WHY GO: The Flag. Yes, ours. The one we sing about in the Star Spangled Banner was sewn and originally sent up the pole in Baltimore. So a visit to Baltimore MD, the “Monumental City,” wouldn’t be complete without seeing where Old Glory was stitched and flew proudly.
Chances are you’ve been here already. At least to the more commercialized Inner Harbor where the National Aquarium, Maryland Science Center the Baltimore Maritime Museum, and a myriad of shops and restaurants draw year round tourists like ants to a picnic.
But this Getaway takes you to some lesser known attractions and neighborhoods. To a Dentistry Museum that features George Washington’s teeth. To the Birthplace of American Railroading (and its corporate office, now a boutique hotel). And to the Jewish enclave of Lombard Street.
You don’t have to look very hard to find historical and “Offbeat” Baltimore. For a longer stay, combine this Getaway with a Baltimore City Arts focused visit.
Things to Do in Baltimore MD
VISIT: Star Spangled Banner Museum
Before you even step foot inside, consider that the flag built into the front wall of the building is the same size as the one observed by Francis Scott Key on September 14, 1814 as he penned The Star Spangled Banner from a boat just off Fort McHenry.
When war was declared two years earlier, the Army in Baltimore requested an “ensign” large enough to see from afar. But, who would stitch it? Mary Pickersgill’s family had a long history of sewing “colors” and sign flags for merchant ships. (Quite possibly competing for the same jobs as Betsy Ross up in Philadelphia).
For this purpose Pickersgill was asked to craft an American Flag 30 ft. X 42 ft. Each stripe had to be two feet wide, and 15 stars two feet each from tip to tip. She managed to get the job done in six weeks.
A visit to this museum complex includes a tour of Pickersgill’s original circa 1793 home in its original location, exactly where she spent those 6 weeks sewing the fateful flag.
With floorboards and windows over 200 years old, and samples of Old Glory folded in her workroom, it’s a thrilling look at a perspective of US History we don’t ordinarily consider.
The flag that Mary made still exists. Although you won’t find it here. To see it, you’ll have to head down to Washington, DC and the Smithsonian Museum. Museum open Tues. –Sat. 10-4, $8 adult, $6 kids.
VISIT: Fort McHenry
Baltimore owns a “key” place in our nation’s history. The bombardment of Fort McHenry by the British during the War of 1812 inspired an observer, Francis Scott Key, to write the words that would become our Star Spangled Banner.
One of the most uplifting moments of the tour comes just after watching a short movie in the Visitor’s Center, when you are invited to stand to sing the national anthem as curtains open to reveal an American flag flying right outside. It’s worth visiting Baltimore for that spine-tingling moment alone. Open daily 9-4:45, $7 adults, kids free.
TOUR: Baltimore Trolley Tour
We’d ordinarily steer you clear of these kind of touristy things. But at least this 90-minute coach bus tour leaves the Inner Harbor and exposes you to other, lesser known Baltimore neighborhoods. All while allowing for a bit of history.
Learn about the USS Constellation, which was the last all-sail ship used as a Naval Academy Training vessel, and the newish Reginald Lewis Museum of African American History and Culture .
Along the cobblestone streets of Fells Point, discover the mustering site for Massachusetts Civil War recruits, the bar favored by Edgar Allan Poe, and the row of homes that Frederick Douglas purchased after he escaped slavery, disguised as a seaman.
“When I left Maryland, I was property. When I came back, I bought property,” Douglas was purported to have said.
Mount Vernon – Baltimore Style
You’ll drive through Little Italy, “Cornbeef Row” – the Jewish section and home to the third longest-standing synagogue in the United States, and the monument studded Mount Vernon, arguably the most beautiful area of Baltimore.
The 178-ft. marble column and statue of George Washington, completed in 1829, was the first monument in the country to honor a United States President. When acting President, John Quincy Adams, came to town, he called Baltimore, “The Monumental City.” The name stuck.
The adjacent gothic spire Methodist Church and a central city garden creates a tableau that appears elegantly European. “This area unfortunately gets lost in the whole harbor thing,” say in-the-know guides. It’s definitely a neighborhood to return to after the tour. Tours, $27 adults, $16 kids, run from Visitor Center 10:30 and 12:30 daily.
There may be other Dentistry Museums (who knew?), but this one, opened in 1996 on the University of Maryland campus, is the largest in the country. That’s probably because the world’s first dental school, The Baltimore College of Dental Surgery, opened here in 1840.
At first, you may think a museum dedicated to a dreaded medical procedure would be blah, boring, or even trigger-stressful. But I ended up staying much longer than the 20 minutes I’d allotted because it is so fascinating.
George Washington’s Dentures
The most prominent – and myth-busting – artifact on exhibit is an actual set of George Washington’s dentures. And they are not made out of wood, as countless teachers have taught us. Composed of sculpted bone and hinged wire, they were so uncomfortable, Washington often had to have new sets made.
The museum lobby features a stained glass window of the “Patron Saint of Tooth Sufferers,” Apollonia, from a church in Wales, next to portraits of same by Andy Warhol.
Visitors are invited to “Share Your Smile” – via digital camera that snaps a photo and then adds it to the roster of rotating toothy faces above.
There’s a “Guess The Smile” interactive that questions your ability to identify a celebrity based just on his or her grinning mouth.
Prior to the mid 1800’s, dentistry was not considered a part of the medical field. Traveling dentists made a living helping tooth pain sufferers in small rural towns. A “well-supplied traveling dentist’s outfit, carried in saddlebags” is on display here.
Learn interesting Victorian-age particulars about dental health – such as the not so surprising fact that the upper class displayed wealth by owning personalized sets of tooth scalers (implements that scrape plaque from teeth). In fact, you can get a close gander at Queen Victoria’s mother-of-pearl-handled set.
The museum owns one of the only authenticated photos (if not the only photo), taken in 1875, of Dr. John Henry “Doc” Holliday performing a dental procedure. That well-preserved photograph was discovered while cleaning trash out of a classic car in 1991. Open Mon-Fri 9-4 (last admitted at 3pm), $7 adults, $5 kids.
VISIT: Jewish Museum of Maryland
The Maryland Jewish Historical Society was formed in 1960 to save the Lloyd Street Synagogue. The first synagogue built in Baltimore, in 1845, it housed the Orthodox Baltimore Hebrew Association.
The Lloyd Street shul is now part of the Jewish Museum of Maryland. Stories and “Voices of Lombard St.” are told through poster-sized photographs, text quotes and objects in the museum’s poignant permanent exhibit.
Life on Lombard Street
Though specific to Jewish life in Baltimore, The Voices of Lombard St. speaks to a more universal immigrant experience, when newcomers are totally out of their element and ethnic groups must help each other.
“My grandparents had no life after they got here. They were unfit for American life. And I think this was common among these immigrants. Their purpose was to open up the world to their children.” – Joseph Hirschmann.
“The Haves had to help the Have Not’s. It was a simple matter of justice.”
Anyone – Jewish or not – who grew up in Baltimore’s Jewish neighborhood will experience a strong sense of nostalgia here. “I thought the whole world was Italian and Jewish,” wrote a Lombard St. resident.
Exhibits illustrate the prevailing customs of Baltimore’s Jewish population. There’s a picture of a fish in a bathtub, exemplifying the practice of keeping carp fresh before being ground and cooked as gefilte fish. And a photo montage of markets and butcher shops illustrate crowds of women shopping and preparing for the Jewish Sabbath and holidays.
At some point, Yiddish Theater and deli’s give way to riots and drugs, ultimately forcing Jews to move to safer places. Plan to spend a half hour or more here if you want to read all the signage. Even if you didn’t live here, and have no connections to Baltimore, it’s an emotional look at an immigrant group who made the best of a new country and new world. Open Sun-Thurs 10-5, $10 adults, $4 kids.
VISIT: B&O Railroad Museum
In 1827, Maryland State Legislators granted a charter to build a “road of rails” between Baltimore and the Ohio River. The “railroad” was, at the time, a new technology, conceived to compete with the New York Erie Canal. Maryland’s State government was taking a big chance that obviously paid off.
This 40-acre museum tells the story of railroading from the place of its origins.
Most of the train cars are arrayed within Baldwin’s Roundhouse, the largest circular industrial building in the world at the time of its construction in 1884. The roundhouse’s 245 feet interior diameter was designed to accommodate the largest passenger cars of the day.
Now, enormous train cars radiate like spokes from a wheel inside this colossal building. You can jump aboard each one, and then avail yourself of various tours through the day.
“The War Came By Train” exhibit illuminates the way this new technology influenced the outcome of the Civil War. Outside, walk through retired train cars – some set up with model-train dioramas, others available to ride. $20 adults, $12 kids, Mon-Sat 10-4, Sun 11-4.
The Water Taxi ferries beau coups visitors to 17 harbor access points, for just $12 per day. On an ideal afternoon, it’s the best place to chill out on the water. Even if you have no desire to get off.
Restaurants in Baltimore MD
EAT: Sabatino’s, Little Italy
In all the hoopla about the hottest new restaurants, sometimes its nice to shine light on those that have stood the test of time. Sabatino’s – opened in 1955 and still a Little Italy landmark – is one such “old school” institution. It’s got friendly service, traditional “red sauce” Italian cuisine, and white linen table-set dining rooms.
Known for its homemade salad dressing on the signature Bookmaker Salad, Sabatino’s also serves up full and half-orders of Lasagna, Penne Vodka, Baked Ziti, and Eggplant Parm ($15-$19) like Mama used to make. All are hearty, fresh and delicious.
EAT/BREAKFAST: Miss Shirley’s
This is where most Baltimore natives will send you for your morning meal. Provided you have enough room in your stomach for some serious eats. With portions designed to share, the savories win out. Battle Of the Brunches bestowed best dish on Crab Cake and Fred Green Tomatoes, though Shirley’s Affair with Oscar – Beef Fillet with Crab has won numerous awards.
EAT: Woodberry Kitchen
A perennial hotspot in the gentrifying outskirts of town, Woodberry Kitchen is tucked into the repurposed Clipper Mill complex. With an outdoor patio strung with lights, flickering votives, wood beam interior a hermit’s cabin gone wild, Woodberry has the atmosphere and quality of locavore food that keeps the reservation phones a-ringing.
EAT/DRINK: Pick a place in Fells Point
The oldest section of Baltimore charms you with brick sidewalks and cobblestone streets. Fells Point has been Baltimore’s go-to neighborhood for drinking and carousing since 1763. A party every night. With bars named The Cat’s Eye Pub, Ale Mary and One Eyed Mikes, and Bad Decisions, you can’t go wrong stumbling in to any and all.
Where to Stay in Baltimore MD
STAY: Baltimore Hotel Monaco
Initially the B&O Corporate Headquarters, the 1906 Beaux Arts Hotel Monaco is just three blocks from the Inner Harbor. A bit more sedate than the typical crazy-cat Kimpton Hotel décor, the multi-nook lobby is a quiet-riot of maroons, dollar-bill greens, and ecru, punched up by flashes of chartreuse. Here, every evening, guests join a convivial complementary Wine Hour.
High ceiling guest rooms are perfect lairs for CEO’s and those who like to travel like them. Rich blue leather headboards on Frette linen enrobed beds, red lacquer desks, Poupon-yellow leather walls in dark marble baths, the Monaco caters to lovers of the colorful. Rooms $179-$399, Majestic Suite, $1500. Includes complimentary hosted wine hour, use of bicycles.
STAY: Lord Baltimore Hotel
Another historic hotel three blocks from the inner harbor, the Lord Baltimore was the centerpiece of upscale Baltimore hospitality when it opened in the late 1920’s. Rubell Hotels purchased the property in 2013 after it faded and fell out of favor. The common areas and most of the guest rooms were redesigned.
Rooms are handsomely masculine and cool. And at this point, reasonably priced for the area. Rooms from $155 per night plus tax.
More Weekend Getaways Near Washington DC
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- Montgomery County MD: Urbane Just Outside Washington DC
- Fairfax County VA: George Washington’s Home Is Just The Start
- Loudoun County VA: Washington DC’s Rich Wine Region
- National Harbor MD: Fun DC Area Town Established 2008
- Frederick MD: A Mini-Philly With a Charm All Its Own
- Baltimore MD: The Arts and Neighborhoods In Charm City