By Libby Zay
Day 1: Evening
Head straight to Baltimore’s cultural and artistic center, the Mount Vernon neighborhood and the Station North Arts & Entertainment District to the north. Start at the Walters Art Museum, a free museum with works from antiquity to the 20th century. Outside, Baltimore’s Washington Monument – a landmark that Ace of Cakes star and local celebrity Duff Goldman says is cooler than the Washington, D.C., monument with the same name — towers above.
Follow Charles Street, the drag that bisects this area, to find plenty of places to shop and dine. The Charm City Circulator, a free bus, has stops along this route. If you’re just a little hungry, try some small plates at Tapas Teatro; for a larger meal, stop at Lost City Diner, a soda fountain with a retro sci-fi theme. End the evening with an independent film at the Charles Theater or a performance at CENTERSTAGE, the State Theater of Maryland.
Day 2: Morning and Afternoon
Skip the chain breakfast spots that dominate the Inner Harbor and try Miss Shirley’s Cafe, a Southern-inspired diner on the edge of the neighborhood. Order up a plate of Eggs Benedict with crab and fried green tomatoes, or stick with something more traditional like stuffed French toast or chicken and waffles.
From here, the Inner Harbor is yours to explore. Plunge into the National Aquarium, Baltimore, the city’s most visited attraction, with a collection of more than 650 species and a new exhibit with reef sharks, or climb aboard one of the many historic ships permanently docked in the harbor. Although there’s a Navy submarine and a Coast Guard lightship, the giant masts of the U.S.S. Constellation, a tall vessel first launched in 1854, make it the standout ship here. If you’re having trouble choosing just one, tickets to multiple ships are available at a discount.
On the south side of the Inner Harbor is Federal Hill Park, a former lookout during the War of 1812 and the Civil War. From here you’ll get a dramatic view of the harbor and Baltimore’s cityscape. On the western slope of the hill is the American Visionary Art Museum, a glittering, mosaic-clad museum filled with works by self-taught artists. For another unconventional stop, see the games and toys you grew up with at Geppi’s Entertainment Museum near Oriole Park at Camden Yards, where pop culture relics from more than 200 years of entertainment history are on display.
Day 2: Evening
Take a water taxi (or a 20-minute walk) over to the maritime neighborhood of Fells Point, where there are plenty of places to try fresh seafood. Thames Street Oyster House has excellent oysters, clams and claws from a raw bar; it will also satisfy mouths watering for a famous Maryland blue crab cake. If you want to be adventurous, try a Baltimore-style cocktail: the house “oyster shooter” is a meaty morsel swimming in some “Natty Boh,” the beer of choice for many locals, and decorated with an Old Bay rim.
Stroll by the waterfront as the sun sets and notice the police headquarters from Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, the book that inspired HBO’s show The Wire. Continue to the Broadway Pier, where free movies are shown on the big screen in summer. Stick around for some nightlife — there are more than 100 bars in this former sailor’s playground. The Wharf Rat has a salty pub atmosphere while the second-story balcony of Woody’s Rum Bar is the best people-watching spot.
Day 3: Morning and Afternoon
Start your final morning in the quirky Hampden neighborhood at Golden West Café, a Southwestern standby with burritos and pancakes on the menu and paint-by-numbers on the walls. While the restaurant itself attracts the hipster crowd, the neighborhood will give you a taste of John Waters-infused “hon” culture a la “Hairspray” and “Pink Flamingos.” Along “The Avenue” (or 36th Street) and the surrounding arteries, check out Atomic Books for an assortment of zines, toys and other kitschy items or browse three stories of vintage treasures inside dozens of booths at Avenue Antiques. If you need an extra dose of caffeine to fuel your shopping (or the journey home), Spro uses blind testing to create a menu crafted by science-experiment-style brewing methods.