Why Ellicott City, Maryland Is One of the Coolest Suburbs in America
Ellicott City was chosen as one of Apartment Therapy’s Coolest Suburbs in America 2019. We showcased the burbs nationwide that offer the most when it comes to cultural activities, a sense of community, and simply a good quality of life. For more on how we define “cool” and what exactly counts as a suburb, check out our methodology here. To view Apartment Therapy’s other Coolest Suburbs in America 2019, head here.
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You can’t keep a good town down—at least not in the case of Ellicott City, Maryland. Two massive floods devastated the town’s historic Main Street in 2016 and 2018, but the historic-level waters were no match for a community of 65,000-plus determined to stay afloat. Focused on returning better than ever, locals rallied to rebuild, all while welcoming new restaurants, shops, and businesses to the beloved heart of town. The result is a thriving, better-than-ever suburb with a hip, new vibe, landing it at number four in Money magazine’s 2018 “Best Places to Live” ranking.
The town, which is more than Main Street, can trace its roots to the 1700s. There are miles of parklands; a large Korean population, replete with restaurants and other cultural offerings; and plenty of festivals and events to keep residents busy. If you’re a history buff, Ellicott City has history in spades: It’s home to the oldest surviving railroad station in America; the nation’s first female institute; and Benjamin Banneker Historical Park and Museum, honoring Banneker, the first black man to earn distinction in science for invention and astronomy, among other fields.
There’s also a legacy of ghost sightings and hauntings, which some residents claim are tied to the Civil War, the Great Depression, and items in the suburb’s antique stores. Take a ghost tour for an exciting suburban scare!
Like the Patapsco River on which it is built, Ellicott City is resilient and on-the-move.
Median rent price:
$1,552, according to RentCafe.
Median house price:
$527,00, according to Zillow.
Price per square foot (compared to city):
22, according to Walk Score.
Median household income:
$124,059, according to Census data.
65,000, according to U.S. Census Bureau.
What the suburb is known for:
Ellicott City is steeped in history, and is home to the nation’s oldest surviving railroad station. The station was also the starting line for the famous race in 1830 between the locomotive Tom Thumb and a horse-drawn carriage. Spoiler alert: The train broke down and the horse won.
Georgia Grace Café. Tucked under the railroad bridge, this recent addition to Main Street offers up Greek-inspired breakfast and lunch menus. Be sure to check out the calendar for occasional wine pairing dinners, too.
Place that makes you happy to live there:
Main Street. You can’t beat Main Street’s historic charm, restaurants, shops, and festivals.
Favorite activity for families:
Spending the day at Centennial Park off Clarksville Pike. This 337-acre park, with a 54-acre lake at its center, offers up a 2.6-mile paved path for walking, running, or cycling; nine picnic pavilions; tennis courts; playgrounds; and, in the summer, boat rentals. Pack a picnic, bring the dog and a Frisbee, and you’re set for the day.
Favorite hangout for young professionals:
The new Jaxon Edwin on Main Street. The space is part-café, part-bourbon bar and barber shop, and part-retailer, with three floors to keep you entertained.
Favorite place to catch a movie:
Outdoors at the Wine Bin on Main Street, from spring until fall.
Favorite teen hangout:
Forest Green Shopping Center on U.S. Route 40, thanks to its many delicious and affordable restaurants. Hit up River House Pizza Co. for a homemade slice, followed by a mint cone at local legend Soft Stuff Ice Cream. In the summer, catch an outdoor movie on Friday nights.
Favorite outdoor lounge spot:
Pull up a bench along Main Street for top-notch people watching.
Favorite date spot:
Pure Wine Cafe on Main Street. This tiny tapas bar in a cozy, historic building, serves up an impressive wine list, small plates, and the best truffle fries you’ll ever taste. Bonus: A second-story, outdoor patio with a birds-eye view of Main Street.
Average commute/traffic report:
Ellicott City is a driver’s town, with public transportation limited to a small bus line. The average commute time in Ellicott City is 30 minutes. The biggest back-ups occur in the afternoon, heading north on U.S. Route 29 and west on state Route 108.
Favorite local bookstore:
Gramp’s Attic Books on Main Street. If you’re a rare book collector, looking for a bargain on a used book, or just a bibliophile of any kind, get lost in the shelves in this charmer of a store.
Little Market Café, just off Main Street. Take your breakfast or lunch out into the courtyard and listen to live music all weekend long throughout the summer.
Favorite bar for when you want to be around people:
Manor Hill Tavern for local craft beer and killer burgers.
Favorite alone spot:
You can find serenity on a bench or dock, while taking in the wildlife at Font Hill Wetlands Park, a quiet, peaceful spot with three connecting ponds.
Favorite free cultural activity to take part in:
Old Ellicott City’s annual SpringFest, which includes three stages of live music and performances; crafts from local artisans; and outdoor dining, held right when the trees and flowers are at their most vibrant.
Korean fare along the 5-mile stretch of U.S. Route 40 known as Korean Way. You’ll find everything from finger-licking barbecue to bakeries and bubble tea.
Sweet Elizabeth Jane. After the 2016 flood destroyed her business, owner Tammy Beideman moved to higher ground on Main Street and reopened her beloved boutique, to the delight of Ellicott City women everywhere.
Most walkable area:
The Gray Rock Farm neighborhood. With sidewalks, paved pathways, and cut-throughs to the nearby Dunloggin neighborhood, you can easily cobble together a three- or four-mile walking or running route, without worrying about traffic.
Favorite bike trails/parks/outdoor activities:
Patapsco Heritage Greenway boasts miles of trails, a peaceful river, and historic landmarks.
Favorite spot for an Instagram:
Cascade Falls in Patapsco Valley State Park.
Eggspectation. While you might have to wait for a table on the weekends, it’s worth it for the creative omelets and decadent waffle and pancake offerings. Got a sweet tooth? Check out the red-velvet pancakes!
Favorite free activity:
From May through October, the Saturday morning Old Town Market, hosts food stalls, live entertainment, and local artisans.
Favorite grocery store:
Sprouts Farmers Market is a recent addition to town and by all measures has risen to the top in popularity for its organic food and affordable price tags.
Favorite place for a workout:
At Recharge, group fitness is led by physical therapists, who ensure your form is perfect.
Favorite place to take an out-of-towner:
Main Street to wander in and out of the shops, grab a bite to eat, and snap scenic photos.
Worst place to find parking and easiest place to find parking:
Main Street can be a challenge, so taking an Uber or a Lyft there might be your best bet. The shopping centers along U.S. Route 40, on the other hand, have ample parking.
What the neighbors say:
“Ellicott City has an organic culture and mix of businesses that is otherwise lacking amongst modern mixed-use cities and towns.” —Tom Coale, attorney and local podcast host.
“I love the location—my neighborhood is five minutes from Main Street’s mix of quaint shops and amazing restaurants, and five minutes from Route 40 and the variety of necessities you can find there. In the midst of all that, I can walk for miles in my neighborhood without having to jump on a busy street.” —Jenn Cavey, attorney and mom of two.
“Ellicott City drew me in with the rich intrigue of its history, then sold me with its quick access to nature and a welcoming, diverse community.” —Susan Hobby, writer and editor.
“I love living in Ellicott City because of the wide range of activities and experiences one can have. You can visit Main Street for shopping and eating, and hike the trails throughout Ellicott City in the same day.” —Candace Dodson-Reed, college administrator and local podcast host.
“I love the sense of community and friendly neighbors who are willing to help when needed. I also love all the green—you can get lost in nature even though you are close to home.” —Jennifer Hilger, nurse and mom of three.
Favorite annual event:
Summer means Shakespeare in the Ruins at the Patapsco Female Institute Historic Park.
Favorite local home store:
Clarks Ace Hardware on U.S. Route 40 has everything you need for your home and garden.
Favorite local diner:
Double T Diner has an old-time look and feel, with a menu that’s traditional and modern, ensuring something for everyone.
Favorite house/garden walk:
Whipps Garden Cemetery is a unique place to wander away an afternoon. Showcasing local history and culture, master gardeners maintain native species in the midst of tombstones, benches, and pathways.
Favorite dog park:
Worthington Dog Park offers up separate entrances for big and little dogs. Complete with water and doggy bag stations, you’ll find everything you need for an afternoon with your pooch.
Hair Cocoa on Bethany Lane is a sleek, modern salon with personal touches delivered by stylists Jaime and Alex.
Favorite resale and antique store:
Main Street is home to a bevy of antique stores, including Retropolitan Fine Antiques & Vintage, which offers up vintage clothing, accessories, a gallery, furniture, and more.
Why do you think your suburb is cool?
Ellicott City has the perfect mix of old and new. A funky Main Street offers up brew pubs, upscale restaurants, and locally-owned shops, all housed in unique, historical architecture. Come for the live music and festivals, stay for the outdoor recreations and connected community.