February brings a big-time salute to the arts in this harbor city.

Spotlight on Baltimore (Promo)

February month can be a bit chilly in Baltimore, but the city heats up with a dazzling array of cultural events. The arts scene really starts cooking midmonth when Baltimore kicks off a salute to St. Petersburg, Russia, now celebrating its 300th birthday. The three-week Vivat! St. Petersburg festival features the best in Russian art, theater, music, literature, and film.

Tune Up for Friday
Begin your weekend in style at the Walters Art Museum, where you'll stroll through 55 centuries of art. Two intriguing new exhibits open February 13 in conjunction with the Vivat! festival. "Origins of the Russian Avant-Garde" features more than 160 paintings and folk art objects from the State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg. The second, "The Fabergé Menagerie," offers a first-of-its-kind look at Fabergé's whimsical animal creations. The $12 admission price allows access to the permanent collection and both exhibits.

Lodging in downtown Baltimore tends to be pricey. Still, the city boasts a wide range of options. We favor the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront Hotel (rates start at $189; (410) 385-3000) for its plush bedding and views of the harbor. For a less expensive alternative, try the nearby Courtyard by Marriott Inner Harbor (rates start at $109; (443) 923-4000). If you'd rather be closer to the cultural activities, try the newly renovated Peabody Court Hotel (special Vivat! rates start at $129; (410) 727-7101).

For dinner, head back to Baltimore's Mount Vernon Cultural District. Don't miss Sotto Sopra at 405 North Charles Street, where diners feast on contemporary Italian dishes. Try the cheesy gnocchi (Italian dumplings), served in a roasted-tomato coulis ($17). It's the best we've had anywhere.

Don't linger over dinner, or you'll be late for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (tickets range $20-$78). Performances this month highlight works by great Russian composers. Music director Yuri Temirkanov, who's also the chief conductor of the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, is the mastermind behind the Vivat! celebration.

If you're really energetic, head to Power Plant Live! a new entertainment district with restaurants and clubs.

Saturday on the Town
Your first stop today is Jimmy's in Fell's Point, a Baltimore icon where you can get breakfast all day. Then take the water taxi across the harbor to the American Visionary Art Museum. This wildly imaginative space caters to art produced by self-taught individuals. On February 1, the museum opens its new exhibit, "Russia's Holy Fool: The Outsider Art of Pavel Leonov." Admission is $8.

For a taste of Latin America and the Caribbean, try lunch at Joy America Cafe, on the museum's third floor. Be sure to order the guacamole, a house specialty. The restaurant will also feature a Russian peasant menu in conjunction with Vivat!

Looking for a new outfit? Check out Harborplace & The Gallery, a shopping complex on the Inner Harbor. For unique shops, explore the Fell's Point neighborhood. Don't miss Maja's collection of African artifacts.

For dinner, make your way to the Brass Elephant Restaurant. Crowd-pleasers include the sautéed Nantucket scallops ($17.95) and the pan-seared duck breast ($15.95).

The evening continues with a performance at Baltimore's renowned regional theater, Center Stage. Ain't Misbehavin' plays through February 16 (tickets range $10-$55), and the world premiere of Intimate Apparel begins February 21 (tickets range $25-$40). If you prefer opera, head to the Baltimore Opera's performance of Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk (tickets range $37-$132).

Before you turn in, stop by Charleston for a sampling of the restaurant's international cheeses ($10 per person). This savory sensation coupled with a glass of wine provides the perfect ending to a perfect day.

An Artful Sunday
Looking for inspiration? Baltimore boasts its fair share of beautiful churches, including the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin at Cathedral and Mulberry Streets. This architectural masterpiece is considered to be one of the best examples of Neoclassical architecture in the world. Guided tours are offered on Sunday at noon.

For brunch, head to Gertrude's at The Baltimore Museum of Art. Order Eggs Gertrude, eggs Benedict served with crab cakes instead of Canadian bacon.

Use the rest of your afternoon for an unhurried exploration of the museum, one of the country's finest. Starting February 12, the museum debuts its new exhibit, "Art of the Ballet Russes." The collection showcases some 70 set and costume designs and more than 30 lavish costumes from this heralded ballet company. Take your time. The museum stays open until 6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Admission is $7 for adults.

For more information: Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association, 100 Light Street, 12th Floor, Baltimore, MD 21202; toll free 1-877-225-8466 or www.baltimore.org. For more on Vivat! St. Petersburg, visit www.vivatfest.com.

This article is from the February 2003 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.