Baltimore, Maryland, also recognized as Charm City, is best known for being the place where Francis Scott Key composed the poem that would later be set to music and sung as “The Star-Spangled Banner.” It is also where Old Bay seasoning got its beginning and was the home of author Edgar Allan Poe, baseball legend Babe Ruth, and the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. While you will find plenty of things to do and see in Baltimore’s 270 neighborhoods, here are eight hidden gems worth discovering.
1. Baltimore Museum Of Art Sculpture Garden
Tucked in the Charles Village neighborhood near the central campus of Johns Hopkins University, the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) has a long-standing cultural arts lineage in Baltimore. Founded in 1914, the BMA displays contemporary, modern, and period art. Within the hallways of this museum are creations of art from resident and international artists. The hidden gem however, lies beyond the building and artifacts. It rests within the three-acre sculpture garden that has 33 unique contemporary art pieces. You cannot access the garden without entrance into the BMA itself and the garden is open and accessible only during museum hours.
The garden is tranquil as Baltimore’s urban landscape is hidden behind the forestry. Walking through this garden is as fascinating as roaming the galleries of the museum. You can explore the garden via a cell phone audio tour. Simply input the phone number along with codes found at each sculpture to boost your experience. This tour gives the material relevant to each exhibit to guide your observations. This is a hidden gem worth uncovering, especially since admission to the museum is free!
One block from the Baltimore School for the Arts in the cultural arts section of the Mt. Vernon neighborhood sits the perfect substitute to the bustle of bars located in the city center. If you aren’t glancing down, you could stroll right by this hidden gem, although the outdoor seating might give it away. Walk down the four steps into the intimate space ideal for a solo drink, a small bite, or a drink with a friend or coworker. As soon as you go down into the bar the ambiance of dark floors, wooden tables, and overhead string lights beckons you to one of this cozy haunt’s 35 seats.
Sugarvale is an unpretentious, comfortable place with a menu designed to match its character. The food varies between small plates, sandwiches such as the Sugarvale (SV) hamburger and vegan burger options, and sweets like Damn Good Pie (that’s the name on the menu, I promise!), a bruleed buttermilk tart with chocolate cookie crumble crust. If a sip is all you need, you can order from a list of cocktails categorized as Shaken or Stirred.
3. Baby’s On Fire Cafe And Record Store
How many coffee shops can you identify that sell old vinyl records? In Baltimore, there is one, and it’s called Baby’s on Fire. Also in the historic Mt. Vernon neighborhood, this intimate coffee shop is an ideal place to find yourself for a great discussion or a few hours’ work away from the scurry of downtown. Co-owner and personal Chef Shirle’ Koslowski provides the coffee shop its food offerings. This is not your usual cafe. In fact, it brings out the spirit of Baltimore with its outside-the-box approach.
4. Federal Hill Park
Arrive at this park by car or on foot and you will witness the finest view Baltimore has to offer. You can see the hill in the distance from downtown Baltimore without realizing the location is the vantage point for the best views of the city. Locals have come to Federal Hill for generations to see fireworks and appreciate the Baltimore skyline. A family-friendly environment with a biography that dates to the Civil War, this park is open to everyone. Park-bench seating and sections for picnicking are two amenities that make this hill an added stop on your list of things to experience while in Baltimore. The park is situated in an area bearing its name -- Federal Hill.
Federal Hill is in proximity of central Baltimore and serves as an exciting destination. In Federal Hill there are a multitude of ways in which to lose yourself in the spirit of Baltimore. You can take in the architecture, visit cherished establishments such as Cross-Street Market, or explore the American Visionary Art Museum. Whatever you decide to do, you’ll be glad you didn’t just glance at that patch of grass in the distance and not go for a closer look.
5. Graffiti Alley
This site can be missed if you don’t know what to look for. Graffiti Alley at 1903 N Howard Street is a repurposed space on West Baltimore’s Howard Street near the cross of North Avenue. It is a literal alleyway with graffiti art on every surface. The spot has become an outdoor art gallery featuring local artists that regularly changes themes. The alley makes a marvelous backdrop for an Instagram photo or photo shoot. While artist tag many blocks in Baltimore with soul-stirring murals, you can tour this outdoor gallery and see several artists’ works in one location. Graffiti Alley is worth a look.
6. Artifact Coffee
This quaint coffee shop is the embodiment of a hidden gem based on its location alone. You will not happen upon Artifact Coffee as it is not on a main route or thoroughfare. In fact, you may not recognize it for the jewel it is based on its outward appearance -- even if you did wander by. Cloaked under wooden signage, with a door that bears a single letter A, Artifact Coffee offers coffee and pastries in a truly secluded setting. This charming shop is also another retreat from the hurriedness of metropolitan Baltimore and a locale for coffee produced in Ethiopia, Guatemala, Uganda, and Papua New Guinea.
According to Sarah, Artifact coffee’s floor manager, the website does not display all available menu items as they are subject to change due to seasonality and other factors. The menu includes not only hand-poured coffee but a tea bar, cocktails, a CBD bar, local beer by the can, and wine by the glass. One sip of The Love on Top, Ode to Bey cocktail -- made with basil lemongrass, wildflower honey, and green mountain gin served over pebble ice topped with matcha -- may just have you singing Beyoncé’ s hit song all day.
7. Papermoon Diner
When you reach this diner, you may not be sure you turned up to the right place. Stepping inside to meet the hodge-podge of Pez candy dispensers on the wall or the peculiar mix of Barbie doll and baby doll creations means passing a number of mannequins, “creatures,” and signs. However, once you have settled yourself and ordered and your meal arrives, you will realize why Baltimoreans flock here.
The extensive menu includes familiar breakfast items such as omelets, pancakes, and waffles alongside milkshake combinations that will have you scratching your head. Try the bacon milkshake (it’s so good -- I promise!), sandwiches, pasta dishes, vegetarian choices, and plates such as The Hangover (crispy French fries drizzled with mushroom gravy served with two over-medium eggs and sprinkled with Romano cheese).
Carry-out and delivery are not options at this establishment. Back in the day, Papermoon was open 24-hours, but in 2008 changed its policy. You can now enjoy eating here Wednesday through Sunday (they are closed on Tuesday) between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. Last seating is at 9 p.m. and the grill will still be hot and ready to prepare your order. Baltimoreans love the Papermoon and you will too now that you know where to look.
If you discover the Hampden neighborhood, you have made your way to a slice of Baltimore that’s full of wonders. Hampden is identified by its colorful homes, unique boutiques, restaurants, festivals, and so much more. Hampden is stroll-worthy as you can pop in and out of antique stores, have afternoon tea, take a cooking class, eat ice cream, or snag a bite or a craft beer. This gem is easy to miss because it sits within a residential community. You think you are driving by regular homes, only to be driving by one of the best adventures Baltimore offers.
No matter when you visit, you will encounter something going on. Whether it is a festival, lively music, or wacky contests, Hampden offers an assortment of opportunities to encounter the culture of Baltimore that you may have missed by remaining in just one part of town. You can reach Hampden via a shuttle connection at the Woodbury Station Light Rail stop. If driving, head onto W. 36th Street from the intersection of Falls Road. This area encompasses several blocks of retail, food, and drinking delights.
Baltimoreans like myself will attest to the notion that one neighborhood or landmark alone does not make up the splendor of this city, but all its neighborhoods together add up to something truly special. The compilation of history and relevance sprinkled into each city block adds up to offer visitors an incredible experience. Baltimore is a destination to unwrap like a cherished gift. Seek and you will discover that hidden gems sitting in plain sight await you.