17 Best Things to Do in Charming Ellicott

Question: What do you get when you drive through a historic downtown with a scenic river and the oldest passenger railroad station in the United States?

Answer: Ellicott City, Maryland.

Ellicott City is the sixth largest city in Maryland. Located in Howard County, it is about 15 miles west of Baltimore, just off the Baltimore National Pike and about 35 miles from Washington, D.C.

The downtown area is referred to as “Historic Ellicott City” or “Old Ellicott City”. It has a lot to offer. The area where Frederick Road turns into Main Street is very walkable and exudes charm and distinction at every turn. Here are some of the reasons we loved our visit to this special place.

Drive to historic downtown Ellicott City

Photo credit: Joan Sherman

1. Stroll through the historic downtown district

Ellicott City is a river town with a history. From its beginnings as an industrial city, it was built along the Patapsco River because most machinery needed water to produce. Being on the river has given the city some hardships. It has experienced four major floods, including one caused by Tropical Storm Agnes in 1972.

Today you might see a water level marker on a business that recognizes flooding, but our walk along Main St showed no other signs of it. Downtown is a wonderful place to explore and linger.

EC Pops in Ellicott City, Maryland

The eclectic EC Pops

Photo credit: Joan Sherman

2. Enter unique shops, art galleries, etc.

A walk along Main Street offers everything from unique shops like EC Pops, which offers an eclectic mix and gourmet popcorn, to art galleries, and food and drink establishments like Ellicott Distilling Company . While the storefronts seem small, we were often surprised at how deep the stores were when we stepped inside.

A sign explaining the beginnings of the city

A sign explaining the beginnings of the city

Photo credit: Joan Sherman

3. Learn how Ellicott’s Mills became Ellicott City

In 1772, three brothers named John, Andrew and Joseph Ellicott built Ellicott’s Mills, one of the largest milling and manufacturing towns at the time. When the Civil War began in 1861, the town’s population was around 2,000. A few years later, in 1867, the name “Ellicott’s Mills” was changed to “Ellicott City”. In 1973 it was granted Historic District designation and today it is home to approximately 78,000 people.

The Thomas Isaac Log Cabin and National Road

The Thomas Isaac Log Cabin and National Road

Photo credit: Joan Sherman

4. Note Thomas Isaac’s Tiny Log Cabin

At the corner of Main Street and Ellicott Mills Drive is Thomas Isaac’s historic log cabin. Built around 1780, the hut displays the early European influence on the area. Thomas Isaac purchased the structure in 1858 and the cabin remained in the family until 1933.

Pro tip: The cabin can be visited during limited hours on weekends, from May to mid-December. Check the website for the latest details.

The National Road in Ellicott City

The National Road in Ellicott City

Photo Credit: Big Brothers / Shutterstock.com

5. See the national road

The National Highway, also known as the Cumberland Highway, was built in segments through the efforts of the city, state, and federal government, in addition to private means. The memorial sign marks this first major commercial and tourist route from Baltimore to the west.

The B&O Museum in Ellicott City, Maryland

The B&O Museum marks the oldest remaining passenger station in the United States

Photo credit: Joan Sherman

6. Visit the B&O Ellicott City Station Museum

The Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) Ellicott City Station Museum is the oldest passenger railroad station in the United States and one of the oldest in the world. Built in 1831, the B&O Railroad originally traveled 13 miles from Baltimore to Ellicott’s Mills (now Ellicott City), Maryland. The railroad got its name “B&O” to represent the starting point in Baltimore and the intended destination of the Ohio River.

Pro tip: There is no elevator between the two levels of the museum, but you can use an outside ramp. Free entry.

The Ford dealership mural

The Ford dealership mural

Photo credit: Joan Sherman

7. Appreciate the building’s murals

The large murals painted on some of the buildings are a striking feature of the city. The Ford dealership mural at 8289 Main Street is a prime example. This building originally housed the first Ford dealership in Ellicott City. I liked the cutaway approach that allowed us to “see through the wall” into the history of the original Ford showroom. A second cut shows a mechanic working on one of the cars.

8. Check out the big rock

One of Main Street’s most natural features is a large boulder just off the sidewalk. You can not miss it ! It’s remarkable that this was allowed to remain as the town was built, but it really adds to the unique atmosphere.

Pro tip: As you walk around, look for a little owl and a rabbit that are artistically drawn on the rock. It’s rock graffiti, but it uses a subtle “find it” approach rather than a “face to face” approach.

Bridge over the Patapsco River in Ellicott City

Patapsco River Bridge

Photo credit: Joan Sherman

9. Listen to the sounds of the Patapsco River

There’s something about the sound of a river rushing over a rock. Ellicott City has a nice bridge over the river as you head east from downtown. When we visited in September, it was hard to imagine that this meandering creek could flood, but we knew it was true.

Cascade Falls at Patapsco Valley State Park

Cascade Falls at Patapsco Valley State Park

Photo credit: Joan Sherman

10. Hike Patapsco Valley State Park

We did a great hike in the very popular Patapsco Valley State Park, which stretches 32 miles along the Patapsco River. The park’s more than 16,000 acres are ideal for hiking, canoeing, mountain biking, horseback riding, and more. We hiked to Cascade Falls to see the waterfall and also hiked the Ridge Trail.

Pro tip: The hiking trails are well maintained but still rough, with roots and rocks and a few shallow stream crossings.

11. Try the boar pizza at the Manor Hill Tavern

For the good food and great atmosphere, we liked the Manor Hill Tavern. Our group tried three kinds of pizza: the “Boar to be Wild” (with wild boar), the “Honey Blue Crab” (with chunk crab and honey habanero) and a traditional one with pepperoni. Manor Hill is fun because it has tiered seating, plenty of cozy nooks and crannies, and a beer garden.

The O'Crab Mason, Ellicott City's signature milkshake

The O’Crab Mason, Ellicott City’s signature milkshake

Photo credit: Crazy Mason Milkshake Bar, Old Ellicott City

12. Treat yourself to Crazy Mason

If you’re in the mood for a milkshake, look no further than The Crazy Mason. These delectable treats are served in, you guessed it, mason jars, and each one is a work of art. Choose from over 25 creations with toppings like a whole slice of cheesecake, a whole brownie, and more.

As an homage to all things Maryland, the O’Crab Mason is topped with crabs sprinkled with Old Bay (Old Bay seasoning goes on everything!), a Berger biscuit, whipped frosting and EC Pops chocolate covered popcorn, all in a souvenir Maryland Mason Jar. These are hearty portions; Dean and I shared the banana split version, and it was filling!

Pro tip: For the faint of heart (or the purists) they sell smaller sizes of ice cream, ice cream cookies, etc.

The carriage stop;  Ellicott City, Maryland

The Trolley Stop is a great place for lunch or dinner.

Photo credit: Joan Sherman

13. Have dinner at the tram stop

Today’s Trolley Stop started as a tavern and country inn in 1833, then became a general store and boarding house, then reverted to a tavern again in the mid-1940s. The name is another example of the influence of the railroad in this city. Our group had great sandwiches, salads and burgers here.

The Angelo Castle;  Ellicott City, Maryland

Castle Angelo stands on a hill overlooking the Patapsco River

Photo credit: Joan Sherman

14. Admire the Angelo Castle

After dinner at the Trolley Stop, we walked west toward downtown, and our eyes were drawn to a castle high on the hill facing the Patapsco River. Searching the web told us it was Castle Angelo, built in 1830 and set on just over an acre of land.

Historic Tonge Row, Ellicott City

Historic Tonge Row, Ellicott City

Photo credit: Joan Sherman

15. Take a walk down Tonge Row

On Old Columbia Pike, you’ll see quaint row houses from the 1800s. They were originally homes for Ellicott City carpenters. Today, it’s specialty shops, including the Little Market Café that serves up breakfast and lunch options.

16. Visit the award-winning Centennial Park

Although we didn’t get a chance to visit, Centennial Park has won awards and is very popular. The 337-acre park has a 54-acre large man-made lake, stocked by the state Department of Fisheries, and a 2.6-mile paved path around it for walking, running, or biking. Another 7.3 miles of paved trails connect surrounding neighborhoods.

17. Enjoy breakfast at First Watch in nearby Columbia

We had a delicious breakfast at First Watch Columbia. They specialize in fresh ingredients, freshly squeezed juices and lots of Colombian coffee. Our group enjoyed a breakfast quinoa bowl, a chili and chorizo ​​omelet, and a traditional breakfast, and were tempted by many other delicious options.

A poster in downtown Ellicott City, Maryland

A poster in downtown Ellicott City

Photo credit: Joan Sherman

There’s a lot to love in Ellicott City, a short drive from Baltimore. I have just scratched the surface of this charming town. There’s natural beauty, history, quaint shopping, great restaurants and drinking places, and it all adds up to a unique experience that I think you’ll enjoy.

Pro tip: If you’re looking for more ideas, check out the “Visit Old Ellicott City” website.

About Margaret L. Portillo

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