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Travel-Worthy Museums, Dining and More: The Ultimate Weekend Escapes That Are a Quick Drive from Philly

Great Falls Tavern Visitor Center | Potomac, MD

A weekend getaway from your busy Philly summer routine doesn’t require flights, months of planning, or the stress of navigating a new city. Within our very own Mid-Atlantic region are some of the best small town destinations in the whole country, and they’re just south of our city. A short 2.5 hour drive from Philly takes you to a gem of the region: Montgomery County, Maryland, a concentrated array of vibrant towns and cities to explore near DC. Whether you’re looking to give your kids some interactive summer education, to unwind in nature with a partner or friends, or to load up on culturally inspired cuisine, you’ll find something to love about a weekend in this hub of culture, wilderness, and entertainment. 

Featuring trendy hotspots like Bethesda and Rockville, where you’ll find some of the best food in the nation (just ask the Obama administration, who had formal White House dinners catered by one of Rockville’s local spots), immersive museums, outdoor community events and nightlife, hiking trails that span gorgeous canals and offer mountain views, and even more, Montgomery County really is the ultimate weekend escape for any group or interest. Here’s how you can build a customized weekend for you and your road-trip companions in the DMV’s most attractive county.

Parks, Trails, and Experiences for Outdoor Enthusiasts

Take a hike at Sugarloaf Mountain. Just 10 miles south of Frederick, Sugarloaf offers four unique trails for soaking in incredible views of the surrounding Monocacy Valley and mountains beyond. Hikes range from 1.5 to 7 miles, with additional options to drive up the mountain, if lacing up hiking boots isn’t your forte. (We get that.) Though a $5 donation to the landmark is suggested, this experience is otherwise completely free, and it’s sure to please all members of your group.

C&O Canal National Historical Park | Potomac, MD

Choose your own adventure at Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National State Park. Running along this stunning canal, which spans nearly 185 miles and connects Maryland to DC, is a lush park full of diverse opportunities to connect with both nature and history. For those looking to get their steps in, hiking and biking trails range from leisurely to intensive. For a more relaxed experience, there are plenty of spots to bird-watch, admire waterfalls, and participate in educational and historical events. Entering from Great Falls, you’ll pay just $20 per vehicle or $10 per person on foot for this array of amenities. Or, if you head over on August 4th of this year, you’ll score free admission, as the park celebrates the anniversary of the Great American Outdoors Act.

Take a ride on a Charles F. Mercer Canal Boat. Before you leave the Great Falls area, don’t miss out on a one-hour long ride along the gorgeous canal, set on a replica packet boat. Sponsored by the National Park Service, this is a special treat for any excited learners, history buffs, or curious travelers. Tour guides, aptly dressed in period clothing, lead the immersive ride and discuss the heyday of the canal in the 1870s. Complete with the unique experience of your boat rising up 8 feet from within a lock, you’ll feel transported back in time while luxuriating in incredible views. Open dates for the summer 2023 season will be posted soon, so make sure you keep track of their calendar!

Brookside Gardens | Wheaton, MD

Explore the diverse amenities at Brookside Gardens. Located in Silver Springs, this 50-acre garden lives inside the larger Wheaton Regional Park, a public and national protected landscape featuring a miniature train, wildlife, and carousel. The garden contains numerous displays, each unique, specialized, and gorgeous (think your next Christmas card or your next Instagram post). Kids can appreciate the children’s garden, but with aquatic gardens, Japanese-style gardens, and even formal garden areas like the Perennial garden and Maple Terrace, there’s something for every age and interest. The garden also features two on-site conservatories open year-round for any guests looking to take a break from the outdoors. Like the larger surrounding Wheaton park, Brookside Gardens are open to the public daily, from sunrise to sunset. 

These are just a few of the outdoorsy experiences Montgomery County has to offer. If you’re looking for more opportunities to enjoy the area, you can immerse yourself in important Maryland history at Josiah Hensen Museum & Park, follow your Sugarloaf mountain experience with a walk or a boat trip through colonial and civil war history in Poolesville, or stay overnight in a Historic Lockhouse through Canal Quarters for a “trip back in time” and an unforgettable experience.

Museums, Cultural Sites, and Shopping Opportunities In and Around Cities

Windridge Vineyards | Darnestown, MD | Photo Credit: Isabelle Carbonell

Sip your way across the county on the Tastemakers Trail. Established in 2020, this beverage-centric experience spans across the county, highlighting rural and urban spots alike. Visit all or any of your picks from 13 breweries, six wineries, two cideries, and more for the tastes that earn Montgomery County its reputation as a drinking destination. Following the trail takes you to some of the county’s most relevant areas, including downtown Rockville’s Twin Valley Distillers, Silver Branch Brewing Co. in downtown Silver Springs, and Windridge Vineyards, a winery offering charcuterie, tastings, and live music in a venue with a countryside aesthetic.

Visit the Rio Lakefront in Gaithersburg. Gaithersburg is Montgomery County’s premier shopping city, thanks to the Rio Lakefront, a vibrant community hub for all things entertainment, dining, shopping, and fun, built to face out on a beautiful lake. With regular happy hours at many of the numerous restaurants, a carousel, movie theaters, a pier, and weekly promotions (like complimentary wine tastings every Friday and Saturday), there is something for every age, interest, and mood at Rio. And to bring everybody together, seasonal events are always happening. Look out for live summer concerts from May through September!

Unleash imagination at the KID Museum. Bethesda, located just northwest of DC, is home to this one-of-a-kind experience, one of the most innovative installations in the whole county. Open for general admission every Sunday, this children-focused, family-friendly museum enables young ones to spark their creativity in completely new ways, with an interactive 3D printing lab, woodworking studios, opportunities to explore coding and robotics, and more. Families can also sit in on guided workshops from leaders in education and technology, helping kids embrace and unlock their potential. This is a can’t-miss opportunity to ensure your young ones remember this trip forever.

Glenstone Museum| Potomac, MD | Jeff Koons, Split Rocker | Photo Credit Iwan Baan

Admire art, architecture, and nature at The Glenstone. Located in Potomac, this museum takes a unique indoor-outdoor structure, designed to create a contemplative environment that supports meaningful and direct engagement with the arts. Tracing historical shifts in art from World War II to the contemporary era, indoor installations decorate nearly 300 acres of grounds to explore. The expansive landscape bears streams, forests, and other natural elements, fully integrated with artistic renderings like outdoor sculptures and fascinating architecture. Patios, pavilions, and other amenities also populate the grounds surrounding the museum’s indoor areas. Admission is available to everyone over the age of 12, and always free!

Arts and culture are bustling in Montgomery County, so if you’re still looking for more, check out TopGolf in Germantown, learn about wines and agriculture in a beautiful outdoor venue at The Crossvines, or stay overnight at one of downtown’s newest hotels: Marriott Bethesda and AC Hotel Bethesda!

Top Tier and Culturally Inspired Dining

Ranked number one in all of Montgomery County, going up against the stiff competition of a vibrant, authentic, diverse food scene, is Il Pizzico in Rockville. Italian for “The Pinch,” Il Pizzico’s name was inspired by the uncompromising culinary beliefs of proprietor Enzo Livia: Any Italian chef worth their salt (no pun intended) must be able to employ the perfect pinch of herbs and spices to imbue the dish with personality and flair. A commitment to authenticity runs deep into the heart of the restaurant; homemade pasta and desserts ground the delicious menu, which also features an extensive (and mostly Italian) wine list, pizzas, and cocktails. Appetizers run from $8 to $16, and entrees range from about $17 to $30. From ravioli to salmon to wine-braised short rib, this stand-out restaurant has something for every palate and is a can’t-miss.

Rockville’s impressive cuisine offerings do not stop there; Mediterranean joint Mykonos Grill boasts a ranking as second in the city (only behind Il Pizzico) and eighth in the county. A glance at the menu makes it easy to tell why Mykonos Grill catered White House formal dinners during the Obama administration, and why big names like CNN’s Wolf Blitzer and John H. Glenn, former senator and NASA astronaut, have chosen to dine here. Despite the esteemed guest list, the pricing remains approachable. Appetizers such as Greek caviar are available for only $10 or so, while fish and meat entrees range about $25 to $40. With a kid’s menu, vegetarian menu, wine list, and three-course lunch special supplementing the diverse dinner selection, this spot is a must for any group.

Mykonos Grill | Rockville, MD

Just one of the multiple Peruvian options in the county, Picca Pollo a la Brasa in Germantown, a densely populated suburb, is the perfect choice for an evening of casual take-out or dining-in with exceptionally friendly service. Picca’s colorful menu includes a selection of fresh ceviches for around $20, and entrees, specials, and charcoal-grilled options spanning about $20 to $30. Fresh, local ingredients fuel the authentic Peruvian and Latin experience this restaurant promises, making it the premier spot for its cuisine and one of the standouts of the county.

And don’t leave Burtonsville out of the dining conversation, either; the town’s top-ranked spot, Cuba de Ayer, is celebrated not only for their menu, but also for their outstanding customer service. In a lively atmosphere, this Cuban-Caribbean joint is the ideal spot to grab, or to try, cultural classics like Caribbean coffee and tres leches cake, or to indulge in savory experiences like oxtail in creole sauce or sweet-and-spicy Caribbean salmon. Entree prices range from about $15 to $30, with sandwiches under $15 and a kid’s menu for about $10. Whether you’re looking for a night out or craving delivery, Cuba de Ayer has you covered and will leave you feeling like you’ve scored a home-cooked meal.

Of all the dining hotspots in the Mid-Atlantic, Montgomery County stands out for its diversity. If you’re not in the mood for any of the regional cuisines listed above, no worries; they’re just a few selected from the myriad of options available in the area. Try La Malinche for Mexican, Tavira for Portuguese, Yuraku for Japanese, Yekta Persian Market and Kebob Counter for Iranian and Middle Eastern, La Ferme Restaurant for French, Botanero for Spanish, or Full on Craft Eats and Drinks for the classic American bar atmosphere. Whatever you’re looking for, give Montgomery County, Maryland a try!

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