Born in the 1870s around a railroad junction, Bowie is roughly halfway between Washington, D.C. and Chesapeake Bay, and has a reputation for diversity and a high quality of life.
The city developed at speed in the 1970s and 1990s, so much of the townscape is modern, but there are compelling historical fragments, like the Bowie Train Station Museum, for a window on that railroad heritage.
Also historic is Belair Mansion, on the map since the mid-18th century and regarded as the cradle of thoroughbred horse racing in the “New World”.
You can tour the mansion, for enthralling insights into the Woodward family of bankers and horsemen, while the story of Belair Stud is told at the grand stable building close by.
1. Six Flags America
One of the top Washington area theme parks is on the south side of Bowie, with more than 50 attractions on a 500-acre site.
Six Flags America’s rides and shows are organized around six themed areas, rooted in America’s history, geographical extremes and popular culture.
These are Main Street 1776, Chesapeake, Looney Tunes Movie Town, Mardi Gras, Gotham City and Coyote Creek.
Blockbuster rides are sprinkled throughout, and include the historic wooden roller coaster, The Wild One (1917), as well as high-tech modern additions like the Joker’s Jinx, accelerating to 60 mph in little more than three seconds.
Looney Tunes Movie Town and Whistlestop Park are filled with kiddie rides, while there’s no additional charge for the Hurricane Harbor water park, home to one of the largest wave pools in the world.
2. Belair Mansion
In the hands of the City of Bowie since the 1960s, Belair Mansion once commanded a Georgian colonial estate that spread across more than 2,200 acres.
That fine Palladian house dates to c. 1745, with several expansions, notably by the famous Woodward family in the early 20th century.
Belair is considered the birthplace of American thoroughbred racing, breeding racehorses as early as the mid-18th century, and this practice reached its apogee at this estate under William Woodward Sr. (1876-1953).
Visiting the property you’ll learn about the enslaved African Americans who built the plantation, delve into the chaotic lives of the Woodwards, see family silver and furniture, as well as art including privately issued prints of several celebrated Belair Stud Thoroughbreds.
3. Belair Stable Museum
The tradition of raising thoroughbred horses at Belair is as old as the mansion itself, and this strand of the property’s history is traced by the Belair Stable Museum.
On a U-shaped footprint, the highly ornate stable building was built from sandstone in 1907 for noted horseman James T. Woodward (1837-1910), and sits about 1,000 feet down the slope northeast of the mansion.
Visiting the museum you’ll encounter 200+ years of horse-rearing heritage at Belair, touching on Gallant Fox (1930) and Omaha (1935), which were the only father/son horses to win the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing.
The museum is filled with decades of horse racing memorabilia, and has preserved the stable master’s apartment to its 1923 appearance.
4. Allen Pond Park
Bowie’s premier public park is on 85 acres, and loaded with top-notch facilities. One of these is Opportunity Park, a playground designed with 100% accessible equipment for preschool and school-aged children.
Also here is the Bowie Ice Arena, which will be described in more detail below, the stocked 10-acre Allen Pond and the Robert V. Setera Amphitheater, hosting Bowie’s Sunday Summer concerts between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day.
One fantastic way to enjoy the scenery is to rent a paddle boat from the boathouse, available in 30-minute slots during the summer months.
5. Prince George’s Stadium
For a bit of pro baseball action you can head to this 10,000 seat stadium, home of the Bowie Baysox. Established in 1993, the Baysox are the Double-A affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles, playing in MiLB’s Eastern League.
At the time of writing, 200 Baysox players had progressed to Major League Baseball (most via the Orioles), and among the bigger recent names are Manny Machado, Cedric Mullins, Trey Mancini and Nick Markakis.
Not only will you get a preview of the next generation at Prince George’s Stadium, games are affordable family events, with inter-innings entertainment, a kids’ play area, wacky promotions and fireworks.
6. Bowie Train Station Museum
Given that Bowie coalesced around a Baltimore & Potomac Railroad station, this complex of unassuming buildings in the Huntington neighborhood will take you right back to the city’s earliest days.
No sooner had the Civil War ended, plans were drawn up for the B&P to come through. The station opened on the line to Washington in 1872, becoming a junction a year later when the Pope’s Creek line to southern Maryland came through.
In 1910 a fire destroyed the original station buildings, but they were reconstructed soon after, and eventually relocated to this spot near the tracks in 1991.
The museum is free, and is made up of a freight shed, depot with bay window and signal tower, accompanied by a caboose from 1923 and a historical marker explaining the history of the buildings.
7. Watkins Regional Park
A short hop from Six Flags America, this sprawling parcel of hardwood forest and open fields is a family attraction in its own right.
For one thing you’ve got the historic Gustav Dentzel Carousel, dating back to around 1905 and featuring a menagerie of colorfully painted horses, bison, donkeys and rabbits. There’s also a miniature train and an 18-hole miniature golf course, all in the same spot.
Skirted by the miniature train tracks is the Old Maryland Farm, for an informative glimpse of agriculture in days gone by, with old-time implements, display gardens and domestic animals like sheep, chickens, cows, goats and more.
Beyond that, the Watkins Nature Center has yet more live animal exhibits, hands-on displays and rich programming, for crafts, camps, talks, guided hikes and campfires all year round.
8. Bowie Center for the Performing Arts
Staging high-quality live music, theater, comedy, dance, family entertainment and more, this 800-seat, state-of-the-art venue is in the same complex as Bowie High School.
The programming at the BCPA reflects the diversity of Bowie as a community, so it’s no exaggeration to say that there’s something for all people of all ages here.
Budding performers can also sign up for the Broadway Bound summer camp, for children aged 8-12. The BCPA is a high school facility, and hosts a range of school concerts, events and musical productions throughout the year.
9. National Capital Radio & Television Museum
Open Friday through Sunday, this private museum documents the history of electronic media in seven galleries.
Here you’ll get an overview of the development of radio and television, starting with wireless telegraphy in the 1890s and running through early broadcasting, the peak of radio entertainment and the growth of television in the second half of the 20th century.
There are numerous examples of preserved technology from each period, including cathedral radios from the 1930s, crystal sets, and “French Fry” transistors.
One of the most enlightening exhibits has sound effects equipment used for the Joy Boys, an improvised radio comedy show, which ran from 1955 to 1974.
10. Bowie Ice Arena
A fixture since 1971, the Bowie Ice Arena is open all year, save for a few weeks of annual maintenance in May and June.
This facility is home ice for a number of local figure skating and ice hockey organizations, among them Bowie Hockey Club, Bowie Figure Skating Club, Bowie ISI Figure Skating Team and Bowie High School Ice Dogs.
You can check the calendar for regular public skate sessions, with rental skates available from toddler size 6 through adult 14, as well as hockey skates up to 10.
On Fridays there’s a disco atmosphere, with a DJ on the decks. If you’re an avid skater you can even purchase a Frequent Skater Card (5, 10, 20 or unlimited admissions) for a discount.
11. Bowie International Festival
Bowie’s rich cultural diversity is one of the city’s great strong points, and is celebrated every October with a one-day festival at Allen Pond Park.
There are two stages loaded with entertainment from around the globe, including Caribbean steel drums, Korean dance, Bharatanatyam (Indian classical dance), Mariachi, Reggae, European folk music and much more.
The event is a voyage of discovery for kids, who can pick up a passport and take part in all kinds of international activities, from making Native American dreamcatchers, to martial arts and writing their name in Hebrew.
There’s a slew of craft booths, as well as globetrotting cuisine, with jerk chicken, curry goat, teriyaki, pad thai and BBQ.
12. Bowie Playhouse Theater
In the green confines of Whitemarsh Park there’s an intimate 150-seat theater, home to two theater companies, putting on productions throughout the year.
The Bowie Playhouse goes back to the 1970s when it was founded as The Theater in the Woods. The two residents here are Bowie Community Theater, established in the mid-1960s, and the all-volunteer 2nd Star Productions, established in 1996.
Shows usually run for three weeks at a time, and some highlights from the season when we wrote this article were One Slight Hitch, Wait Until Dark and All My Sons (BCT), Something Rotten! and The Sound of Music (2nd Star).
13. Bowie Farmers’ Market
On Saturday mornings, May through October there’s a well-attended farmers’ market in the Bowie High School parking lot. Most weeks there are 20 or more vendors, offering a tempting array of items.
This might be seasonal fruit and vegetables, microgreens, houseplants, grass-fed meats, seafood straight from Chesapeake Bay, honey, sauces, baked goods, teas, handmade skincare, candles, relishes, jams or a wide variety of crafts.
All vendors are independent and local, so you’ll also have the satisfaction of helping small producers and makers.
14. Bowie Golf Club
Under new management since 2021, this municipal golf course has been around for more than 60 years, and was first opened as the Belair Golf & Country Club in 1959.
The course has been public since the early 80s, while the history of the property can be traced back to the 18th century when it was part of a sprawling horse farm called Peachtree Estates.
Today this short-ish track is well suited to beginners and intermediate players, thanks to the wide, forgiving fairways and absence of water hazards. Greens are always in good shape, and there’s a comprehensive practice facility with a driving range and putting green.
15. Y Worry Farm
Out in the countryside just east of Bowie there’s a family-run farm, minding its own business until fall when it becomes a popular family day out.
Every weekend in October, Y Worry Farm features a pumpkin patch, corn maze, friendly farm animals, not to mention everybody’s favorite fall foods at the snack shack.
If you’re here for the pumpkins, wagons are provided to help you tow these monsters back from the patch.
The farm also opens in December, selling Douglas and Fraser fir trees, as well as handmade wreath and garland decorations.