About 20 miles northwest of Washington, D.C., Gaithersburg is a diverse and fast-growing suburb that has almost doubled in population since 1990.
Now home to more than 70,000, this is one of the largest communities in Montgomery County, staging big events like the largest county fair in the state.
The city is made up of smartly planned, walkable neighborhoods, especially on the affluent west side, while the historic central business district is in the older eastern section.
Here, in Olde Towne Gaithersburg you’ll come across the Gaithersburg Community Museum on the preserved campus of the old Baltimore and Ohio Railroad station.
There are also first-class public attractions in Gaithersburg, especially at Bohrer Park, which has a water park and 18-hole miniature golf course, both family favorites in summer.
1. RIO Lakefront
Gaithersburg has a modern shopping, dining and entertainment destination in a lakeside setting, close to where the I-270 and I-370 intersect.
RIO Lakefront could be compared to a living, breathing city district, and even puts on a summer concert series, with outdoor performances on Friday evenings, May through September.
You can rent a paddle boat for a little self-guided cruise on the lake, and there’s an adorable carousel with handcrafted horses by the water.
For a movie you’ve got the AMC Dine-In 18, and when it comes to shopping, a few of the chains on hand are Barnes & Noble, LOFT, Target, Kohl’s and Dick’s Sporting Goods.
Finally, RIO Lakefront offers more than 25 dining options, many outdoor seating right on the water’s edge.
2. Seneca Creek State Park
On Gaithersburg’s western edge is a 6,300-acre state park, containing some 14 miles of Seneca Creek on its way to the Potomac River.
The main, developed portion of Seneca Creek State Park, is little more than five minutes from the heart of Gaithersburg, and is set on the shores of the 90-acre Clopper Lake. This is a big draw in the summer months, when you can rent a kayak or rowboat.
In the fields and woods around the lake you can get onto more than 50 miles of trails, while the park’s roads will bring you to gardens, playgrounds, a zip line, disc golf course, a scenic overlook and a wide choice of picnic areas.
If you’re in town during the holiday season, try to make time for the Christmas light display, with more than 450 installations along a 3.5-mile drive.
3. Water Park at Bohrer Park
When summer comes around, one of Gaithersburg’s big family attractions is a public, resort-style water park in Bohrer Park.
In stunning grounds, backdropped by mature trees, the water park opened in 1990 and has a large interconnected pool, with a lap area and a shallow, beach-entry area adorned with palms and fountains.
There’s also a zero-depth pool for toddlers, while bigger kids will love the two water slides with tower access. For food and drink there’s Boardwalk Burger & Fries, while the park has a lot of room for families to relax in the shade.
4. Bohrer Park
There’s more going on in the surrounding Bohrer Park, which is home to Gaithersburg’s 45,000-square-foot Activity Center, housing a fitness center and two basketball courts.
Outside you’ll find a skate park, gorgeous seasonal landscaping, a whole network of trails and ponds inhabited by plenty of wildlife such as waterfowl and totals.
But perhaps most exciting of all is the city’s own miniature golf course. This 18-hole facility is designed to get the best out of all players, and is open early May to early October, with extended hours throughout the school summer break.
5. Rock Creek Regional Park
On 1,800 acres, this pristine natural escape is in the valley of the namesake creek, just east of Gaithersburg.
Rock Creek Regional Park contains two large bodies of water, at Lake Needwood (75 acres) and Lake Frank (55 acres), and has 13 miles of trails through tranquil woodlands and along the lakeshores.
May through September you can rent canoes, pedal boats and canoes at Lake Needwood Boat Shop, or take a tour aboard the Needwood Queen pontoon boat.
Other facilities include the Go Ape high ropes course, the Meadowside Nature Center for interpretive programs and local history, picnic shelters, an archery range and Needwood Golf Course.
6. Gaithersburg Community Museum
This local history museum is at the old Gaithersburg Railroad Station, built for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in 1884.
The entire complex, including the 1884 Freight House, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978 and is a linchpin for Gaithersburg’s Olde Towne district.
Outside there’s a series of interpretive boards in the History Park, documenting Gaithersburg’s development, while there’s a display of preserved rolling stock, including a steam engine from 1918, the 1953 Rail Diesel Car and a caboose from 1982.
Indoor displays cover many facets of local life, from commerce and education to the railroads and Gaithersburg Latitude Observatory, which we’ll talk about next.
7. International Latitude Observatory
In 1899 Gaithersburg was one of five locations around the globe pinpointed in an effort to measure the earth’s wobble on its polar axis through star reading.
Operating until 1982, when satellites took the place of human observers, the International Latitude Observatory has sister facilities in Sardinia; Kitab, Uzbekistan; Mizusawa, Japan; Ukiah, California, and Cincinnati, Ohio.
The observatory in Gaithersburg was restored shortly after becoming obsolete, and is preserved along with the meridian mark pier, and five geodetic monuments dotted around a small park, all added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.
8. Arts on the Green
In a quaint, village-like setting you’ll find Gaithersburg main hub for visual and performing arts.
One of the two venues here is the Arts Barn, offering a stage for professional and community theater, concerts and much more at a 99-seat theater.
Next door is the opulent Kentlands Mansion, built in 1900 and now belonging to the city as a venue for exhibitions and chamber music performances.
There’s ample grassy space at Arts on the Green for a succession of outdoor events and concerts in the warmer months.
9. Butler’s Orchard
The top U-Pick farm in Montgomery County is a little way north of Gaithersburg in Germantown.
Over the years, Butler’s Orchard has grown from an original 37 acres to more than 300, growing over 25 fruit varieties, as well as vegetables, trees and flowers.
The Farm Market is open from May until just before Christmas, and the farm opens up for family-friendly seasonal festivals, like Bunnyland in spring, the Sunflower Spectacular in summer and then the long-running Pumpkin Festival in fall.
You can check the website for a regularly updated Crop Calendar, with detailed info on pricing and availability for everything from strawberries to pumpkins.
10. Monster Mini Golf Gaithersburg
On the other side of the I-270 from RIO Lakefront is another large expanse of shopping centers, big box stores, chain restaurants and a handful of family attractions.
One of these is Monster Mini Golf, part of a national chain with close to 30 locations. At the Gaithersburg branch you’ve got an 18-hole indoor mini golf course, with blacklight and a kitschy, glow-in-the-dark backdrop.
Other attractions include mini bowling, virtual reality games, a laser maze and an arcade with ticket redemption machines.
Other spots in the immediate area include a location for SkyZone Trampoline Park, and iFly Montgomery, an indoor skydiving experience.
11. Muddy Branch Greenway Trail
A tributary stream of the Potomac River, Muddy Branch rises in Gaithersburg, and flows southwestwards, entering the Potomac close to historic Lock 22 (Pennyfield Lock) on the old Chesapeake and Ohio Canal.
For almost its entire length the watercourse is hugged by a nine-mile out-back-trail for hiking, bicycling and horseback riding, leading through meadows, rocky upland forest and past vernal pools.
At the northern end there’s a trailhead at the Potomac Horse Center, Darnestown Road, while at Pennyfield Lock you can set off along the canal’s picturesque towpath, extending for more than 180 miles between Georgetown and Cumberland, MD.
12. Montgomery County Agricultural Fair
The largest agricultural event in Maryland takes place across nine days in mid August.
Going back to 1949, the Montgomery County Agricultural Fair is large by any measure, on a 62 acre site with over 50 buildings filled with exhibits, demonstrations and competitions involving more than 5,000 animals, from goats to rabbits.
There’s a carnival of course, a kidzone, pony rides, diverse food vendors, garden and craft displays, a lumberjack show and a mix of free and ticketed events at the Grandstand.
These run the gamut from lawnmower racing to monster trucks and a demolition derby.
13. Farmers’ Markets
For delicious fresh produce and the satisfaction of supporting local farmers’ and small businesses, there are two farmers’ markets in Gaithersburg.
Year-round you’ve got the Main Street Farmers’ Market, on Saturday mornings at Main Street Park & Pavilion (310 Main St).
In the growing season there’s an abundance of summer fruits and vegetables, along with perennial items like baked goods, eggs and prepared food.
The Casey Community Center (810 S Frederick Ave) has a market on Thursday afternoons May through mid-November, then recurring monthly on select Thursdays.
As well as typical vendors for produce and more, there’s also a different lineup of food trucks here each week.
14. Gaithersburg Book Festival
Inaugurated in 2010, one of the top literary festivals in the United States takes place in Gaithersburg every May.
In its brief history, the Gaithersburg Book Festival has welcomed hundreds of best-selling and award-winning authors, poets and songwriters.
This free, day-long event takes place in a series of pavilions and outdoor spaces at Bohrer Park, and has a schedule crammed with talks, readings, workshops and performances for all ages.
There’s a children’s village for story time and workshops, while the festival also features book signings & sales at the park’s activity center, as well as food vendors and exhibitor booths.
15. Labor Day Parade
Olde Towne Gaithersburg is the setting for an annual tradition, observed since 1938.
Normally held on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend, there’s a rain-or-shine parade featuring marching bands, equestrian units, dance groups from all over the world, fire trucks, classic cars, clowns, cheerleaders, skateboarders and much more.
Normally taking place at 1pm, the parade entertains younger spectators with candy, stickers and a special commemorative coin, handed out each year by the Gaithersburg Mayor & City Council from their trolley.