One of Baltimore’s most genteel urban neighborhood, just northwest of Mount Vernon, was a Jazz Age gin belt and former home to Woodrow Wilson and F. Scott Fitzgerald. It’s a great place to stroll, especially when the wisteria vines explode with violet blooms in spring. The neighborhood gets a dash of youthful vigor from Maryland Institute College of Art students—they’re the ones sporting green hair and canvases tucked under their arms. Historic homes are marked with blue signs indicating who lived in them. Sidewalk tables surround B Bistro (1501 Bolton St.; 410-383-8600), which serves dinner and a popular Sunday brunch. The more adventurous can join the arty-meets-biker crowd in the shadowy confines of the Mount Royal Tavern (1204 W. Mount Royal Ave.; 410-669-6686) whose bar rail has bustled since the end of Prohibition. Look up to enjoy an impressive homage to the Sistine Chapel.
Patterson Bowling Center
Legend has it that duckpin bowling—which uses small balls without finger holes and squat pins that scatter like frightened ducks when struck—was born in Baltimore around 1900. Orioles greats John McGraw and Wilbert Robinson are often credited with inventing this downsized variant of tenpin bowling. Though duckpin has spread to DC and as far as Indiana, Baltimore has long been its main domain. The bi-level Patterson Bowling Center opened in 1927 and is the oldest still-operating duckpin house in the country. The old alley sports an automated scoring system today, but the atmosphere remains historic and homespun. Just don’t forget—you get three balls per frame, not just two, and it’s BYOB.
2105 Eastern Ave.; 410-675-1011.
At this out-of-the-way spot—the only Baltimore restaurant to make The Washingtonian’s 100 Very Best Restaurants list this year—the servers are casual-cool and the vibe happy and relaxed. The menu features comfort foodie fare such as chips and onion dip and a malt ice-cream sundae with marshmallow fluff. But the kitchen is dead serious about one thing: sourcing. Most ingredients—from Maryland shrimp to Eastern Shore blue cheese—are procured locally. You’ll find just as much care at the bar, where the excellent cocktails feature organic vodka and house-made ginger beer. It all adds up to a winning combination, and it shows: The place is slammed every night, so reservations are a must.
2010 Clipper Park Rd., Suite 126; 410-464-8000
Evergreen Museum & Library
Glimpses of the Gilded Age good life don’t come more engaging than this sprawling 19th-century mansion/museum under the aegis of Johns Hopkins University. Two generations of the railroad-baron Garrett family lived here, filling 48 rooms with some 50,000 pieces of art: paintings by Degas and Picasso, rare Asian porcelain, Tiffany glass, even a private theater designed by Léon Bakst. The paneled rare-books library looks right out of TV’s Downton Abbey. Hourly tours given six days a week; $8 adults.
4545 N. Charles St.; 410-516-0341.
It’s not every day you get to sleep with a shark—or a dolphin, for that matter. The National Aquarium in Baltimore has two overnight programs that make it possible.
For the shark sleepover, you arrive as the aquarium closes and a guide leads you to the food-prep area, where you learn what sharks like to eat. Later, you hunker down in sleeping bags surrounded by shark tanks. There’s nothing quite like spending the night surrounded by these silent predators to stoke your appreciation—and healthy fear. The next morning at breakfast, a game of Jeopardy tests the group on what it learned the night before.
The overnight dolphin program includes reserved seating at one of the aquarium’s most popular events, called Our Ocean Planet: The New Dolphin Show. You meet with a dolphin trainer and take a behind-the-scenes tour of the aquarium. Later, you fall asleep inches from the underwater viewing area and are awakened with the antics of dolphins. After breakfast, you watch a demo session with the dolphins and their trainers.
Tickets for each overnight program is $94.95 per person and includes dinner and breakfast. Overnight guests must be at least eight years old and accompanied by an adult.
501 E. Pratt St.; 410- 576-3800.
Great Farmers Markets
It’s fun to wander through Baltimore’s farmers markets—their noisy stalls sell meat, bread, fish, fresh flowers, vegetables, and prepared food.
A few blocks from the Inner Harbor, Lexington Market has about 150 stalls. Locals invariably put the crabcakes at Faidley’s on their list of the best in the city—they feature hunks of sweet crab bound with a surprise ingredient: crushed saltines. Polock Johnny’s, which has been serving classic five- and seven-inch Polish sausages since the 1920s, is a lunchtime institution. And few leave the market without some Berger cookies, fudge-topped shortbread that strikes a tender pang of nostalgia in every Baltimorean’s heart.
Cross Street Market in Federal Hill is more compact and less hectic, with about two-dozen stalls. There’s always a long lunch line for Big Jim’s overstuffed sandwiches, including the Reuben Special.
The Baltimore Farmers’ Market & Bazaar overcomes its grim under-an-expressway setting at Holliday and Saratoga streets, near city hall, with a colorful and dizzying array of regional goods—from apples to zinnias. This is farm-to-table shopping at its best, where pasture-raised meat meets organic lettuce meets fresh baked bread. A bazaar area offers unusual crafts, jewelry, and artwork.
Daedalus Books & Music
The vast selection of books, DVDs, and CDs at Daedalus Books would be lure enough for culture lovers. The fact that this 10,000-square-foot space also happens to be a discount retailer with savings items that soar to 90 percent off only bolsters the love affair. Located in northern Baltimore’s Belvedere Square, a charming shopping complex with a gourmet market and wine bar, Daedalus makes it easy to lose track of time. A recent visit turned up deals as varied as Philip Roth’s Everyman for $4.98 (originally $24), a lush coffee-table book on the Arctic for $24.98 (normally $60), a DVD of the children’s classic The Wind in the Willows for $6.98 (originally $19.95), and Ella Fitzgerald’s recording of Fine and Mellow for $6.98 (originally $15). Also keep your eyes peeled for $1.98 book carts scattered throughout the store.
5911 York Rd.; 410-464-2701.
The National Great Blacks in Wax Museum
Most wax museums are little more than campy tourist traps featuring waxen pop stars and a circus-sideshow atmosphere. This isn’t most wax museums. At Great Blacks in Wax, more than 150 wax figures allow you to come face to face with black history, from the splendor of ancient African kingdoms to the horrors of the Middle Passage to the triumph of Barack Obama. The trip can be sobering, as you go inside the creaking bowels of a slave ship and view the tragedy of lynching (an exhibit not recommended for those under age 12). But there’s plenty to lift the spirit as well, such as Baltimore musicians Eubie Blake and Billie Holiday and national sports legends Jesse Owens and Jackie Robinson. Polar explorer Matthew Henson is here along with Harlem Renaissance bright light Zora Neale Hurston.
1601-03 E. North Ave.; 410-563-3404.