The main reasons to visit are antique shopping at Antique Row, to see the enormous Mormon Temple, the bizarre National Park Seminary, and one great pizza place. Aside from that, it's just a quiet suburban town with some odd quirks. Sections of the "Town of Kensington" are really beautiful, with big old Victorian homes set in a nice community by parks and Antique Row—looking much as it did when Kensington was a summer getaway from the big city.
Usually a quiet little suburb, Kensington made the headlines of the national news three times in one year. First, the mayor banned Santa Claus from the neighborhood in late 2001, citing the separation of Church and State. How on earth can this be possible, you ask? The mayor responded to a complaint that only a Christmas tree was displayed on the grounds of the Town Hall, to the exclusion of other religious symbols. The town government responded by removing the tree. Then, realizing that there were similar grounds for objection to the local fire department flying around the neighborhood with Santa Claus in tow, tossing candy to kids, the Mayor banned Santa Claus from his usual fire engine tour of the town. Following national media attention, there was an enormous Santa Claus protest, where hundreds of Santa Clauses arrived on motorcycles to assure Kensington that St Nick would indeed be coming to town! But what's truly amazing about this whole saga is that the mayor was reelected...
The second and third news events were not so comical, however. In early 2002, a MARC train derailed in spectacular fashion, and injured over one hundred commuters. Fortunately, and somewhat amazingly, no one was killed. Later that year, the D.C. sniper's first day of spree-killing included the murder of a resident, filling up her gas tank at the local Shell.
Public transportation to Kensington is underwhelming compared to its neighbors. The most charming mode of arrival is without a doubt the MARC train Brunswick line from Union Station, which will take you directly to the historic train station in the middle of Antique Row. The downside is that the light rail runs infrequently during off-hours (non-rush hour), and quite infrequently when traveling in the opposite direction of rush hour.
The quickest way to get to downtown Kensington and Antique Row is usually to take the metro and then transfer to bus. RideOn Bus 5 from the Silver Spring Red Line metro stop is the most convenient option, which will take you straight to Antique Row, making stops near the Mormon Temple, as well as downtown Kensington. Because of the transfer, this trip is longer than taking the light rail, but you can rest easy knowing that you won't get stranded!
If coming from the northwest branch of the metro's Red Line, get off at the Medical Center stop and take RideOn Bus 34 towards Aspen Hill, which will take you right through the center of Kensington (where you can transfer to the #5) and on to the Wheaton Metro stop. This bus originates in Friendship Heights and passes through Bethesda before reaching Medical Center.
The main arteries leading north from Washington, D.C. and the Beltway are Connecticut Ave and Wisconsin Ave. Connecticut will take you straight through the center of Kensington—turn right at Strathmore/Knowles Ave and follow it to the end to get to Antique Row.
Despite being so easy to see from the Beltway, the Mormon Temple is quite difficult to find. The easiest and most navigable path is to take Beach Drive east from Connecticut (Beach Drive is just north of the Connecticut Ave Beltway exit).
If you take a taxi from D.C., be aware that your driver may not know his/her way around Maryland. So bring directions to help the taxi driver out! If it's after midnight, taxis hate crossing the district line, and you could wind up waiting hours on either side after making the call.
It's easiest to get around Kensington by car, but Bus 4 will take you to both Antique Row and the Mormon Temple, as well as the "downtown" area (where you can get some great fast food at Continentals Pizza)! To get to the National Park Seminary, however, your only option is by car.
Washington DC Temple
The Mormon Temple is by far and away Kensington's most significant attraction. Most only see it from the Beltway, where it rises high above the treeline, looking similar enough to the Emerald Palace in the Wizard of Oz to inspire a local graffiti artist to paint "Surrender Dorothy" on the overpass on the Outer Loop. (The temple is actually white, though.) It's not possible to enter the Mormon Temple itself unless you are a Mormon and hold a church-issued permit known as a "Temple recommend". However, the grounds are pretty, and there is a Visitor Center open to all:
- LDS Temple Visitor Center, 9900 Stoneybrook Dr. 10AM-9PM daily. Since you can't go in the temple, there's a need for a nice visitor center, and they've done a nice job with it. It hosts regular events (see website for calendar) and movie screenings throughout the day every day of the year, in addition to a permanent multimedia display. The building itself and the grounds surrounding it are immaculate and pretty. Free.
'Tis the season to visit the Mormon Temple come Christmas time. The light display is truly spectacular, especially given that the grounds and temple are impressive enough to merit a visit without the display. The light display runs throughout Advent, and is absolutely worth seeking out from D.C. if you are in the area this time of the year. In addition to the light display, the Visitor Center shows its best face, with more than a dozen large, decorated Christmas trees, international nativity scenes, and a live outdoor nativity scene. It's a great place for all ages, and is certain to stir a little of the Christmas spirit.
National Park Seminary
The 19th-20th century Seminary, 2791 Linden Ln, —formerly a finishing school for girls and resort community in Forest Glen—is an odd site indeed. Inspired by the 1893 World Fair in Chicago, the Seminary owner decided to build ten buildings of styles around the world. A Greek theater, a Japanese pagoda, a Dutch windmill, and many others. Following the Great Depression and WWII, the Seminary could barely make ends meet, and the entire property was commandeered by the U.S. Army's Walter Reed Medical Hospital in 1942, a hospital best known today for mistreating wounded veterans. The military went out of their way to offend local communities by demolishing historic property and generally neglecting the beautiful exotic and Victorian buildings. Gaining official historic status saved many of the buildings from demolition, but the neglect continued, allowing the elements and vandals to take their toll. In the 1980s, the "Save Our Seminary" group formed to protect what was left, and did an admirable job.
Today, the Army has returned the historic Seminary properties to private hands, and the area looks set to have a real renaissance. The pagoda has already been restored as the business office, with plans to renovate all the historic properties and to introduce condos to finance the restoration. You usually can't visit beyond looking at the buildings from the road, but that's usually enough reason to come see this weird place! However, the SOS does offer excellent guided tours on the fourth Saturday of each month, nominally for free, but you really should give the $5 suggested donation.
Driving is the only way to get here—take a right north of the Mormon Temple onto Capitol View Ave; follow the winding hilly road to the end and turn right onto Seminary Rd—you'll know you're there when you see a big Japanese pagoda.
The Old Town of Kensington is a major shopping destination in the D.C. area for antiques, with a large cluster of antique shops along Antique Row. The strip is charming and full of interesting browsing opportunities, from furniture to bric-a-brac to books. To get there, take a right off of Connecticut Ave (coming from D.C.) after the Knowles Ave intersection onto East Howard Ave. On street parking, as well as shop parking is usually no problem.
- China Gourmet, 3739 University Blvd, ☎ +1 301 946-9400. M-F 11:30AM-3PM, 5PM-10PM, Sa noon-10:30PM, Su noon-9:30PM. A run of the mill Chinese restaurant, which, while having nothing-special food, is a nicely furnished place to sit over a meal. There's a well stocked bar in the back, but... come on, you can do better than a suburban Chinese restaurant bar in the D.C. area. $8-16.
- Continental Pizza, 10532 Connecticut Ave, ☎ +1 301 949-9797. M-Sa 10AM-8:30PM. Kensington likely has the worst dining scene of any D.C. suburb, but it does have one gem. Continental's is a hole in the wall, with a unique-style, delicious pizza on the cheap (a large with toppings costs just $8). People drive from way out of town to get it. The steak and cheese sub is likely the best in the metropolitan area, and the fries are thick and smothered with Old Bay. If you're in Kensington, eat here. Even if you don't like pizza! $4-10.
K-town is no nightlife destination, and neither of the town's two boozing options are very appealing. One is the aforementioned China Gourmet bar, and the other is Savannah's, which would be hard to recommend. 10700 Connecticut Ave, ☎ +1 301 946-7917. Entrees $5-12. In a pinch, it could be a passable beer and sandwich stop, but it has a sort of sad, next to gas station, suburban trucker hang-out vibe. Anyway, pass up both options, and head to Bethesda or Silver Spring, both of which have plenty of good options.
Kensington lacks any lodgings to speak of, so you'll only be sleeping here if you have family in the neighborhood. To beat a tired drum, look in adjacent Bethesda or Silver Spring, both of which have plenty of hotel options.
The two natural destinations coming from Kensington, aside from heading back into Washington, D.C., are the dining and nightlife scenes in Silver Spring and Bethesda.
- Silver Spring — easy to get to by car (via the Beltway to the Georgia Ave exit) or bus 5
- Bethesda — easy to get to by car via Wisconsin Ave south, or by bus 5 to the White Flint metro station and then south on the Red Line to the Bethesda stop
|Routes through Kensington|
|Springfield ← Bethesda ←||W E||→ Silver Spring → Greenbelt|
|Martinsburg ← Rockville ←||NW SE||→ Silver Spring → Washington, D.C.|