Praised for its high quality of life, Rockville is a city of around 67,000 people, about 15 miles northwest of Washington, D.C..
Like its neighbor Bethesda, Rockville is the base for several biotech and software companies, and has the main campus for Montgomery College (MC).
The cityscape in downtown Rockville was reimagined by a comprehensive urban renewal program in the 1960s, and converges on a mixed-use development, Rockville Town Square, which is a real dining hotspot.
To the east is Rock Creek Regional Park, with Lake Needwood at its head for summer water recreation, and a mixed-use trail extending all the way to the Potomac in Washington.
1. Rockville Town Square
Downtown Rockville was given a total overhaul as part of a bold urban renewal project in the 1960s.
The plan has been tweaked several times since then, and in 2007 the dining and shopping district, Rockville Town Square, opened on 12.5 acres here.
This part of town stands out most of all as a place to dine, with more than 25 options running the gamut from dim sum to pub grub, BBQ, Lebanese, sushi, Thai, Mexican, Deli food, Peruvian and Italian.
There’s a cozy feel to Rockville Town Square in winter, when you can glide around the largest outdoor ice rink in Montgomery County, while you can catch an outdoor concert series on Friday nights in summer.
2. Rock Creek Regional Park
Running down Rockville’s right flank is a lush blanket of woodland, adding up to more than 1,800 acres along the banks of Rock Creek.
Setting off from Lake Needwood in the north, you can walk or ride all the way to the Potomac River in Washington, D.C., along the Rock Creek Hiker/Biker Trail.
Close to home, Lake Needwood is a focus for recreation, and we’ll talk about it in more detail below.
But there’s much more going on, from the high ropes and zip lines at Go Ape, to Needwood Golf Course, an archery range, picnic shelters and the Meadowside Nature Center for some ecological education.
3. Rockville Civic Center Park
Combining history, culture and recreation, this public park is on more than 150 acres about a mile east of Rockville Town Square.
A large portion of Rockville Civic Center Park is claimed by Glenview Mansion, built in the 1920s as a fashionable country estate in the Neoclassical style, around a core that goes back much further to 1838.
Available for private functions, this stately building is embedded in manicured formal gardens and contains a six-room art gallery, for exhibitions by local, national and international artists in a diversity of media.
The surrounding park offers a nature trail, playground, exercise equipment, picnic tables and tennis courts.
One of the Washington area’s great cultural attractions is little more than 15 minutes west of Rockville.
Founded in 2006 by billionaire businessman and collector, Mitchell Rales, Glenstone is the largest private contemporary art museum in the country.
With a recent expansion completed in 2018, visiting this otherworldly campus made up of minimalist pavilions is a unique experience.
The written interpretative information you find at most galleries is replaced by ever-present guides, happy to inform you about the sparsely presented exhibits but also listen to your own interpretations, in the spirit of participation and interactivity.
At the heart of the complex is the Water Court, a water garden planted with thousands of aquatic plants, from rushes to waterlilies.
5. Lake Needwood
One feature of Rock Creek Regional Park particularly close to Rockville is this 75-acre reservoir, created when the creek was dammed in 1965. From Memorial Day weekend, Lake Needwood becomes a haven for outdoor fun.
You can head to the boat house to rent canoes, kayaks, rowboats and pedal boats. The boat house also provides everything you could need for a fishing trip, while four-legged friends are welcome aboard all boats.
For those who want to sit back and enjoy the wooded scenery on the shores, there are cruises aboard the Needwood Queen, a flat-bottom pontoon boat.
On dry land, the parking lot by the southeastern shore is the departure point for the Rock Creek Trail, but you’ve also got the West Side Trail, which, as the name tells you, arcs around the western shore.
6. Cabin John Regional Park
Little more than ten minutes from Rockville Town Square is a public park loaded with amenities in a peaceful wooded setting.
For kids, a highlight at Cabin John Regional Park is the miniature train, open on weekends in summer for a scenic 15-minute ride through the woods.
Also out of the ordinary is the indoor ice rink, available throughout the year for public skate sessions, lessons and stick & puck and competitive hockey.
Among the other facilities are indoor and outdoor tennis courts, an adventure playground, a volleyball area, trails, a dog park, camping, a ballfield, three horseshoe pits and two shelters, each with grills and some 20 picnic tables.
7. City of Rockville Farmers’ Market
Mid-May through mid-November, Rockville has a large and growing farmers’ market, set in the Jury Parking Lot at the corner of Rt. 28 and Monroe St. on Saturday mornings.
Rain or shine you’ll be greeted by numerous vendors, with stock that changes throughout the season.
Normally there’s seasonal fruit and vegetables, cut flowers, bedding plants, herbs, fresh roasted coffee, cheeses, a wide variety of grass-fed meats, honey, eggs, preserves, cakes, pastries, breads and locally made craft beers and spirits.
8. True Respite Brewing Company
We mentioned that Rockville has a strong craft beverage scene, and there’s a few spots just minutes from Rockville Town Square.
One is True Respite, opened in 2017 and an ever-present at the City of Rockville Farmers’ Market. The tap room is open every day except Monday, and had 15 beers on tap when we wrote this list, as well as 13 available in beers or bottles.
A few notables were White Tail (Hefeweizen), Common Stout, Bear (Helles Lager), Scrum & Hooker (English Brown Ale) and Week Away Hazy IPA, the flagship IPA, brewed with El Dorado, Cashmere, and Sultana.
True Respite also has a hopping events calendar, full of live music, release parties, weekly trivia nights, yoga and visits from all kinds of local food trucks.
9. Twin Valley Distillers
In a state that has always produced a lot of grain, distilling is a skill that was killed off by prohibition in Maryland, and has only recently made a comeback.
Established in 2013, Rockville’s Twin Valley Distillers is the first distillery in Montgomery County since the 1910s, and just the third in the state.
Run by Costa Rica-born Edgardo Zuniga, this operation uses locally sourced grain to make a line of bourbons and whiskeys.
The range also draws on Zuniga’s Central American roots, for a rum, rum punch and chicha. There’s an understated cocktail bar at the distillery open weekday evenings and mixing a variety of drinks, from smoked old-fashioned to a pineapple sunrise.
10. Beall-Dawson House
The headquarters for Montgomery Historical Society since 1965, the Beall-Dawson House is a Federal style brick residence, built around 1815 for Uton Beall and his wife and daughters.
Clerk of the Court for Montgomery County, Beall came from a respected Georgetown family. His daughters lived in the house for their whole lives, and their cousin, Amelia Somervell Dawson, later moved here with her family.
Something striking about the house is how many original details have survived the last 200+ years.
Almost unique, and perhaps challenging to contemplate, are the intact quarters for the family’s enslaved laborers, set above the kitchen.
When we compiled this article the Beall-Dawson House was temporarily closed for conservation work.
11. Robert E. Parilla Performing Arts Center
The largest campus for Montgomery College (MC) sits within a mile north of Rockville Town Square, which is great news if you’re up for some culture.
The Robert E. Parilla Performing Arts Center here is a dynamic, modern venue with scores of performances every year, both by students, and a long list of guest performers.
These might be renowned recording artists, classical ensembles, touring dance companies or world-famous comedians.
There’s also a Children’s Series, with performances usually taking place on Saturday mornings and especially designed for youngsters.
12. Croydon Creek Nature Center
Adjacent to Rockville Civic Center Park is 120 acres of preserve, at the heart of which is this charming nature center.
On trails you can make your way through forest and meadows and along the wooded banks of a creek.
Inside, Croydon Creek Nature Center is endowed with changing interpretive exhibits, nature-inspired art, including an engaging mosaic by artist Deidre Saunder, as well as live animal displays like a working beehive, corn snakes, toads, a spotted salamander and a common snapping turtle.
The center organizes plenty of nature themed experiences throughout the year for a small fee.
13. Meadowside Nature Center
Northeast of Lake Bernard Frank, this nature center in Rock Creek Regional Park has educated the public about nature in Montgomery County for more than 50 years now.
This facility is connected to the lake via eight miles of trails, also taking you past Muncaster Mill, explaining how grains are turned into flour.
The star attraction at Meadowside Nature Center is the Raptor Deck, providing a home to birds of prey that are either permanently injured or unreleasable.
Some of these birds are on public show in mews, offering a rare chance to see a raptor up close and learn about its behavior and diet.
The center has nature-oriented programs and events for all ages and interests, from bird spotting walks to summer camps for kids.
14. St. Mary’s Church
Welcoming you as you arrive in Rockville from the east side is a small ensemble of historic buildings, combining a commercial structure (Wire Hardware Store), railroad station, rows of residential buildings and this historic church, built in the Georgian style in 1817.
St. Mary’s was the county’s first Roman Catholic Church to be built from brick, and features stained glass windows that were installed later in the century.
The cemetery around the back is significant as the burial place (in unmarked graves) of many Irish laborers who died during the construction of the C&O Canal in the 1820s.
This is also the resting place of jazz age writer F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940), his famous wife Zelda Fitzgerald (1900-1948), as well as their daughter, Frances (1921-1986).
15. Rockville B&O Railroad Station
For more local history, Rockville has one of the few surviving Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B&O) Metropolitan Branch stations.
Designed in a Victorian Gothic style by B&O head architect, Ephraim Francis Baldwin (1837-1916), this opened in 1873 and retains its ornate woodwork on its gables and patterned roof tiles.
The station was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975, and was relocated about 50 yards to the south in 1981 to make room for the modern Rockville Metro Station.