When I moved out of my parents’ house in Lutherville, I vowed to never live in the suburbs again.

For nearly two decades (minus a 2-year stint in Honduras), I was a city person. I found the scent of bus exhaust exciting. I lived in Charles Village and Hampden and, for six years, in a quaint Mount Vernon apartment so near the old Hippo night club that its dance music rattled my radiators until 2 a.m.

I disliked everything about the ‘burbs: the Lily Pulitzer ladies and their finance bro husbands, lawns doused in chemicals, chain restaurants, sickly sweet Starbucks. I was so openly scornful of the ZIP code in which I was raised that New York magazine quoted me in 2013 describing Timonium as “a truly boring suburb.”

You can probably see where this is heading.

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Before two years had passed, my husband and I and our two young children were living in a rental home in Timonium. And in 2017, just before I had our third baby, we purchased a home up the road in Cockeysville. It’s actually pretty great. Our kids’ school is delightfully diverse, and our neighborhood is safe, peaceful and encircled by the woods of the Loch Raven Reservoir. Foxes trot along the sidewalk like we’re in a Beatrix Potter book. What more could we want?

Well, more culture, for sure. I still head to the city most weekends to dance or eat good food or look at art or see a show or visit a book store. But I can say northern Baltimore County has been getting increasingly interesting over the past few years. There are now a few excellent restaurants, bucolic breweries, surprising music venues and, thanks to an influx of Central American immigrants, lots of great Latin food.

Here is my list of reasons why Lutherville, Timonium, Cockeysville and the rest of northern Baltimore county is not a cultural wasteland.

Manor Mill

2029 Monkton Road, Monkton

Would you like to learn how to tame a falcon? Make a stained glass window? Cultivate mushrooms? Listen to jazz musician Lafayette Gilchrist? Watch a crankie show? These are just some of the wildly engaging workshops and performances taking place at Manor Mill, a nearly 300-year-old grist mill in Monkton recently reborn as an art gallery, education center and performance venue.

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The author's daughter takes part in a workshop led by artist Matt Muirhead at Manor Mill.


12460 Dulaney Valley Road, Phoenix

One thing I’ve never understood about northern Baltimore County is why there aren’t more good dining options here. York Road is cluttered with chain restaurants, fast food joints and a staggering number of drive-thru Starbucks. So my husband and I were delighted when the Singh brothers— the team who created the Ambassador in Tuscany-Canterbury and Ananda in Columbia— launched a restaurant, Peerce’s, serving their innovative Indian food in this formerly stuffy space near the Loch Raven Reservoir. I love eating outside among their elegant gardens in warm weather or drinking by the fireplace on a winter evening.

A seasonal dish at Peerce's in northern Baltimore County. (Julie Scharper)

Central American food trucks and restaurants

Various locations in Cockeysville

Many recent immigrants from Central America have settled in the affordable apartments around our neighborhood. Our children are learning Spanish from their Honduran, Salvadoran and Nicaraguan friends. And a bevy of food trucks and restaurants have appeared to meet the demand for Central American food. I love the tacos de lengua, tongue tacos, from El Taquito Leon food truck on York Road, Salvadoran pupusas from the Pupuseria y Taqueria Pachekito & Anita truck on Cranbrook Road and Honduran baleadas from El Paraiso Tropical, also on Cranbrook.

The Pennsylvania Dutch Market

11121 York Road, Cockeysville

Want to spend some time exploring Amish culture and pigging out on soft pretzels without leaving Maryland? Pop over to the Pennsylvania Dutch Market in Cockeysville to sample the wares from Aunt Erma’s Bakery, Zook’s Family Restaurant and the Stoltzfus Bar-B-Q Pit for a taste of Lancaster County. Amish folks arrive at the market (by rented van, not horse and buggy) each Thursday, Friday and Saturday to sell old-fashioned eats, quilts and handmade wooden furniture.

Inverness Brewing

16200 Markoe Road, Monkton

Remember the gorgeous green field that TV’s Teletubbies romped around on? Imagine drinking a beer there. That’s the vibe of Inverness Brewing in Monkton: heaven, but with local beer. The hops are grown and brewed right here and served from taps in a repurposed barn. There are food trucks and live music most weekends and expansive grounds where your children can romp — like Teletubbies — as you sip a hazy Jockey Juice, a Barn Porter or a Boysenberry Sour.

Star Bright Farm

2950 Garrett Road, White Hall

What could be more relaxing than listening to live folk music amid a field of lavender? We’ve attended a few lovely concerts at Star Bright Farm in White Hall, picking up a snack from a food truck and a glass of wine or beer from a local vendor. There’s an old barn where you can gaze at drying lavender and a gift shop full of lavender soap, candles and gardening supplies. As I climbed down the barn’s heavy wooden staircase on a summer day, I told my children that I felt like my childhood hero, Nancy Drew. “I don’t think Nancy Drew would be carrying a beer, Mom,” said my son. Touche!

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The author's daughter speeds between rows of lavender at Star Bright Farm. (Julie Scharper)
The author's daughters romp through a field of lavender at Star Bright Farm. (Julie Scharper)

The Milton Inn

14833 York Road, Sparks

Imagine the sheer variety of ghosts roaming around the Milton Inn, which was built more than 280 years ago. The local landmark had fallen into hard times until a few years ago, when it was purchased by the Foreman-Wolf restaurant group along with head chef and co-owner Chris Scanga. (Full disclosure: We live in the same neighborhood with Scanga and his family.) I cannot stop thinking about the exquisite seafood bisque I had there last week: butter, shrimp, spice, perfection.

An old-timey sign greets visitors to The Milton Inn in Monkton. (Julie Scharper)


Did you know John Waters and his late collaborator Divine grew up in Lutherville? Or that Timonium takes its name from an unfinished estate that Marc Anthony (the Roman politician, not the American movie star) was building in Egypt? Cockeysville is named for the Cockey family, whose estate is still visible from York Road, not for the over-confidence of its residents. Still, we have a lot to be proud of: Marble mined in Cockeysville was used to build both Washington monuments, in the District of Columbia and Baltimore, and the quarry remains in operation today. When the water levels in Loch Raven are low, you can still see remnants of the town of Warren, which was submerged a little over a century ago to expand the reservoir. This section of Baltimore County is studded with many small, historic cemeteries and no shortage of fascinating stories.

Hiking— and gnomes

I’m a woman of simple pleasures, but I can’t imagine anything more lovely than floating down the Gunpowder River in an inner tube on a hot summer day. Or splashing in the water at Hillbilly Beach, a section of the Gunpowder perfect for skipping rocks. Hiking is one of my main forms of therapy (besides actual therapy) and there are many gorgeous paths to explore in Loch Raven, Oregon Ridge and the Torrey C. Brown or North Central Railroad Trail. With a bit of luck, or magic, you can make your way to a trailside village of garden gnomes in White Hall.

Wildflowers grow in the Loch Raven watershed. (Julie Scharper)
A ladder being reabsorbed by the earth in the woods surrounding Loch Raven (Julie Scharper)