Out of the Way Arts
Some of the city’s best cultural offerings are in off-the-beaten-path spots that often get overlooked. There’s a stunning display of graffiti down a Howard Street alley, just above North Avenue. Tucked behind Load of Fun Studios, it features some of the finest aerosol art you’ll ever see, and it’s all legal thanks to a deal between the City and Load of Fun’s owner. Sometimes, you can even chat with the artists. Photo enthusiasts might want to pop into 1919 Fleet Street, a Fells Point bar that’s popular with locals and known to host the occasional Caleb Stine or Arty Hill show. Proprietor Sally Hutchins covers the walls with a sprawling collage of portraits, snapshots, and landscapes she’s taken around the neighborhood and around the country. It’s the best unintentional photo installation in town. You can also find terrific tunes in unexpected places: J. Patrick’s Irish Pub (1371 Andre St.) in Locust Point hosts world class Irish music during Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday jam sessions. There’s no cover, but you might want to spring for a Guinness.
Take A Tour
Checking out the eye-popping array of outdoor murals scattered around town makes for a colorful tour of the city. Our favorites include James Voshell’s photorealistic depiction of life in Carrollton Ridge (2200 block of W. Pratt St.), Lyle Kissack and Gerald Ross’s gigantic steelworkers’ wall in East Baltimore (1000 N. Patterson Park Ave.), and Pontella Mason’s Baltimore Wall of Pride in Sandtown (N. Carey and Cumberland Streets). There’s a handy Google map of the sites available at promotionandarts.com.
Touring studios is a great way to meet artists and hear about their work. The Bromo Seltzer Arts Tower (21 S. Eutaw St.) opens its studios to the public on the first Saturday of each month, and visitors are welcome to tour the historic structure, as well. It’s also worth stopping by Highlandtown’s Creative Alliance (3134 Eastern Ave.) and South Baltimore’s School 33 Arts Center (1427 Light St.) to see what their artists-in-residence are up to and gauge the city’s artistic spirit.
A different type of spirit permeates The Basilica (409 Cathedral St.), America’s first cathedral, in Mt. Vernon. Its recent restoration went a long way toward highlighting the building’s architectural splendor, and it’s now open to the public seven days a week, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. But keep in mind that it’s a place of worship, so plan your visit around the mass schedule.
World's Craziest Race
AVAM’s Kinetic Sculpture Race features a jaw-dropping array of art-drenched, human-powered, amphibious vehicles navigating a 15-mile course over “land, mud, and deep harbor waters.” The annual spectacle mixes Olympian ideals and sculptural ingenuity with theatrical kitsch. Where else can you see a giant pink poodle pedal through Federal Hill, Fells Point, and Canton and splash in the Inner Harbor? In what other race do contestants vie for “The Mediocre Award” or “The-Next-to-the-Last Award”? It’s great fun, whether you’re a kinetinaut (pilot) or a peon (cheerleader). (See our story about the race, p. 64.)
Baltimore has great live music (see sidebar, p. 176). If you miss a show, try to catch it online: Aural States (auralstates.com) maintains an impressive archive of local artists’ live sets, including some by Lake Trout, Wye Oak, and The Baltimore Afrobeat Society. Beatbots (beatbots.com) posts audio and video of shows at venues like Floristree, The Hexagon, and Metro Gallery. It’s worth digging for gems such as a classic Lungfish show from 1991.
There are ever-more opportunities to visit Baltimore’s art shrines for free. For a few years, The Walters Art Museum and The Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) have been free, so it’s possible to forge ongoing relationships with specific exhibition spaces or pieces of art. The Walters’s Chamber of Wonders—with its drawers of specimens and cabinets of curiosities—rewards repeated visits, as does the BMA’s Sculpture Garden (perfect for breezy summer days) or contemporary wing (a welcome respite from stifling heat). Cooling off in front of a Rothko or Rauschenberg as the asphalt melts outside can be sublimely surreal. Local artist Les Harris died a few years ago, but his vibrant paintings and sculptures can still be seen at Clipper Mill’s Amaranthine Museum (2010 Clipper Park Rd., Suite 120), which is run by his wife, Sally. Visionary artist Loring Cornish has transformed two Penn North row houses into glittering and radiant mosaics that make driving down the 2700 block of Parkwood Avenue something wondrous. If he’s home, Cornish might invite you in.
No city has a better variety of free summer festivals than Charm City.
Billed as “America’s largest free arts festival,” Artscape (July 16-18) is truly a mammoth three-day spectacle, and Baltimore should be both grateful that it exists and proud of our arts community for putting it on every year. Feast on three music stages—Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles have appeared—dance, opera, theater performances, and displays by more than 150 artists, plus art cars, competitions (including the Billie Holiday and Cab Calloway vocal contests), a mini-fest for kids, and endless food options (including free samples!).
No local fest captures Charm City’s charm so well as HonFest (June 12-13). Head to The Avenue in Hampden and mingle among the beehived Hons in house dresses—or be one for a day—cheer on contestants in the Best Hon Contest, sample a hunk of the world’s biggest crab cake (if they try to top last year), and revel in your hometown’s glorious strangeness.
It would seem hard to do justice to a neighborhood with as much history and diversity as Fells Point with a single fest, but the Fells Point Fun Festival (October 2-3) does a good job. There are sections where most of the ethnic communities that live nearby—Polish, Latino, Greek, Italian—sell homemade food and crafts, endless booths where local businesses promote their wares, and, they’re not free, but old-school rides and amusement park games for the tykes.
A visit to the annual Baltimore Book Festival (September 24-26) reminds you that this is still is “the city that reads.” High profile authors like Cornell West, Ralph Nader, and Buzz Aldrin came last year, and there’s tons of live music, food, and activities for the kids (including a great kids’ book tent with readings by prominent authors), but the best part might be mingling among the booths of dozens of community groups focused on education and reading and finding more reasons why this is such a great place to live.
Street Beat (September 19) is Federal Hill’s block party, with music on three stages and all the food and shopping you’d expect from a “greatest American main street” (per the National Trust for Historic Preservation).
They’re not all free (most are), but the Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts puts on a great series of parties in its Showcase of Nations Ethnic Festivals, including Polish (June 4-6), Greek (June 10-13), African-American (June 18-20), Latino (June 26-27), Caribbean (July 9-11), African (August 14-15), Ukrainian (September 11-12), Russian (October 15-17) and the Baltimore International Festival (August 7-8), which, in 2009, featured a soccer tournament, a fashion show, and music into the night (promotionandarts.com for locations and more info).
Farm to Mouth
These open-air gatherings are a great place to graze for freebies. Yes, there are the biggies, like the 32nd Street Farmers Market in Waverly (E. 32nd St. and Barclay St.; Saturdays, year-round) and the Baltimore Farmers’ Market & Bazaar under the JFX (Sundays, starting May 2), where you can often sweet talk vendors into sips and nibbles. (We always enjoy a chug of freshly squeezed orange juice from the Nuttin But the Juice guy.) Carole Simon, manager of special projects for the Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts, offers this advice: “Where samples are not actually set out, a simple request would happily bring forth a sample.” Many farmers are also glad to share recipes, she says. We also appreciate the smaller markets, like the one at Green Spring Station (Joppa Rd. and Falls Rd.; Lutherville), which is held on Saturday afternoons (weekly, starting May 22). After no-hassle parking, head to The Nut Farm and Creamery stand for cheese samples or to the Quite a Stir table and spend your time tasting cupcakes.
See Where Pretzels Come From
Take a free, one-hour tour of the Herr’s factory in Nottingham, PA, about an hour north of Baltimore, where the company’s delicious snacks are made. You’ll find out little-known facts like how a pretzel gets its brown color, what makes a great chipping potato, and also get samples to eat on the spot.
The Happiest Hours In Town
You may have to pay discounted prices for your drinks during happy hour, but you can also chow on complimentary snacks at many places. Here’s what you’ll find:
Monday-Friday: buffet, Bare Bones Grill and Brewery (9150-22 Baltimore National Pike, Ellicott City)
Tuesday: wings, The Mt. Washington Tavern (5700 Newbury St.)
Wednesday: passed hors d’oeuvres, The Capital Grille, (500 E. Pratt St.)
Thursday: oysters, Alonso’s (415 W. Cold Spring Ln.)
Friday: cheese, Cat’s Eye Pub (1730 Thames St.); tacos and mussels, Kooper’s Tavern (1702 Thames St.); spreads, Curb Shoppe Bar & Grill (5736 Falls Rd.) and Bay Cafe (2809 Boston St.)
See. Cook. Eat.
Head to Whole Foods in Mt. Washington (1330 Smith Ave.), where, every Thursday, from noon-2 p.m. and 5-7 p.m., there are live cooking demonstrations. On Fridays, the action is at the seafood department, where store personnel prepare fish dishes and give out recipes and samples. On Fridays from 10:30–11:30 a.m., kids can visit various departments for treats, like an apple from the produce section, a cookie from the bakery, and applesauce from prepared-foods. Visit wholefoodsmarket.com/stores/mountwashington
McCormick, the spice company, is always looking for panelists to try out a range of food, snacks, and beverages at home or at its Hunt Valley plant. In addition to nibbling on free food, there is monetary compensation, too! Sign up at mccormick.com.
Visit a local winery, take a tour, and enjoy free (or nearly free) tastings at Cygnus Wine Cellars in Carroll County (cygnuswinecellars.com) and Linganore Winecellars in Frederick County (linganore-wine.com).
You don’t have to spend a dime to sample produce, drinks, snacks, cheeses, and other goodies at local grocery stores like Wegmans, Whole Foods, Giant, Eddie’s of Roland Park, H-Mart (if you look longingly enough, the guy making rice cakes will bless you with a freshly made one), and Graul’s Market. You won’t leave hungry, that’s for sure.
While you’re “downy ocean, hon,” take a detour to Milton, DE, outside Rehoboth Beach, for a free tour Tuesdays-Saturdays of the Dogfish Head Brewery (6 Village Center Blvd., Milton, DE). Besides a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the award-winning craft ales, you also get a sampling of the beer. Reservations recommended (dogfish.com).
Not only will you be able to save money (10 percent off!) during First Thursdays in Federal Hill, you’ll also be able to quench your thirst at many of the stores involved in the monthly shopping spree from 6-8 p.m. At BABE (a boutique) (910 S. Charles St.), you can sip complimentary Champagne while perusing the stylish inventory. At Whimsy Boutique (1033 S. Charles St.), there’s gratis wine. Such a civilized way to shop.
Kids Eat Free
Buy an adult meal and feed one or two young’uns at no extra charge. Here’s a sampling: Austin Grill (2400 Boston St.), Tuesdays, two kids under 18 get free entrees off the kids’ menu with the purchase of one adult entree, all day. Dine-in only. Champps Americana (10300 Little Patuxent Pkwy., Columbia), Tuesdays, 4-7 p.m., ages 12 and younger. A local magician also entertains the kids from 4-7 p.m. Denny’s (1995 E. Joppa Rd., Parkville), Tuesdays and Saturdays, 4-10 p.m., ages 10 and younger. IHOP (6820 Loch Raven Blvd., Towson), every day, 4-10 p.m., 12 and younger. Mi Viejo Pueblito (601 S. Conkling St.), Sundays, 13 and younger, all day.
Meet a Raven
As the Baltimore summer goes from hot to hotter, the Baltimore Ravens head to McDaniel College to start training camp, which is a great opportunity for fans to see their favorite players up close and personal. During July and August, families and fanatics crowd the bleachers and the sideline to get a glimpse of scrimmages, drills, and non-contact plays. You get to see a softer side of Pro Bowlers like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed as they joke about dropped passes and tease rookies. There’s a waiting area for autograph-seekers and players often sign memorabilia until there’s nobody left.
Happy Birthday From the O's
To draw more fans to the Yard, the Orioles give away free birthday tickets. All you do is go to their website and enter in your birth date, and you’ll get a free upper reserve ticket to a
non-prime (not Yankees or Red Sox) game in your birthday month. Don’t fret if you were born during the off-season—you’ll get one anyway (an April game for January through March b’days, a September game for October through December ones).
Catch the Game
There’s no charge to see 16 top 11- and 12-year-old teams from around the world compete at the Cal Ripken World Series at the IronBirds complex (873 Long Dr., Aberdeen), August 13-21. They play on fields modeled after Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Memorial Stadium, Wrigley Field, and Fenway Park.
Enjoy hockey during the warm months by checking out floor hockey games at Dominic “Mimi” DiPietro Family Skating Center in Patterson Park (200 S. Linwood Ave.). Hop up on the bleachers surrounding the rink and watch as the co-ed teams blade around—they don’t shy away from contact.
You don’t even have to cross the Bay Bridge to enjoy one of the best beach activities. Baltimore Beach Volleyball runs 10-week sessions, April-July and July-September. Teams play on seven volleyball courts at Rash Field (201 Key Hwy.) and patrons watch from Federal Hill, right across the street.
Get In the Game
For something a little different, head to Littly Italy’s bocce ball courts (902 Stiles St.) named after former mayor (and Nancy Pelosi’s father) Thomas D’Alesandro Jr. Around dinner time on Wednesday and Thursday evenings, watch seasoned players roll balls down the dusty alley. But don’t be afraid to try—they often welcome guest players.
Charm City Yoga offered free outdoor yoga sessions at West Shore Park (500 block of Light St.) last summer and may do so again. The six hour-long classes started at 10 a.m. and were appropriate for all levels of yoga—especially good for those who like practicing in the open air. One definite free session is scheduled for May 8 at 10 a.m.
If you’re in the mood to shoot some hoops, head down to the courts at the bottom of Federal Hill where pick-up basketball games abound. Most of it is casual street ball, but certain games can get really competitive.
Take Me Out To the (Soft)Ball Game
On a nice weeknight from April through September, head over to one of the City’s great parks—including Carroll, Clifton, Holabird, Joseph Lee, Latrobe, Patterson, and Riverside—to catch a competitive women’s, men’s, or co-ed softball game. The eight-week spring league starts in April, the summer softball season begins in June, and the fall league starts up in September—so the games are guaranteed year-round entertainment. Make sure to check out the slow-pitch techniques and watch as the game intensifies with every mud-ridden slide to home. Hopefully you’ll get to see a tie game where the winner is usually decided by a dizzy bat contest.
The free petting zoo at Baugher Enterprises (1236 Baugher Rd., Westminster, 410-848-5541) features calves, a llama, a donkey, some goats and sheep, kittens, guinea pigs, rabbits, emus, a turkey, and sometimes pot-bellied pigs and peacocks. With this range of somewhat exotic animals, you’ll never guess which is most popular: Yes, the kittens. Baugher’s is mainly set up as a pick-your-own farm (strawberries and cherries early in season; peaches late), but they encourage you to come pet the animals anytime, sunup to sundown. There’s even a gazebo, picnic tables, a playhouse, and a swing set on site if you want to make a day of it. You can feed the animals, and they sell pellets in case you don’t know the preferred food of an emu. (FYI: Emus eat everything; but seeds and nuts are your best bet.)
For a dog owner, watching your pooch at the dog park is akin to having a hidden camera at your child’s kindergarten class: It’s a great chance to see how your dog interacts with, you know, his peers. The Canton Dog Park (South Bouldin and Toone Sts.) was the first in the city, and is still the only park to separate the Chihuahuas from the Labs (that is, the small dogs from the big ones). This is your standard city dog park: sand-covered asphalt, some benches for owners, and a water pump for thirsty pups. Funding for a renovation project is currently underway. The city’s newest canine playground, the Locust Point Dog Park (1627 E. Fort Ave.), has a few more bells and whistles, including an Astroturf hill, rocks for sitting or climbing, and a water tube (for drinking and splashing). This park has only one play area, but twice a day—from 9-10 a.m. and from 3-4 p.m.—it’s reserved for small and older pups.
Another chance to watch Buster mix and mingle is available at the free Yappy Hour at Dogma—Life, With Your Pet (two locations: 3600 Boston St., 410-276-3410 and 1340-G Smith Ave., 443-708-4420). The first Friday of every month, the trendy pet store puts together a little cocktail party with beer, wine, and snacks (for the humans) and treats for the dogs.
Don’t have a dog but want in on all the fun? At the Maryland SPCA (mdspca.org), you can adopt an older dog (age 7 and up) for free. (There may be fees for licensing and micro-chipping; For younger dogs, there’s a $125-150 adoption fee.) Just think of all the money you’ll save (money that you’ll immediately sink into a doggie bed, sweater, designer collar, and organic kibble).
Photographers have been known to get inspiration at Homeland lakes duck pond (Springlake Way), one of the more bucolic spots in the city. For the true urban duck park experience, check out Patterson Park (Pratt St. & S. Patterson Park Ave.), where young families mingle with old ladies wielding day-old H&S bread. See all manner of beautiful ducks and geese at the Druid Ridge Duck Park (Old Court Rd. & Park Heights Ave.), but look out for aggressive geese. They might scare the little ones (and their moms and dads).
Explore the universe from the comfort of Dundalk with a visit to the observatory at the Community College of Baltimore County, which last year sprung for a new 14-inch telescope. See their website (ccbcmd.edu, under events) for dates that are open to the public, usually Friday nights, every two weeks, starting about 9. It’s weather permitting (an observatory is open to the night sky), but sometimes you get the place virtually all to yourself. Or run for cover at the monthly indoor “Celestial Shows” at CCBC in Catonsville, where you can get the big celestial picture from its planetarium’s simulated star projector. Check ccbcmd.edu for dates.
Walk, bike, saddle up, or roll a stroller along the NCR trail, now known as the Torrey C. Brown Trail, a scenic, former railway bed. Extending 20 miles from Ashland Road in Hunt Valley to the state line, it’s 10-feet wide with a crushed stone surface, attracting hikers, joggers, cyclists, and the horsey set.
Not enough exercise for you? Then try the 185-mile-long trails of the old C&O Canal tow path, a national park along the watery route where mules once pulled barges. It runs from Georgetown northwest through farm country and forest to Cumberland, drawing everything from campers and bird watchers to photography buffs.
Closer to home is Patapsco Valley State Park, where you can hike, fish, camp, ride horses, mountain-bike, or picnic under one of its many pavilions.
Even closer to home is the 745-acre Druid Hill Park with its scenic reservoir that makes it a favorite for hikers and bird watchers, and offers the added attraction of its historic conservatory and botanic gardens (free, but $2 donation suggested).
Also under our noses is Baltimore’s Jones Falls Bike Trail, a little-known route along the river where you can see Charm City from a new angle.
Nature centers make the natural world ever-more accessible, and Baltimore is rife with them—and most are free! Marshy Point Nature Center (7130 Marshy Point Rd.), located within 500-acre Marshy Point Park on the Chesapeake Bay, hosts “rare flower” walks, night-time hikes, and a monthly speaker series. Also on the bay is Masonville Cove (1000 Frankfurst Ave.), a bird sanctuary, conservation parcel, and nature center. West Baltimore’s Carrie Murray Nature Center (1901 Ridgegtop Rd.) boasts an Insect Zoo with hundreds of species, a rehabilitation center for injured and orphaned wildlife, and a live display of reptiles and amphibians. Plus, there’s always Oregon Ridge (13555 Beaver Dam Rd., Cockeysville), which offers exhibits explaining the history, wildlife, and natural environment of the park, the site of a 19th-century iron and marble mine.
When it gets hot this summer (and it will) head for these oases. Patapsco Valley State Park (8020 Baltimore National Pike, Ellicott City, 410-461-5005) encompasses 32 miles of river, ample room for tubing, canoeing, swimming, and fishing. Tubing down the one-mile Hereford section of the Big Gunpowder at Gunpowder Falls State Park (2813 Jerusalem Rd.) is a favorite summer pastime, as is swimming at the park’s Hammerman beach. Worth the drive into northern Harford County is Rocks State Park (3318 Rocks Chrome Hill Rd.), where Deer Creek’s cool waters host tubers and swimmers all summer long. Check safety requirements at all parks before visiting.
On the Rocks
Dig your pitons out of the attic and go rock climbing: For beginners, try the modest formations at Patapsco State Park, then graduate to the “King and Queen Seat,” a formation of more challenging cliffs in Harford County’s Rocks State Park. For experts, the pros at the area’s Earth Treks’ Climbing Centers operate climbing courses for Baltimore-area students at the Carderock Cliffs along the Potomac River near Washington, D.C., and at the cliff-framed gorge at Great Falls National Park in northern Virginia.
B'more on Film
1. Werner’s Restaurant, 231 East Redwood St.
Ladder 49: John Travolta gives advice to Joaquin Phoenix at the counter.
2. Little Havana Restaurant, 1325 Key Hwy.
The Replacements: Keanu Reeves and his teammates have a bar brawl with angry NFL players.
3. Walters Art Museum, 600 N. Charles St.
Absolute Power: Clint Eastwood’s principled thief sketches an El Greco painting in a gallery.
4. The Hollywood Diner (now Crema Coffee), 400 E. Saratoga St.
Diner: This is the classic diner where Mickey Rourke, Kevin Bacon, and the boys kibitzed.
5. Corner of Calvert and Fayette Sts. (by Courthouse East)
Live Free or Die Hard: A garbage truck crashes into a car carrying John McClane (Bruce Willis).
6. Booker T. Washington Middle School, 1301 McCulloh St.
Step up and Step Up 2: It was the exterior of this school, not the BSA, that played the fictitious Maryland School for the Arts.
7. Broadway Pier, Fells Point
Sleepless in Seattle: Meg Ryan sat on a bench here, daydreaming about Tom Hanks.
8. Union Square (Sowebo)
Washington Square: The square and both the interior and exterior of homes were used in this Henry James adaptation.
9. Mt. Vernon, Washington Monument, 699 N. Charles St.
Enemy of the State: Will Smith meets Lisa Bonet on a park bench here.
10. Waugh United Methodist Church, 11453 Long Green Pike
Runaway Bride: Julia Roberts runs away from her wedding to Richard Gere at this Baltimore County Church.
Last of its Kind
Video Americain (400 West Cold Spring Ln., with a second local location at 3100 St. Paul St.) has become something of an anachronism: A real live video and DVD store, with actual people behind the counter, and actual sections you can browse… in person. But it’s more than that—a true film lover’s mecca, where the cinephiles who work there mingle with the cinephiles who pile in for rentals. Go ahead and get in a debate with the video clerk about the “House Favorites” section. Feel free to watch the film—usually something black and white and European—that’s playing on the house TV. Flip through the tattered stack of film books next to the counter. Yes, Video Americain is a business (they’d prefer you actually rent something), but as long as you love film, you can definitely hang out.
Cinema al Fresco
No, there are no windows to steam up, but you can share a picnic with your sweetie and lay back on the grass at an outdoor film series. The poppi of them all, The Little Italy Open Air Film Festival (High & Stiles Sts.) features mostly Italian-themed movies (think Moonstruck and Big Night) and some of the best takeout picnic possibilities imaginable (Fridays at 7 p.m.). Flicks from the Hill (800 Key Hwy.), at the American Visionary Art Museum, offers films that reflect the current exhibit (Thursdays at 9 p.m.). The Johns Hopkins University Outdoor Film Series (3400 N. Charles St.) features films on the green in front of Shriver Hall and—bonus!—live music from the likes of the Swingin’ Swamis (Fridays at 7:30 p.m.). In Fells Point, Films on the Pier features mostly family fare on the Broadway Pier (Wednesdays at approx. 8:45 p.m.). Every Saturday in June, the Village of Cross Keys rolls out the red carpet for MovieFest. Festivities begin at 6 p.m. with food, drink, music, and prizes.
The theater’s future is in flux, but the Walk of Fame in front of the Senator Theatre remains an impressive landmark. We can certainly thank local heroes John Waters, David Simon, Barry Levinson, and Edward Norton for contributing to the elaborately painted and signed sidewalk squares. Norton, for example, has brought the likes of Richard Gere and Naomi Watts to town (for the premieres of Primal Fear and The Painted Veil, respectively). There’s a square for Cecil B. Demented, with the signatures of Melanie Griffith and Stephen Dorff; and another one for Hairspray, that immortalizes the late, great Divine. Here’s a game: One of the following names is NOT on the Walk of Fame: David Mamet, Greg Kinnear, Sarah Jessica Parker, Matt Damon, and Drew Barrymore. Happy hunting!
The Maryland State Fair is free for kids under 6. That doesn’t include rides, but it does include up-close-and-personal visits with horses, cows, and pigs, including a birthing center, milking station, and pig races, plus crafts, demonstrations—chain-saw sculpting!—and concerts. You might not even have time for the teacups. Also, in June, there’s the totally free Regional Toddler Fair at The Montessori School in Lutherville, featuring fire truck tours, horse rides, gymnastics demonstrations, and reptiles to pet—or shudder at, as need be.
The Chesapeake and Allegheny Steam Preservation maintains one-eighth size replicas of steam trains that once ruled the rails in Maryland, along with more than three miles of mini-tracks running through West Baltimore’s Leakin Park. On the second Sunday of the month, from April to November, volunteers take train enthusiasts of all ages on long, glorious rides for free!
The Mt. Vernon Children’s Park (Calvert and Madison Sts.) stands as one of the city’s most unique play areas, full of awesomely fun activities—a kid-activated water spray, a hedge maze, and a massive sandbox—that are also beautiful, including the glorious gazebo designed by artist David Hess.
During Charm City’s notoriously hot, hazy summers, Walter Sondheim Fountain in West Shore Park (400-500 Light St.) shoots water and shines colored lights in time to music like “Good Morning Baltimore” from Hairspray, Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, and Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World.”
Visitors cross a footbridge over Deep Run stream to enter Baltimore County’s 96-acre Meadowood Regional Park (10650 Falls Rd.), a wonderland of nature and recreation with paved paths for biking, skating, and scootering; seven playing fields; two playgrounds; and three picnic pavilions.
That crying you hear? It’s parents trying to drag their kids out of Storyville, the play-area that’s a pint-sized world unto itself. At two locations now—inside the public libraries in Rosedale (6105 Kenwood Ave.) and Woodlawn (1811 Woodlawn Dr.)—Storyville offers the under-five set a chance to do everything: fish in the Chesapeake Bay, fill up a shopping cart with groceries and work the check-out, climb a tree house, and plant flowers. It’s so fun even the parents might shed some tears when it’s time to go.
It’s like having a Swedish nanny (for 60 minutes—45 on weekends and holidays) when you leave your kids at Ikea’s Småland (8352 Honeygo Blvd.)—grab the buzzer, make a run for it, and you might have enough time to sprint down to textiles and grab that duvet cover, buy Swedish meatballs, and sample lingonberry jam in peace.
“Four fat sausages sizzling in a pan”—Miss Gloria sings with a group of rapt kids, parents, and caregivers, every Thursday at the Canton library—“All of a sudden one went BAM!” The Mother Goose on the Loose program is offered at about 16 different branches at various dates and times and involves singing and stories and general silliness to crawlers, walkers, and preschoolers. Afterwards, there is always free play for the kids and lunch date planning for the parents. “Now there are three fat sausages…”
Here’s an incentive for good grades: The National Aquarium (501 E. Pratt St.) offers free admission on Thursday, June 24 from 6:30-9 p.m. for any Baltimore City or County student (and one adult) with three or more A’s on his or her report card. The College Park Aviation Museum (1985 Corporal Frank Scott Dr.), while not quite free, offers $2 admission for story time and crafts. The Baltimore Museum of Art has free family events every Sunday at 2 p.m., including workshops and gallery tours. To really encourage your pint-sized Picasso, The Walters Art Museum boasts weekday ArtTots and ArtKids programs with stories and activities, and themed weekend activities, like Surf’s Up in July with coral and sponge painting.
You’d be hard-pressed to find something more fun on a Monday night than salsa lessons at Talara (615 President St., 410-528-9883). The South American-inspired tapas restaurant that opened a year ago offers free dance lessons every week starting at 9 p.m. Underneath the neon lights and vibrant Cuban art, local salsa experts Sean Climer and Michael Earle Campbell teach patrons beginner moves for the first half-hour and then the dance floor opens up until close. In between songs, you and your partner can munch on Talara’s signature ceviche dishes or sip $3 Negro Modelo drafts. If you want to put a little more twang into your step, Cancun Cantina (7501 Old Telegraph Rd., Hanover, 410-761-6188) offers free line dancing lessons Tuesday-Thursday at 7:30 p.m. The giant dance floor can hold a few hundred people, as they test out their new moves to a live country band.
Work hard, play free. That could be the motto for Baltimore these days, thanks to the bevy of free games offered at local watering holes. And we’re talking about actual games, too, not the “last-one-still-on-their-barstool-at-the-end-of-the-night-wins” kind. There’s shuffleboard at Alexander’s Tavern (710 S. Broadway, 410-522-0000), board games ranging from Pictionary to Clue to Battleship at Hamilton Tavern (5517 Harford Rd., 410-426-1930), and all the frat house classics (beer pong, air hockey, foosball) you remember so fondly upstairs in The Mt. Washington Tavern’s skybar (5700 Newbury St., 410-367-6903). Some places, like Hamilton Tavern, ask you to wait until after dinner service is over to play, while others, like The Mt. Washington Tavern, let the games begin whenever.
There are plenty of chances to see summer fireworks. Of course, there’s Fourth of July when fireworks light up the Inner Harbor starting at 9:30 p.m. On five Friday nights during the O’s season (May 14, June 25, July 16, August 6, and September 17), Camden Yards is lit with post-game fireworks, viewable to non-ticket holders anywhere nearby. And, Fort McHenry celebrates Star-Spangled Weekend in September with spangles in the sky.
Be a Star
Spectating is all well and good, but sometimes you’ve just gotta get in there and seize the spotlight yourself. Whether it’s done in jest (karaoke at Walt’s Inn, 3201 O’Donnell St.), in earnest (open mic nights at the 8x10, 10 E. Cross St), or some combination of the two (Showtune Video Madness at the Hippo, 1 W. Eager St.), nothing beats the thrill of live performing. Walt’s has karaoke every night, but, on Wednesdays, the Canton pub hosts “Walt’s Inn Idol,” with winners going to a monthly contest with prizes. On Tuesdays, the 8x10 hosts its open mic night, which comes replete with professional sound systems, lighting systems, and an engineer—all you have to bring is The Rock. Also on Tuesdays, the Hippo, Baltimore’s oldest gay club, does Showtune Video Madness, where you can sing along to Broadway and Hollywood musicals to your heart’s content. Belt it out convincingly and you can win prizes like tickets to the latest Broadway shows.
Free concerts are a highlight of summer in the city
Virgin Mobile FreeFest will be returning to Merriwether Post Pavilion this summer, although dates and headliners have not been announced. Last year, Weezer, Blink-182, and Franz Ferdinand headlined the one-day concert, which encouraged fans to donate volunteer hours or money to charity to be one of the 35,000 admitted. Not a bad deal.
Every weekend from Memorial Day until Labor Day, the Harboplace Concert Series hosts shows at the amphitheater near Pratt and Light Streets. Saturday shows are from 8-11 p.m., Sunday shows from 5-8 p.m., and last year, they featured everyone from locals roots rocker Caleb Stein to the Brazilian jazz of Bossalingo.
The annual PNC Concerts in Patterson Park tend to be family- and picnic-friendly. Last year’s lineup included blues from Big Daddy Stallings and bluegrass from Mama Tried.
Belvedere Square’s Summer Sounds at the Square features concerts by the likes of Sons of Pirates (beach music!) and Higher Hands (soul/funk) every Friday, from mid-May to
The Summer Concert Series at the lovely Lurman Woodland Theatre in Catonsville offers a particularly serene setting and play area for tykes right by the stage.
Expect a hipper-than-average lineup at WTMD’s First Thursday Concerts in the Park.
Last year, Towson University’s eclectic music station brought singer-songwriters like Julian Velard and indie rockers like Wild Light to Mt. Vernon Place.
Power Plant Live! hosts Friday Night Live! all summer (Live!) Last year brought ’90s alt-rock heroes like Better Than Ezra and The Gin Blossoms.
The Baltimore Museum of Industry sponsors the Southside Summer Concert Series, which, last year, featured reggae band Jah Works and the Cold-Cold Heartbreakers.
On the first Friday of every month from June to October, head to Canton for First Fridays at the Can Company. Last year, it featured everything from zydeco music from The Crawdaddies to the Celtic rock of Donegal Xpress.
And if that’s not enough, you can always see great live music with no cover at clubs like The Waterfront, Joe Squared, Golden West, and other spots around town.
Last Picture Show
Okay, we admit it: Going to see a movie at Bengies Drive-In Theatre (3417 Eastern Blvd., 410-687-5627) isn’t free, but it comes darn close. Regular admission ranges from $3-8 depending on what showing you attend (the later, the cheaper, mostly). Plus, kids between the ages of four and 10 are only $4. Best of all, kids under four get in absolutely free. There’s also free admission on some Sundays for the drivers of registered historic vehicles. Don’t say Bengies never did anything for you.
There are tons of great dance parties in the city, but only a handful that offer free admission. Check out No Rule at The Metro Gallery (1700 N. Charles St., 410-244-0899) on Monday nights where DJs Cullen Stalin and Scottie B spin an energetic mix of hip-hop, techno, and pop that inspires even the too-cool hipsters to get up and dance. Every Thursday night before 10 p.m., it’s free to get into Moog at Red Maple (930 N. Charles St., 410-385-0520), where a diverse crowd gets down to hip-hop and international house music. And pretty much every night of the week, The Ottobar (2549 N. Howard St., 410-662-0069) hosts free dance parties upstairs, where DJs spin everything from soul and funk to metal and Britpop.
Baltimore is a trove of military history—and most of it can be explored for free. The most famous site is Fort McHenry, which was pounded for two days in 1814 but blocked the British fleet from getting into the harbor and burning the city. It costs a few bucks to go inside the fort, but you can wander the 43-acre grounds for free. Kids love to climb on the cannons that point bay-ward, ready for the next superpower who underestimates Charm City. Next, visit Hampstead Hill at Patterson Park, where 12,000 soldiers, militia, and volunteers (including some graying Revolution veterans) repulsed a subsequent advance of thousands of redcoats trying to enter the city from the rear. For Civil War buffs, start at the Baltimore Civil War Museum (601 President St.) to see why the first fatalities of the war took place here. For the truly committed, go to reenactments: This summer is the 6th Annual Civil War Encampment at Rose Hill Manor Park and Museums in Frederick (rosehillmuseum.com), the 146th Anniversary of Gen. George G. Meade’s Pipe Creek Line in Union Mills, and a reenactment of the Battle of Funkstown, near Hagerstown (funkstown.com). There are small fees to participate, but it’s free to watch at a distance.
See Dead People
If saluting well-known deceased folk is your thing, Baltimore has plenty of them: Head to historic Green Mount Cemetery (1501 Greenmount Ave.), which holds more than 78,000 graves going back 171 years, including those of university founder Johns Hopkins, industrialist and library champion Enoch Pratt, Napoleon Bonaparte’s sister-in-law Betsy Patterson Bonaparte, and Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth, whose grave is unmarked. Then head west to the grave of poet Edgar Allan Poe at Westminster Hall Burying Ground (519 W. Fayette St.), whose birthday has been marked each January 19 since 1949 by a mysterious figure dressed in black with a wide-brimmed hat and a white scarf, who would leave three roses and a partially filled bottle of cognac. (The “Poe Toaster” missed the ritual this year for the first time.) On to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) headquarters in Lochearn (4805 Mt. Hope Dr.), where the ashes of poet, wit, and civil rights advocate Dorothy Parker are buried in a memorial garden. Why there? Because, though she never met him, she left her entire estate to Martin Luther King, Jr. It went to the NAACP after King was assassinated.
The High Seas
To get a feel for Baltimore’s days as a tough seaport town, start on the cobblestone streets of Fells Point. Head west to the nonprofit Living Classrooms Foundation’s marina, where inner-city kids learn about the bay aboard ships like replica pungy schooner Lady Maryland. Going toward the Harbor, you’ll spot World War II sub Torsk and the last surviving Pearl Harbor warship, Taney. At the Harbor, see the USS Constellation, the Navy’s last all-sail warship (ogle from the dock for free or pay to tour). To check when visiting ships come in, visit Sail Baltimore (sailbaltimore.org).
Baltimore has shown an untiring love for building tributes. No wonder pigeons love it here. Best known is the Washington Monument, the nation’s first edifice honoring the Revolutionary War general and President. Walk 228 steps to the top for great views of the city. (A $1 donation is suggested, but not mandatory.) The Francis Scott Key Monument, on Eutaw Place at Lanvale Street in Bolton Hill includes a bronze figure of Key, holding up his poem while standing in a rowboat. Tired of old wars? Check out one of the city’s newer monuments at Harbor East: the dramatic, gold Katyn Memorial in the circle at Harbor East, which honors the thousands of Polish army officers, police, and civilians who were executed en masse by invading Soviet forces in March 1940.
Let's Get Trivial
Baltimore is full of brainiacs—and there’s ample opportunity to display mental brawn at trivia nights all over town. All free—though you might want to, ya know, have a drink…
If they find themselves in a tie, participants in Tuesday contests at Fells Point’s Wharf Rat (801 S. Ann St.) may be asked to chug beers, eat crackers, and/or run around the block to claim top prize (often a bottle of water or bag of peanuts).
Federal Hill’s No Idea Tavern (1649 S. Hanover St.) also hosts Tuesday-night trivia, with slightly better prizes (usually gift certificates), but, alas, no running.
Also in Fells Point, Max’s Taphouse (737 S. Broadway) has a Thursday-night game called Quiz-a-ma-jig, with prizes every round.
James Joyce Pub in Harbor East (616 S. President St.) runs a Monday-night contest that offers gift card prizes to the top three finishers.
For the tournament-minded, there are three regional games that move from location to location, Final Score (finalscoretrivia.com), TriviaMaryland (triviamaryland.com), and ShowTime (showtimetrivia.com).
Comics For All
No geek calendar is complete unless Free Comic Book Day (freecomicbookday.com) is clearly marked. On May 1, comic book stores around the city (and the world)—including Graphic Novelty in Fells Point (1712 Thames St.), Geppi’s Entertainment Museum at Camden Yards (301 W. Camden St.), Legends Games & Comics in Towson (503 York Rd.), and many others—will give comic books away to all comers. Another local participant, Canton Games (2101 Essex St.) has kicked the tradition up a notch, adding Free Role-Playing Game Day to its calendar, on June 19. On that day, the store will give out free RPG packets to any and all interested, and host a game on the premises.
It’s hard to believe that the Book Thing of Baltimore (3001 Vineyard Ln.) celebrated its 10th anniversary last year—rarely does such a good thing last so long. The Thing, located in a white cinder-block building near The Johns Hopkins University, looks like a warehouse from the outside, and a public library circa 1975 on the inside. Except, in this library, you can borrow the books forever. For free. As many as you want. Well, founder Russell Wattenberg does have one rule, listed on his website (bookthing.org): “You can only take 150,000 per day per person.” The Thing gets its stock from donations from all over the country and relies on foundation grants to pay for the space and staff. The result is a bibliophile’s paradise, where browsers can peruse thousands of volumes to their hearts’ content, carting out the spoils in one of many cardboard boxes nearby. It truly is a beautiful Thing.