1. Reginald Lewis Museum
This is a fantastic museum for anyone interested in African American history in Baltimore. Actually, this is a fantastic museum for anyone interested in civil rights at all…or history at all. Some of the exhibits I’ve seen here in the last year have included a photography project on the history of East Baltimore neighborhoods, an exhibit on the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and an exhibit on Jewish refugee scholars teaching at African American colleges. Every time I go to this museum, I learn something new. Michael Cross-Barnet of the Baltimore Sun wrote about taking his son to the exhibit “381 days,” and about how important it is for everyone, not just African Americans, to go to an African American history museum here.
2. Lexington Market
This place is iconic. You can’t live here for four semesters and not see it. Go for lunch, and go with friends (it’s easy enough to get to Lexington market from the SON campus, just take the metro straight to the ‘Lexington Market’ stop). Lexington Market is one of theclosest things to a snapshot of Baltimore that I have found yet.
3. The Book Thing
Did you realize that this existed? You can get the long story here, but in a nutshell, this is what it is: books. Free books. Drop off your old ones, peruse the existing ones…in a totally wallet-free experience. If you feel like you’ve got too many volumes on your shelf and you want to spread karma and literary love at the same time, this could be their new home. Likewise, if you want to find some economical new reading (and ease the pain of textbook purchasing), step on down to the shelves of the Book Thing. What’s possibly as cool as the fact that a self-sustaining, free book depository exists at all? The fact that this place is quickly packed with people every Saturday morning not long after it opens at 9 a.m. I guess that whole “The City that Reads” slogan wasn’t that far off of the mark. For more info, go to http://www.bookthing.org/
4. Sitting on the Stoop
For the more metropolitan out there, Baltimore may not be the most glamorous city you’ve hit. You can go outside in your sweatpants here without committing instant social suicide. But unlike New York City, where eye contact with strangers seems to be a local taboo, people actually talk to each other in the street here. You are supposed to say “Good Morning” when people walk by. Likewise, it’s more than okay to spend an hour (or an afternoon) sitting on your stoop, enjoying the sunshine and starting conversations with passersby in your neighborhood. Try it out! Bonus: sitting on your steps often enough can turn into a block party before you can say I’ll get the boxed wine. The people on the end of my block regularly bring half of their living room (including their toddler’s crib) into the alleyway so they can all play dominos together in the fresh air.
5. Patterson Park
One of East Baltimore’s biggest green spaces is a huge draw for dog-walkers, Frisbee aficionados, joggers, picnic-goers, and students wanting to study in the last of the summer sunshine. Visit the park any day of the week, but I especially recommend Sunday afternoons, because that’s when the Pagoda, a Victorian-style tower at the northwest corner of the park, is open to the public. Bring your out-of-town friends up to the top and point out all of the landmarks: Washington Monument, the downtown area, Fort McHenry, the Key Bridge, and our very own JHU SON and Johns Hopkins Hospital. It’s a great perspective for anyone getting to know the layout of Baltimore.
6. H&S bakery outlet
This is a Fells Point stop for all of you who are watching your pennies right now. You’ll smell the H&S bakery before you see it—at the right time of day, the aroma of fresh bread permeates the whole neighborhood. The outlet is a real steal for the low-budget student; loaves of bread go for as cheap as 3 for a dollar, with buy-one-get-one-free specials on everything from bags of bagels to dinner roles. Make your way down to 1616 Fleet Street and check it out.
7. Farmer’s Market
Every Sunday morning, a most unlikely patch of downtown Baltimore—the graffiti covered area under the 83 overpass—is transformed by the crunchier elements of Baltimore into a large, brightly colored, festival-like farmer’s market. It’s a perfect reclamation of urban space AND the perfect place to pick up some kale. Even when there isn’t that much in season, there are always vendors, buskers, and craftsmen, so go check it out.
8. The Sip & Bite
Having grown up in rural New England, I’ve always had a serious soft spot for the American institution that is The Diner. When I was a teenager, diners were the only places where the under-21 crowd could go out after 10 p.m. As a student, they became the places we convened at midway through all-night study sessions. The Sip and Bite has been a stanchion of the harbor area between Fells Point and Canton since 1948.
The National Aquarium is a must, even if it is an expensive must…but wait! There is a $5 Friday nights special through October!
It seems to me that there’s a festival, somewhere in the Baltimore area, every weekend. This weekend is the Baltimore Book Festival. Check out the weekly calendars in the City Paper for all of the updates, but you’ll be hard pressed not to find some excuse to rub elbows with your fellow Baltimoreans every weekend.
Disclaimer: I have only lived in Baltimore for a year…if you want a more informed list of Baltimore highlights, check out the City Paper’s newly released Best of Baltimore edition!