Impossible not to love, Frederick is a burgeoning city of 80,000, with a blossoming downtown area full of antique stores, boutiques and restaurants for a wild diversity of cuisines.
A catalyst for Frederick’s modern success was a flood control project in the 90s on Carroll Creek, creating a long canal through the city, crossed by footbridges and lined by paths, inviting landscaping and desirable businesses.
Much of the architecture downtown was standing in the Civil War, when the Battle of Monocacy (1864) was fought just south of the city.
This encounter slowed an audacious Confederate advance along the Shenandoah Valley, and is recorded at a picturesque National Battlefield, preserving farms that were here at the time of the battle.
One famous Frederick resident was the lawyer and poet Francis Scott Key (1779-1843), who wrote the lyrics to the Star-Spangled Banner.
1. Historic Downtown Frederick
Encompassing a 50-block historic district, downtown Frederick is pretty much an ideal downtown in the 21st century.
More than 5,000 people are employed here, either in renovated old brick buildings or in new developments along the game-changing Carroll Creek Park.
If you love historic architecture there’s a feast in Frederick, with a multitude of long-lived commercial, industrial and religious buildings, as well as homes from the 18th century to the dawn of WWII.
If you have an eye for charming residential buildings, the prevailing styles are American Foursquare and Queen Anne.
Now, downtown Frederick is much more than its quaint architecture, especially along Patrick, Market and East Streets, where there are over 200 independent retailers, for antiques, unique clothing, accessories, art, specialty foods and eclectic gifts.
Bolstered by some 60 establishments, the food scene downtown straddles the globe, and there’s culture and entertainment at the Weinberg Center, New Spire Arts Stages and the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.
2. Monocacy National Battlefield
The Battle of Monocacy (1864), dubbed the “Battle That Saved Washington”, was fought just south of Frederick and helped end a raid through the Shenandoah Valley by Confederate General Jubal Early, turning the focus of the conflict to the South until the end of the war.
On 1,500 acres, the Monocacy National Battlefield has a rural feel, despite being on the edge of the city, preserving the Worthington, Thomas and Best family farms, all of which were present at the time of the battle.
On foot there are six interpretive trails, ranging from one to five miles in length, while a convenient way to get to know the battle’s pivotal moments is the self-guided auto tour.
This has five stops along a six-mile route, and you can download an audio guide from the Monocacy National Battlefield Foundation to listen as you go.
There’s also a great free museum at the visitor center, which goes into surprising depth and has interactives to keep smaller visitors interested.
3. National Museum of Civil War Medicine
You can delve even further into Civil War history in Frederick, as the main site for the National Museum of Civil War Medicine is downtown.
Appropriately, this is housed in a 19th-century building that housed an undertaker and furniture maker at the time of the Civil War. In five immersive exhibits over 7,000 square feet, you’ll come to terms with medical matters in the conflict.
Among the recreated scenarios are a field hospital, field dressing station, military hospital ward and the day-to-day of an army camp.
Each area is enriched with authentic artifacts, many collected by Dr. Gordon E. Damman, who set the ball rolling for this museum in the 1990s. Personal correspondence from soldiers adds another layer of realism to the displays.
4. Carroll Creek Park
A pivotal moment in Frederick’s modern history came in 1993, when Carroll Creek, which had long been prone to flooding, was essentially redirected underground.
On the surface is a 1.3-mile, 40-foot-wide canal, providing a long ribbon of landscaped greenery in Frederick.
Tracing this waterway are brick pedestrian paths, gardens, monuments, fountains, a 350-seat amphitheater and a sequence of bridges including the famous Community Bridge, which we’ll cover in more detail below.
Helping to spur a long-term transformation in Frederick, the trail leads you past restaurants with alfresco dining, as well as craft breweries, distillery and an assortment of intriguing specialty stores.
5. Baker Park
Also on the banks of Carroll Creek is another inviting linear park beginning just west of downtown Frederick.
Adding up to almost 60 acres, Baker Park has gradually taken shape since 1916, with several land donations by prominent citizens over the years.
There’s a slew of amenities on hand, including two children’s playgrounds, an outdoor pool in summer, Culler Lake and facilities for baseball/softball, tennis and soccer.
A landmark that will grab you is the 70-foot tower holding the Joseph Dill Baker Memorial Carillon, raised in memory of a prominent citizen and featuring recitals on Sundays at 12:30pm.
Baker Park crackles with life in summer, with a series of concerts at the bandshell, and Frederick’s Fourth Independence Day celebration.
6. Community Bridge Mural
The big sight awaiting you along the Carroll Creek Trail is Community Bridge, which was completely transformed by local artist William Cochran in 1993.
Instead of using artificial stone to clad this plain concrete bridge, Cochran produced a trompe-l’œil mural that continues to mesmerize pedestrians some three decades later.
Look closer and the “stonework” features “carved” symbols that were provided by thousands of Frederick residents, as well as participants from around the United States and more than 30 other countries.
Community Bridge remains a prominent attraction in Frederick and is seen as the catalyst for more than $300m of public and private development in the surrounding area.
7. Weinberg Center for the Arts
A 1920s movie palace in the heart of downtown Frederick has become a flexible hub for performing arts.
The Weinberg Center opened as the Tivoli Theatre in 1926, but closed exactly half a century later after damage from one of Frederick’s periodic floods.
The building was donated to the city by then owners, the Weinberg Family, and is filled with wonderful original features like an eight-rank Wurlitzer theatre organ.
September through May there’s a season packed with live music, comedy, theater, family entertainment and classic movies.
You can also sign up for a guided tour for more background on the building’s Art Deco architecture and rich performance history.
8. Rose Hill Manor Park & Museums
Thomas Johnson (1732–1819), Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court and Maryland’s first elected governor, built this grand Federal mansion in Frederick as a retirement home.
Rose Hill Manor’s standout feature is the stately two-story porch, with a portico supported by Doric (below) and Ionic columns (above).
Since the 1970s, Rose Hill Manor has been home to a children’s museum, painting a picture of the county’s early colonial days and recounting local history since that time.
Kids can find out about old-time crafts like grating spices and carding wool, and see how transport and farming have developed in the area.
As well as the manor house the property features a stunning walled garden, an 1835 log cabin, brick smokehouse, blacksmith shop, icehouse, two barns and a new building holding a carriage museum.
9. Schifferstadt Architectural Museum
Frederick’s oldest surviving house is held as the finest example of German colonial architecture in the whole country.
Schifferstadt was built in 1758, by the son of German immigrant farmer Josef Brunner, who settled here 20 years before and named the property after Klein Schifferstadt, his home town in the modern state of Rhineland-Palatinate.
You can check out this preserved dwelling at the north end of the Carroll Creek Path, for a riveting account of Frederick County’s pioneer days, some 300 years ago.
This is a four-bedroom house, with two-foot-thick walls, a rare five-plate stove and an unusually large kitchen.
The gift shop is stocked with gifts inspired by local history, from colonial-era games to handmade pottery and beeswax candles.
10. Harry Grove Stadium
There’s summer collegiate baseball action at this 5,400 capacity baseball stadium, opened in 1990.
Frederick has had an important baseball team since the days of the Frederick Hustlers, an outfit from the interwar years.
Harry Grove was one of the founders, and his descendants also donated a significant amount towards the stadium’s construction cost. The main tenants are the Frederick Keys, who until 2020 were a Minor League team and Class A-Advanced affiliate of the Orioles.
That changed with MLB’s reorganization of the minor leagues, and now the Keys are a collegiate summer baseball team in the MLB Draft League.
The regular season is June through early September, with plenty to appeal to younger fans, from between-innings entertainment to post-game fireworks.
11. Gambrill State Park
There’s scenic nature within 15 minutes of downtown Frederick, at this 1,200 park, set on high ground along the ridge of the Catoctin Mountains.
Gambrill State Park has more than 16 miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding.
Your priority has to be High Knob, at 1,600 feet, with three stone overlooks constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the Great Depression.
These give you spellbinding views of the Frederick and Middletown Valleys, and reach out miles to the southwest to the northern foothills of the Shenandoah Mountains.
There’s a welcoming family campground in the southern, Rock Run portion of the park, along with a fishing pond and picnic area.
12. Walkersville Southern Railroad
Something different on offer in the Frederick area is an 1hr+ ride through the idyllic Maryland countryside on a heritage railroad.
This 6.72-mile stretch of track was built in 1872 for the Pennsylvania Railroad, and the ride takes you through green farmland and past a century-old lime kiln.
You can choose between the comfort of a 1920s passenger car, or unobstructed views from an open flatcar. Keep an eye on the schedule for dinner trains, murder mystery trains and special seasonal trips.
The static museum displays are in a fine turn-of-the-century building opposite the depot, housing a model railroad and well-presented display of local railroad artifacts and equipment.
13. Roads and Rails Museum
Hiding in a late 19th-century building just outside the historic district is a model railroad with amazing dimensions.
Established by enthusiast David Burroughs, the Roads and Rails Museum is best described as a living miniature world, combining moving trains, trolleys, trucks and cars with towns, a working volcano, walk-through mountains, zoo, coal mine, circus, fair and more.
This is an attraction designed with children in mind, with step stools for a better view of the action, a carefully put together scavenger hunt and a separate room devoted entirely to LEGO.
14. Francis Scott Key Memorial
If you’d like to pay homage to the man who wrote the lyrics to the Star-Spangled Banner, there’s a fitting monument to Francis Scott Key (1779-1843) at Mount Olivet Cemetery, south of downtown.
The cemetery was chartered in 1854 and has close to 40,000 graves, with many notables including fabled Unionist Barbara Fritchie (1766-1862), Thomas Johnson, stage actor Robert L. Downing (1857-1944) and Union Army general James Cooper (1810-1863).
There are eight miles of paved pathway trailing through the cemetery, with interpretive exhibits to peruse as you go.
Of course the big sight is the monument to Key, erected by the front gates in 1898, designed by Italian sculptor Pompeo Coppini (1870-1957).
Key penned the lyrics in 1814, after seeing the bombardment of Fort McHenry by British ships in Baltimore Harbor in the War of 1812, and the tune became the national anthem in 1931.
15. Adventure Park USA
Maryland’s largest family fun center sits close by in Monrovia, and is big enough to be described as an amusement park.
With a Wild West theme, Adventure Park is on almost 18 acres and has more than 20 indoor and outdoor attractions, complemented by a full-service restaurant.
For a few indoor highlights you’ve got mini bowling, laser tag, a rock wall, bumper cars and a high ropes course, while outside are roller coasters, kiddie rides, a beautiful carousel, go-karts, 36 holes of mini golf and much more.
The eatery here is the Whistle Stop Smokehouse, specializing in BBQ, from brisket to smoked sausage, with all the classic sides.