Bethesda, Maryland, the affluent suburb of Washington D.C., is starting to draw the attention of travelers with its ever expanding dining, shopping, and recreation offerings.
A dynamic mix of modernity and 50s nostalgia pervades Bethesda, which has grown from humble beginnings as a rural way station to an unincorporated city of almost 70,000 residents. Part of the allure is Bethesda’s proximity to D.C. facilities such as the National Institutes of Health campus and the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, which have helped Bethesda expand over the years.
Bethesda also grew as a key stopping point for the B&O railroad. Train service ended in 1985 and Montgomery County capitalized on the rails-to-trails movement. Tracks were removed in 1994 and the first section of the trail opened in 1998. Today the rail trail is the most used in the United States, averaging over one million hikers per year.
From May to July, the corner of Norfolk and St. Elmo Avenues is host to the Summer Concert Series. Live music rocks downtown Bethesda’s Veterans Park on Fridays starting at 6pm. Past acts included award-winning DC-based singer-songwriter Juliet Lloyd, Memphis and Motown party band Soul Crackers, and alt-country band The Walkways.
Static art fans have two festivals to enjoy. In the spring The Bethesda Fine Arts Festival features more than 100 artists from around the U.S., live entertainment, and specials from surrounding restaurants. Admission is free. Each fall brings the Bethesda Row Arts Festival. The similar sized event showcases painting, drawing, jewelry, photography, sculpture, fabric, glass, ceramics, and other mediums created by national artists.
Getting around Bethesda is easy. The carefully planned city is walkable and the free Bethesda Circulator bus route connects almost every shop, theatre, restaurant, and parking garage. The Circulator also makes a stop at the DC Metro station at 7450 Wisconsin Ave and runs every 10 to 15 minutes. It is hop-on, hop-off with 19 stops, running from Monday to Saturday. Bethesda is also serviced by the Montgomery County Ride On Bus system.
Where to Stay
Canopy by Hilton Washington D.C. Bethesda North (940 Rose Ave) is the test hotel for the nearby headquartered Hilton brand, so guests can often find new and exciting rooms and themes to try before they hit the world market. This stylish hotel is located in the swanky Pike & Rose neighborhood, 5 miles north of downtown. The Canopy provides guests with access to Privai Spa + Salon, the Hello Betty skate and surf-themed restaurant, and valet parking. Free hotel bikes provide safe access to downtown Bethesda via the rail trail.
On its home turf, the Hilton brand corners the market when it comes to price, location, and quality in Bethesda. Hilton Garden Inn Bethesda (7301 Waverly St) and The Bethesdan Hotel Tapestry Collection by Hilton (8120 Wisconsin Ave) are both located within walking distance of all things downtown Bethesda. The Bethesdan is the spot to stay for easy access to a myriad of eateries and bustling nightlife. The Garden Inn is the place to stay for those who want to shop all day and drop into hotel comfort.
One of the most unique places to stay on the entire east coast of the US, Canal Quarters Lockhouse 6 (6100 Clara Barton Pkwy), offers accommodation in a number of lockhouses along the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal. In the 1800s the government built 64 lockhouses to serve as homes for lock keepers and their families along the 184-mile stretch between Washington D.C. and Cumberland, MD. Today, several of the buildings have been restored by and are maintained by the C&O Canal Trust. Amenities include a modern kitchen, a basement bathroom with tub and shower, and central air and heat.
Located at the intersection of Bethesda Ave and Arlington Rd, Bethesda Row is a trafficless shopping thoroughfare bustling with energy and activity. Bethesda Row is easily accessed from the Red Line Metro System bringing in day-shoppers from D.C. A collection of classy shops like Sassanova, Morley, and Bluemercury appeal to high-end clients.
North of Bethesda Row sits Woodmont Triangle. Once a busy collection of small businesses this area now thrives on a lively restaurant scene. Woodmont Triangle is also home to the more eclectic side of Bethesda with shops like Big Planet Comics (7939 Norfolk Ave), Signature Cigars (4919 Cordell Ave), and high-end thrift stores like Chapter Two Boutique (4931 Cordell Ave).
Situated between Bethesda Row and Woodmont Triangle, Bethesda Central Farm Market (7600 Arlington Road) opens on the lot of Bethesda Elementary School on Sundays. As one of the largest farmers markets in the region, the weekly event hosts more than 100 vendors and food producers. Table seating, music, and local wine and beer tastings attract more than just grocery shoppers. Interactive activities include a kids club and chef demos.
Where to Eat
Bethesda is an international wonderland of food. Sampling a broad array of the city’s offerings can be done when, every October, the Taste of Bethesda festival runs. Try dishes from some of Bethesda’s best restaurants along with live entertainment across five stages. The festival shuts down the streets of Woodmont Triangle.
Throughout the year, the world of flavor begins at Bacchus of Lebanon (7945 Norfolk Ave). Specializing in Lebanese cuisine, the pinnacle of the Bacchus menu is the housemade hummus created over a 3-day process. The menu offers many traditional Mediterranean starters like kibbeh, falafel, and stuffed grape leaves. The recently revised interior opens up the main dining room for a more communal feel, while a chic bar area offers style for the late crowds. Bacchus also offers a unique selection of red and white wines from Lebanon.
Woodmont Triangle is home to downtown Bethesda’s only brewery, Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery (7900 Norfolk Ave). The Denver-based brewchain opened its first location in 1991 and now has more than 17 locations nationwide. Popular items include the flatbread pizza and vegetarian bowls. The menu offers an expansive gluten sensitive selection. All beer is fresh and brewed inhouse.
For after dinner there is Pitango (4901-A Fairmont Ave). This neighborhood gelato and coffee shop sources raw milk and cream from SpringWood Organic Farm in dairy’s regional heartland, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The folks at Pitango credit top-quality, organic milk for the success of their fresh gelato, which comes in an array of flavors like banana, pistachio, and Bacio, which in Italian means “kiss”, made with milk chocolate, hazelnuts, and dark chocolate.
Also located in Woodmont Triangle, Pho Viet USA (4917 Cordell Ave) is a place that visitors do not want to pass by without stopping. Lighter fare like summer rolls and green papaya salad are perfect for hot days in Maryland. But bring an appetite if ordering pho. Each dish is big enough to share.
There is no shortage of places to eat in the Bethesda Row area, from fine dining to pub grub. Fish Taco (7251 Woodmont Ave) offers quick but delicious bites indoor and streetside. Baja-inspired flavors permeate the menu in the form of salads, rice bowls, burritos, quesadillas, and of course, tacos. Taco proteins range from chicken to blackened salmon in this family-owned restaurant with operations in three other nearby locations.
Pike & Rose
The Pike & Rose mall sits a few miles outside of downtown in North Bethesda. Walkable streets are home to a diverse collection of restaurants, shops, and entertainment, with free neighborhood wifi.
Dining in Pike & Rose is an elevated experience no matter the cuisine. JINYA Ramen Bar, offers a slow-cooked approach to ramen with broths simmered for 20 hours. Reservations are recommended for the best seats at Julii, which nestles up to the pedestrian green space. The French bistro style restaurant is spiced with a Mediterranean flair and is popular for brunch. The Block food hall offers a grand selection with an emphasis on Asian street food like bao buns, milk tea, and matcha desserts. Most Pike & Rose restaurants are open seven days a week.
The Baked Bear is the place for a frozen treat in Pike & Rose and the line often stretches down the block. Take a picture of the menu before getting in line at this create-your-own ice cream sandwich spot. All flavors, including toasted s’mores and bear batter, are made with rBGH-free cream, pure cane sugar, and all natural stabilizers. There are more than a dozen cookie and ice cream choices for a custom sandwich.
Most visitors are drawn to Pike & Rose for shopping. Retail stores include Gap, REI, L.L.Bean, and Sur La Table. There is even a Porsche dealership here. But there is also a lot to do in Pike & Rose beyond eat and shop. Travelling with or without a four-legged friend, dog lovers can wag their tails at Bark Social, the east coast’s first dog pub. Caution, wagging tails can spill beers at this 25,000 sq ft, year-round venue with craft beer, coffee, and a dog treat bar.
Bowling and bocce are part of the menu at Pinstripes, an Italian American eatery with an entertaining twist. Bowling and bocce play are priced per person, per hour, and bowling includes complimentary socks and shoes. Or catch the latest flick at IPIC Theater, a 3-screen, dine-in, luxury theater with a menu serving shareable plates, sandwiches, pizzas, and main entrees like buttermilk fried chicken, fish and chips, and chicken and waffles.