For the past decade, ever since my husband and I moved to the rural mountains of New Mexico, I told anyone who would listen that I could never live Back East again. Too crowded. Too gray. Too conservative. A true blue New Mexican convert I am.
So, I had to chuckle when, during a recent stay in Baltimore, I caught myself thinking,I could live here. Truth told, this infatuation happens more than I’d care to admit. I’m prone to falling fast and easy for a place. And Baltimore, in all its springtime glory, had me at hello.
My action-packed 48-hours in Baltimore revealed a vibrant city overflowing with outdoorsy energy, oodles of green space, innovative eateries, indie coffee and teahouses and historic neighborhoods that march to their own Baltimorean beat. Sure, the city’s tourist-ready staples – fresh seafood, bustling Inner Harbor, historic Fell’s Point, Camden Yard, to name just a few – still assure visitors a great time. But beyond the crab cakes and paddleboats lurks a refreshingly authentic and creative city.
1) HARBOR HOME
Check in Hilton Garden Inn. Situated in the heart of the trendy Harbor East neighborhood, the hotel was the perfect home base with an awesome location for walking everywhere. Better yet, my room included free high speed Wi-Fi and complementary admission to the exclusive Maryland Athletic Club and Wellness Center adjoining the hotel. Yay!
2) Window shopping along fashionably upscale Aliceanna Street, I followed the gentle strum of acoustic guitar to Teavolve, a hip Harbor East café. Inside, the Zen-chic décor, congenial hum of conversation and eclectic menu is as inviting as the music of local musician Nelson Emokpae streaming out the door. Try the berry salad with the house-made tea infused Sangria – perfectly refreshing! Serving breakfast, lunch, dinner and weekend brunch.
BREAKFAST AT SHIRLEY’S
3) Breakfast at Miss Shirley’s has been a Baltimore tradition for more than 30 years and you can be sure it’ll be mine, too, anytime I’m back in town. What’s not to love about a place that serves up fresh squeezed juices, pineapple upside down pancakes, crab and fried green tomato eggs Benedict, or raspberry cheesecake-stuffed French toast. Yes, be prepared to blow the diet for a day. It’s worth every bite.
4) FLYING LESSONS
I don’t know what possessed me but when a friend suggested I learn to fly at Baltimore’s harbor side Trapeze School, I said YES. Afraid of heights? I am. Forget fear, they said. It’s the addiction you should worry about. HA! Not me. I was the only flunky in a group of first-timers, but don’t let that stop you. Everyone else, from six to sixty, was flying high by the end of the 2-hour class.
5) CAN’T BEAT CITY HALL. JOIN EM’:
Baltimore’s first female Mayor, Sheila Dixon, is a strong cyclist with a passion for creating a fit Baltimore. So, twice a week – Wednesdays and Fridays at 5PM – she invites anyone (who can keep up) to meet at City Hall and pedal the scenic 15-mile Gwynns Falls Trail with her. Don’t have a bike? Rent one at Light Street Cycles.
6) SUSTAINABLY SCRUMPTIOUS
Take in Baltimore’s best farm to table dining at Woodberry Kitchen. The bustling restaurant located in a soaring restored foundry in Clipper Mill is the new fave for responsible eaters. All organic, all locally sourced, it’s all sustainably scrumptious. Try the Truck Patch asparagus, roasted in their wood oven with bacon and parmesan or the Roseda Farm tavern steak with smoked sweet potato fries, rocket and herb sauce.
7) WHOLE FOODS:
Laugh all you want. But, I love, love, love Whole Foods markets and for those of us not lucky enough to have one in our hometowns, it’s a great place to grab a healthy and affordable breakfast to go.
8) WILL BIKE FOR BAKED GOODS:
The city’s lush 155-acre backyard is where I met up with Baltimorean cycling enthusiast, Ralph Brown, for his bakery bike tour. Right up my sweet tooth alley. For $20 you get a leisurely 10-mile ride, an engaging history lesson and a yummy tour of Baltimore’s ethnic neighborhood bakeries. Check out Ralph’s other specialty tours at www.monumentalbiketours.com.
9) NOT A FEDERAL CRIME
For a dose of eco-coolness, climb Federal Hill to Spoons Coffee Café & Roastery, a lively neighborhood hub leading the way in community gardening, reducing waste and green-certification for restaurants. Save time for a walk across the street and a highly addictive serving of Bruce Lee’s Wings at the Cross Street Market, a public market since 1846.
10) CULTURED HILLTOP
If it’s culture you’re craving, then head over to the genteel old neighborhood of Mount Vernon. Here, you’ll find the nation’s first monument to George Washington, Basilica of the Assumption, the first cathedral built in the United States, the famous Peabody Conservatory and the Walters Art Museum. Hat tip to the Walters for being admission free!
11) EAST SIDE STORIES
For a heroic glimpse into Maryland’s African American story the Reginald F. Lewis Museum brings to life 400 years of progress. From April 25 – July 26, 2009, you can catch an intimate and compelling look inside East Baltimore in the museum’s East Side Stories: Portraits of a Baltimore Neighborhood, Then and Now exhibit. The powerful photographic and audio portraits tell a uniquely Baltimore and moving story of family, home, community and belonging. Not to be missed.
12) HOMMOS AND HIPNESS
If you’re like me, a traveler who craves new food discoveries as much as new destinations, then I have the ultimate walkers’ progressive dinner recipe for your visit. Begin with drinks and appetizers at the Lebanese Taverna – OMG their hommos and m’saka are amazing! Follow with a seven-plate tapas menu at Pazo, where the food is as sensuous as the ambiance. Then top it off with a ‘healthy’ dessert while savoring the Fell’s Point ambiance and an organic gelato at Pitango Gelato.
13) ZE MEAN BEAN
The name alone was enough to make me want to check out Ze Mean Bean Café and Wine Bar, a cozy euro-style Fell’s Point bistro. But, their crab Benedict sold me. Oh, la, la. Delish. Sporting a relaxed exposed-brick-and-wood-floor vibe, the eatery serves more than a great Sunday brunch, it’s also a primo spot to hang out and rub shoulders with emerging musicians and artists.
14) PAST TENSE
Trace the waterfront’s arc from raucous shipyard to a respectable neighborhood of galleries, coffeehouses and restaurants. Take in Fell’s Point story on a walking tour. Trot down historic wharfs, quaint narrow streets and secret gardens while Preservation Society docent Peggy Friedman shares the area’s history and notable characters.
For visitor information and reservations: Baltimore Convention and Visitors Bureau: 410-659-7300; www.baltimore.org