Crab cakes and Natty Boh, Hon Culture, John Waters, Camden Yards and the Inner Harbor. Together, these quirky Baltimore favorites create the city’s refreshingly unique personality, and whether you’re a local or a first-time visitor, we think it’s key to experience them all. Inner Harbor is the epicenter of the city’s bustling tourist hub, but we chatted with our Charm City team and found out what makes their “can’t miss” list again and again.
Rise and Shine
Get your start at Miss Shirley’s Cafe—a breakfast/brunch institution praised for its Southern roots and fresh Chesapeake Bay ingredients. Named for Miss Shirley McDowell, a Baltimore icon beloved for her sassy charm and joy of cooking, the restaurant maintains a jovial vibe and menu of crowd-pleasing favorites like Coconut Cream-Stuffed French Toast or Soft Shell Crab Eggs Benedict. Adventurous diners (and drinkers) can order a housemade “mornin’ cocktail” like the almighty Born on the Bay-O Bloody Mary, garnished with blackened shrimp, tasso ham, Andouille sausage, cheddar, pickled okra and, of course, an Old Bay-seasoned rim.
Just across the Inner Harbor, you’ll find the American Visionary Art Museum. Created to celebrate intuitive creative invention and grassroots genius, the eccentric venue showcases art produced by self-taught individuals, usually those without formal training. Note that the museum is closed on Mondays, and children 6 and under always enter for free!
On Thursdays in the summer, the museum grants free admission to all from 5 to 9 pm, and movie lovers of all ages gather to picnic under the stars and watch a film inspired by AVAM’s current exhibition. The Hughes Family Outdoor Theater features seating for a thousand-plus, and Adam Kurtzman’s Giant Golden Hand “holds” the 30-foot-wide screen. Year-round, you can take in one of the best sunset views in town across the street atop Federal Hill.
Take to the Water
Next, check out Baltimore from a new, aquatic perspective, by boarding a water taxi that connects the Inner Harbor to Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine (which inspired Francis Scott Key to write the national anthem) and everywhere in between. The blue-and-white fleet has shuttled tourists and locals around the city’s waterways for 35-plus years, and this mode of transport proves a great way to explore other neighborhoods, from Fell’s Point to Locust Point.
Once you’ve worked up an appetite again, head to the end of Pier 4 for one of the many treasures belonging to the empire of Bryan Voltaggio (of “Top Chef” and “Top Chef Masters” fame). As one might predict, Family Meal—Baltimore has an easy-going vibe, and Voltaggio devotees return for elevated comfort food fare like steak frites, meatloaf and fried chicken served with buttermilk biscuits, pickles and hot sauce. After an active day of sightseeing, sate your thirst with housemade sodas (try flavors from pomegranate to pineapple), locally-sourced Zeke’s coffee or, for the 21+ set, a boozy milkshake.
Call It a Night…Cap
After a long day of sightseeing, cruising on the water and taking in local art, call it a night at Hotel Monaco Baltimore Inner Harbor. Enjoy a handcrafted cocktail created by bartender Brendan Dorr at B&O American Brassiere, like the gold-standard Cadizian, made with Redbreast 12-year Whiskey, Byass Solera 1847 Sherry, Lillet Blanc, Peychauds Bitters and Fee Brothers Orange Bitters. Take in the beauty of the building which once housed the headquarters for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad: two-story marble staircases, Tiffany stained glass windows and oversized chandeliers dating back to the early 1900’s are just a few things that may catch your eye on your way up to your room. We promise it won’t take long to see why Baltimore’s called Charm City.