Feel Like a Local in This Active City

Ditch the tourist track, and visit these neighborhoods to discover Baltimore's youthful charm.
Kim Cross

Baltimore ain't called Charm City for nothin'. Check out Mayor Martin O'Malley: thirtysomething, plays in a rock band, and bent on making Baltimore the hippest city on the Eastern seaboard. (Women call him Mayor O'Hottie.) At heart, he's just another one of the locals who keep this city real. To see where this "city of neighborhoods" gets its saucy charm, hang like a local. C'mon, hon, we'll show you around.

Friday: Canton's Happy Hour
Stay at the Peabody Court, a small European-style hotel in the Mount Vernon Arts and Cultural District. You'll be a block or two from scores of shops and restaurants and a quick cab ride away from some great local gems. Plus, your room might have a view of Baltimore's George Washington monument. (Ask locals why they call him the "Father of our country.") Rates start around $159; (410) 727-7101. See our online Travel Planner (sltravelplanner.com) for more lodging ideas.

Catch a cab to Canton Square for a very happy hour at Nacho Mama's, a notorious Tex-Mex dive with fish tacos and an Elvis shrine. The real Baltimore experience here is washing down a hubcap full of chips and salsa with a "Natty Boh." (In local speak, that's a National Bohemian beer, a Baltimore cousin to Pabst Blue Ribbon.)

Hike a couple of blocks to The Can Company, a cluster of fun shops and restaurants. Find contemporary home interiors at Nouveau, and then try on a great outfit at Cloud 9. Good news, guys: While the ladies shop, you can browse a few doors down at the Chesapeake Wine Company, which stocks beers from around the world.

For dinner, grab a fireside table at Kiss Café, a cozy coffee shop by day and a wine bar after dark. Have the Kiss Dinner Special, and scan this week's City Paper for the skinny on doings around town.

Saturday: Hang Out in Hampden
Cab it to Hampden, and head "Downey Avenue" as locals call West 36th Street, a quirky strip of shops and eats. Start with a gut-busting breakfast at Golden West Café, a bohemian bistro that smothers its 2-inch-thick slices of French toast with vanilla bean cream, chopped walnuts, and bananas sautéed in butter and honey ($8.50). Like a perfect blind date, it's rich and sweet.

Now head down The Avenue for funky shopping. Go junktiquing in Fat Elvis. Visit Hometown Girl for tacky souvenirs and kitsch. Buy a miracle in Milagro, an import shop that sells $1 pewter milagro charms. Speaking of miracles, behold Ma Petite Shoe, a boutique that specializes in shoes and chocolate. It's right down the street from Gotta Have…Bags. Amen.

Hampden began its eccentric rise with the sassy waitresses of Café Hon. Lunch here on pie and diner fare, or grab a burrito at Holy Frijoles. Now, back to the hotel to psych yourself up to eat your way through Mount Vernon.

Start your night with a Godiva milk shake martini at The Tusk Lounge. For dinner, duck around the corner to Brewer's Art, a cozy pub known for Belgian specialties such as steak frites, a New York strip with a mountain of rosemary-garlic fries ($26), and its very own brews. After dinner, scope the scene at Red Maple, a happenin' restaurant, bar, and club. If a thumping dance floor isn't your speed, mosey over to The 13th Floor of the Belvedere, an old-school bar where you'd feel at home in a smoking jacket.

Sunday: Putter Around Federal Hill
Sleep in. Then head to the Metropolitan Coffeehouse & Wine Bar in Federal Hill. Weekend brunch lasts from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., and chef Tony makes a mean Belgian waffle with sautéed cinnamon apples ($8).

Dive into the inviting bustle of Cross Street Market. Before you leave, check out the American Visionary Arts Museum, a funkadelic testament to unbridled imagination.

You may wonder, is it possible to have this much fun in the January cold? In Baltimore, you'd better b'lieve it, hon.

This article is from the January 2006 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.