College Park is best known for the University of Maryland and its 36,000 students, but there is so much more to this community than just the university. College Park is full of great restaurants, shops, running trails, arts and cultural opportunities, sporting events, and more. Sure, it’s got a lot of students, but it’s not just riots and frat parties. And since I’ve mostly only seen the riot/frat party side of College Park while visiting friends who attended the university years ago, I’ve asked our friends at the fantastic planning and development blog Rethink College Park to tell us what’s great about their community outside of UMD. Read on to find out what College Park residents love about their community, and what you’ll have to check out next time you’re in the area.
History: The Maryland Agricultural College was founded in 1856, and it later grew to become the University of Maryland at College Park. Much of the development in the area happened after 1889, when the area was subdivided and developed with suburban homes (for people that were seeking to escape the crowded District). College Park has a unique history in aviation, and the College Park airport (which opened in 1909) is the oldest continuously-operating airport in the world.
Neighborhood Character: If you’ve driven through College Park on Route 1, you’ve seen the sprawl side of the community. But there’s a lot more to the community than just that. Clay, a Rethink College Park contributor and College Park resident of ten years, says, “If you take the time to look you can find wonderful neighborhoods such as Calvert Hills, Yarrow and College Park Estates, Hollywood.” These neighborhoods are quiet, tree-lined suburban streets that feel much more like a community than what you see driving on Route 1.
The downtown area around the University of Maryland has the typical college town feel, with lots of pedestrians and bikes and plenty of shops and restaurants. New student housing, in the form of condo buildings for upperclassmen, is popping up all over the area. And there are plans to redevelop the downtown area to make it even more pedestrian-friendly and compact in the future.
Transportation: While there is a College Park-UMD Metro station, it’s a little over a mile from downtown/campus, so expect to take a shuttle. The campus itself is large but walkable, and the nearby downtown area is pedestrian-friendly enough. But much of the area is car-oriented, especially along Route 1. So if you’re planning an excursion to Ikea, it’s best to get a Zipcar.
There are great trails in the area, like the College Park Trolley Trail, the Anacostia Tributary Trails, the Paint Branch Trail, and more. Colin, another Rethink College Park contributor and College Park resident of 9 years, says, “The Paint Branch, Northeast Branch Trail, and Lake Artemesia are all on our doorstep. In 15 minutes one can be biking around the peaceful open countryside of Beltsville Agricultural Research Center.”
What to See: There’s no shortage of things to do in College Park:
- Definitely check out the University. Both Colin and Clay recommend sporting events and cultural activities. Colin likes going to women’s basketball games in the winter: “Those girls are great! Great crowds, cheap tickets, and fun for the family – none of the crowd antics seen at the men’s games.” And make sure to head out to Maryland Day in April, which is an all-day open house at the university.
- Get outside! Clay says that Lake Artemesia is “simply beautiful in every season. And not many people even know it exists.” And there are plenty of parks nearby, in addition to all the trails in the area.
- Explore aviation in College Park. Colin says the College Park Aviation Museum is a treasure. “Not on the huge scale of the Smithsonian Air & Space museums, but with fascinating inventions from the very earliest days of aviation, when the Wright Brothers used to train pilots here and College Park was an important aircraft center.”
- Hungry yet? Definitely stop by College Park institution the Bagel Place for great bagels. Other local favorites include the original Ledo Restaurant, Pita Plus for great Israeli food, and Marathon Deli for great gyros.
- And yes, College Park is home to the closest Ikea to DC. It’s a little crazy on weekends, but you’ll practically have the whole showroom to yourself on weekday evenings.
Why We Love College Park: If you’re looking for a suburb that has an endless supply of entertainment and educational events, College Park might be perfect. The university offers so many events, concerts, and sports that there’s always something going on. The area connects with great trails and is close to many parks, and it provides easy access to the rest of the region through Metro and the Beltway.
And while the area isn’t as walkable or compact as other DC suburbs, there’s lots of potential for it. Colin says, “College Park has much to offer already, but it also has so much unrealized potential. If the university’s East Campus town center project, together with the Purple Line, both finally get off the ground, then the city could be poised for a dramatic change.”