No. 4

Ellicott City, Maryland

Ellicott City dates to 1772, and takes great pride in its past. Locals make good use of the historic downtown area, filled with art galleries, antique shops, cafes, bookstores, wine bars and more. The county’s first public school for black children, opened in 1880 and in use for seven decades, is located here as well; its restored building now houses a museum on local African-American history, as well as a genealogical center. There's also a popular railroad museum, located in the country’s oldest surviving passenger depot — a structure first used in 1830.

Prefer more contemporary cultural offerings? You can check out “Quick Draw,” part of an annual plein air arts event where would-be Monets compete alongside professionals in a two-hour race to complete a finished painting.

Despite recurring run-ins with heavy floods — most recently this past spring — Ellicott City has made frequent appearances in Money's Best Places to Live rankings. One factor is its school system, which is combined with adjacent Columbia, serves 57,000 students and boasts high graduation rates as well as great socioeconomic and racial diversity. Its population is nearly 11% Hispanic, 22% Asian, 24% black, and 22% are free lunch-qualified.

Ellicott City's other enticements include the 337-acre Centennial Park, movie theaters, community centers, public pools, farmers markets — plus nearby Patapsco Valley State Park, whose 200 miles of trails offer hiking, biking, and other recreational offerings. — Sara Ivry

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