Date of Trip: August 2008
SO and I have been spending a lot of time recently in the Frederick, Maryland area, to the point where we’re in that gray area between living there and just visiting. I wouldn’t call us locals yet, but we’re close!
Frederick is a great area. While it has some ugly suburban sprawl, it also has a lovely historic downtown core and is not far from the beautiful Catoctin Mountains. (They’re more like hills, but who’s counting?) Also within driving distance are Gettysburg, Baltimore, Washington D.C. and Shenandoah National Park. Following are a few highlights from our travels in the area.
We’ve stayed at two different Frederick hotels: the Hilton Garden Inn and the MainStay Suites. Both are within about a mile of each other on Buckeystown Pike (south of downtown Frederick). The Hilton Garden Inn is the nicer and more expensive of the two; rates are in the low $100’s with taxes for a room with two beds, a microwave and a small refrigerator. Rooms are quite clean and well furnished, with nice thick duvets on the beds. My biggest gripe was that the complimentary high-speed internet access could be very, very slow in the evenings. (Though wireless internet was supposedly available, we never got it to work, so we connected via ethernet cable.) The speed was usually fine during the day.
The MainStay Suites isn’t as nice as the Hilton Garden Inn, but for long-term stays it has a few important things going for it — namely a full-size refrigerator, a dishwasher, a stovetop, a microwave, cupboards, dishes and flatware. There’s no oven, and this certainly isn’t a fully stocked kitchen, but you can do basic cooking and store a decent amount of food.
In addition to the kitchen, our suite featured a bed and a sofa bed. The furnishings aren’t as nice as the Hilton’s, and the whole place feels a little older, but overall it was fine for us, and the price was right (under $100 a night with all taxes). The internet access was again a little shaky — the wireless connection was ridiculously slow at all hours, when we could connect at all. (Quite frustrating.) The ethernet connection was reasonably fast and dependable.
The fitness facilities — gym and pool — were okay. The gym was very, very warm the day I was in there; I don’t know if the air conditioning was broken or what, but I sweated myself silly! There was nearly always someone in the pool whenever I went down to use it, usually kids. I did have it to myself on one occasion and I used it to swim laps, though the pool is barely big enough to do so.
Out in its sprawling suburbs, Frederick has just about any chain restaurant you can think of — and unfortunately we have sampled quite a few of them since many are located on Buckeystown Pike. Several are located within walking distance of both the Hilton Garden Inn and the MainStay Suites, including T.G.I. Friday’s and Romano’s Macaroni Grill. I had never been to a Romano’s and found it pretty mediocre (though the service was very quick for a Saturday night).
Located in the same shopping plaza as Friday’s and Romano’s is My Organic Market, which is just what it sounds like. We went there a few times to stock up on organic milk, produce and snacks to keep in our hotel room. It’s expensive, as you’d expect for an organic market, but it offers a pretty good selection of organic products.
Also nearby is Panera Bread, which is one of our favorite places for lunch, and LongHorn Steakhouse, where we had dinner one weeknight. Service was friendly, though a tad slow, and my LongHorn salmon was pretty good.
Many of the restaurants in downtown Frederick are a bit pricey for dinner (entrees in the $20’s and $30’s), but Brewer’s Alley is a fairly affordable alternative. This brewpub is located right downtown and has a nice outdoor patio. I had a great rosemary peach chicken there, while SO enjoyed his crab cake.
The best meal we had in Frederick was at the Bonefish Grill, located off Route 15. It’s another chain restaurant, but the atmosphere is lovely and the seafood to die for. I had the pistachio parmesan crusted rainbow trout, which was delicious and came in a large portion — definitely too big for me to finish myself. SO’s portion of sea scallops and shrimp was yummy but not nearly as generous, so he helped me with my trout.
The Frederick area has a ton of great hiking opportunities. Cunningham Falls State Park and Catoctin Mountain National Park are located adjacent to each other about 30 minutes north of Frederick along Route 15. Shenandoah National Park is maybe two hours south (that will be our next trip, I hope!).
We have done several trails within Cunningham Falls State Park. It’s an easy hike from the William Houck area of the park (which has a lake where you can swim) to the 78-foot waterfall for which the park is named; you can take either the moderate Cliff Trail (0.75 miles each way) or the very easy Lower Trail (0.5 miles each way) to get there. The waterfalls are pretty but were quite crowded the day we were there (a summer Saturday). A small entrance fee ($3 – $4 per person during the summer) applies to get to the lake parking lot. (I believe they also charge a buck or two for a copy of the trail guide, but that’s well worth the purchase if you’re planning to do any hiking at all.) The lake area has bathrooms, picnic tables and a snack bar.
Our next hike was the longer Cat Rock Trail, which is about a mile and a half each way and climbs to 1,560 feet. When you get to the peak at Cat Rock, you can scramble over some boulders to get a nice panoramic view of the surrounding area. It’s uphill nearly all the way, but the trail is shaded and clearly marked.
Our most recent hike started at the historic Catoctin Furnace (located right off Route 15) and picked up the Catoctin Trail to the Bob’s Hill Trail (a total of about two miles each way). This one is pretty steep in parts, climbing to an elevation of 1,765 feet. Like Cat Rock, Bob’s Hill is another good place for panoramic views. On our way back down, we passed through the Manor Area of the park (I didn’t actually see a manor, but I assume there was probably one somewhere!) and took some time to wade in the deliciously cool mountain stream there. On a hot summer day, there was no better place to be.
Beyond hiking, there are a bunch of things to do in the Frederick area, starting with a simple walk through the city’s historic downtown area to see its Civil War-era buildings, antique shops and cozy restaurants. We stopped in the Delaplaine Visual Arts Education Center (free entrance) to check out the work of local artists, and enjoyed the little footpath that runs along Carroll Creek (many locals bike, rollerblade, jog and walk there). One nice thing about downtown is that you can park in the garage right next to the visitor center for incredibly cheap — only $1 if you arrive after 4 p.m.
One cool discovery we found downtown is the Weinberg Center for the Arts, a charming little old-fashioned theater. We saw The Princess Bride there one night and had a great time (partly because there were a ton of kids in the audience who were very vocal in their appreciation of the movie!). The theater also hosts other types of performances — dance and musical groups, visiting authors, etc.
Less charming but more modern is the Regal Westview Stadium 16, a huge multiplex cinema on Buckeystown Pike within walking distance of both the MainStay and the Hilton Garden Inn. It’s a nice (but expensive) place to catch new releases. If you can walk, do — the parking lot is nearly always full to capacity.
One last downtown favorite of ours is Baker Park, a huge municipal park with walking trails, a small lake, six tennis courts (with lights), and a big public pool. It was free to use the tennis courts and trails; we didn’t go to the pool, but I’m fairly sure an entrance fee applies.
Day Trip to Baltimore
Baltimore and Washington D.C. are each only about an hour away. We recently took a great day trip to the Baltimore Aquarium, which I hadn’t visited for several years. The aquarium is starting to show its age a bit (thanks to gray concrete walls and dim lighting), but it’s still a fabulous and fascinating place. We started off with a dolphin show for the benefit of the 4-year-old in our party, and then spent a while simply watching the dolphins swim around from the viewing area at tank level. It was mesmerizing for all of us, not just the 4-year old!
One of my favorite parts of the aquarium has always been the steamy tropical rain forest on the top level, where you can see sloths and colorful birds. Also popular is the huge main-level tank featuring rays, sharks and a giant Amazon River turtle. (That thing must be ancient — I remember the turtle from when I visited the aquarium as a little girl!)
If I had any complaints, it’s how absolutely packed the aquarium was the whole time we were there. Even though they sell timed admission tickets, the place is mobbed on the weekends, so keep that in mind if you’re planning a trip.
We finished our day with dinner at Phillips, a seafood restaurant right on the Inner Harbor. It’s pricey, but you absolutely cannot find a better crab cake!