Farm-to-table restaurants, gritty bars, dance parties, gorgeous architecture, artist havens, an energetic punk scene and museums. No, I’m not talking about Brooklyn! Brooklyn is sooooo Aughties. I’m talking about Baltimore: the underdogiest of east coast underdogs.
It’s had a rough go of it for a number of decades, ranked as the US Murder Capital in 2008 and suffering thousands of abandoned properties and open-air drug markets. But despite all of its troubles, Baltimore has always been an interesting and worthwhile place to visit.
It’s the home of Baltimore Grime music (Rye Rye!), Poe’s grave, Baltimore Club dancing, Camden Yards and a beautiful ton of early 20th century townhomes. It’s also the birthplace of John Waters—an unrivaled distinction. And these days, things are looking up for Charm City. So much so, that I recommend you book your next mini-vacay there.
Baltimore is a little less than and hour from DC, so it’s a getaway that doesn’t come with a half-day of transit. Though it’s nice to have a car to get around, I recommend taking the Marc Train whenever possible. I love the steady rocking and the quickly moving train-car view so much that I wish the trip took longer than 45 minutes. Then, once in Baltimore, you’ll avoid the parking crunch by taking public transit and cabs.
Baltimore’s foodie scene is helping to revitalize the community and is getting big ups for it’s farm-to-table trend—which sound expensive, and sometimes it is. But there are great Baltimore restaurants at every level of affordability. Cheap: Café Zen has been serving up delicious Chinese dishes for more than a decade, and Alewife is a gasto-pub known for its tasty comfort foods and tavern vibe. You’ll be able to walk away happily satiated from both spots without having to pay more than $20.
Sorta pricey: Get out of downtown and visit Maggie’s Farm in Northeast Baltimore. The restaurant has a great, moody atmosphere (dark woods and red walls), delicious fresh vegetables and the best burger I’ve ever had, for $14. Pricey: Petit Louis is a French bistro that gets rave reviews from The Baltimore Sun and my mother, a connoisseur of fresh ingredients and clean cooking. There, you’ll find the usual suspects like escargot ($12), duck confit ($25) a whole roast chicken for two ($48)—just done really, really well. Petit Louis is located in Roland Park, a gorgeous and quiet neighborhood stocked with unbelievable Victorian homes. So, after lunch or dinner, get out in the streets for a nice walkabout.
For a full list of top restaurants, check out The Baltimore Sun’s 50 Best Restaurants of 2014.
Walk the Museums.
DC may be the museum mecca of the area, but Baltimore has great collections of its own. The Baltimore Museum of Art holds 90,000 works of art and the world’s largest Henry Matisse collection. The American Visionary Art Museum is dedicated to “art produced by self-taught individuals, usually without formal training, whose works arise from an innate personal vision that revels foremost in the creative act itself.” Just visit the incredibly colorful website here and you’ll be intrigued, I promise. Railroad lovers will want to visit the B&O Railroad Museum and The Baltimore Museum of Industry, which is dedicated to “collect[ing], preserve[ing] and interpret[ing] the industrial and technological heritage of the Baltimore region.” And finally, lovers of poetry, mystery and macabre should not miss the Edgar Allen Poe House, where Poe lived and wrote in the mid 1800s.
See the sites.
John Quincy Adams dubbed Baltimore “The Monumental City” while visiting in 1827 when he saw the impressive Battle Monument, dedicated to Baltimore’s defensive success during the War of 1812. Since then, Baltimore’s monuments have grown exponentially and the name has become even more applicable. There are monuments to both the Confederacy and the Union (it’s complicated); memorials to the Holocaust and the police; busts of Frank Zappa (yes, the musician) and Frederick Douglass; statues of Lady Baltimore and Babe Ruth; and much, much more. You can check out a more exhausted list of monuments here.
Visit the tourist attractions.
The Harbor: The Harbor more than anything is a nice place to take a walk in the fresh, port-town breeze. It’s surrounded by shops, chain restaurants and oddities, like Ripley’s Believe It or Not! museum. So, in my opinion, there’s not much to tout except the outdoors, and of course the USS Constellation. The USS Constellation was built in 1854 and is the only Civil War vessel still afloat. It’s docked at the Inner Harbor and can be toured, for a price.
Camden Yards: It’s a thing of beauty. Unlike so many modern stadiums designed to accommodate all kinds of sporting events, Camden Yards has a retro design that echoes early American baseball stadiums—even though it was built in the 1990s. Camden Yards is located just west of the Inner Harbor and can be visited online, here. Go Orioles!
The National Aquarium: If you have never visited an aquarium before, the National Aquarium is definitely worth a trip. Last time I was there, I was hypnotized by the quiet grace of so many blacktip sharks and by one of the biggest sea turtles I’ve ever seen. But I warn you, you will contend with more children and crowds than most of us have patience for (look, Tommy, it’s Nimo!!! *gleeful screaming*). And at almost $30 per ticket, that can be a real bummer. So for anyone who is not desperate for their first visit to a giant fish tank, my advice is to skip it and save your cash for eating local seafood at Thames Street Oyster House.