Hidden amid big-box stores and chain restaurants lies the real Gaithersburg, a diverse Montgomery County community that has a storied history.

It's hard to imagine in today's suburban sprawl, but Gaithersburg was once a rural summer home for Washington socialites and politicians. Begun as a settlement called Log Town in 1765, the city has come a long way since it was incorporated as Gaithersburg in spring 1878.

It's home to two planned communities: Montgomery Village, established in the late 1960s, and Kentlands, begun in the late 1980s. About 35,000 people live in "The Village." Kentlands is smaller, constructed in modern "smart growth" style with its own town square of shops and services.

Gaithersburg's declining old downtown at Diamond and Summit avenues began to improve in the late 1990s.

Fay Johnson opened Gaithersburg Antiques and Home Accessories in Olde Towne in 1995. A former buyer for the Woodward and Lothrop department store chain, she says there has been some business turnover in the area, but adds that says her closest neighbors - a Spanish bookstore and a metaphysical gift and supply shop - have seen the same positive growth her business has.

Montgomery County's Hispanic community has also grown as Gaithersburg has provided a niche for Latin Americans looking for a new home.

Joe Molina settled in Gaithersburg in 1999. In 2001, he opened Tacos Pepito's Bakery, a carryout of authentic Mexican entrees and pastries.

Olde Towne

Gaithersburg Community Museum (9 S. Summit Ave., 301-258-6160): See "Gaithersburg in the 1940s" in the restored B&O Freight House. 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.

Engine House Hobbies (315-G E. Diamond Ave., 301-590-0816): Don't miss the model-train layout with a steam engine and the modern Amtrak locomotive and a mounted camera that shows the scene from the train's perspective on a nearby TV.

Summit Station (227 E. Diamond Ave., 301-519-9400): Craft beers, Southwestern food and live music on weekends. Wednesday's "Blues-N-Cajun Night" offers $2.50 Hurricanes, a complimentary Cajun buffet and blues legends on CD.

Morazon Center Market (220 E. Diamond Ave., 301-926-0282): Chorizo sausage, queso fresco and whole red snapper are among the temptations here. Other offerings include exotic spices, fresh produce and extensive lines of Latin pantry goods from beans, rice and tortilla flour to mango-flavored gelatin and instant flan mix.

Tacos Pepito's Bakery (107 B. E. Diamond Ave., 301-990-1541): In Mexico, tacos are made with beef tongue and sandwiches come with ham and pork carnitas - as they do here. The Tres Leches cake is a slice of heaven.

Roy's Place (2 E. Diamond Ave., 301-948-5548): Don't be put off by Roy's unassuming exterior. The overstuffed sandwiches (more than 200) have drawn diners for decades. Tables fill quickly at lunch and dinner.

Gaithersburg Antiques and Home Accessories (5 N. Summit Ave., 301-670-5870): Linens, fine china and glass, elegant furniture as well as reproduction picture frames, lamps and decorative tassels.

Libreria Diamante Bookstore (1 N. Summit Ave., 301-208-1872): Read Isabel Allende or Gabriel Garcia Marquez in Spanish, flip through the Latin edition of Glamour magazine or find some great Spanish children's books. Owner Ruby Haberkamp travels regularly to Spain and Latin American countries to get the newest books.

Special Treasures (8 N. Summit Ave., 301-670-9354): This shop carries everything from incense and feng shui supplies to crystals and angel cards. Classes range from basic meditation to Wiccan magic.


The Wine Harvest (114 Market St., 301-869-4008) : A wine bar that has the friendly feel of a beloved neighborhood spot.