for a scrumptious three-course breakfast. As we savored the signature light-as-a-feather chocolate malted waffles, we discussed our experiences in and around town. It turns out that Frederick really does have something for everyone—a lot of things, in fact.