A Dichotomy in living
by Renee Sklarew
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. Towson has multiple high-rise buildings, a luxury shopping mall and some traffic, which they think is bad but is really not. The mostly well-to-do residents and college students patronize these independent businesses in the very walkable downtown. The community is centered on a circle named Towson Town Center, where you’ll find an abundance of yoga studios, coffee shops and ethnic eateries.
Just one mile away, on the other side of Baltimore’s Beltway, there are miles and 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 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, but it should be. What makes this region so interesting is that it can be as busy as Tysons Corner while a few miles away, it feels like time has stopped. You’re driving along, and suddenly there’s a dairy market selling a dozen flavors of homemade ice cream made from cows standing across the street. The biggest vineyard in Maryland is also one of the most picturesque and welcomes 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.
• 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, slave quarters, 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/hamp
• Boordy Vineyards: The largest winemaker in Maryland 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. // boordy.com
• Prigel Family Creamery: The Prigel family processes milk products from their dairy cows, which are 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. Ask about their free tours and events. // prigelfamilycreamery.com
• 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
• Downtown Towson: Towson started out as a small town, but it has grown into an urban paradise for shoppers, college students and diners. Towson Town Center Mall has floors of upscale shops, like Burberry and Louis Vuitton. The pedestrian-friendly streets are packed with independent, locally owned shops and restaurants. Stop by Olympian Park to see the tribute to hometown hero, swimmer Michael Phelps. // baltimorecountymd.gov
• 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
• Greystone Golf Course: This hilly, manicured public course was voted top 50 municipal golf courses by Golfweek, and it features seven ponds and 80 bunkers. // baltimoregolfing.com
The indie, hyperlocal shops of Towson cater to college kids, while residents patronize Towson Town Mall or the locally owned boutiques at Greenspring Station Outdoor Mall.
Greenspring Station features designer brands and unique merchandise: Becket Hitch sells Baltimore memorabilia and gentlemen’s gifts with a nautical flair. Chic Matava Shoes carries hard-to-find footwear, like Ilsa Jacobson rain boots. Craft Concepts sells artsy, funky women’s fashions. A few miles away, stop in Beaumont Pottery to see the potter’s workshop and irresistible handmade crafts.
Compared to Baltimore City’s world-renowned museums, there aren’t so many in Towson. They do have a few quirky galleries and museums worth investigating.
Towson’s Fire Museum of Maryland delights families with its miniature trains, antique fire engines and pump machines. Towson University campus’s new Asian Arts and Culture Center offers Asian art and weekly performances including their annual Japan Festival in mid-April. Towson Town Spring Festival offers live bands, craft vendors, bagpipers and a beer garden; held April 30-May 1. Towson Arts Collective showcases rotating exhibits and social events.