Downtown Ellicott City Family Fun!

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Where can you find a train museum, a log cabin built in 1780 and a mural commissioned by the U.S. Treasury Department back in 1942? In Downtown Ellicott City, of course!

Bridge welcoming people to Ellicott City.

Known locally as Old Ellicott City, this historic town in Howard County Maryland is less than 30 minutes from Baltimore and only an hour away from Washington, DC. With dozens of restaurants, eclectic shops and fun things to do, Downtown Ellicott City is a great place to spend a day with the kids!

When I was invited to Ellicott City, I knew about it only from news stories of the flooding on Main Street a few years ago. Watching the news reports, I knew that Old Ellicott City had a strong local business community and that shop owners and local residents love their town. I was excited to see this place first hand.

And I was not disappointed!

Read on to discover the best family fun in Downtown Ellicott City!

Ellicott Mills Children’s Museum

The Ellicott Mills Children’s Museum, at 3725 Park Ave, in Ellicott City, is a fully interactive, hands-on educational center focused on the history and culture of the people who worked in a mill town in the late 1800s. The museum has a historic garden and four themed rooms: the Quaker School, the Ellicott General Store, the Great Room (an old fashioned kitchen/living space), and a Mill Display.

Entrance to the Ellicott Mills Children's Museum in Howard County Maryland.

One of the best things about this museum is its design, which encourages kids to learn through play. They can “shop” at the General Store and take their food home to cook dinner over the open hearth. There’s no look and don’t touch here!

Kids playing in the Great Room at the Children's Museum in Ellicott City.

Best for kids ages 2-10, the Ellicott Mills Children’s Museum is open on weekends. Admission is FREE.

B&O Ellicott City Station Museum

The B&O Ellicott City railroad museum, at 3711 Maryland Ave, in Old Ellicott City is the oldest surviving railroad depot in the United States and one of the oldest in the world. Cool, eh?

B&O Railroad Museum in Ellicott City MD.

The museum includes a gift shop, restrooms and the Freight Agent’s Office on the first floor. The second floor showcases the Superintendent’s Office, the Telegraph and Ticket Office, the Men’s Waiting Room and the Car House. A ramp outside by the Turntable Pit provides access to the upper level. Outside, the Freight House displays an HO-scale model of the historic first 13 miles of the B&O Railroad from Baltimore to Ellicott City and a recently restored 1927 caboose.

Not surprisingly, the B&O Ellicott City Station Museum is a big hit with kids and adults alike. It is open Wednesday-Sunday, closed on Monday and Tuesday. Admission is FREE.

SIDE NOTE: Wherever you go in Maryland, from Annapolis to Silver Spring, you are going to see the Maryland state flag. It’s part of their DNA! As you stroll through town, challenge the kids to see how many Maryland flags they can find! (There are several in this post.)

Thomas Isaac Log Cabin

The Thomas Isaac Log Cabin, located at the top of Main Street, dates back to 1780, one of the oldest European structures in Howard County. Moved after the 2018 Ellicott City flood to preserve this important piece of local history, the Thomas Isaac Log Cabin even served as a meeting place for the African American community in the 1870s.

Thomas Isaac Log Cabin dates back to 1780.

The small size, simple interior and period artifacts highlight how rustic early American Colonial life really was. This beautifully preserved log cabin captures the imagination. Locals consider this cabin to be a key landmark in Old Ellicott City.

The Thomas Isaac Log Cabin is open on weekends from May to December. Admission is FREE.

Museum of Howard County History

Housed in a stunning, historic stone building that was once a church, the Museum of Howard County History proudly shares the history of Downtown Ellicott City and surrounding Howard County. Thoughtfully displayed artifacts share the community’s history, from its start in the late 1700s to the flooding and recovery, war efforts, and even cherished local attractions like Clark’s Elioak Farm. It’s also a National Park Service National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom site.

Museum artifacts provide a glimpse into the early Ellicott mill days, highlight early Native American history and today’s diverse population, how the railroad shaped Ellicott City and much more. The pipe organ, which still works, was built in 1885 in Erie, Pennsylvania. It’s absolutely gorgeous.

Pipe organ at the Museum of Howard County History.

The Museum of Howard County History may not be quite as interesting for kids as the Children’s Museum next door since many exhibits are not interactive, but it’s a great place to familiarize yourself with Old Ellicott City.

Located at 8328 Court Ave., the museum is open on weekends and admission is FREE. Allow about an hour to visit.

New Deal Murals

The Howard County Welcome Center, originally the local post office, at 8267 Main Street in Downtown Ellicott City houses two historic murals painted as part of FDR’s “New Deal” efforts to encourage community pride and provide artists with meaningful employment.

New Deal Mural at the Howard County Welcome Center.

The first mural, “Building of Ellicott Mills,” painted in 1942 by Petro Paul De Anna, shows the town founders clearing land for a mill and building a house. The second, “Landscape of Ellicott City,” shows how it looked in the early 1940s when the post office first opened. Landmarks depicted include the silos of the flour mill, the steeple of the First Presbyterian Church, the courthouse, the B&O train station, and bridges across the Patapsco River.

It’s one of the most unique visitors centers I’ve ever seen! Stop in for info, or to cool off in the air conditioning. But, be sure to look up and enjoy the detail of these unique, New Deal murals.

The Howard County Welcome Center is open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Street Art

Art doesn’t stop at the Howard County Welcome Center! Throughout Downtown Ellicott City, you’ll see murals depicting life in Howard County. Take a peek down the alleyways to find them!

Street art depicting newspaper boy on a bike from the 1940s with his dog by his side.

And, cool story, after the flooding, shops had to board up windows while waiting for repairs. Local leaders decided to ask local artists to create murals on the plywood coverings, depicting shop windows and stained glass. During recovery, they preserved their town charm!

Shopping and Dining

Downtown Ellicott City is a bustling place! Spend a day here strolling through local shops and galleries for gifts and souvenirs.

Main Street Ellicott City with people walking along the sidewalks.

Take a break at a local restaurant for a meal or grab a unique treat at the Crazy Mason Milkshake Bar. Or, head to E. C. Pops for artisanal popcorn and some memorable shopping.

Entrance to E.C. Pops in Ellicott City.

Tiber Park

Tiber Park on Main Street is a cool little outdoor spot to take a break from shopping and sightseeing. A canal that runs under the park toward the Patapsco River which is cool to see. Large trees provide shade to relax on park benches as you watch people walk by.

Entrance to Tiber Park on Main Street in Ellicott City.

Discover new adventures in Old Ellicott City, where historic charm is fresh and fun! Hilly, but walkable, downtown Ellicott City makes a wonderful day trip from Washington or Baltimore. It’s a great vacation stop, too. When passing through the area, the town is just ten minutes south of I-70, an easy break for road trips. I only knew of the city from news reports. When I visited, I discovered a friendly, vibrant town that blends charming Americana with a lively, modern atmosphere. This cute town has plenty of family fun to enjoy!

I look forward to returning again soon, and I hope you do, too.