The Top Things to Do and See in Bethesda, Maryland

When in Bethesda, culture vultures should visit Strathmore
When in Bethesda, culture vultures should visit Strathmore | © Michael Ventura / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Summer Whitford
9 September 2020

Bethesda, Maryland, may not be a metropolis, but it does have a big heart. With a thriving cultural scene, exciting nightlife, great food options and ample green space, such as Glen Echo Park, this urban center in Montgomery County is worth a visit. Here are the top 12 things you should consider doing and seeing if you plan to visit.

Laugh at Positano Ristorante Italiano

Restaurant, Italian, Gluten-free, $$$
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You might not consider the hilarity of the entertainment when you usually make dinner plans, but Laugh Riot at Positano Ristorante Italiano is a unique hybrid in the heart of Bethesda that gives you the chance to eat, drink and be merry. On Saturday nights, you can enjoy a menu of classic Italian-American dishes (don’t forget to order some tiramisu for dessert) and then stroll next door for stand-up that features three local comedians. Seats are available on a first-come, first-served basis, so don’t linger over your espresso too long.

Visit Glen Echo Park

Park
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Stepping into the wooded Glen Echo Park is like being transported back to the 1920s. This former amusement park is just southwest of Bethesda and is now a thriving artists’ colony, an arts center that offers hundreds of classes and an active cultural center. Here, you can take courses in painting, photography, glass, music and more. The grounds feature a fully restored 1921 Dentzel Carousel and a puppet playhouse, and the events calendar includes seasonal events, free summer concerts and festivals.

Get moving in the great outdoors

Hiking Trail, Park
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For a real workout that includes scenic beauty, slow-moving canals and smooth, paved trails perfect for walking, running, biking, rollerblading and skateboarding, the Capital Crescent Trail is a must-visit. The route – which opened in 1996 and has expanded over the years – runs alongside former railroad tracks through the beautiful countryside and offers a unique, eye-level view of parts of DC and Montgomery County not seen from a vehicle. The Capital Crescent Trail runs right through downtown Bethesda and extends from Georgetown in DC to Silver Spring, Maryland, and is among the most popular trails in the US.

Get your groove on at Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club

Building, Theater
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Cool jazz and blues performed by talented musicians? Check. A multi-million-dollar renovation of a classic 1930s art deco theater? Check. An upscale supper club and menu in the heart of downtown Bethesda? Check. For dinner and a show, head to Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club. The 300-seat dining area (along with an additional 200 theater seats) allows you to enjoy a meal while listening to some of the hottest music Maryland has to offer, and the 40ft (12m) bar ensures a steady flow of cocktails as chilled as the players.

Enjoy a quiet haven in Carderock

Park
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Attracting plenty of out-of-towners because of its beauty, the Carderock Recreation Area is a serene 100-acre (40ha) park that allows city dwellers to feel like they’re a part of nature. It’s part of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park and is a magnet for nature enthusiasts who love the park’s raw beauty and athletes who are into rock climbing, hiking, biking, boating and picnicking. It’s hard to believe that downtown Bethesda and Washington DC are just a few miles away.

Hit the Local Writer’s Showcase in spring

Architectural Landmark
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Springtime in Bethesda is lovely and especially colorful, with azaleas, dogwoods, cherry trees and rhododendrons blooming everywhere, but it’s also time for the annual Local Writer’s Showcase. It’s a special event that honors local writers, poets and essayists who have won local writing contests. Watch them present their award-winning works and receive their awards.

Let Strathmore entertain you

Concert Hall
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World-class music and art have a home at Strathmore. As a 1,976-seat concert hall and education center in North Bethesda, it has been entertaining and educating local communities since 1981. It was the county’s first center for the arts, and it’s still one of the best. Hosting more than 5,000 artists over the years, including Smokey Robinson and Wynton Marsalis, Strathmore has entertained hundreds of thousands of guests at its signature performances, art exhibitions, music concerts, teas, outdoor events and festivals.

Dine, shop and pamper yourself at Bethesda Row

Shop
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With more than 30 retail shops and many spas, salons, bookstores and grocery stores to keep shoppers satisfied, Bethesda Row is Maryland’s favorite shopping hub. It takes the stress out of shopping, with ample parking and dozens of restaurants to enjoy a meal once your retail therapy is over – you can try Middle Eastern, Asian, Mexican and French cuisine here. If vanity strikes, try out a new hairdo at Drybar or stop in for a professional shave at Rooster’s Men’s Grooming Center.

Bring your appetite to Taste of Bethesda

Restaurant, Italian, Indian, Japanese, American, Greek, Mexican, German, Middle Eastern, Belgian, French
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You’d better come hungry to this one. Every fall, the Taste of Bethesda festival draws more than 40,000 visitors to the city’s Woodmont Triangle to sample food from 60 local restaurants and tour a classic car show with motors that will haunt your dreams. Additionally, you can enjoy music and dance performances on five stages, and little ones can head to the Kid’s Corner to participate in interactive arts and crafts. With bus service provided by the Bethesda Circulator and with the Bethesda Metro station just three blocks away, you can even leave the car at home.

Pick up lunch at Montgomery Farm Women’s Cooperative Market

Market
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Montgomery County’s oldest continuing farmers’ market has been selling delicious fruits, vegetables, pastries, cakes, flowers and crafts for more than 70 years. It’s been run by women since the beginning (and that’s probably why it’s been so successful). With both an indoor and outdoor market, this is the perfect spot to pick up picnic food, find your new favorite kind of bread or support local craftspeople and jewelry makers.

Get inspired by Madonna of the Trail

Hiking Trail
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While you’re walking around Bethesda, you might come across this striking statue of a determined-looking mother with a baby in her arms and wonder why it’s there. With an interesting history, it is one of 12 identical figures across the country. Placed by the Daughters of the American Revolution, the sculptures mark the National Old Trails Road, the path of westbound covered wagons, and honor the hardships endured by pioneering women who traveled on it. The Bethesda statue stands where pioneers spent their first night after Georgetown while traveling west.

Grab a bite at the Tastee Diner

Diner, American
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Among Bethesda’s long-running restaurants, the Tastee Diner is the kind of comforting place that’s often hard to find. It’s tripped out with jukeboxes, counter stalls and a menu that makes you feel like Sandy and Danny ordering a milkshake to share in Grease. Tastee Diner has had the same staff for 20 years, so if you’re stuck on what to order, they can tell you what’s good. It’s open 24 hours a day, so it’s ideal whether you’re after a late-night plate of fries, an early-morning pastry or a lunchtime burger. Don’t forget to tip.

Additional reporting by Alice Johnston.

These recommendations were updated on September 9, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.