Towson and surrounding Baltimore County are an interesting dichotomy. Within Interstate 695, otherwise known as “the Baltimore Beltway,” is downtown Towson—a modern community around which several colleges are clustered.
Just one mile away, on the other side of Baltimore’s Beltway, there are miles of country roads, stands of pine forests, and estates known for raising thoroughbred horses. Now and then, you’ll come upon a building; maybe it’s a golf course, farm, historic restaurant, or perhaps a vineyard, but otherwise, much of Baltimore County is wide-open and underdeveloped.
This part of Baltimore hasn’t been on many tourists’ lists, though it should be. What makes this region so interesting is that one minute, it’s a busy commercial center, while a few miles away, it feels like time has stopped. You’re driving along, and then suddenly, there’s a dairy market selling a dozen flavors of homemade ice made from cows standing across the street.
The biggest vineyard in Maryland is also one of the most picturesque, welcoming visitors year-round for tours and tastings. There is a little-known National Historic Site dating back to colonial times, with a fully-furnished Georgian mansion and exquisite gardens. This is Baltimore beyond the Inner Harbor, and it’s waiting for you. Go beat a fresh path.
Five Must-Stop Spots
- Hampton National Historic Site – One of the National Park system’s most beautiful estates was built just after the Revolutionary War. Daily ranger tours take visitors through the fully furnished Georgian mansion, quarters for the enslaved who toiled there, a dairy barn, cemetery, stables, icehouse and gardens; all are remnants from the Ridgley family’s time here. The 63-acre parkland has views of Baltimore’s pastoral horse country and downtown Towson. (nps.gov/ham; 410-823-1309)
- Boordy Vineyards – The wine maker offers a first-class visitor experience. Take a tour of their high-tech production facility, wander through the vines, sample their wines in the tasting barn, and maybe catch the occasional Shakespeare performance. Boordy farm dates back to the 19th century, but has become the top stop on the Piedmont Wine Trail. (Boord.com; 410-592-5015)
- Prigel Family Creamery – The Prigel Family processes milk products from their dairy cows, fed exclusively on organic grasses. Stop in the Creamery, Monday through Saturday to sample a sundae, scoop, shake, yogurt or latte with organic milk. You can buy these products, along with grass-fed beef and pork. (prigelfamilycreamery.com; 410-510-7488)
- Gramercy Mansion and Gift Shop – This historic inn has hosted many famous folks (whose photos adorn the walls). If possible, time your visit around the House and Garden Tour, Open House or Tea. The property includes Koinonia, Maryland’s oldest certified organic herb farm. Don’t miss the dizzying array of antiques for sale. One peek at this special B&B, and you’ll want to come back to stay overnight. (gramercymansion.com; 410-486-2405)
- Downtown Towson – Towson started out as a small town, but has grown into an urban paradise for shoppers, college students and diners. Towson Town Center Mall has floors of upscale shops, but there are also plenty independent shops and restaurants. Stop by Olympian Park to see the tribute to hometown hero, swimmer Michael Phelps. (baltimorecountymd.gov; 410-887-2470)
Local Favorite Eateries:
Breakfast: Towson Hot Bagels – With three locations in Baltimore County, the Towson eatery is after-party central. The fresh bagels, omelets, deli sandwiches, crowns Towson Hot Bagels the “Best of Baltimore” year-after-year. (towsonhotbagels.com; 16 Allegheny Avenue).
Lunch: Spice & Dice – This beloved authentic Thai restaurant packs them in all day. In addition to serving the vegetarian, gluten free and fiery hot dishes, everything is fresh, hearty and affordable. (thaispiceanddice.com; 1220 E. Joppa Rd. #108)
Dinner: Pappas Seafood Co. – Voted Maryland’s best crabcake, this “old school” Baltimore institution is adored by Oprah (crabcakes shipped regularly) and the locals. Family-owned, with three locations. (pappascrabcakes.com; Cockeysville 1725 Taylor Avenue, Parkville)
Outdoor Fun and Farms
- Loch Raven Reservoir – Home of Loch Raven Skeet & Trap clay shooting range; the Reservoir also has numerous trails and picnic areas. (lochravenskeettrap.com)
- Weber’s Cider Mill Farm – Especially fun in the fall, the apple farm has two giant hillside slides, mini-tractor rides, farm animals, a tire mountain and farmers market. (weberscidermillfarm.com)
- Rodgers’ Farms – Known for their popular mini and maxi mazes, take a hayride, pet the farm animals and buy organic produce at this family-owned farm. (rodgersfarms.com)
Freelance writer and photographer specializing in vivid, deeply reported stories about food, travel and family.