Baltimore City will always be near and dear to my heart. It’s where I grew up and where my family still lives, so I visit often. Yes, to quote the Nina Simone song “Baltimore,” this “hard town by the sea” has had its share of problems—like many working class American cities. But Charm City is still full of charm.
“You like living in New York?” is typically the first question my car share driver asks when I’m picked up from Baltimore Penn Station.
“Yes, I’ve been there a long time,” I usually respond, to which the driver confesses, “I don’t think I could live there. It’s too crowded and too fast for me.”
Truth be told, there is something to be said for taking time to smell the Black-Eyed Susans and steamed crabs—even if it’s just for a couple of days. So to help you map out your visit, here are a few summer calendar highlights, and African-American restaurants and cultural attractions to check out during a slow cooked weekend getaway to Baltimore.
Thousands of visitors flock to Baltimore each year to attend Artscape (July 19–21; http://www.artscape.org), the nation’s largest free outdoor arts festival. In and around the Station North Arts and Entertainment District along Mount Royal Avenue, Cathedral Street and Charles Street, attendees enjoy an array of visual arts, local food, and arts and crafts for kids, silent disco dance parties and live performances. Award-winning girl group TLC takes the main stage July 19.
Before there was Afropunk, there was AFRAM (https://aframbaltimore.com)—one of the largest African-American festivals on the East Coast. Taking place in the 745-acre Druid Hill Park, the free, two-day festival (Aug. 10-11) includes Afrocentric clothing and jewelry sellers, food vendors and music performances. This year, the concert headliners are Teddy Riley, Guy, Rick Ross, Sevyn Streeter and hometown heroes Dru Hill. Before the festivities, pause for brunch or homemade baked goods at Dovecote Café (http://www.dovecotecafe.com), a vibrant cafe and community gathering place in nearby Reservoir Hill.
Neighborhood on the Rise
Located in the heart of Baltimore, the Station North district is a diverse collection of artist live-work spaces, galleries, row homes, and businesses bordered by Penn Station, Mount Vernon and the Maryland Institute College of Art. Area highlights include the cozy Station North Arts Café (https://stationnortharts.com) and Motor House (https://motorhousebaltimore.com), a nonprofit performance space and arts hub that provides studios and residences for Black artists, including muralist Ernest Shaw and Michelle Obama’s National Portrait Gallery artist Amy Sherald.
More Arts and Cultural Attractions
Visit the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African-American History & Culture (Admission is $6-$8, free for children six and under; https://lewismuseum.org) to get a comprehensive look at the accomplishments of Maryland’s African-American population. A Smithsonian Affiliate, the museum features over 400 years of history in its Permanent Collection —encompassing areas of industry, the arts, politics, sports, education and more. On view through Sept. 1, the exhibit, Linda Day Clark: The Gee’s Bend Photographs, captures the richness of the region’s rural landscape as well as the bond between the women carrying on the quilt making tradition in Gee’s Bend, Alabama. Gee’s Bend quilts from the Baltimore photographer’s personal collection are also on display.
The National Great Blacks in Wax Museum (Admission is $12-$15, free for children three and under; http://www.greatblacksinwax.org/index.html), is America’s first wax museum of African-American history and culture and features more than 150 life-size and lifelike wax figures. Another must-see is the lesser-known Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park Museum (Admission is $2-$5, free for children under six; https://livingclassrooms.org/programs/frederick-douglass-isaac-myers-maritime-park/), an African-American heritage site that pays homage to abolitionist and newspaper publisher Frederick Douglass, born a slave on the Eastern Shore of Maryland; labor leader Isaac Myers, born to free parents in Baltimore; and the first Black-owned shipyard in the United States. Visitors can participate in boat building activities.
Save 20 percent on each of these attractions with the Legends and Legacies Pass, available at the Baltimore Visitor’s Center at the Inner Harbor (https://baltimore.org/info/legends-and-legacies-heritage-pass).
Where to Eat and Drink
There’s no shortage of good grub in Bawlmer.
Near City Hall, Ida B’s Table (https://www.idabstable.com) serves mouth watering modern Southern cuisine like smoked fried chicken, shrimp and grits and fried catfish with a heaping side of greens and baked macaroni and cheese. Run by chef David Thomas and his wife Tonya and housed in a landmark building, the restaurant is named after legendary journalist and civil rights activist Ida B. Wells. Or for vegetarian and vegan soul food fare like BBQ ribs and curry chicken so good you won’t believe it’s meatless, dine in or carry out from The Land of Kush (https://landofkush.com), a few blocks from the State Center Metro stop.
Located on McHenry Row in South Baltimore, seafood lovers will savor scrumptious bites like oyster and shrimp tacos and Maryland lump crab cakes at The Urban Oyster (https://www.theurbanoyster.com), run by Jasmine North, the first female and Black owner of an oyster bar in Maryland.
Anytime is tea time at Sunni Gilliam’s Teavolve (http://teavolvecafe.com), a lively neighborhood café located in Harbor East that boasts 30 varieties of loose leaf tea, coffee beverages using locally roasted coffee beans, wine, beer, cocktails and tea-infused sangria. Teavolve also offers tasty breakfast, brunch and dinner options, $5 happy hour food and drink specials and open mic night on Mondays.
Ready for dessert? Satisfy your sweet tooth at Kora Lee’s Gourmet Dessert Café (https://www.koralees.com) in Mount Vernon where owner Kora Polydore whips up delectable cakes, cookies, cupcakes and tarts in-house with fresh ingredients.
Where to Stay
With The Ivy Hotel (https://www.theivybaltimore.com), philanthropic couple Eddie and Sylvia Brown brought luxury to the heart of Baltimore’s historic Mount Vernon neighborhood. The Ivy is the only Relais & Chateaux property—a collection of gourmet restaurants, boutique hotels, resorts and villa—in Maryland. And every guest is treated like a VIP: upon check-in you are greeted with a glass of chilled champagne and given a tour of your tony home away from home.
Set in a restored 1890s mansion, the boutique hotel features 18 individually designed rooms, eye-catching public spaces that look like they leaped from the pages of ARCHITECTURAL DIGEST, a small luxury spa, and Magdalena, one of the city’s most popular upscale restaurants.
Based on double occupancy, afternoon tea and a la carte breakfast are included in your stay, as well as all of the snacks and beverages stocked in the well-appointed guest rooms. Located steps from the acclaimed Walters Art museum (https://thewalters.org), the artisanal Mount Vernon Marketplace (http://mtvernonmarketplace.com) and restaurants, bars and entertainment on North Charles Street.