Just across the border from D.C., Takoma Park is a Washington suburb on hilly ground and known for its progressiveness, diversity and artists.
This is epitomized by Old Town Takoma Park, with a pioneering farmers’ market, a co-operative supermarket and inclusive events like Pride and a colorful street festival in October with 150+ craft vendors.
One figure who made an impression here was long-term activist Sammie Abbott (1908-1990), who became mayor in the early 80s, declaring Takoma Park “Tree City USA”, a nuclear-free zone and a sanctuary for refugees.
He also instituted the Takoma Park Folk Festival, which is still going strong more than four decades later.
1. Old Town Takoma Park
It’s impossible to visit this winding stretch of Carroll Ave where it intersects with Laurel Ave and not feel a little jealous.
Even though you’re in the middle of a huge metropolitan area, Old Town Takoma Park feels like a close-knit small town, and this has a lot to do with the countless events that happen here every year.
There’s also an urban worldliness that shines through in the variety of restaurants, stores, galleries and other community-oriented businesses like dance and music schools, spas, fitness studios and many more.
Apt for Tree City, you’ve also got a lot of lush greenery courtesy of Takoma Urban Park, which traces Carroll Ave and sets the scene for outdoor concerts in summer.
It follows that a place with a diverse community and a nurturing attitude towards small businesses should have an awesome food scene.
Takoma Park is often overlooked in favor of Dupont Circle and Silver Spring, but more than holds its own for the variety, quantity and quality of its restaurants.
So around Old Town Takoma Park there’s the beloved Mark’s Kitchen (Korean-American), Roscoe’s Pizzeria, Kin Da (Thai), Cielo Rojo (Mexican), Republic (Seafood) and a branch of Busboys and Poets (American).
Elsewhere you’ll find a location for Mid Atlantic Seafood, as well as highly-rated spots for West African food (Mansa Kunda), Dominican (Tipico Dominicano food truck), Indian (Red Chillies), East African (IBEX Ethiopian Restaurant and Lounge) and Peruvian (Tropicana Majahual Restaurant).
3. Takoma Park Folk Festival
Takoma Park has long been associated with folk music and activism, and was the place where influential fingerstyle guitarist John Fahey (1939-2001) grew up in the 50s and early 60s.
Since 1982 the city has staged an annual folk festival in September, and this is a premier event for the metropolitan D.C. community.
The Takoma Park Folk Festival goes back to a one-off festival in 1978 organized by future mayor Sammie Abbott to raise funds to stop a developer purchasing the Takoma Theatre.
Across six stages on the grounds of Takoma Park Middle School, the free event rolls together music, dance and storytelling from cultures around the world.
The event is made possible by a big team of volunteers, and has a juried crafts show and children’s activities, while giving a voice to local politicians and community organizations.
4. Sligo Creek Trail
Takoma Park has famously steep topography, but an easy way to traverse the city on foot or by bike is along the deep, wooded valley of Sligo Creek.
The creekside trail is more than ten miles long, with an eastern trailhead where the watercourse meets the Northwest Branch of the Anacostia River in Chillum, and ending at the Wheaton Regional Recreation Park in Silver Spring.
On its secluded, gorge-like route, the Sligo Creek Trail passes through many local neighborhood parks with places to take a break or enjoy a picnic.
If you’re ready for more, the eastern trailhead connects with the rest of the Anacostia Tributary Trail System in Prince George’s County, with 25+ miles of interconnecting trails.
5. Takoma Park Farmers’ Market
It makes sense that Takoma Park should have blazed a trail for the producers-only movement.
The city has had a farmers’ market since 1983, with pride of place in Old Town Takoma Park. This is a year-round institution, in business rain or shine on Sundays, 10 am to 2 pm.
Nothing sold at the market has traveled more than 125 miles, and, as well as a gaggle of street performers, a space is always provided for non-profits at Community Corner.
There are 25 vendors here each week, offering seasonal fruit and vegetables, fresh bread and baked goods, artisanal cheeses, pasture-raised meats, cold meats and prepared food like Grassfed Griddle, making a choice of hot sandwiches.
The market organizes a number of important programs, like food donations and a fee-free ATM.
6. Crossroads Farmers’ Market
If one isn’t enough, there’s another fantastic farmers’ market in Takoma Park, this one along the New Hampshire commercial corridor.
At the corner of Anne St and University Blvd, the Crossroads Farmers’ Market takes place on Wednesdays 10:30 am – 2:30 pm, late April to late November.
This is a busy, producers-only market, and the ideal place to pick up locally grown, raised or made produce, flowers, eggs, honey, coffee and more.
There are also a lot of exotic ingredients catering to Takoma Park’s diverse community, and, given the time of day, you’ll be pleased to find a good choice of prepared food for lunch.
Most weeks there are live culinary demos, kids’ activities during the school summer break and live music.
7. Rock Creek Park
In Takoma Park you’re never more than a few minutes from one of the top urban parks in the country.
At just over 1,750 acres, Rock Creek Park was officially created in 1890, becoming the third federally authorized national park.
This has been an urban oasis for generations, and even presidents like Theodore Roosevelt (birdwatching) and Ronald Regan (horseback riding), have sought an escape at Rock Creek Park.
There are 32 miles of hiking trails, 13 miles of horseback riding trails and compelling historical sites like the water-powered Peirce Mill (1820).
You can visit the Rock Creek Park Horse Center for a guided trail ride, while there’s a planetarium conducting free programs on weekends, as well as a Nature Center (5200 Glover Road NW), which provides brochures and maps if you need to get oriented.
8. Takoma Park Street Festival
Another long-standing celebration in the city is the Takoma Park Street Festival, which is now into its fifth decade.
This event takes place on the first Sunday of October, shutting down a stretch of Carroll Avenue, across the line into Takoma, D.C, where it becomes Carroll St.
The festival is a platform for local creativity, with 150+ vendor booths, showcasing painting, sculpture, ceramics, leatherwork, textiles, woodwork, jewelry, prints, candlemaking, body care and much more than we can list here.
There’s always an eclectic assortment of food trucks, as well as live music from almost two dozen artists, while Old Town Takoma Park’s stores and restaurants open their doors to the passers by.
9. New Hampshire Ave (The New Ave)
The Crossroads Farmers’ Market is one of a few initiatives and projects making Takoma Park’s main commercial and residential corridor (MD 650) more desirable.
Under the name “The New Ave”, the city is seizing power from the highway and giving it back to pedestrians.
At the time of writing, the Ethan Allen Streetscape Project had just been completed at the intersection with East-West Highway (MD 410), creating a safer environment for pedestrians, bicyclists and people using public transport.
Meanwhile the underutilized service lanes along MD 650 are becoming a two-directional bikeway, and murals have been commissioned along the road.
The New Ave website has also published a walking guide for the corridor, helping you track down exotic establishments, for Caribbean patties, Peruvian rotisserie chicken and everything South Asian, from palak paneer to imported saris.
10. Takoma Park Fourth of July Parade
The city hits the streets on July 4 to celebrate the nation’s independence. It all begins at 10 am with a parade by local clubs, services, political figures, businesses, organizations, schools and more, on a giant “U” through the city, along Carroll Ave and back up Maple Ave.
Then, when the evening arrives, there’s a big street party around 7500 Maple Ave with live music, food & drink vendors and plenty of fun family activities.
When we wrote this article there hadn’t been a fireworks show for a couple of years, in the absence of a suitable space to safely launch fireworks.
In the hours between the parade and evening celebration you can normally catch some live music at the Takoma Urban Park gazebo.
11. Roscoe the Rooster Statue
This small but touching monument in Old Town Takoma Park speaks to the city’s eccentricity but also its heart.
Roscoe the Rooster was a real rooster that showed up out of nowhere in 1989 and roamed the town for a decade.
He was fed by residents and became a mascot for Takoma Park before falling victim to a road accident in 1999.
A statue was placed by the clock on Laurel Ave in Roscoe’s honor. Even today the statue is decorated for city festivals, and was the inspiration for a pizzeria a short walk along the street.
12. Fort Stevens
It might come as a surprise but there’s a battlefield in the middle of the city in neighboring Takoma.
Raised in 1861, Fort Stevens was part of a giant system of defenses for the capital, and was called into action during the namesake battle in July 1864, part of the Valley Campaigns of that year.
A Union victory, the Battle of Fort Stevens involved minor skirmishes and no main assault, but is remembered for Abraham Lincoln’s attendance as an observer.
He briefly came under fire from Confederate sharpshooters, and a Union surgeon standing next to him on the parapet was wounded.
The site is maintained by the National Park Service, and has two preserved earthwork walls, with embrasures armed with two parrott rifles.
A bronze plaque provides a 3D map of the fort, while the 41 Union soldiers who died in the battle are buried at the Battleground National Cemetery nearby.
13. Takoma Park Silver Spring Co-Op
There’s another small commercial district in Takoma Park, known as Takoma Junction, where Carroll Ave and Ethan Allen Ave intersect.
Along with a clutch of interesting stores, eateries and services, this is where you’ll find the Takoma Park Silver Spring Co-Op, which has close to 10,000 members and originated as a vegetarian store on Sligo Ave in 1981.
Anyone can become a member and contribute to decisions about the store’s future, but, if you’re just visiting, non-members can shop here too.
One of many things that makes the co-op important is its emphasis on local, organic and fair trade foods, and you might be excited to know that there’s a wonderful selection of local beers and wines.
14. Takoma-Piney Branch Park
This 17.4-acre neighborhood park next to Piney Branch Elementary School has been renovated in the last decade.
Laid out on typically steep terrain Takoma-Piney Branch Park has a surprising number of features, among them a dog park, picnic shelters, public art and well-maintained playgrounds for different ages.
In terms of recreation you’ve got an excellent skate park, softball field, volleyball courts, a soccer field, basketball courts and a looped multi-use path, to go with a large open grassy space.
15. Silver Spring
For a different kind of shopping experience, the city of Silver Spring is within shouting distance of Takoma Park, and has a downtown area that has been totally transformed over the last 20 years.
For several blocks along Georgia Ave downtown Silver Spring is a giant shopping plaza, with national retail and food chains, partnered by the 20-screen Regal Majestic & IMAX.
As in Takoma Park, Silver Spring has a bounty of local, ethnic restaurants, from Ethiopian to New York-style bagels. Cinephiles will adore the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center, at a sublime Art Deco movie palace from 1938.
The city also hosts the National Museum of Health & Medicine (NMHM), founded in 1862, with big anatomical and instrument collections that are grisly and enlightening in equal measure.