Maryland, a melting pot of the Mid-Atlantic, has many unique small towns to visit. There are the beach spots with coastal charm, the historic cities with Colonial vibes and places edging on the country that share a likeness with the deeper South. But this year, none of them are as cool as Sykesville.
The town that straddles the Carroll-Howard county border was named "Coolest Small Town in America" in a Budget Travel magazine competition, receiving 44 percent of online votes. And Sykesville is living up to the designation.
Its charming Main Street has sprouted new businesses within the past few years, drawing in crowds from all over the state looking to experience the slew of restaurants, shops and entertainment situated in a less than a mile stretch. Here, you're bound to bump into the same people more than once in a day — and for many, that's what makes it great.
"It's a small town feeling. ... There are all kinds of events and good restaurants," said Carolyn Meyers of Eldersburg on a recent Tuesday morning, showing around three of her girlfriends. She recommended a pub for lunch, where we'd run into her later that afternoon, and a few other shops. We'd see here there, too, and it all felt delightfully communal, not creepy.
The business owners — many of whom are women — feel the same way.
"It's like a second family for me. There's no competition. The owners are supportive. We compliment each other," said Hélène Taylor, the owner of The French Twist coffee shop and creperie.
And yet, as small as the town is (its population being little more than 4,400), every shop and restaurant exudes a distinct history or theme. Take Annie Kennedy, for example, who channeled her love for the West into Cowboys & Angels, a shop that sells cowboy boots and apparel. The concept is light years away from the nearby Euro-style gourmet market and bar or the skateboard shop, yet they share the same sidewalk.
"A lot of towns are cookie cutter," Kennedy said. "Each of us is unique."
Here's a list of attractions, accommodations and more to help you map out a weekend adventure in Sykesville.
The French Twist Start your day off with the feel of Paris at this creperie and coffee spot. Try the "La Canadienne." This warm and savory crepe filled with eggs, crispy bacon, and cheddar cheese, and drizzled with maple syrup, makes for the perfect breakfast combination, according to owner Hélène Taylor of Sykesville, who originally hails from France. Later in the day, opt for The French Twist's selection of handpicked French and Canadian wines, beers and ciders. 7:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday; 7:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 7:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Friday; 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday; 8 a.m.- 4 p.m. Sunday. 732 Oklahoma Ave. frenchtwistcafe.com.
Baldwin's Station Housed in the town's former railroad station, this fine dining restaurant boasts a seasonal menu featuring its signature crab cakes and a wild mushroom bisque that has been on the menu for years. Plus, there's the view of the railroad tracks and Patapsco River. "You can come in and have your whole wedding reception here, or sit out on the deck and enjoy drinks and a burger," said David Young, the general manager. "It's pretty diverse." The back deck is a hit with "train buffs," Young said, and it's also where many of the restaurant's special festivities are held. Live music performances take place throughout the year, as do themed dinners like the "Whodunnit for Hire Mystery Party" dinner special on Aug. 26, Sept. 23, Oct. 28, and Nov. 4 ($60 plus tax and gratuity). Or you can hit the summer snowball stand, open through September on days the restaurant is open, for the ultimate cool down. Restaurant's hours are 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m.- 8:30 p.m. Sunday. 7618 Main St. baldwinsstation.com
Cork & Bottle Spirit Shoppe Find the perfect bottle of wine or beer in this quaint wine and beer store, then uncork outside and stay a while at the outdoor patio tables. You can also order bar bites, delivered straight from neighboring restaurant Baldwin's Station. 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday; noon-6 p.m. Sunday. 7615 Main St. baldwinsstation.com
Big Belly Deli Bring your appetite to this no-frills deli with more than 25 sandwiches to choose from — all served on homemade bread. Complement the sandwiches with featured soups, salads and mouthwatering sides such as fries and gravy. 6 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 6 a.m.-8 p.m. Friday; 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday; 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday. 887 Sandosky Road. bigbellydeli.net.
E.W. Beck's Pub This hometown tavern is the Sykesville version of "Cheers," according to bartender Thomas Currence, who you can call T.C. for short. "Everybody knows each other here," he said, pointing to the tables of people conversing with each other. Becks old-timer Bill Carter of Eldersburg, 64, is there weekly for the "friends, food and just kind of hanging out and catching up." The menu is just as robust as the social scene, with seasonal craft beers, small plates, high-end entrees and traditional pub eats, Carter said. Sit on the outdoor patio and take in live music on select days of the week. The bar is open at 11:30 a.m. to around 1 a.m. daily. The restaurant is open from 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 11:30 a.m.- 9 p.m. Sunday. 7565 Main St. ewbecks.com
Sweet Simplici-Tea & Bakery Break for afternoon tea the proper way at this tea room fused with a bakery and gift shop. There are just over 50 teas to choose from. Enjoy at the endearing table settings or take lunch to go, as most items are available for dine-in or carry out. (So yes, we suggest grabbing a cupcake for the road.) Reservations are recommended. 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, 10 a.m.- 4 p.m. Saturday. 7540 Main St. sweetsimplicitea.com
Powder's Produce & Snowballs Cool down from the summer heat at this roadside stand, which has been selling fresh produce and snowballs — a popular Baltimore summertime treat — since 1954. Try the most revered flavors like the classic egg custard, Sky-Lite, and "Sponge Bob" for the kids. Top off with marshmallow for a sticky sweetness, and wave to the many honking passersby who know and love this stand all too well. 11 a.m.-8 p.m. daily, weather permitting. 4812 Sykesville Road. facebook.com/powdersproduce.
Market Tavern The name of this European-style shop is quite literal, according to owners Pete and Jennifer Truby of Sykesville. "Half-market, half-tavern," you're bound to work up an appetite while browsing through the front gourmet market, with offerings such as salted dark chocolate, local cheeses, herb-filled spreads, wine, craft beer and an array of other snacks. The back bar, which also offers table seating, serves drinks along with made-to-order small plates, including a prosciutto and raclette open-faced sandwich that you can see heated, melted and made right in front of you. 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday; 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Thursday; 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday. 7556 Main St. market-tavern.com
A Likely Story Bookstore Billed as Carroll County's only independent bookstore, it features a mix of new and gently used books, and hosts several events throughout the year that will appeal to any bibliophile. Cards, games, puzzles and notebooks are also available for purchase. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Saturday; 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Wednesday through Friday; 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday. 7566 Main St. No. 113. sykesvillebooks.com
Gypsy Systers Find your zen and glam at this bohemian-chic clothing, makeup and accessories store. The shelves are filled with all-beauty and bath products, including luscious bath bombs, soothing soaps, scented candles its the store's own earthy mineral-based makeup line, Gypsy Sol. 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday. 7604 Main St.
Alexandra's Attic "Featuring the items grandma stowed away," this antique collection has timeless items, including grandfather clocks, lamps, accent pieces and frames that could make any place feel more like home. 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Thursday through Saturday; noon-4 p.m. Sunday. 7542 Main St. alexandrasatticandclocks.com
Revive and Company A trove of treasures you never knew you wanted, this shop features nick-nacks that will spice up any home. There are greeting cards and journals, Maryland-made pottery and vases, kitchen accessories and scented candles that will lure any customer further into this local gift shop. 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday. 7567 Main St. reviveandcompany.com
Shrimptown Skate Shop Choose from the selection of skateboards and apparel, all made by companies and designers in the Maryland and Pennsylvania area that are looking to "make skateboarding great again," as noted by Baltimore brand Fairgame's hat for sale at the store. Test out your purchase at Shrimptown Skate Park, just a short walk (or skate) away. Noon-8 p.m. Monday through Saturday; noon-6 p.m. Sunday. 7542 Main St., Suite C. shrimptownskateshop.com
Cowboys & Angels Inhale the scent of fresh leather and the sound of country music tunes as you step into this storefront filled with cowboy boots. Owner Annie Kennedy, 56, of Ellicott City, brought a piece of the West back with her upon returning to Maryland from Montana, as well as her affinity for the American cowboy. In addition to cowboy footwear, the shop sells Western apparel and accessories, including bejeweled jeans, ornate belts and jewelry . 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday. By appointment after hours. 7552 Main St. cowboysandangelsboutique.com
Georgie Lu's Children Consignment Hunt through rooms of gently worn and used toys and clothing for babies, teenagers and moms-to-be at affordable prices, or set up an appointment to consign your own threads. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday; 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Thursday; 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday. 7540 Main St. No. 10. georgieluschildrensconsignment.com
Unwined Candle Company Gift givers looking for something local and socially and environmentally conscious should stop into this candle shop, which recycles empty wine bottles and transforms them into holders for handcrafted scented candles made of soy wax. 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday. 7602 Main St. unwinedoffmain.com
Sykesville Farmers' Market The weekly Sunday farmers' market livens up Main Street, selling fresh and locally produced vegetables, fruit, meat and eggs, along with prepared food. There's also arts and crafts and featured live entertainment. 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Sundays through Oct. 30. Outside The French Twist at 732 Oklahoma Ave. sykesvillemainstreet.com
Piney Run Park and Nature Center Carroll County's oldest developed park offers miles of fun for the whole family. Hike the trails, play a few matches at the tennis courts, host a picnic or make use of the park's centerpiece — a 300-acre lake, where many residents take their boats out for fishing. 7 a.m.-sunset daily through Oct. 31. 30 Martz Road. $5-10 per vehicle. ccgovernment.carr.org
Millard Cooper Park Another nearby park with plenty of space to run, hike, grill and picnic. The Snack Shack serves up popcorn, hot dogs and other bites during the park's special events, like the summer concert series and movie nights. 7282 Cooper Drive. Free. townofsykesville.org
South Branch Park Located across from the Patapsco River Bridge, the park features a playground, picnic area and the newly renovated Shrimptown Skate Park. The park also holds the former Apple Butter Factory building, once owned by James Sykes, who gave the town its name. 350 W. Friendship Road. townofsykesville.org.
Sykesville Pottery & Art Center This local art studio and Sykesville family business invites guests to "lose themselves" in creativity, says Abby Dion, the manager of shop's art program. Unleash your imagination on canvas, paint ready-made figures, or go all out and create your own pottery with the help of instructors on the handy pottery wheel. The shop also hosts weeklong summer art programs for youngsters ages 7 to 15 throughout the summer. Noon-5 p.m. Monday; 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday. Noon-5 p.m. Sunday. 7611 Main St. sykesvillepotteryandart.com.
Little Sykes Railway Park Kids ride free on this 1949 12-gauge miniature train, but donations are appreciated. 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Sunday. 7547 Main St. townofsykesville.org
Historic Colored Schoolhouse This historic one-room schoolhouse and testament of Sykesville history was first opened in 1904 strictly for African-American students during segregation. Educational tours are available by appointment, and free open houses will take place on select days throughout the summer, including July 10 and July 30 from 1 p.m.-4 p.m. 524 Schoolhouse Road. townofsykesville.org
The Inn at Norwood In the heart of the town's historic district, this Colonial revival home — built by architect J.H. Fowble in the early 1900s — was transformed into a bed-and-breakfast in 2001. This cozy getaway is just steps away from the entertainment and restaurants on Main Street. Inside, the themed guest rooms each feature a distinct design scheme, a Jacuzzi and a fireplace. 7514 Norwood Ave. innatnorwood.com
First Fridays at Sykesville Main Street This celebration on the first Friday of the month features live music, food, refreshments, and prizes. Participating shops and restaurants will stay open until 9 p.m., some featuring special discounts. 6 p.m.-9 p.m. Sykesville Main Street. Free. sykesvillemainstreet.com
Sykesville Harvest Festival The town recognizes the coming of fall with an autumn-inspired event, with arts and crafts, food vendors, a "kids zone" and various activities for the whole family on Main Street. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Sept. 10. Free. sykesvillemainstreet.com
Sykesville Concert in the Park series Hear live music on Fridays throughout July from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. in Millard Cooper Park. Performers include acoustic rock duo Soulflower tonight, JoeyDCares Rock Orchestra on July 15, pop-rock duo Moe Stringz on July 22, and teen rock band Stuck in Reverse on July 29. 7282 Cooper Drive. Free. townofsykesville.org
Sykesville Cinema at Millard Cooper Park Bring a blanket and find a seat under the stars for this summer movie series. A 12-foot inflatable screen will display family favorites, including "Jurassic Park" on Saturday, "Ratatouille" on Aug. 13 and "The Lego Movie" on Sept. 10, all starting at dusk. 7282 Cooper Drive. Free. townofsykesville.org