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Weekend adventure: A visitor's guide to Ellicott City

Ellicott City is worth exploring. Start here.

The sweet spot of fall — the crisp air and changing leaves amid sunshine on a surprisingly warm afternoon — was on full display in historic Ellicott City on a recent weekday.

With its quaint storefronts and restaurants, the town's Main Street made for an ideal backdrop for a day of leisurely strolling through the town, which is only a 25-minute drive from Baltimore.

The commerce and character of Main Street has obvious appeal, but Ellicott City offers plenty beyond it: historic sites, art galleries, parks, ghost tours. Founded in 1772, the town deserves consideration for your next weekend getaway or day trip.

Attractions

B&O Railroad Museum: Ellicott City Station: It doesn’t get much more historic than the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum: Ellicott City Station, the oldest surviving railroad station in America. There are no actual train rides, but you can check out sights like the Main Depot building, which is more than 180 years old. 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday. Free for B&O members, $3-$6 for everyone else. 2711 Maryland Ave. borail.org.

Thomas Isaac Log Cabin: Open from April to December, this log home was originally built around 1780. If the virtual world of mobile devices and social media has you down, this trip — essentially stepping into a time machine — could be downright refreshing. 1-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Free. 8394 Main St. howardcountymd.gov.

Shrine of St. Anthony: Constructed in 1931 with a design inspired by the late Italian Renaissance, this shrine to the Portuguese Catholic priest is a beauty to see, especially the limestone fountain in the courtyard. The shrine chapel and grounds are open from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. Free. 12290 Folly Quarter Road. shrineofstanthony.org.

Howard County Historical Society Museum: From Native American tools to Prohibition-era bottles of booze, the history of Howard County can be seen in the many rich collections featured here. 1-5 p.m. Friday-Sunday. Free. 8328 Court Ave. hchsmd.org.

Patapsco Female Institute Historic Park: Once a girls’ boarding school in the 1800s, this park has picturesque ruins that would highlight a fine fall walk. If you’re searching for a wedding venue, it’s worth a look, too. The season for regular weekend tours has ended, but private and group tours are available year-round (weather permitting). Free. 3655 Church Road. howardcountymd.gov.

Shopping

Ellicott’s Country Store: This fourth generation family-run business is part country store and part interior-design company. The former sells a wide assortment of goods, including jewelry, candles, pillows and even “Downton Abbey“-inspired home furnishings, while the latter — branded as Ellicott Interiors — features elegantly styled showrooms that could set your redesign in motion. The duplex building, which houses the companies and was built in the late 18th century, has been attracting tourists for years, too. “As folks, especially from overseas, go through the building, they’re really entranced with the history and the charm,” said owner Lissa Bounds. Country Store hours are 10-5 p.m. daily (closed Mondays), while customers are directed to schedule an appointment for Ellicott Interiors. 8180 Main St. ellicottinteriors.com.

Gramp’s Attic Books: Before you head down the street to coffee shop Bean Hollow, browse the large collection of used and rare books here to find something to sit with. 8304 Main St. 410-750-9235.

Sweet Elizabeth Jane: This attractive shop, located in the former Caplan’s department store, sells women’s clothes and the type of gifts and accessories you’d expect at city stores like Trohv and Su Casa. We particularly liked the super-soft gray sweatshirt ($59) with the Maryland state outline and “home.” on the chest. 8125 Main St. sweetelizabethjane.com.

HorseSpirit Arts Gallery: Ellicott City has a ton of galleries, and HorseSpirit is its newest. Opened last month by Robin Holliday and featuring the work of more than 40 local artists, the gallery’s name was inspired a horse’s ability to run wild. Holliday wants the creativity of the art she features to do the same. 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday. 8090 Main St. horsespiritartsgallery.com.

Eats and drinks

Pure Wine Cafe: A bistro with a laid back vibe, Pure Wine Cafe fits the bill, whether you need a full meal, a few bites of appetizers and charcuterie or simply a glass of red. 8210 Main St. purewinecafe.com.

Bean Hollow: On our recent trip, this coffee shop was predictably busy around lunchtime. The staff, which seemed to genuinely enjoy each other, handled it like pros as we sat contently in a corner with a hot cup of coffee ($2.20). If you have more of an appetite, the usual breakfast and lunch suspects — bagels, pastries, soups, sandwiches and salads — are all on sale. 8059 Main St. facebook.com/beanhollow.

Little French Market: This breakfast, lunch and brunch spot features sandwiches with names like B&O Railroad BLT, the Log Cabin and Hamilton Street. It doesn’t get much more Ellicott City than that. 3731 Hamilton St. facebook.com/littlefrenchmarket.

The Rumor Mill: Located right off Main Street since 2007, this fusion bar and grill led by chef and owner Matthew Milani offers international twists on familiar bar food. Tapas-style portions encourage sharing, so grab some friends. 8069 Tiber Alley. therumormillrestaurant.com.

Ellicott Mills Brewing Co.: With its own microbrews and a menu aimed at complementing them, this bar fits the bill for a relaxed setting with a cold one in hand. Try their new pumpkin beer, Sleepy Hallow Ale, before the season ends. 8308 Main St. ellicottmillsbrewing.com.

Sweet Cascades Chocolatier: What’s a trip without ending on a sweet note? One hit at this candy store are the chocolate crabs, which include Old Bay seasoning mixed into the melted chocolate molds. “We do a lot of them for wedding favors,” said owner Sue Whary. “A lot of the crabs are shipped to friends and families who moved away from Maryland. They say it’s like a little taste of home.” 8167 Main St. sweetcascadeschocolatier.com.

Outdoor activities

Centennial Park: Before it gets too cold, try to spot some wildlife — great blue herons feeding or a beaver hard at work building shelter — along the lake, woodland and wetland. 10000 Route 108. centennialmd.org.

Patapsco Valley State Park: Want to run, hike or bike? There’s 170 miles of trails. There’s also more than enough space to relax and picnic, and if you have a hunting permit, there’s opportunity for that, too. 8020 Baltimore National Pike. dnr2.maryland.gov.

Friendship Hot Air Balloon Co.: Located about 15 minutes away from Ellicott City, this balloon-ride company will take you out as long as the weather permits. They recommend calling first to schedule. $240-$280 per person, depending on the number in your party. 12465 Barnard Way, West Friendship. ballooningusa.com.

Worthington Dog Park: The dogs deserve to get outside and run around, too. Plus, they’ll get to interact with other pooches. Just don’t forget to clean up after your pup. $5 for a daily permit. The off-leash area is open seasonally, weather permitting, while upper field is available for rent from May through November. 8170 Hillsborough Road. howardcountymd.gov.

Family activities

Ye Haunted History of Olde Ellicott City Ghost Tours Parts I & II: That chill in the air is not from lowering temperatures. Part I breaks down the history of Ellicott City, which some say is haunted. Part II was created by popular demand, and features eye-witness accounts of paranormal activity from the town’s residents and retailers. Part I is tonight and Nov. 20 at 8:30 p.m., while Part II is Nov. 21 at 8:30 p.m. $11-$13. Begins at Howard County Welcome Center, 8267 Main St. visithowardcounty.com.

Holiday Train Garden: Bring kids to a decorative train set and watch the hero you become. Check out the Ellicott City Fire Company No. 2’s 18th annual train garden, which features a 24’x10’ display with eight trains riding on it. Open 6:30-8:30 p.m. Wednesday-Friday and 11 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday from Dec. 5-Jan. 3. Closed on Christmas Day. Free, but donations are accepted. 4150 Montgomery Road. 410-313-2036.

Ellicott City Colored School: The first public school for black children in Howard County, the restored Ellicott City Colored School is now a genealogical resource center and a museum focused on African-Americans in Howard County. Weather permitting, private and group tours are available upon appointment (public tours run April through October). 8683 Frederick Road. 410-313-0420.

Roger Carter Community Center: Opened in 2013, the Roger Carter Community Center is 46,000 square feet of fun, including swimming pools, basketball courts, a rock climbing wall and more. 6 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Friday; 7 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday; 7 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday. $4-$5 for daily admission. Kids under 2 are free. 3000 Milltowne Drive. 410-313-2764.

Events

Girls Night Out: If an ideal night out with your girlfriends includes discounted shopping at local businesses, wine samples and live jazz, then this is your event. A pink flag in front of stores means a participating business. Begins 5 p.m. Nov. 19 at the Wine Bin, 8390 Main St. winebinec.com.

Jazz Jam: For musicians who miss jamming (or appreciators of such sounds), the Jazz Jam allows local players to sit in with the hosting trio. From brass and rhythm players to singers, all are welcome. 8:30 p.m.-midnight Dec. 1 at the Judge’s Bench Pub, 8385 Main St. judgesbenchpub.com.

Midnight Madness: For the 35th year, Historic Ellicott City’s stores and restaurants will stay open late to ring in the holiday spirit. Santa, strolling carolers and hot cider will all make welcomed appearances, too. 6-11:55 p.m. Dec. 4. visitellicottcity.com.

Spirits of Ellicott City Tour: Like the other Ellicott City ghost tours, but boozier. Yes, of course, the town’s pubs and taverns are haunted, too, so you might as well get familiar with the back stories while you take the edge off a bit, too. (Parties should have at least four participants.) 8 p.m. Dec. 17 and every third Thursday of each month. Howard County Visitor Center, 8267 Main St. $18-$20. visithowardcounty.com.

Accommodations

The Wayside Inn: This bed and breakfast has plenty of history — more than 200 years’ worth — but it also features the comforts we rely on, like Wi-Fi and TVs with a zillion channels. Get a room with a robe and a fireplace to really luxuriate. 4344 Columbia Road. Rates start at $159. waysideinnmd.com.

Turf Valley: If a weekend getaway in Ellicott City is mainly about pampering, Turf Valley features rooms, suites and even villas, along with spa treatments and a couple of 18-hole golf courses, in case you catch some surprisingly warm weather. 2700 Turf Valley Road. Check website for rates: turfvalley.com.

Wilderness Bed and Breakfast: Located near Patapsco Valley State Park, this rural bed and breakfast has a country manor feel. Those looking to get away from the never-ending emails and city traffic might find a close, but not too close, getaway here. 2 Thistle Road, Catonsville. Rates start at $130. thewilderness.biz.

wesley.case@baltsun.com

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Travel with us

Our look at Ellicott City is the third in our periodic “Weekend Adventures” series highlighting exciting and affordable trips in the Baltimore area. We previously explored Annapolis and Havre de Grace. Check back in the upcoming months as we explore more locales.

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