If you've never lived or spent a significant amount of time in Baltimore, then I know what you're thinking. Why in the world would I want a to visit this city? Yes, we definitely get a bad rap, but there is way more to Charm City than crime statistics and The Wire (granted, it is a superb show!). Baltimore is a diverse city with a rich history — and while we might be known for the Inner Harbor and Camden Yards — this guide will take you out of the tourist traps and give you a small taste of what Baltimore has to offer. Excellent restaurants, strollable neighborhoods, and a thriving arts scene, to name a few. But above all, get out and meet some of the people that live here, they are the true heart of this authentic city.
• American Visionary Art Museum: The AVAM is just a rare gem and truly my favorite museum. Visionary art is art made by self-taught individuals that comes from listening to the "inner voices of the soul, and often may not even be thought of as 'art' by its creator". Every year in May, the AVAM brings us the Kinetic Sculpture Race, where human powered works of art must race through land, water, mud, or whatever is thrown at them! While you're at the AVAM, be sure to visit the Sideshow shop for quirky wares as well as grabbing a bite to eat or a fun cocktail at the AVAM restaurant, Mr. Rain's Funhouse. Make sure you go outside and enjoy the view!
• Federal Hill: If you want a fantastic view of the city, a walk to stretch your legs, or a place to let your dog run, head up to the top of Federal Hill. It earned its name in 1788, when thousands of Baltimoreans marched from Fells Point to the hill to enjoy a picnic and fireworks in celebration of the ratification of the Constitution. It has been a public park since 1879.
• Baltimore Museum of Industry: Located in an old oyster cannery, the BMI offers exhibits on the manufacturing and industrial industry while documenting inventions and processes discovered first in Baltimore and Maryland. A flash-back in time where you can see early vacuums and the world's first typesetting machine.
• The Charles Theater: Take in a movie at The Charles, a true Baltimore place to see and be seen. Opening as Baltimore's first all-newsreel movie house in 1939 as the Times Theatre. Shortly later it was renamed the Charles, and later went on to become a calendar revival house. This now five-seat theater shows first-run specialty movies, foreign films, and don't miss out on their revival series. Grab bite at Tapas Teatro or Sofi's Crepes and then head across the street to Club Charles for a drink afterwards and a possible John Waters siting.
• Creative Alliance: Located by Patterson Park, this non-profit organization promotes and presents all genres of art. From burlesque shows to music performances, meet-ups and workshops of all kinds. They offer a residency program, do community outreach and even rent media equipment. Don't miss their Great Halloween Lantern Parade. Check their calendar to see what their latest events are.
• The Baltimore Tattoo Museum: If you're in the market for some ink, they surely can help you out, but don't forget to allow yourself enough time to wander the museum. The museum's goal is to preserve the myths, truths, stories and images of electric tattooing dating back from the late 19th century to the present.
• Druid Hill Conservatory and Botanic Gardens: The Conservatory, an architectural relic from the Victorian era, is the last hothouse of its kind in Baltimore. Visit The Palm House, Orchid Room, or three greenhouses that each mimic desert, tropic and Mediterranean habitats.
• Visit A Market: Unlike many cities, Baltimore is still home to numerous public markets. Our public market system dates back to 1763 when the first market was erected with funds raised through a lottery. Eleven markets eventually encircled the city, each serving a distinct neighborhood and clientele, often with stalls run by families dating back multiple generations. To name a few, check out Lexington Market, Broadway Market in Fell's Point, or head to Cross Street Market in Federal Hill for an enormous happy hour beer and some raw oysters. If it's Friday, be prepared to stand.
• The Waterfront Promenade: Almost every tourist or person who's been to Baltimore once, thinks the Inner Harbor is all we have to offer. I beg to differ but also believe it's worth checking out. If you're a bit more adventurous, take it in and then some by walking the entire promenade. The promenade is a paved walkway that hugs nearly seven miles of the waterline of the Inner Harbor from Fort McHenry to the Canton Waterfront Park. It will take you through many different neighborhoods and you'll see countless attractions. Grab a drink at J. Pauls outdoor bar and settle in for some serious people watching. Once you've grown tired, head over to the USS Constellation for a tour. If you're lucky, you might get to hear a concert taking place at Pier Six, and if you do get tired, you can always grab a water taxi to take you back across.
• I might be biased — full disclaimer this is my hood — but head to Hampden for a fun day of shopping in a neighborhood that will give you a healthy campy dose of Baltimore. Walk along the "Avenue" to wander in and out of independently owned shops and boutiques of all kinds. Be sure to check out the numerous antique stores, Paradiso and Denova to name my faves, along with In Watermelon Sugar and Trohv. Sixteen Tons offers timeless apparel and goods for men in a hip setting or Doubledutch Boutique for modern or indie designs for the ladies. Grab brunch or a night cap at Golden West (you might catch an awesome band if you stroll in at a later hour), some seriously tasty coffee at Spro, and dine at the newly opened Food Market, Corner BYOB, The Dogwood, or Grano. If you really want to see Hampden bustling, come during HONFEST or the winter holidays for the light display on Miracle on 34th Street.
• Second Chance: A non-profit that sells salvaged building materials and architectural elements from homes and buildings around the city. Old doorknobs, tiles, claw foot tubs, light fixtures, tin ceilings, even movie set props — if you need to replace something in your old home, chances are they have it.
• Housewerks: Not as expansive as Second Chance, but also worth a visit to is Housewerks. This architectural salvage company is housed in an old 1885 gas valve house making it almost just as much fun to wander through the space as it is to check out the goods.
• Baltimore Clayworks: Baltimore Clayworks is a non-profit ceramic art center that offers ceramic art classes and exhibits. Be sure to check out the shop featuring works by their residents and member artists.
• Woodberry Kitchen: Crabs aside, if you don't think Baltimore has stellar food options, then you obviously have not eaten at Woodberry Kitchen. Sourcing all of its ingredients from local growers and farmers, this farm-to-table restaurant is a bit off the beaten path but completely worth the drive. Not only will you enjoy superb comfort food and inventive cocktails, but also an atmosphere that doesn't disappoint! I highly recommend reservations, but if you're patient you might score a seat at the bar.
• Artifact Coffee: Artifact, which just opened this month, is the latest project from the folks behind Woodberry Kitchen. Made-to-order coffee is the focus here, but they also offer a seasonal menu that serves similar but more casual fare to what you might sample at WK. They hold free cuppings every Friday at 10am.
• The Helmand: Owned by the brother of the Prime Minister of Afghanistan, the Helmand has been around for over twenty years serving up excellent Afghan food at super reasonable prices. And every regular will tell you, you must try the pumpkin appetizer.
• L.P. Steamers: A no-frills place in Locust Point where locals go to drink Natty Boh and eat steamed crabs that they can actually afford. Get there early to get a seat at the small rooftop deck.
• The Brewer's Art : My favorite place to kick back and enjoy a great beer. Not only do they brew their own (some of which are now offered bottled or you can bring in your own growler), they also have an extensive beer and drink list along with excellent food. The ambience is also worth checking out, set in a grand Mt. Vernon townhouse with a chandelier not to be missed. After dining upstairs, be sure to slink down to the dimly lit bar in the basement. If you can't get a seat at the often packed bar, look for a table or couch in one of the brick alcoves.
• The Four Seasons: Just opening last year, this luxury hotel is located on the water in Harbor East. If you can't afford it but want a taste of its scene, grab a coffee at Lamill Coffee or food and drinks at Wit & Wisdom. The decor in both is worth a stop in.
• Hotel Monaco: Located in the once Baltimore & Ohio Railroad headquarters, the hotel features the original marble and Tiffany stained-glass windows in this grand building. Dogs are welcome and they offer free bikes, a great way to check out the city! Be sure to try one of the cocktails at B&O American Brasserie, their drinks have won numerous awards.
• Admiral Fell Inn: Located smack dab in the heart of Fell's Point, the Admiral Fell Inn is a historic, European-style hotel. Consisting of seven different buildings dating back to the 1770's, over the years the Inn has served as a ship chandlery, a theater, a boarding house for sailors and later, a Seaman's YMCA. While you're in Fell's, walk down to The Cat's Eye for beers and live music every night. This bar has been around forever, mostly unchanged, and a true glimpse at the diverse folks of Baltimore.
(Images: Kimber Watson)