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Weekend escapes: The rebirth of Baltimore

Posted by Melanie Nayer  August 17, 2012 07:36 AM

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photo-3.JPGBaltimore's inner harbor, featuring the Pier Six Pavilion, the aquarium and plenty of shops and restaurants.

Baltimore hasn't historically been the first place that comes to mind when you consider a weekend escape. It's reputation has a tough, crime-laden city kept tourists away for years as Maryland's most populated city struggled through the shadows of its much more recognized and visited city to south, Washington, DC, for years. Then came the change.

Baltimore got to work a renovation that aimed at bringing tourists back this historical city. And it worked. Thanks to a new luxury hotel, a few celebrity chefs, the opening of big name retailers and the investment of the city's government and its locals, Baltimore is experiencing its own renaissance, for the better.

JetBlue and Southwest/AirTran airlines fly non-stop from Boston to Baltimore for as low as $152 round-trip. The 1 hour 20 minute flight means you can leave after breakfast, arrive in time for lunch, and have a full weekend to enjoy all that Baltimore has built up.

For your weekend escape to Baltimore, don't miss the following:

Where to stay:
Baltimore has always been a favorite for corporate retreats and executive events, thanks in most part to its affordable prices compared to DC, but it's the leisure travelers that have typically shied away from the city, mainly because of Baltimore's risky reputation. But when a luxury hotel moves in, you know things have cleaned up. Welcome to Baltimore, Four Seasons.

The luxury hotel opened its doors in November 2011 and has since welcomed guests and locals to its prime location on the harbor. During the summer you can dine on the outdoor patio at Wit & Wisdom (part of the Four Seasons Baltimore) - just steps from the Pier Six Pavilion - and listen to live concerts, watch the harbor yachts dock and flag down friends as they pass through the harbor walk, which runs right along the hotel's backdoors. Across the street, J Crew and Anthropologie are getting ready to open their doors, and only a short walk from the hotel is Fells Point, where endless boutiques and bars line the trendy square.

BLT_283-580.jpgLobby entrance of the Four Seasons Hotel Baltimore

In addition to the infinity pool, reflecting pool, outdoor whirlpool and private cabanas that look out over the harbor, the Four Seasons Baltimore is home to LAMILL Cafe. Lest you think this is just another overpriced hotel cafe, think again. Busy execs, mom's on the go with strollers in tow, and vacationers needing a fix stopped in fresh pastries and house-brewed coffee. (Tip: try the homemade "hot pockets" filled with mushroom and goat cheese or nutella. They're an advanced version of the traditional pop-tart, with more adult flavors to satisfy any palette.)

Other hotels include the Hyatt Regency Baltimore and the Renaissance Baltimore Harborplace, both situated on the harbor and steps from Baltimore's harbor walk.

What to do:
photo-5.JPGFort McHenry: No trip to Baltimore is complete without a trip to Fort McHenry, the location of one of the key battles of the War of 1812 and inspiration behind Francis Scot Key?s "Star Spangled Banner." Make sure to take a walk through the new Visitor's Center for a free recounting of the war. Stay for the twilight tattoo ceremony, a ceremonial event that happens each night and includes the military bugle sounds shortly before Taps.

Outdoor Film Festivals: Various Baltimore neighborhoods host complimentary outdoor movies - a great family event or a casual romantic night. On Wednesdays, Films on the Pier attracts moviegoers to the waterfront at dusk and on Thursday nights, Flicks From the Hill kick off at sunset. Bring a blanket and a picnic and kick back under the stars.

Grand Prix of Baltimore: If you're looking for a Labor Day weekend escape, head to Baltimore for the Grand Prix. Taking place Aug. 31-Sept. 2, the streets of downtown Baltimore turn into a racetrack for The Grand Prix of Baltimore. The 12-turn course runs through the heart of the city along the Inner Harbor, and is flanked by a 3-day festival that features race cars, food and drink.

Camden Yards: Granted, few parks can rival Fenway Park, but Camden Yards does have a lot of historical appeal. If you can, catch the Orioles in action. Otherwise, opt for a tour of the retro-ballpark, and be sure to check out the Art of the Game sports art gallery.

Sailing Around the Harbor: Join Downtown Sailing Center for a cruise along Baltimore's Inner Harbor. The 90-minute sail showcases everything from lighthouses to unparalleled views of Fort McHenry. If you want a more hands-on experience, take a sailing class with Downtown Sailing and chart your own course.

photo-6.JPGAmerican Visionary Art Museum: It's unlike any museum you've ever visited. The American Visionary Art Museum boasts "intuitive, self-taught artistry" that takes art to a new level. Check out the world's largest ball of bras and war ship replicas made from popsicle sticks, and enjoy the special exhibitions (currently showing: All Things Round, a display of all things... round).

Where to eat:
Lunch at LP Steamers: It's no secret that Maryland is known for its crabs, but finding the best crabs can be a daunting experience for the tourist. Not to worry. On your way to Fort McHenry, stop into LP Steamers for Baltimore's best, Old Bay-seasoned crabs, steamed and thrown in unison on your wooden table. There are no frills here. Come hungry, wear a bib and enjoy!
photo-8.JPG
Dinner at PABU: It's not all about crabs in Maryland (though you'll have a hard time arguing they are the best you'll find). As Baltimore has grown into its own foodie emporium, celebrated chefs from around the world have opened kitchens here. PABU is the joint effort between Michael Mina and Ken Tominaga, and features a modern Japanese cuisine. The concept here is to share, and share well. All the food is small plates, so order a bunch of different options and indulge. For an extra treat, ask for a sake flight to accompany your dinner.

Brunch at Woodberry Kitchen: Located in the Clipper Mill neighborhood, Woodberry Kitchen is a local favorite for farm-to-table fare. Make reservations ahead of time for brunch here, and be sure to taste test a variety of the homemade options from the menu. Don't miss the house-smoked sausage, eggs benedict, and flat breads. (Tip: Let brunch digest while you peruse the glass blowing store located next door to the restaurant. You'll find everything from jewelry to vases, and the store even offers glass-blowing classes.)

photo-4.JPGDessert at LAMILL: Sure, LAMILL is known for its coffee, but it's the pastries here that have tastebuds on alert around Baltimore. Save some room after lunch or dinner for the delicacies that line the glass display case. The signature item: barbecue brownies. You've never tried anything like these, and you like won't ever forget them. The savory barbecue sauce and smoked flavor mixed with the dark chocolate fudge-like brownie produces a rich flavor that's hard to resist. (Hint: You might not see these delights in the case, but just ask for them.) My prediction: These barbecue brownies will help put Baltimore back on the map.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Melanie Nayer is a travel writer who spent many years in the newsroom before jetting off to see the world. Her goal is to bring readers the best insider information More »

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