Greg Alexander

Be a Tourist in Your Own City

Mason-Dixon Arrive, December 2008

Our editorial mantra here at Mason-Dixon ARRIVE has always been “Go See Something!” It’s our attempt to encourage readers to put aside an afternoon and go explore something new in our wonderful region, or simply rediscover somewhere you haven’t been in a while. Typically, we take you on BackRoads for a day to tucked away gems or to regional destinations for a weekend stay. As December is one of the craziest months for our readers – with holiday parties, shopping, visiting Grandma and entertaining on the docket – I thought it prudent to instead take advantage of what we have right here in our back yard – Baltimore City. Hundreds of thousands of tourists descend on the Inner Harbor each year, while locals tend to avoid it unless family is in town or heading there for a Ravens game or the New Year’s Eve fireworks.

As the lone City resident on staff, I decided to be a tourist again in my own City. I recalled the first time I visited Baltimore in 1995 and now exciting it was to be downtown in a big city. There are endless things to do and see downtown, and many are free or inexpensive, which is perfect as December is a month where we all tighten the purse strings. So, grab the family and head downtown!

Of course, there are some obvious choices – the National Aquarium, Port Discovery Children’s Museum and the Maryland Science Center, to name a few. The Aquarium and Science Center can be pricey, especially for a family of four; however, there are some deals this month – Fridays after 5 pm, admission is discounted to $8 at both venues, and on Dec. 6-7, both venues, in addition to Port Discovery, the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture, among others – are taking part in “Dollar Days,” where admission is only $1 (visit for a complete list).

However, how about visiting the gems on the east side of the Harbor, known as Historic Jonestown? Park the car at one of the many parking garages or feed the meter on Lombard, east of President Street where you can park for two hours for $2 (credit cards accepted). For history buffs, start at the recently restored Carroll Mansion, the former home of Charles Carroll, the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence. The gorgeous brick home was once also a saloon and tenement apartments for German and Russian immigrants. The museum is open Wednesday-Sunday, Noon-4pm, and guided tours are offered on the hour. Adjacent to the Carroll Mansion is the Phoenix Shot Tour, a 215-foot-tall brick tower that was the tallest building in the country until 1846. The iconic structure contains an estimated 1.1 million bricks, and 2.5 million pounds of “drop” shot, used for small game hunting, was made in the tower until 1892. Tours are offered Wednesday-Sunday at 10:30am by appointment only; call 410-605-2964 to make an appointment.

Next, it’s off the beautiful African American Museum, a striking red, black and silver building. In addition to special exhibits, the museum houses three distinct content areas: “Family and Community,” “Labor that Built a Nation” and “Art and Enlightenment.” What makes this museum a must stop is that the content is focused solely on Maryland African-Americans, and the exhibits are moving and inspiring.

Other Jonestown attractions include St. Vincent de Paul Church, the oldest continuous Catholic parish in America, the Jewish Museum of Maryland and the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House. Also, on the other side of President Street is the Public Works Museum. If you’re looking to make a day of it just in Jonestown, you might want to consider the “Heritage Pass” offered at the Baltimore Visitors Center (401 Light St.), which offers admission to all area venues and discounts at area restaurants and merchants for $38; children ages 3-12, $23.50.

So, after getting your history fix, jump back in the car and head to Harbor East, Baltimore’s newest and trendiest neighborhood. If you haven’t been downtown in a few years, you’d hardly recognize the area in between the Inner Harbor and Fell’s Point. What was a barren area south of Little Italy, sans for the H&S Bakery, is now a thriving “city within a city.” Consisting of only six city blocks and bordered by Fleet Street to the north, Central Avenue to the east and the water to the south and west, Harbor East in the “in” place right now. Soaring luxury condo buildings, the new Legg Mason tower and upscale hotels dot the skyline, but the real treasures are on street level. I’ve lived in Baltimore City for 12 years, and Harbor East is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in Baltimore. Young professionals and empty nesters walk side by side, many walking dogs or heading to the local Maryland Athletic Club. Boutique shops and fancy restaurants can be found along Aliceanna Street and South Exeter Street, but there’s plenty here for Mom, Dad and the kids.

Parking is plentiful, thanks to ample parking garages and two-hour parking spots. To be in the center of it all, head to the Whole Foods Market where parking can be found on all sides. If you’re hungry, lunch options are few, as many of the restaurants – Charleston, Cinghiale, Pazo, Oceanaire Seafood Room and Roy’s – are not open for lunch. If you’re looking for something quick, pop in Whole Foods, where you can grab a salad, sandwich or even sushi, and head down to the water and have lunch. Another great, and warmer, option is James Joyce Irish Pub and Restaurant on South President Street. The charming Irish Pub is welcoming and great for kids, too. Sample unique Irish fare such as Fish and Chips or Shepherds Pie. For the kids, burgers, chicken tenders and wings are offered, while Mom and Dad might be able to whet the palate with a Harp. For an after-lunch treat, head to Glarus Chocolatier on South Exeter Street for a little Swiss chocolate indulgence. Kids will marvel at the beautiful treats inside, and owners Ben and Jennifer Hauser will make you feel right at home (the shop’s name derives from the Swiss hometown of Ben’s father).

Now, time to shop! The majority of the shops are on Aliceanna Street, and since they are all bunched together, the little ones in tow won’t get tired. Those who’ve been to Towson, Rehoboth Beach or Ocean City will recognize South Moon Under with its great casual clothes for men and women and fun accessories. Ladies, for that gotta-have-it fabulous pair of new shoes, head to Sassanova. The gorgeous small boutique has fabulous shoes and handbags for ladies, adorable kids shoes and fun ties and boxer shorts for men. The helpful staff and occasional sale make this a mandatory stop. Another great stop for women is Handbags in the City (for those with a generous budget) or Urban Chic. City Sports has all your athletic and Ravens gear needs, while home furnishings can be found at Arhaus (the upscale store has fantastic sales, so check often).

If you’re not in the shopping mood, or your budget does not allow, a fantastic and free experience can be had by simply strolling the public promenade along the water and admiring the sailboats. I admit that I tend to take for granted the fact that Baltimore is one of the few cities that allows you to stroll around the water, as evidence by the fact that the Inner Harbor has become the model for other cities around the world, including Sydney, Australia, which visited here and consulted with Baltimore officials and developers when it redeveloped its harbor.

You might also want to see a movie at the new Landmark Theatres, which has great screens and even a bar that allows you to take cocktails into the movie, or pamper yourself with a spa treatment at Spa Sante.

No matter what your interests are, there’s something for everyone downtown, so this month, stay close to home and fall in love with Baltimore all over again.

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