Back to Baltimore
Urban Renaissance and Rediscovery
by Karin Leperi

A virtual renaissance is happening in my back yard; the Baltimore I once knew is no more. Instead, a vibrant city core celebrates its heritage, culture, and lifestyle with a dynamism and contemporary flair that is heralding Baltimore as the new cosmopolitan darling of the mid-Atlantic seaboard.

Once known for its fishing wharfs, crab houses, “working-class” neighborhoods and ethnic restaurants, Baltimore is now also known for its visionary ambiance, colorful character, and kaleidoscope of cultural choices. To explore everything from the land of “Down Under” to the world of lacrosse, sports legends, pop culture and collectible comics, take a couple days and make a date with Baltimore. I say it with some civic pride, but check out what is new in this urban legend — a city all about people — while connecting with the pulse of its past.

Day One: Animal Planet Australia to Batman and Barbies

The National Aquarium in Baltimore originally debuted in 1981 as one of the nation’s largest and most innovative marine life facilities. Today, it is the most attended attraction not only in Baltimore, but in the state of Maryland as well. Over 1.6 million visitors flock to the Aquarium to see a collection of 10,500 specimens and 560 different species. Plan on visiting the Aquarium first, and early in the day. Otherwise, crowds can be quite overwhelming.

With a range of tropical fish, sharks, rays, dolphins, frogs, rain forest and reefs to see, the National Aquarium has always been a place for repeat visits. However, with the latest entrant, “Animal Planet Australia: Wild Extremes,” there are even more compelling reasons to go back. The multimillion dollar expansion opened December 2005, and has revamped Pier 3 into a waterpark that encourages sightseers or just people out for a stroll to spend some time. Inside, the Aquarium showcases in this unique exhibit frilled dragons, blue-tongued skinks, fresh-water crocodiles, and a host of indigenous wildlife to Australia. The red rock exhibit represents 41,000 square feet of space harboring the largest collection of Australian wildlife outside of the island continent itself.

Another premiere exhibit well worth seeing is “Frogs: A Chorus of Colors.” With stunning environmental displays and a chorus of frog music to educate and entertain, these small, but colorful creatures will have you searching for their tiny whereabouts. Once found, be prepared to point out your discoveries to those around you, and revel in the human chorus of “oohs” and “ahs.”

Sports Legends at Camden Yards

With the Baltimore Orioles, Colts, Ravens, and University of Maryland’s Terps, it is no secret that Marylanders love their sports. And with sports greats like Johnny Unitas, Babe Ruth, Cal Ripken, Jr., and many other great athletes calling Maryland home, it was time to showcase their memorabilia and championship moments. Recently opened in May 2005, a sundry of sports “stuff” and magic is now a 22,000 square foot museum; home next door to Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Just three blocks west of Camden Station is the birthplace of Babe Ruth at 216 Emory Street.

The exhibit on “Negro League teams” is particularly compelling and tells a story of Baltimore’s Negro Leagues, not widely known. It is a story of their struggles, hardships and unwavering commitment to their sport.

My teens enjoyed the interactive lacrosse exhibit, the fastest growing sport in America according to Sports Illustrated. It is also the fastest growing women’s sport in the nation. Sports Legends at Camden Yards is a great place to check out your talent and various displays and see what you know about sports.

Geppi’s Entertainment Museum

Baltimore has rolled out another unique first in the U.S., with nothing quite like it anywhere else. Having just opened in September 2006, Geppi’s Entertainment Museum celebrates the history and world of toys, dolls, comic books, and pop culture in colorful ways that make reminiscing fun for the entire family — even for youngsters brought up with today’s Sponge Bob.

Located above the new Sports Legends at Camden Yards Museum, this is a wonderfully planned and laid out museum, with over 17,000 square feet of iconic pop culture. Grouped by significant historical trends with eight different period rooms of artifacts and treasures, the museum traces pop culture and its impact on society from 1776 through the present. Follow Palmer Cox’s Brownies and Buster Brown to the Great Depression Days and World War II. The museum contains a lot of nostalgia, from Mickey Mouse to Superman, to Batman. The exhibit profiling the advent of television nudges memories of Howdy Doody for many Baby Boomers; while rock and roll tunes of the Beatles recall what was then the new Cold War era. We listened to these colorful characters from Britain to help divert our attention from a potential nuclear melt-down.

As America shifted from an industrial to an information-based economy, pop media and culture embraced more than super heroes who save the day; and expanded to include fast food clowns, Barbie dolls with hour-glass figures, and Star Wars characters who carry the “force” with them. For the amateur cultural anthropologist, sociologist, or political commentator it is engaging food for thought.

Whatever your age, whatever your memories, whatever your collectibles, you are guaranteed to find a connection with the past and present through the vast collection of comics, toys, dolls, posters, art, action figures, and memorabilia.

Day Two: Traveling by Foot, Water Taxi, and Duck

What makes Baltimore so accessible and family-friendly, is the fact that it is so easy to get around. Perhaps that is why Prevention Magazine recently named Baltimore as one of the 100 Best Walking Cities in America. From walking, to water taxi, to traveling by Duck or double-decker or dragon paddle boat, the choices of transportation are many and affordable.

Start your second date with Baltimore by riding the “Duck,” a combination 70-minute land and water tour of Baltimore’s famous landmarks. (Though the amphibious vehicles are 1945 era Army DUKW's, they have been converted into open-air vehicles that use an eight-cylinder engine and four driving wheels on land.)

Some of the sights include Edgar Allan Poe’s grave, the Star Spangled Banner House, Little Italy and Fells Point. The added fun comes when you receive your official “quacker,” a whistle that sounds like a duck and which is issued to each passenger.

Next, hop the water taxi, an efficient and entertaining mode of transportation that provides quick and easy acccess to over 35 Baltimore attractions. Frequent boat service makes this an affordable and convenient way to skirt around the harbor. After lunch in Little Italy or Fells Point, head back to see how sailors used to live on board the USS Constellation.

USS Constellation

Not exactly new, the USS Constellation Museum is a bold-faced interactive stare into how life was on board the last all-sail warship built by the U.S. Navy, and the last existing American Civil War-era naval vessel. Constructed in 1854, the ship contains actual sleeping quarters, meal rations, and weapons with live cannon firings. I found myself magically transported to a time of the great sailing ships on the seas. Designated a National Historic Landmark, the USS Constellation is permanently berthed at Pier 1.

On Top of Baltimore: The View from the World Trade Center

Save time at the end of the day to see Baltimore from the sky, at least from the 27th level of the World Trade Center. And don’t forget your camera. With stunning 360 degree views that showcase this architectural marvel of the Baltimore skyline — my favorite cityscape — this is a perfect view for the end of a perfect date with Baltimore.


National Aquarium in Baltimore
501 East Pratt Street

Geppi’s entertainment Museum
301 W. Camden Street
410-427-9438 or 410-625-7060

Sports Legends at Camden Yards
301 W. Camden Street

USS Constellation Museum
Pier 1, 301 East Pratt Street

Top of the World Observation Level
World Trade Center
401 East Pratt Street, 27th Floor
410-837-VIEW (8439)

Baltimore: Get In On It (The Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Bureau)
410-659-7300 or 800-343-3468


Ed Kane’s Water Taxi

Ride the Ducks of Baltimore
1-410-727-DUCK (3825)

© Photographs by Karin Leperi