Me and poor Crusoe are sharing the same fate.
December 18, 2010 7:01 PM   Subscribe

(DC suburb filter): Is there anything in College Park, MD?

Help me not see DC! I'm a twenty-something guy trying to build a modest life outside the house on a correspondingly modest budget. I live and work in College Park, MD.

The goal is to avoid taking the metro into the city for everything and instead to focus on local activities and outings. Metro fare is not especially high, but the ride to downtown is pretty long and the money does add up. Afternoon rush hour fares are more than $4 one way — add the return fare, and that's like throwing away a Chipotle burrito whenever I go out.

Driving to nearby suburbs after work is also a less-than-desirable option, since in the evening the roads carry traffic way over capacity. A weekday-evening drive from College Park, MD, to the nearby downtown Silver Spring, MD, where there is lots to do just a few miles away, takes about 30 minutes, and then there's the cost of garage parking to consider. So it probably shouldn't be a "once every few days" thing.

The Smithsonians downtown close shortly after I leave work. I've tried going to concerts and shows in the city, but that gets tricky (and expensive) because the Metro stops running after midnight.

I've looked into things to do at the nearby University of Maryland. Occasionally, there are talks and other free events outside regular business hours, but they're relatively few. There's a lot of evening concerts and performances, but they're priced accordingly. The cost of parking during the day is horrendous. Most of the student groups on campus are also probably not a very good match for me, as I am not an undergrad or a graduate student.

I've been looking for a place to hang out if I wanted to work away from the office for a day, but College Park doesn't even have an independent coffee shop. Well, it did, but that got closed down years ago. The best I have is a Starbucks. An always-full Starbucks in a shopping strip with a metered parking lot. It still boggles my mind that this is a college town with a student population of 15,000.

I've checked for groups within a 5-mile radius, and the laundry list of the nearest groups is a capoeira roda, a Ron Paul supporters group, several biker groups, a group for "practitioners of results-based magick," an Eckankar group, a kirtan group, the "Mommy and Me Tennis Meetup," "DC Metro Area Wealth Builders," and a tabletop gaming group led by my supervisor from work. Finding even a single thing to do would be a start. I gave capoeira a spin for a semester in undergrad and didn't enjoy it.

Things I want from the hive mind:
  • resources for enjoying life in College Park and environs (Greenbelt, Beltsville, Beltburg, Beltstown, etc.)
  • ways to find local groups that I may be overlooking (bookish/open-mic/arty/cinema-y/current-events-y/etc.)
  • any nearby cheap hangouts
  • suggestions for cheap weekend outings in the city proper (beyond the Smithsonian museums/zoo)
  • local volunteering activities that work with my full-time job and evening classes (i.e., irregular, short-term, etc.)
I've checked several previous answers to questions like mine, and restaurant suggestions tend to come up a lot. I am not looking for expensive places to dine alone. Pottery-type classes that cost over $100 are right out. Moving into DC is also not an option right now. Thanks.
posted by Nomyte to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Get a bike and you'll have access to DC and environs without the parking / Metro hassles.
posted by youcancallmeal at 7:10 PM on December 18, 2010

If you live actually-in College Park City, I think you can ride Shuttle UM to Silver Spring for free. You'll still get bogged down in traffic, but it may have wifi or at least you can read a book.
posted by anaelith at 8:16 PM on December 18, 2010

Have you tried any events in Hyattsville? The Hyattsville Life & Times has a monthly calendar in their issues. Many things are free and in the College Park/Greenbelt/Hyattsville area. Same thing for the College Park Patch site - here's a link to their calendar of events.

As far as weekend activities, are you outdoorsy at all? Great Falls Park is in northern Virginia and is a nice little outing if you're into walking on trails and stuff. I think last time I went there, there was a small fee of about $2, but I could be wrong and it might have been $5. It's been awhile, as I am NOT outdoorsy and afraid of snakes.

My boyfriend and I take weekend trips to surrounding areas - Annapolis, Baltimore, Ocean City, Leesburg, Fredericksburg, etc. It's free aside from gasoline, and a lot of times, you'll run into something cool. Plus, you get to mini-travel, and that's always fun. Baltimore has the Book Thing, which gives away free books.
posted by kerning at 8:16 PM on December 18, 2010

The Smithsonian and many other local arts / cultural institutions have free or very cheap weekday evening / night programs (I've bookmarked a lot of local events calendars here.)

In College Park, the movie theater at the Stamp Union and the Clarice Smith Center have a lot of cheap / free night programming (I saw two gamelan orchestras play for free at CSC last week - the show ran 8-10 PM.) Berwyn Cafe is a good spot to go to study/read and get a cup of coffee (even if you're not interested in vegetarian food.) Bagel Place isn't much to look at, but is pretty comfortable, too. You're also close to the New Deal Cafe in Greenbelt (and to the Old Greenbelt Theatre - which has a film club.)

RE: Silver Spring: don't park in the garages - there is 2+ hour free street parking in the commercial blocks and neighborhoods. Look around Fenton and Bonifant if you're going to see a movie at the AFI, or to anything in the new "downtown". Metro's J4 bus runs between the College Park and Silver Spring stations regularly, too.

MeMail me if you have any questions!
posted by ryanshepard at 8:24 PM on December 18, 2010

Response by poster: al: Have you tried it? I am not an experienced bike commuter. Seven miles each way in the dark, in winter, in rush hour traffic sounds like a bit of a challenge. If it's easier than it sounds, please correct me.

anaelith: That's a good idea. The last bus leaves at 11 p.m., but that shouldn't be too much of a limitation.

kerning: Cool! Thanks for the links. I went to university in Baltimore and drive up there all the time, but it's getting a little ridiculous. (The Book Thing is undeniably awesome, and walking distance from my old dorms!) I also spend a lot of weekends in Annapolis. Should check out the other places you mention, though.

ryanshepard: Fantastic! Thanks for the links and the parking tip. I've been to Berwyn Cafe a few times for lunch, but never thought of it as a place to hang out.
posted by Nomyte at 8:35 PM on December 18, 2010

I've ridden quite a bit in the area in all seasons and haven't really had a problem if I plan well. Warm clothes + lights + knowledge of good routes and it's not so bad as long as you're comfortable on a bike. The only way to get experience is to do it, you know? :)
posted by youcancallmeal at 8:50 PM on December 18, 2010

As you've identified, for a college town College Park is just fucking gawdawful. Ryanshepard has pretty much rounded up what's there. I'll add that the Archie Edwards Blues Heritage Foundation has a storefront in Riverdale by the train tracks, where they have picking sessions on Saturdays and occasional concerts, and a little further south is a nice brewpub, Franklin's. Both of these are an easy, residential street/bike path ride from CP. (MeMail me for directions)

OTOH, unless you're hardcore like Al, there is *no* good way to ride in to DC from College Park, even when the roads aren't icy. It's so bad that unless I'm riding to Capital Hill, I swing west to catch the Rock Creek trail just to avoid playing Russian Roulette on Rt 1. They keep talking about a bike path, but what little there is starts south of the RI Metro Station.
posted by mojohand at 9:26 PM on December 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

went to blair myself - not much goin on around there. basically anywhere other than nyc shuts down at night, so you're kinda SOL unless you want to live straight downtown.
posted by lrodman at 4:10 AM on December 19, 2010

I'm also a twenty-something living in horrible CP myself, and you're definitely right about the lack of... anything around here. I miss the Perk, but wishing and waiting won't do anything. :)

Some suggestions not listed already:

- Mosaic Cafe (Lebanese restaurant / hookah / wifi) has musical guests on Friday. I like to program, puff, and drink coffee here.
- Rhode Island Reds has wifi and decent Italian food. Music and foreign films on weekends. Brophy is a nice and grumpy man. :) I also like to program here, it's a chill sort of place.
- Hyattsville Arts District is forthcoming. First shops open in April (Busboys and Poets, Thai, Yes! Organic market)
- Shagga Cafe serves Ethiopian! And has wifi.

Feel free to MeMail me, since we seem to both have the same academic background.
posted by ntartifex at 9:57 AM on December 19, 2010

The New Deal Cafe in Greenbelt has live entertainment several nights a week. I would also recommend simply hitting up the Greenbelt Library and checking out the community info section--it's been several years since I've been there, but IIRC there's a downstairs meeting room area with a lobby that has tons and tons of notices and brochures about goings-on in the area.

Also pick up a copy of the PG County Parks and Rec guide--might be available for the taking at the library as well, but if not, then at the College Park Community Center. PG County has an awesome parks and recs dept. (probably the thing that I missed most after I moved from PG to MoCo), with not only classes and assorted indoor/outdoor facilities, but also many many museum spaces, sponsorship of concerts, art exhibits and others cultural events, etc. I recommend the paper guide because they apparently spend all their money on programming and their web site can be slow and hard to navigate.

There are occasional free talks at the College Park REI--more outdoorsy, obviously, than arty/booky, but hey! Free!

For volunteer activities, there are park-cleanup days a few times a year at various locate parks and other natural resources. Greenbelt National Park, for example, has a monthly invasive plant removal session.

In the free-arts vein, on nights where you are going downtown, there are nightly free concerts at the Kennedy Center on the Millennium Stage at 6 pm.

In general, I think in the Maryland suburbs you do need to focus on "the environs" rather than whatever particular census-designated area you are domiciled in. Also, if you live in a typical residential neighborhood, it takes 10-15 minutes to go anywhere to do anything. Very few of the towns in the area function as stand-alone communities.
posted by SomeTrickPony at 10:49 AM on December 19, 2010

As a U of MD graduate who escaped long ago to Adams-Morgan, and thence California, I feel your pain. But nowadays, local scenes seem to be developing in Greenbelt and old Hyattsville. And back inthe day, I saw lots of great movies at the AFI theatre which was in the Kennedy Center but has now relocated to Silver Spring.
posted by Rash at 10:55 AM on December 19, 2010

P&G Old Greenbelt is a cool old movie theater that you might not know about.
posted by callmejay at 10:52 AM on December 20, 2010

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