Getting to Know the DMV: Takoma Park and Silver Spring

These two residential Maryland neighborhoods offer quirky atmospheres, delicious food, woodland walks and easy shopping for those looking for a quick trip out of town.

The AFI Silver is a cultural destination in Silver Spring, Md.
The AFI Silver Theatre is a destination for cinephiles. (William Atkins/GW Today)
September 30, 2019

Washington, D.C., is more than the seat of the national government. The DMV—the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia—is home to broad, diverse communities and neighborhoods that offer history, good eats, parks and waterfronts—much of it a quick Metro ride away. About once a month during the academic year, Getting to Know the DMV will offer a glimpse of selected neighborhoods.

By Ruth Steinhardt

When you’re ready to get out of the city, Foggy Bottom residents can make it across the Washington, D.C., border into Maryland in about 30 minutes. And with the Takoma Park Street Festival taking place this Sunday, Oct. 6, it’s a perfect time to explore these two Red Line neighborhoods—one busy and developed, the other woodsy and peaceful.

Takoma Park

Statue of Roscoe the Rooster, Takoma Park

This statue commemorates beloved Takoma Park resident Roscoe the Rooster, who crowed over the neighborhood throughout the 1990s. (William Atkins/GW Today)

Sometimes called “the People’s Republic of Takoma Park” or “the Berkeley of the East,” this leafy enclave is known for its political activism and bohemian-hippie charm. It was developed in 1883 as one of the D.C. area’s first railroad-accessible suburbs, and thanks to its higher elevation could be advertised as a healthier alternative to the city’s mosquito-infested swamplands.

Despite its progressive politics and environmentalist bona fides (Takoma Park is home to the nation's first service station to convert entirely from gas to electric, for instance), the area also is known in some ways for traditionalism. Residents have made a point of preserving historic houses and small local businesses even as development intensifies around the region.

What to Do:

Gazebo Park

Gazebo Park. (William Atkins/GW Today)

19th-century developer B. F. Gilbert, who founded Takoma Park, created it as a “sylvan suburb,” and to this day it remains one of the area’s most walkable neighborhoods. On sunny days, stop by Gazebo Park (7035 Carroll Ave.) for people watching and the occasional live performance. For bikers, joggers and hikers, the tree-shaded Sligo Creek Trail meanders through the end of the neighborhood and further north.

Window shoppers are in luck, too. Downtown Takoma Park is packed with antique and vintage shops like The Magic Carpet (6925 Laurel Ave.) and Bespoke Not Broke (7042 Carroll Ave.).

House of Musical Traditions

See the wall of banjos and folk instruments from around the world at the House of Musical Traditions (7010 Westmoreland Ave.), which also offers affordable lessons and workshops. (William Atkins/GW Today)

If you’re a history buff, the Thomas-Siegler House (201 Tulip Ave.) was the first to be completed in the neighborhood. Its gardens are open to the public from dawn until dusk. Visit in spring and early summer to see them in full bloom, including the multicolored azaleas that give the community another of its nicknames, “Azalea City.” (Benjamin Y. Morrison, the first director of the National Arboretum and one of Takoma Park’s earliest residents, planted many that are still visible today).

The area is also known for its festivals and celebrations, including the long-running Takoma Park Folk Festival. The 38th annual Takoma Park Street Festival takes place this Sunday, Oct. 6, featuring food specials, crafts and house goods from local artists and artisans, live music and, for those of age, a local bar crawl.

 Where to Eat:

Food at Mark's Kitchen

No-frills favorites at Mark's Kitchen. (William Atkins/GW Today)

  • Busboys and Poets, 235 Carroll St.
    This D.C. stalwart bookstore/café chain opened its Takoma Park branch in 2015. The location boasts author talks, community discussions and performances by local artists.
  • Mark’s Kitchen, 7006 Carroll Ave.
    A longtime neighborhood favorite, Mark’s offers delicious American and Korean specialties in a laid-back atmosphere.

(William Atkins/GW Today)

  • Republic, 6939 Laurel Ave.
    A menu sourced mostly from local farms and the Chesapeake watershed sets Republic apart. For an upscale but inexpensive date, try local oysters for just $1 each during happy hour.
  • Trattoria da Lina, 7000 Carroll Ave.
    Named for the owner’s mother’s original restaurant in Puglia, Italy, Trattoria da Lina offers some of the region’s most authentic and delicious Southern Italian food.

Silver Spring

Silver Spring Metro

"Penguin Rush Hour," artist Sally Callmer Thompson's beloved 1989 mural at the Silver Spring Metro, eventually deteriorated from wear. Fortunately, a sturdier digital reproduction was restored in 2017. (William Atkins/GW Today)

Silver Spring’s romantic name originated with a horse—specifically one belonging to town founder Francis Preston Blair, who is said to have been startled on a sunny day in 1840 by the metallic glint of a freshwater spring glittering with mica. The spring was destroyed by the construction of what is now the East West Highway, but the neighborhood has acquired its own new shine with upscale condominiums and a busy pedestrian mall downtown.

What to Do:

Like to shop? Downtown Silver Spring is a pedestrian mall lined with popular retail chains like H&M (8518 Fenton St.), DSW (910 Ellsworth Dr.) and ULTA Beauty (914 Ellsworth Dr.). Veterans’ Plaza (8523 Fenton St.) is a site for performances, outdoor fitness classes and festivals that converts to an affordable ice skating rink in the colder months.

Silver Spring also is the home of the American Film Institute’s Silver Theatre and Cultural Center (8633 Colesville Rd.), which screens new independent features alongside cinematic classics and offers events with filmmakers, critics, actors and more. Don’t miss the legendary AFI Docs Festival, which showcases documentary filmmaking’s finest every summer.

The Fillmore

Live music fans flock to The Fillmore (8656 Colesville Rd.), where upcoming performances in fall and winter 2019 include local hip-hop hero Wale (Oct. 9), vocoder wizard T-Pain (Nov. 4) and up-and-coming star Kim Petras (Nov. 20). (William Atkins/GW Today)

Where to Eat:

  • Urban Butcher, 8226 Georgia Ave.
    Sink your teeth into meticulously sourced meats at this wooden-counter “alternative steakhouse,” which features more than 60 cuts of dry-aged beef.

Beteseb Ethiopian Restaurant

  • Beteseb, 8201 Georgia Ave.
    The D.C. area is known for its vibrant East African immigrant community, and missing out on Ethiopian food during your time here would be a crime. Beteseb serves classics from the region, many of which come in group-friendly shareable portions.
  • Mandalay, 930 Bonifant St.
    Try family-made food from Burma at this neighborhood standby, which has been named as one of Washingtonian magazine’s “Best Bargains” more than 10 times.
  • Quarry House Tavern, 8401 Georgia Ave.
    Dive bars don’t get more classic than this basement joint, where just about anything (pickles, Oreos, chicken wings, avocado) is available fried. Also features daily happy hour specials.

How to Get There:

From Foggy Bottom

  • Metro:
    • Take Blue, Orange or Silver line train from Foggy Bottom to Metro Center, transfer to the Red Line toward Glenmont and take the train to Takoma or Silver Spring.
    • If you’d rather not transfer and you’re comfortable with a short walk, go down K Street to Farragut North, then take the Red Line.

From Mount Vernon

Campus Shuttles: The Vern Express runs between the Mount Vernon and Foggy Bottom campuses. The shuttle will only make stops on campus, so once you are in Foggy Bottom follow the suggested travel routes mentioned above.

Student Life, Ruth Steinhardt