“Baltimore,” the song by Randy Newman from the 1970s, features a hooker, a drunk, and a refrain—“Man, it’s hard just to live”—that struck enough of a chord with the likes of Nils Lofgren, Nina Simone, David Gray, and Mullyman that they all covered it. Yet visitors can easily revel in Charm City’s tourist economy without having to confront its widespread desperation by sticking to the well-worn paths between familiar attractions. Taking the risks of straying from them, though, may yield broader understanding that comes from eyeballing some of urban life’s more poignant realities. The safest play, but least fun, is to stay home and just listen to the many recordings of Newman’s song.
The Inner Harbor
Much of what attracts people to Baltimore is on the waterfront, which is lined by a promenade dotted with 12 stops for the $12-per-day pass Baltimore Water Taxi (baltimorewatertaxi.com). From Fort McHenry (2400 E. Fort Ave.,  962-4290, nps.gov/fomc, $7) toCanton Waterfront Park (3001 Boston St.,bcrp.baltimorecity.gov), much of the waterfront area is also served by the free, four-stop Harbor Connector water taxi and the free Charm City Circulator.
Notable attractions include: Oriole Park at Camden Yards (baltimore.orioles.mlb.com), the Baltimore Museum of Industry (1415 Key Highway,  727-4808,thebmi.org, $7-$12), Federal Hill Park (300 Warren Ave., bcrp.baltimorecity.gov), Maryland Science Center(601 Light St.,  685-2370, mdsci.org, $17.95-$20.95), Harborplace (201 E. Pratt St.,  323-1000),Baltimore’s World Trade Center Observation Level (401 E. Pratt St.,  837-8439, viewbaltimore.org, $3-$5), Historic Ships in Baltimore (301 E. Pratt St.,  539-1797, historicships.org, $5-$18), National Aquarium (501 E. Pratt St.,  576-3800, aqua.org, $21.95-$34.95), Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture (830 E. Pratt St.,  263-1800, rflewismuseum.org, $6-$8), Flag House and Star-Spangled Banner Museum (844 E. Pratt St.,  837-1793, flaghouse.org, $6-$8), and Fells Point (fellspoint.us).
Baltimore City’s segment of the Charles Street National Scenic Byway (nps.gov) brings visitors along the city’s north-south spine, with important cultural designations near its path between Cross Street Market (1065 S. Charles St.,  685-6169), bpmarkets.com) and the Johns Hopkins University’s Homewood Campus (3400 N. Charles St.,  516-8000, jhu.edu). Worth checking out: St. Paul’s Episcopal Church (233 N. Charles St.,  685-3404, stpaulsbaltimore.org), Baltimore Basilica (409 Cathedral St.,  727-3565,baltimorebasilica.org), Enoch Pratt Central Library (400 Cathedral St.,  396-5430, prattlibrary.org),Walters Art Museum (600 N. Charles St.,  547-9000, thewalters.org), Washington Monument (699 N. Charles St.,  396-0929, baltimoremuseums.org), George Peabody Library (17 E. Mount Vernon Place,  234-4943), Maryland Historical Society (201 W. Monument St.,  685-3750, mdhs.org, $6-$9), andBaltimore Museum of Art (10 Art Museum Drive,  573-1700, artbma.org).
The Pennsylvania Avenue Heritage Trail (pennsylvaniaavenuebaltimore.org) takes visitors on a path between two Baltimore Metro Subway (mta.maryland.gov/metro-subway) stops—State Center and Upton—through an important slice of Baltimore’s African-American cultural, civil rights, religious, and entertainment history. Pass byPrince Hall Grand Lodge of Maryland, Billie Holiday Plaza, homes of Thurgood Marshall and Lillie Carroll Jackson, a monument to the Royal Theatre, and numerous important churches, including Douglas Memorial Community Church, Bethel AME Church, and Sharp Street Memorial Church, taking a break in the middle to catch a bite at Avenue Market (1700 Pennsylvania Ave.,  225-9448], bpmarkets.com). To book a tour, call (443) 984-2369.
Starting from the restaurants of Little Italy (littleitalymd.com) eastward to Baltimore’s boundary, Eastern Avenue takes visitors through genuine neighborhoods and local attractions. Among them: Douglass Place (516-524 S. Dallas St.), a group of five houses constructed by Frederick Douglass; the new National Polish Slavic Museum(1735 Fleet St.); expansive Patterson Park (Eastern Ave., north side, between South Patterson Park Avenue and South Ellwood Street, bcrp.baltimorecity.gov), with its distinctive pagoda; Highlandtown, one of Baltimore’s three arts and entertainment districts (highlandtownarts.com), home to a statue of Frank Zappa; and Greektown, famous for its restaurants and bakeries.
America’s first westward-bound railroad, the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, started at Mount Clare Station, now occupied by the famed B&O Railroad Museum (901 W. Pratt St.,  752-2490, borail.org, $10-$16). Less-celebrated Baltimore railroad history can be contemplated at the Irish Railroad Workers Museum (920 Lemmon St.,  669-8153, irishshrine.org) and the marker of the Great Railroad Strike of 1877, along South Howard Street next to the old Camden Station building that sits in front of Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
Baltimore baseball history can be explored at the Babe Ruth Birthplace Museum (216 Emory St.,baberuthmuseum.org, $3-$6) and the related Sports Legends Museum (301 W. Camden St.,  727-1539,baberuthmuseum.org, $4-$8), which shares the old Camden Station in front of Oriole Park with Geppi’s Entertainment Museum (301 W. Camden St.,  625-7060, geppismuseum.com, $7-$10).
While a number of East Coast cities have well-founded reasons to boast of their connections to Edgar Allan Poe, Baltimore-where he died-hosts his grave at Westminster Hall and Burial Grounds (519 W. Fayette St.,  706-2072, westminsterhall.org). While the Baltimore Poe House and Museum (203 N. Amity St.,  396-7932, eapoe.org) is currently closed, the victim of city budgetary problems, it’s a national historic landmark, so presumably a solution will be crafted and it will reopen someday.
The National Great Blacks in Wax Museum (1601-03 E. North Ave.,  563-3404, greatblacksinwax.org, $11-$13) offers incisive history lessons about the African experience in the United States, from the horrifying to the inspiring.
Two cemeteries in Baltimore—Green Mount Cemetery (1501 Greenmount Ave.,  539-0641,greenmountcemetery.com) and Mount Auburn Cemetery (2360 Waterview Ave. ,  547-0377)—offer stark contrasts in Baltimore’s history. At the former, governors, mayors, industrialists, and the like are interred, and at the latter are the graves of runaway slaves, civil rights leaders, and Joe Gans, the first African-American lightweight boxing champion of the world.
The University of Maryland School of Medicine’s Davidge Hall (522 W. Lombard St.,  706-7454,medicalalumni.org), one of the oldest continuously operating medical teaching facilities in the world, houses a renowned medical museum and two teaching theaters—the Chemical Hall and the Anatomical Hall—which hold appeal to both architectural and medical-history buffs.
The site of the former Read’s Drug Store (131 N. Howard St.) is a worthy visit for champions of civil rights history—including those who support preserving important sites. Here, in 1955, one of the country’s first desegregation sit-ins occurred, and quickly worked, when the store chose to open its doors to all people only two days later. For now, plans to demolish the building to make way for new development are on hold. While there, go a couple of blocks west to historic Lexington Market (400 W. Lexington St.,  685-6169, lexingtonmarket.com), a bustling bazaar of food and sundries that’s been continuously operating at the same location since 1782.
To get a sense of how people in Baltimore got around before the automobile industry conspired to wreck a perfectly good mass-transit system, check out the Baltimore Streetcar Museum (1901 Falls Road,  547-0264,baltimorestreetcar.org, $5-$7).
Baltimore’s three watersheds—the Gwynns Falls in the west, the Jones Falls running south into the harbor, andHerring Run in the east—offer unexpectedly rich opportunities for nature lovers, with trails along the Jones Falls and the Gwynns Falls, in particular, linking destinations. The Olmsted Brothers Landscape Architects in the 1920s envisioned linking the three with parks, playgrounds, and the like (olmstedmaryland.org/history)—some of which became reality, such as Carroll Park (1500 Washington Blvd., bcrp.baltimorecity.gov) and Clifton Park (2701 Saint Lo Drive, bcrp.baltimorecity.gov)—and what exists of their vision today is a crucial aspect of Baltimore’s livability.
From the Inner Harbor out to the I-70 Park and Ride, the 15-mile Gwynns Falls Trail (gwynnsfallstrail.org) gets users to and through the more than 2,000 acres of Gwynns Falls/Leakin Park (1920 Eagle Drive,bcrp.baltimorecity.gov), including the Carrie Murray Nature Center (1901 Ridgetop Road,  396-0808,carriemurraynaturecenter.org).
Druid Hill Park (2600 Madison Ave.,  396-6106, bcrp.baltimorecity.gov), with 745 acres, is an historic oasis in the city and houses the Maryland Zoo (1876 Mansion House Drive, Druid Hill Park,  396-7102,marylandzoo.org, $12.50-$17.50) and the Howard Peters Rawlings Conservatory and Botanic Gardens(3100 Swan Drive,  396-0008, rawlingsconservatory.org). Cylburn Arboretum (4915 Greenspring Ave.,  367-2217, cylburnassociation.org), with its collection of interesting plants and trees and a small trail system, is also in the Jones Falls Valley.
On the east side are Herring Run Park (3800 Belair Road), adjacent to Lake Montebello (Hillen Road and 33rd Street), and Chinquapin Run Park (6000 Chinquapin Parkway, bcrp.baltimorecity.gov), which together offer opportunities for recreation and exploring nature. Setting out for historic sites along Herring Run—the Furley Hall Marker (Parkside Drive and Boehms Lane); the World War I Servicemen Memorial (Belair Road and Shannon Drive), a 44-foot obelisk commemorating Christopher Columbus (Harford Road and Walther Avenue); and Hall Spring (Harford Road and Argonne Drive), a long-ago drinking-water source—is a good way to tour the stream valley.
> Email Van Smith
Copyright © 2015, Baltimore City Paper