The seat of Carroll County in northern Maryland sits in rolling green countryside, woven with orchards, vineyards and sunflower farms.
Westminster is an essential part of Maryland’s wine industry. As well as having a few wineries within easy reach, the city has hosted the state’s annual wine festival for close to 40 years.
There are several attractions around the city where you can get a handle on rural life, at historic farms reaching back to the 19th century, and the working Baugher’s Orchards & Farm where you can pick your own fruit in summer.
In town, Westminster has an adorable Main Street with flourishing local businesses and a restored Art Moderne theater that is now a multidisciplinary arts center.
1. Carroll County Farm Museum
A special landmark in the south of Westminster is the former Carroll County Almshouse, raised in 1852 and the centerpiece of an historic complex of 15 buildings.
The 30-room almshouse offered shelter and food to the sick and destitute, in return for work on the surrounding 340-acre farm. This facility was in use for more than a century, finally closing in 1965 and opening as a museum shortly after.
Part of the ensemble is a farmhouse, preserved as a middle-class home in the 1880s. The almshouse’s living history center meanwhile gives you a firsthand look at the various trades that were vital to any rural community, from weaving to spinning, caning, broom-making and tinsmithing.
A much-loved wedding venue, the museum is also the setting for Westminster and Carroll County’s big annual events, like the 4th of July fireworks and the Maryland Wine Festival in September.
2. The Union Mills Homestead
Home to the Shriver family for six generations, this ensemble of historic buildings a little way north of Westminster dates back to 1797 and is a U.S. Historic District.
Composed of a house, grist mill, miller’s house, blacksmith shop, tannery and Bollman-design bridge, the Union Mills Homestead is now a museum of American rural culture, filled with captivating artifacts and preserved as it was when the Shrivers lived and worked here.
You’ll also find out about one peculiar chapter in Civil War history when, in 1863, Confederate general J. E. B. Stuart camped at the homestead and was entertained by some of the Shriver family.
The very next evening Union general James Barnes arrived at the same spot and was welcomed by other members of the family.
Expert docents paint a picture of 160+ years of rural life, while the grist mill continues to make stone-ground wheat flour, cornmeal and other grain products.
3. Downtown Westminster
Westminster’s small-town charm is unmistakable along Main Street. This lovable artery is made to be enjoyed on foot, with its broad sidewalks, gentle grade and plentiful shade from mature trees.
There’s gorgeous architecture here, reaching back to the beginning of the 19th century, and a lot of locally-owned restaurants, stores and services.
Many of these businesses are packed onto the blocks closest to the intersection of Main and Railroad Ave/Liberty St, where there are stores for home furnishings, jewelry, sports gear, bicycles, comic books, musical instruments, clothing and much more.
For food you’ve got white tablecloth restaurants, a pizza joint, Thai, a microbrewery, a bakery, diner food and classic American fare.
There’s never a dull moment downtown, with almost weekly events like outdoor concerts, art shows, street festivals and parades.
4. Carroll Arts Center
Along Main Street it’s impossible to miss the glitzy marquee for this restored Art Moderne theater that first opened in 1937.
In a familiar story for downtown cinemas, the Carroll Theater was modernized later in the century before being made obsolete by a multiplex, closing in the 1980s and suffering years of neglect.
In 2002 the city was persuaded to step in, and the Carroll Arts Council conducted a total restoration, with changes made in the 1970s reversed and original Art Deco details uncovered.
This is now a cherished venue for concerts, drama productions and movie screenings. As well as a theater stage, the new Carroll Arts Center has two spacious art galleries with shows by solo artists and local organizations like the Carroll County Artists Guild.
5. Baugher’s Orchards & Farm
On the edge of town is the kind of quaint attraction you would hope to find in a place like Westminster.
Baugher’s Orchards & Farm has many strings to its bow, and a couple of anchors are the country-style restaurant, first opened in 1948, and the indoor fruit market, both open every day of the year.
Come summer, the farm takes on a new dimension, with pick-your-own strawberries, cherries, nectarines, peaches, apples and pumpkins.
Complementing this is a seasonal orchard market, open until thanksgiving, as well as a petting zoo with domestic animals like goats, lambs, pigs, chickens and rabbits.
Things ramp up in October with pumpkin picking, hayrides and wonderful local and seasonal treats like pit beef, kettle korn, apple cider and homemade fudge.
6. Hashawha Environmental Center & Bear Branch Nature Center
Ten minutes north of downtown Westminster there’s a 320-acre park on land purchased by Carroll County in the early 1970s.
As well as five miles of trails, ample wildlife spotting opportunities, a restored early 19th-century cabin, raptor mews and fishing on Lake Hashawha, the park features the Bear Branch Nature Center.
This facility is open five days a week, with live animal displays, hands-on exhibits, a planetarium/observatory, along with games, puzzles and puppets for children in the Discovery Room.
There are public programs for all at the center, and several spaces can be rented for private events and parties.
7. Old Westminster Winery
There’s a handful of wineries awaiting you in the undulating countryside around Westminster, and one of the finest is on an idyllic, family run farm.
Old Westminster Winery has a cozy but upscale tasting room, with a food menu sourced from local farmers and producers, while you’re also welcome to bring your own food.
You can enjoy locally-grown wines by the glass, flight or bottle, paired with charcuterie, cheeses or the winery’s popular wood-fired pizza.
May through October there’s live music on Fridays and Sundays by talented artists from the area.
8. Downtown Westminster Farmers’ Market
Carroll County’s longest-running producer only market takes place in the center of Westminster on Saturday mornings, May to the Saturday before Thanksgiving.
Established in 1994, the market has a strong contingent of regular vendors from the county and surrounding areas.
On a normal week there’s a bounty of fresh fruit and vegetables, herbs, plants, flowers, pasture-raised meats and eggs.
Beyond that you’ve also got pickles, homemade spice blends, freshly roasted coffee, syrups, kettle corn, baked goods, local wine, wildflower honey, olive oil, organic skincare, cute crafts and also tasty prepared food.
9. Historical Society of Carroll County
A little way southeast along Main Street from downtown Westminster sits the Sherman-Fisher-Shellman House (1807), home to the Historical Society of Carroll County.
The stately Federal-style residence was built by the prominent local businessman, Jacob Sherman (d. 1822), who had previously run a pre-Revolutionary War inn close by.
For a sense of early 19th-century urban life in Westminster, the society’s museum interprets the house’s first few decades when Sherman and his descendants resided here.
Tours are given by costumed docents, and at the back of the property is the Shipley Memorial Garden, growing vegetable, herb and dye plant varieties common in Carroll County in the 1800s.
10. The Sunflower Garden
Rural Maryland is loved for its sunflower fields, in bloom in late summer, and there’s a pretty one just off Route 27 northeast of Westminster.
The Sunflower Garden is a small, pick-your-own flower farm, opening to the public in July and offering more than ten flower varieties. The farm also makes bouquets to order and sells a variety of vegetables and herbs.
At the peak of the season in August and September there’s a sunflower maze, with individual flowers growing nine feet or more. You’re also welcome just to visit for photography and selfies.
11. Island Green Family Fun Center
Head west along the Taneytown Pike and just after Baugher’s Orchards you’ll come to this golf-themed family attraction tucked in the rolling green hills.
The headline at Island Green Family Fun Center is the 18-hole miniature golf course, with scenic landscaping that features a waterfall, stream, shrubs and little rock gardens.
The course is fun for kids, but is also skill-oriented, so experienced putters will enjoy the challenge.
There’s also a driving range here with 42 covered hitting bays, with range balls that are replaced regularly to guarantee performance.
If you want some help with your swing, lessons are offered for all levels. Finally, there’s a pub & grill at Island Green, which has live music almost nightly, but especially on summer weekends.
12. Serpent Ridge Vineyard
Out in bucolic countryside south of Westminster you can track down a boutique vineyard and winery. Serpent Ridge Vineyard was established in 2004, with a charming tasting room that opened to the public five years later.
Serpent Ridge produces wine in small lots, crafted with grapes from this property, local Maryland vineyards and other select growers.
Varietal wines available at the time of writing included whites like Seyval Blanc, a Vidal Blanc and Albariño; reds Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, along with a choice of carefully blended whites and reds.
13. Westminster Community Pond
This waterfowl-rich public pond is in the north of Westminster, on the way to Carroll County Regional Airport.
If you have small children, the pond can be a hassle-free family outing, to feed the many ducks and geese.
Grains, cracked corn, oats or rice are best. There’s a trail around the pond’s grassy banks, and a well-maintained playground on the south side.
If you’re here for some fishing there’s a large pier on the pond, and rainbow trout, bluegill and largemouth bass are regularly landed at this spot.
14. Carroll County Fair
Westminster hosts Carroll County’s 4-H and FFA fair, and this is an event with a history going back to 1897.
Taking place in late July/early August, the fair offers ten days of exhibits, shows, vendors, auctions, demonstrations, live entertainment and family activities.
There are competitions for almost every category you can think of, from woodworking to dairy cattle to shepherding.
You can also see time-honored skills in action, like glassblowing and blacksmithing, accompanied by exciting action, be it tractor pulls, dirt drags, vintage farm truck racing or a demolition derby.
Admission is free, and there’s always an enticing choice for food trucks and vendors, with pit beef sandwiches a specialty.
15. Maryland Wine Festival
This state has a wine industry that reaches back to the middle of the 17th century and today is worth more than $50 million to its economy.
With numerous vineyards and wineries close by, Westminster is the right place for the Maryland Wine Festival, taking place at the Carroll County Farm Museum on the third weekend of September. The event dates back to 1984 and moved to this location a year later.
Over two days you can sample wines from close to 50 different wineries, but there’s also great wine-friendly street food, live music, crafts booths, a blind tasting and a whole cheese pavilion showcasing the world-class creameries in Maryland.