John Waters. The Wire. Beach House. Edgar Allen Poe. Crabs. Summertime in Baltimore is a lot like the rest of the year in Baltimore — a little offbeat, a little dirty, and more or less as enjoyable as you want it to be. Baltimore’s not generally concerned with rolling out red carpets, so if you want something here you’ll have to make it yourself.
Here are some suggestions for summer fun, no matter who you are:
EXPLORE THE CITY
The people of Baltimore are immediately representative of the city itself, which is to say, they vary greatly and do their own thing. Walk up Charles or St. Paul Street from downtown, through Mt. Vernon and Station North, up to Charles Village. There’s plenty to see along the way and the neighborhoods vary as quickly as the people themselves. Spoiler alert, it’s uphill, but if you get lazy the free Charm City Circulator runs up Charles and down St. Paul all day.
COOL OFF AT A COOL MUSEUM
Baltimore summer isn’t just hot, it’s also wet. Run to the air conditioned sanctuary that is the American Visionary Arts Museum. “Outsider art” and curiosities, great programming, an insane gift shop that is worth the visit alone. “Flicks On The Hill,” their outdoor movie series, is perfect for cooler summer nights.
HIT UP HAMPDEN
Let’s just get Hampden out of the way now. Baltimore’s “curated quirk” destination boasts plenty of vintage shopping and gift shops, but manages to hold it’s own. Take a selfie in front of Hon Cafe’s giant flamingo, have coffee at Artifact, brunch at Rocket To Venus, and make sure you visit Atomic Books!
EAT AN AWESOME BREAKFAST
I’m a firm believer that the best breakfast in town is at Pete’s Grille on Greenmount, where you’ll find locals and Hopkins students seated along the single counter for stacks of pancakes and eggs. And they have milkshakes, that’s like a “summer thing,” right?
Not living up to your notions of “authentic” Baltimore? For breakfast, buy a bottle of Andre and “100% orange juice” through bulletproof glass for DIY mimosas, which pair perfectly with stale Hostess snack cakes. Sit on a curb.
FALL IN LOVE WITH FELLS POINT
Fells Point is an adorable neighborhood at the waterfront, complete with cobblestones and docked boats. Get a snowball with marshmallow from the stand, and sit right at the water with your legs dangling over. Browse records at The Sound Garden, and hey, it’s summer, so why not get a cocktail at Duda’s. Note that Fells Point goes from “charming” to “alarming” when the bars fill up, so get the hell out of there.
CATCH THE BEST HAPPY HOURS
There’s nothing like a good happy hour, and my favorite in the city is at Leon’s in Mt. Vernon. Happy hour is every day from 4pm-10pm, so it’s hard to miss out on that. This place is definitely more of a dudes-only hangout, so it’s a great place to just relax or start your guys’ night.
The Golden West Cafe has become one of the city’s best music venues, with a pretty active schedule of live music and parties. And if you want to keep it real on a Friday night, end your night down the block with a late-night breakfast sandwich at Royal Farms (“RoFo”). You’re welcome.
SEE A MOVIE ON THE REALLY REALLY BIG SCREEN
The Bengies is one of the last great drive-in theatres still operating, and boasts the actual largest screen in the USA. Catch a triple feature of current blockbuster hits (“not quirky”) and dozens of vintage movie advertisements and shorts (“so quirky”). The concession stand has just about everything, and your purchases help keep the place open, so go ahead, have a second corn dog.
HOP IN A POOL (OR BABY POOL)
Go for a swim in one of the city’s pools, with varied membership options, or try your luck at Gunpowder or Prettyboy or you know, wherever you can sneak in a swim without getting fined. Backyard baby pools seem to be a thing too, or maybe that’s just my friends. What do I know, I hate swimming.
EAT MORE FOOD AT LEXINGTON MARKET
Lexington Market has been around for hundreds of years, which is hard to picture when you visit now. There’s plenty to see and eat, so take your time wandering the stalls, then make your way to Faidley’s for a crab cake. They’ve got all the usual awards and honors, which should put this into the “charming” category, but it’s grimy enough to keep you on your toes. That, and they don’t have chairs.
HAVE A DRINK AT ARTSCAPE
ArtScape is the city’s annual arts festival, a sort of giant mess that somehow ends up being alright. It’s hard to say no to public day drinking, and though much of the festival is just a race for refills, the Midway tends to be a great showing of young local creative work. In keeping with the “make it yourself” spirit, Baltimore residents have come together to create alternate summer festival options, including the now-defunct Whartscape, Scapescape and Ratscape.
END THE DAY ON A ROOF
The truest and best way to spend a Baltimore summer is on a roof. A few friends, some drinks, and an iPod playlist are all you really need to spend a whole day in the sun. Whether it’s roof decks in Federal Hill or rows of connected roofs in Bolton Hill, it’s all about the rising heat and skyline views up top.
Baltimore really can and does live up to it’s varied descriptors and and stereotypes. It can be quaint or terrifying, on a block by block basis. But the scariest thing about summer in Baltimore? One morning you wake up and realize that summer is over and all you’ve done is drink and hang out with your friends. How did three months go by so fast?