A Day Downtown
Published: August 16, 2010
Downtown is not just the Inner Harbor—in fact, technically downtown and the Inner Harbor are separate neighborhoods, but what isn’t its own neighborhood in this town? Many locals love to complain about how touristy the Inner Harbor is, but there is fun to be had nonetheless.
The Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture (830 E. Pratt St.,  263-1800, africanamericanculture.org) boasts an impressive permanent collection as well as special exhibits, and admission is under $10. The National Aquarium (501 E. Pratt St.,  576-3800, aqua.org, $19.95-$29.95) is a popular attraction for good reason, though you may want to wait until mom and dad visit and foot the bill.
Shopping-wise, there’s the Gallery (200 E. Pratt St.,  332-4191, harborplace.com), a small mall with stores like Gap, Banana Republic, and other retail basics; the two waterfront pavilions filled with stores mostly aimed at the tourist trade including an Urban Outfitters (301 Light St.,  685-3115, urbanoutfitters.com). There are also a couple of big-box retailers in the 600 block of East Pratt Street—Barnes and Noble ( 385-1709, barnesandnoble.com), Best Buy ( 234-3020, bestbuy.com), and Filene’s Basement ( 685-2637, filenesbasement.com).
The harbor area is crammed with places to lunch, `but we suggest heading away from the water and on up to Lexington Market (400 W. Lexington St.,  685-6169, lexingtonmarket.com) where you’ll find stall upon stall of cheap eats in one of the city’s liveliest spots. Vendors come and go, but there’s always a good sandwich place or five, decadent soul food, and great Latin grub. Head over to Faidley’s for a crab cake or some oysters shucked at the bar. Bring cash, because many stalls don’t take plastic and the line at the ATM can get long.
On Sunday mornings May through December, the Baltimore Farmers Market (Saratoga Street between Holliday and Gay streets under the Jones Falls Expressway Viaduct) offers crepes, omelets, pastries, and beans and java from local roaster Zeke’s Coffee, along with a wealth of produce, meats, and cheeses, many from local farms—all until noon or they run out, whichever comes first. Get there early for the best selection.
You can also swing over to nearby Harbor East for Bagby Pizza (1006 Fleet St., (410) 605-0444, bagbypizza.com). Just to the north of Harbor East lies Little Italy, a warren of restaurants specializing in all sorts of Italian cooking styles, but be sure not to miss Vaccaro’s (222 Albemarle St.,  685-4905, vaccarospastry.com) for staggering portions of gelato and other treats. (Monday night from 6-9 p.m. is all you can eat for $15.50.)
Nightlife-wise, the Power Plant Live plaza (Market Place and Water Street, powerplantlive.com) dominates downtown after dark with eight bars and dance clubs and massive music venue Rams Head Live (20 Market Place,  244-1131, ramsheadlive.com) that brings in big-name acts. Just north of the waterfront, 5 Seasons (830 Guilford Ave.,  625-9787, the5seasons.com) is the home of Baltimore hip-hop. Sonar (407 E. Saratoga St.,  783-7888, sonarbaltimore.com) features everything from hip-hop to indie rock to punk. And if you’re over 21, “the Block” (Baltimore Street between Commerce and Gay streets) features plenty of strip clubs—just remember, police headquarters is down the street, so if you behave too badly the arm of justice doesn’t have far to reach.