If you think Columbia, Maryland is a sleepy suburb town with nothing to do, you’re wrong! This planned community, which is made up of 10 self-contained villages, makes up the bulk of Howard County.
In 2020, Columbia ranked #5 on Money Magazine’s “Best Places to Live” in the United States list, the only city in the state. Clearly, this Central Maryland suburb northeast of Washington D.C. has something going for it!
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Why do people live in Columbia?
Because it has great public schools, is an easy commute to Baltimore and Washington D.C., and real estate prices aren’t as bad as D.C. Historic Ellicott City is also a quick drive from town center, and the quality of life is pretty darn good.
Even if you are just visiting, you will want to dig into all of the things to do in Columbia, MD that make this city great.
See a concert at Merriweather!
Merriweather Post Pavilion is located a block away from the Columbia Mall and brings the biggest music festivals and artists to the Howard County area. It’s over 40 acres within the Symphony Woods, and was named the second-best amphitheater in the US by Billboard Magazine.
While the main stage is technically outdoors, it is covered – or, you can grab lawn seats and enjoy the sun and some great music.
Don’t miss Jazz Fest
Capital Jazz Fest happens every year at Merriweather, usually a full weekend in June. The event brings literally the biggest names in Jazz, like Gladys Knight, Erykah Badu, and more.
The event is always packed.
When you’re done with the music for the night, swing by some of the restaurants at the Columbia Mall for a bite to eat – there’s a PF Chang’s, The Cheesecake Factory, Bonchon and more.
Not into music? Check out Wine in the Woods!
Located at Merriweather each year is Wine in the Woods, voted the best festival in Howard County – for a reason!
Wine in the Woods normally takes place in spring, bringing more than 20 wineries together to offer samples, sell bottles and cases, and provide lessons on their products. Vendors selling food, snacks, and artisan goods also dot the festival grounds.
For a flat entrance fee you get an adorable little sample cup, and can go from winery to winery sampling every single wine they offer. Those 1-oz pours really add up, so if you love wine, you’re going to get a lot of value out of this.
Pro tip: park outside Merriweather and take the free shuttle in. You’ll miss all of the traffic and the overly intoxicated folks who think jaywalking in their professional sport.
Eat lunch at the lake!
Speaking of Whole Foods, the (relatively) new location is just a block away from the mall, and sits on Lake Kittamaqundi.
Grab lunch at Whole Foods and either sit on the patio upstairs that overlooks the lake, or take your lunch to the pier to sit by the water and eat. You can walk the 1.4 miles loop around the lake, or just hang out and enjoy the day.
You can also walk around one of the… many lakes.
If Columbia, MD is known for one single thing, it’s not the unique planned community aspect – it’s the lakes.
Seriously, Columbia has a lot of lakes.
Centennial Park, with a 2.4-mile loop around the water, is a neighborhood favorite. Centennial also features a tennis course, boat rental, playgrounds, and baseball fields.
I’m a fan of Lake Elkhorn, with a 2-mile loop, playgrounds, and plenty of picnic space. If you’re really up for a challenge, start in Savage Mill and do the 10 miles out and back loop. You can reward yourself with some chocolate from Sweet Cascades and shopping at the Mill after, too!
Don’t forget about Wilde Lake, named after the surrounding village, a 1.3-mile loop with a park attached.
Get dinner at Toby’s Dinner Theater!
Usually only frequented by locals on date night, Toby’s Dinner Theater, off Symphony Woods Road, is just outside of Merriweather. This is a great way to top off a day spent in Columbia.
And honestly, when was the last time you ate dinner while live theater was happening right in front of you? Each show is unique and fun, and they do several different ones each year, so it’s always a new experience.
Surprisingly great beer in Columbia, too.
When I first moved to the area, I thought I would have to go into DC or Baltimore for great craft beer, but Columbia has some amazing choices.
Breweries in Columbia, MD
Black Flag Brewing is located on Snowden River Parkway, and there is also Sapwood Cellars Brewery just off 108.
You can grab some great beers on tap at Frisco Tap House on Dobbin Road (kind of hidden, be sure to put it in your GPS!)and Pub Dog Pizza & Drafthouse on Stanford Boulevard.
Don’t miss a beer and brunch at The Ale House in Columbia, also on Dobbin but easier to find.
Lost Ark Distillery
If you’re looking for something a little harder, Lost Ark Distillery is on Berger Road and has a variety of rums and whisky’s they make in-house. I recommend trying the Hazelnut and Coffee variety, but they are all good!
Go rock climbing at Earth Treks!
If the weather isn’t great, check out Earth Treks off Columbia Gateway Drive. In the past few years they have moved locations into a bigger warehouse, and have more than 42,000 square feet of indoor rock climbing, including top rope and bouldering.
There’s also a yoga studio and a fitness area.
Membership is a little pricey if you’re not very dedicated, but a day pass is just $22. Rock climbing sounds dangerous and scary, but it’s quite safe when you’re being smart, and an amazing full-body workout.
Columbia MD Golf is Big!
If you’re a big fan of golf, I’ve got great news for you – Columbia has some excellent choices.
Hobbit’s Glen on Willow Bottom Drive is my favorite, but I’m partial to the clubhouse restaurant, to be honest… they once had a season vegetable of fried Brussel sprouts with a maple bacon glaze that I still dream about.
Indoor Golf at iGolf72
If you’re more interested in an indoor experience, check out iGolf72 that offers classes, leagues, a private golf suite, and more.
More Golf in Columbia Maryland
Other highly rated golf course options in Columbia include Fairway Hills on Columbia Road and The Timbers at Troy just outside of Columbia.
Sports in Columbia MD
Don’t love anything we are throwing at you yet? Spend an afternoon at Skyzone Trampoline Park flying high, or at ShadowLand Laser Adventures on Red Branch Road playing laser tag with your closest friends (it’s a great team-building activity!).
If you want a kid-friendly outdoor activity, check out the Columbia Sports Park, which has batting cages, a clubhouse, a skate park, and several pavilions.
If you want something a little more thrilling, check out Main Event located inside the Columbia Mall. Main Event has arcade machines, games, food, and more.
Robinson Nature Center
Robinson Nature Center off Cedar Lane is 18 acres of protected parkland, plus a large building with books, puppets, educational material and more.
Shopping in Columbia MD
Columbia has no shortage of shopping – the Mall in Columbia should be your first stop, with several department stores and the typical indoor mall vibe across two floors.
The apartment buildings surrounding the mall also have shops on the main floors, so don’t skip those.
The Columbia Crossing plaza has a Target, Starbucks, Old Nav, and Nordstrom Rack, plus a Famous Dave’s, Buffalo Wild Wings, and BJ’s Brewhouse if you need a shopping pause for lunch or dinner.
Thrift and Antique Shopping
There are several great thrift and antique stores in Columbia if you’re looking for a steal, including the 2nd Ave Thrift Store on Dobbin, the Goodwill in Snowden Square, and the Habitat for Humanity ReStore by the Wegmans on McGaw.
If you’re willing to go slightly outside of Columbia proper, the Antique Center at Historic Savage is not to be missed.
Coffee Shops in Columbia MD
Columbia also has great coffee. Grab a cup from Mad City Coffee by Howard Community College, or coffee plus a handmade pastry at Roggenart on Dobbin.
Café Mezcla is a hole-in-the-wall coffee shop that offers sandwiches and amazing crepes. It’s not big or fancy, but it’s a local favorite for low-key breakfast and brunch.
Images courtesy of Karmen Osei/ Howard County Tourism Promotion