A few years ago I started the slow but steady process of exploring more of the region I call home. So many times throughout any given year I find myself literally halfway across the world, exploring the nooks and crannies of places few have even heard of, while ignoring my own backyard. I know I’m not alone in this travel oversight, most of us tend to forget about those great destinations close to home. My most recent foray into this corrective style of travel was a leisurely weekend in nearby Baltimore. I’ve lived in the DC region for almost 20 years and yet I’ve never – never – spent any time in Baltimore, which is less than an hour away from my house. That’s downright bizarre, so needless to say I was excited for my first date with the Charm City.
Where to Stay
There are many great options in Baltimore when it comes to higher-end and luxury hotels, but I opted for a brand I always enjoy but don’t often have the opportunity to patronize – Kimpton. This quirky hotel brand is famous for their laid back vibes, leopard print bathrobes and special Raid the Mini-Bar perks, but I chose the Kimpton Hotel Monaco Baltimore Inner Harbor for different reasons. Its location can’t be beat, especially since I planned on visiting both the Inner Harbor and attending a baseball game. Plus there’s the history of the period building itself, a quality that always wins me over. The former headquarters of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, the stunning Beaux-Arts building was built in 1906 and remained one of the most important buildings in the city for decades. Restored to its former glory, staying here is going back in time to a more refined era. Add in the service and quality I’ve come to love with Kimpton, and it’s the ideal home base.
When I started planning my trip, I was surprised at just how much there is to see and do in Baltimore. Originally I thought a day or so would be enough, but I quickly realized that I was very much mistaken. I had to make some hard choices, but I knew that an Orioles game had to be at the center of the experience. Thankfully my hotel was an easy walk from Oriole Park, and since the weather was ideal the amble down to Camden was short and enjoyable. Once at the park, the experience was seamless. The Orioles really have game day down to a science, lines were quick, there are plenty of food options and our seats were absolutely perfect. Sadly, the Orioles didn’t live up to their side of the experience, but despite their losing ways a perfect sunny spring day at Camden Yards was just as much fun as I had hoped. I’ve heard this praise from a lot of friends, but it really is true that the park offers one of the best fan experiences in the country.
One of the county’s oldest cities, history is around every corner in Baltimore. I started my day though at a type of museum that always interests me, a train museum. I spent several hours exploring the B&O Railroad Museum, one of the best transportation museums I’ve ever visited. Detailing the history of one of the country’s most important companies, modern railroads started at this spot and the story of the country is told beautifully through the incredibly well restored train cars on display. After my morning playing with trains, I made the short drive to another historic site, the Fort McHenry National Monument and Shrine. This large fort isn’t just a nice place for a gentle waterside walk, it’s also best known for its role in the War of 1812 when it successfully defended Baltimore from the British. It was during the battle that Francis Scott Key was inspired to write a certain poem that eventually became the national anthem, the “Star Spangled Banner.” Aside from its value as inspiration, the fort is just a fun place to explore in its own right.
Wandering the Waterfront
My first memory of Baltimore was of a young kid, there on a short vacation with my family. The only thing I remember is the Inner Harbor and the world famous National Aquarium, which is why I was so happy to experience it again more than 30 years later. The Inner Harbor was perhaps the best idea the city has ever had, this pedestrian friendly waterfront features lots of options for food, shopping and sightseeing. What I think is the star of the experience is the National Aquarium. Routinely listed as one of the best in the country, this massive aquarium first opened its doors back in 1981, and while it still bears the design marks of the early 80s, even today it’s a fun place to spend a few hours. From the standard tour featuring every kind of water dwelling creature you could imagine, to special exhibits like the new one about Australia, there’s always something new to see and do here. Next to the aquarium is another fun site, the Historic Ships in Baltimore. Featuring 4 historic vessels, it’s a great way to learn more about maritime history.
Short travel experiences can be powerful in all of the ways we don’t expect. Every trip, no matter where we go or how long it lasts has great inherent value. The trick isn’t the length or even the destination, it’s our own outlook on life. We have to be open to see these moments when they arise. We have to be willing to allow for a short trip to be meaningful. That’s one reason of many why I love exploring the region I call home, especially over a postcard-perfect spring weekend.