Race Review | Baltimore Running Festival Half Marathon, Baltimore, MD | State #4 of 50
As mentioned in my Love Run race review, I may have gotten a little over zealous upon completing my first half marathon in 2015, and immediately signed up for ALL the races upon returning home from California.
I still had no clue that a challenge to run a half marathon in every state existed at this point, but knew of the Baltimore Marathon from when my parents lived aboard their sailboat there.
Many of my weekends were spent visiting them at the marina in Inner Harbor East, which has a running/walking trail that follows the waters edge for miles. I had absolutely no excuses to skip my runs, with it being one step outside the marina gate, and who would want to with the views.
The walk up and down the dock was quite lengthy, so there was no hiding the fact that I was out running from all of our friends along the way. At least one or two people would stop me every run, to ask if I was going to run the Baltimore Marathon that was held in the fall every year. Pft! No, thanks! Running a marathon is crazy talk, and at this point I still hadn’t cracked the 10 mile mark yet.
Fast forward a year and a half later though and my mindset had changed. I had now run two other half marathons, just started running regularly with a local running club, and made the bold decision to sign up for the Philadelphia Marathon (yes, all 26.2 miles). More about that at a later date.
The training plan I was following from Hal Hidgon, suggested racing a half marathon a couple of months out from your full marathon, just to gauge where you are in your training. I quickly remembered the Baltimore race everyone kept asking me about, and now knowing they had a half marathon distance, it seemed like a fun option, so I signed up.
The majority of my time spent in Baltimore was in or around the Inner Harbor area. Because of this, I was greatly misinformed or uneducated if you will, about just how hilly the city of Baltimore really is. Don’t mind the fact that I drove through “Brewers Hill” to get in and out every time I visited, or ate in areas called “Federal Hill” or “Mount Vernon”. Seriously, you think I would have caught on to this at some point. But nope.
As race weekend got closer, I needed to make plans for where to stay. My parents were no longer living on the boat, so my free vacation home wasn’t an option. I was planning to book a room at one of the hotels near Inner Harbour East, that were just up the street from the start and finish line. Thankfully my college roommate Laura and her fiance Sara came to the rescue though, and let me crash with them for free for the weekend. Not only was it nice to see her again after so many years, but it’s always better to have company on race weekend, even if it’s a location that feels like a second home to you.
I drove down after work on Friday before race day, and met them at their apartment in Mount Vernon. Laura was kind enough to go pickup my packet for me earlier that day on her lunch break, so I did not have to use one of my few remaining vacation days to take the afternoon off from work and head down earlier. Because of this, I have no clue what the expo was like. Sorry! We did receive a really nice Under Armour long sleeve shirt and printed race guide though.
I dropped my bags at their place, and moved my car to a parking garage down the street, before we headed off to dinner.
They took me to a super cute place called The Owl Bar, which is actually a speakeasy inside the Belvedere Hotel. It was an actual speakeasy back in the days of prohibition, and survived to remain in business today over 100 years later! You can read the full history here, which is pretty cool.
Wanting to eat something that would be safe for my never ending tummy and food intolerance issues, I went with their pan-seared salmon, that came with delicious garlic rosemary mashed potatoes and green beans, and a boring glass of water. It was pretty tasty!
We hung out at the bar for a while catching up, then strolled back to their apartment, so I could get everything prepped for race day and head to bed.
Because the Baltimore Runfest is a running festival with races of multiple distances taking place all on the same day, the schedule is a bit more spread out than I am used to. The 5K started at 7:30am, the Marathon and relay at 8am and the Half Marathon wasn’t until 9:45am. I am usually already done the race by then and stuffing my face with food.
Laura and Sara’s apartment was only about a 10-15 minute walk to the start line that morning, so we took advantage and hung out at the apartment until close to 8:45am. I made myself two slices of peanut butter toast, and ate it along with a banana. For the record, this may be the most food I have ever eaten pre-race in my twenty-eight years of running!
They turned on the TV and we found that the local news station was covering the race. Let me tell you how weird it is to be sitting in a living room, leisurely eating breakfast, and watching a race you are signed up to participate in, on the TV. It will for sure make you a little panicky!
I gathered all of my things and Laura walked me through the city to the start area along Pratt Street, partially because it was nice out, and partially because I didn’t want to get lost and miss the start! Despite Baltimore feeling like a second home, I wasn’t as familiar with their neighborhood, and can be directionally challenged.
Upon arrival, I looked around to try and get a feel for where the starting corrals were and the finish line, so Laura and I could sort out a meeting spot for after the race. The entire area was a sea of people, fencing, porta potties, tents for gear drop, and tents with clothing for sale. It was a bit overwhelming, especially compared to the much smaller races I had been doing to date.
Also overwhelming, but at the same time sort of comforting, was the large police presence around the festival area. This included one of those elevated booths at the finish line, that gave them a birds eye view of everyone below. A sad new reality after the Boston Marathon bombing a few years prior.
While the Baltimore Runfest compared to a high profile race like Boston was much less likely to be a target of terrorism, I still wasn’t comfortable having them wait near the finish line for me, just in case. We picked a spot a block or so down the street, near an office building, and agreed to meet there when I was done. She wished me good luck and headed back to the apartment to collect Sara and head to their usual cheering location. I made my way over to the starting corrals.
Like most large races, when you sign up, you need to enter your estimated finish time so they can organize everyone from fastest to slowest on the starting line. This avoids any unnecessary chaos once the race starts, from having slower athletes ahead of faster ones blocking the route.
I couldn’t quite recall what time I had signed up for, but it was likely in the 2h20m to 2h30 range based on the few races I had run prior to that. I of course had no idea I would end up running 2 hours and 8 minutes at the Wineglass race only a few weeks prior, but it was too late to change my estimated time for this race.
There were 5 corrals and my bib number corresponded with corral number 4, so I made my way to that area to stretch a bit, and eat some of my Honey Stinger chews for some last minute fuel. I started doing the math on the number of corrals and 5 hour time cut off, and quickly realized I don’t think this is where I am supposed to be placed, despite my bib number saying otherwise. It was then that I heard the starting official’s announcement, directing walkers to start in corrals 4 and 5.
With a 5 hour cut off to complete the race, and my time being solidly in the middle of that, this seemed like a bit of a clerical error. I should have at least been up in corral 3, maybe even corral 2 based on my 2 hour and 8 minute time from Wineglass.
I started asking the people around me what time they had signed up for and most had no idea, or mentioned times more in the 3 hour range or longer.
Another female runner about my age noticed my now panicked look and heard me asking people about their times. I explained to her my dilemma and asked what she thought I should do. Her response, move up to a faster corral.
Being a big rule follower and new to running in these large events, I was a bit nervous about this, but I also didn’t want to get jammed up behind a bunch of people walking off the start line. She said she would go with me, as she was also capable of running the faster time, but had signed up for a slower time months prior when battling an injury.
Together we weaved our way up to corral number 3 and found a spot to wait for the start.
A side note, this is majorly frowned upon in large races where you had to submit an estimated finish time upon registering. An official form may be required to change your corral and in the more prestigious races you could even be disqualified if caught. I got lucky and Baltimore is not one of those races.
The announcer made the final countdown for wave one, the starting gun went off, and at the same time a large burst of confetti went flying up in the air over the balloon archway at the starting line! I’m not going to lie, it was pretty cool!
We moved up in the corrals and this process repeated one more time until it was our turn. My new friend and I wished each other good luck, and waited for the gun to go off.
Remember how earlier I stupidly thought Baltimore was a flat city? Ha! Boy was I wrong.
We crossed the very first intersection, and immediately were met with a steep climb about two blocks long. Even in corral 3, people had already begun walking within seconds of hitting this hill.
I finally made it to the top, where we made a right turn onto Baltimore Street, where we were met with a downhill that was, believe it or not, longer and steeper than what we had just climbed.
A little fun fact about my running up until early 2020, I suffered through years of excruciating pain on the outer portion of my lower legs, between my ankle and 5-6” above. Some days it was okay, other days I could barely run half a mile, and would have to stop and sit on the curb to rip my shoes off to get blood flow moving around again. It was always a guessing game of when would it flare up, and how bad would it be. Even if it was mostly okay, there was still a lot of stopping to re-tie shoe laces or do ankle rolls to loosen things up, neither of which are ideal in a race.
Because it had been extraordinarily bad thanks to the increased marathon training, my doctor had put me on a pretty high dose anti-inflammatory steroid in the weeks leading up to this race.
Keeping in mind the steroids were not a cure all, they were just helping to reduce the extreme inflammation in my lower legs. What was not helping however, was this crazy long and steep downhill section!
Anyone who runs with me now knows I LOVE downhills! We ran them frequently in cross country races, and my high school coach really drilled it into our heads how to run them efficiently.
Today was not one of those days though. I had to really hold back, so I didn’t completely jar my shins and end up in so much pain I couldn’t finish the race.
I gingerly made my way to the bottom of the hill and immediately peeled off to the side of the road to re-tie my shoelaces that had loosened up a bit, and were allowing my feet to slide around in the shoe too much.
Fun fact number two. All of this lower leg pain was because I was in the wrong type of shoe! I had been running in a stability shoe that is made for people who over pronate (roll their ankle in, when their foot hits the ground) and had also been running in shoes that were too wide. As it turns out I over supinate (roll my ankle out when my foot hits the ground) and as I already knew, have very narrow feet. Switching to a neutral shoe that runs more narrow has made a world of difference!
Once my laces were snugged down, I hopped back into the race and kept plugging along, back up the next lengthy hill. We are now only a mile and a half in, and I am already wondering what on earth I have gotten myself into with this race.
Around mile two, you run the lower perimeter of Patterson Park, then head north up Linwood Ave and make your way towards John Hopkins Hospital. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect in this neighborhood, as the area around Patterson Park and John Hopkins hospital has a reputation for being a bit rough around the edges. The residents were great though! Families were out on stoops cheering, and kids were lined up on the curb looking for high fives!
Less great however, were the very tired marathoners who had just merged into our course for the remaining 10 or so miles.
This was not even remotely an ideal spot, to have two courses of such different lengths merge. Those of us running the half still had very fresh legs and were cruising along, while those running the marathon were approaching mile 15 and were starting to hit the tired delirious stage
I tried my best to weave my way around the tired marathoners and high five some more kids, but was met with what felt like never ending miles of slow burn, uphill, suffer fest. Seriously Baltimore, why so many hills?
Just as I was feeling the pain of what felt like mountains, I started to hear a lot of “Go Lock Haven” cheers coming from the crowds along the side of the street. I was wearing my college alumni singlet for this race, that had Lock Haven printed across the front. I didn’t think much of it, as people will commonly call out club names or things on your shirt since they don’t know your name. I kept hearing “Go Lock Haven” more and more throughout the race though, and much more enthusiastically than random strangers would typically yell it.
I kept looking at the people yelling it, having no idea who they were, but of course gave the obligatory wave of thanks, along with a big smile, and continued on my way, confused but appreciative for the support.
I was now mid-way through the race, and things were becoming a bit shall we say dangerous. There was a lot less looking around at spectators, and a lot more reading the body language of the beyond tired marathoners in front of me approaching their twenty mile mark. (Don’t worry folks, the irony of my being annoyed at this was not wasted, when I ran my first marathon a few months later and crashed and burned before the halfway mark.)
I began to dread the mere sight of a waterstop ahead, as I knew what was coming. Tired runners coming to a halting stop, with zero warning, dead center on the course.
Because there were water tables setup on both sides of the road, this was basically unavoidable. Runners for some reason would grab their cup and migrate back center to either walk or come to a complete stop to drink. I assume their logic was to clear the way for other runners to grab a drink as well, but they didn’t account for the runners coming up behind them, who were not planning to stop at all. I ended up very unintentionally running straight into the back of a few people, which I can assure you was not a pleasant experience for anyone involved.
Now clear of the water stop mess and on the east side of the city, we made our way up Washington Street to St Lo Drive, which led us on a short trip through Clifton Park and past Clifton Mansion. The mansion, built around 1803, was originally the home of Captain Henry Thompson, a cavalry officer in Maryland States Militia in the early 1800’s. His horse artillery aided in Baltimore successfully defending itself in an attack during the war of 1812. This attack and bombing of Fort McHenry, is the battle that later inspired the Star Spangled Banner to be written by Francis Scott Key.
The mansion was later taken over by John Hopkins, the namesake of both John Hopkins University and John Hopkins Hospital. It is now owned by the City of Baltimore, as part of their Parks Department.
Once I got done oogling the fancy mansion, and regained focus on the race, I noticed a lot of zig zagging occuring ahead of me. People seemed to be coming and going from a variety of directions all at once. As I quickly found out, that is because we were heading into another park and running a lengthy loop around Lake Montebello.
Not only was this nice and flat, but it was a welcomed change of scenery from the residential neighborhoods we had been running through for the last seven miles.
It was also where I saw a woman running with a banana tucked down the back of her pants. Yes, you read that correctly. Tucked down the BACK of her pants. Eww on so many levels and no, having a peel doesn’t make it less gross.
I made my way around the lake and back out onto Hilen Road, where we ran the world’s shortest and most random out and back, to and around a set of cones, returning on the opposite side of the street from where we came. I’m guessing the course was a bit short somewhere, and this was their way of adding a smidge on, to be the correct certified distance.
We made a quick right onto 33rd Street heading straight towards John Hopkins University, which is where Laura told me she and Sara would be cheering from, so keep an eye out for them there.
I was so exhausted from all of the hills at this point though, I couldn’t quite recall exactly where they said they would be on this long stretch of the course. Thankfully they spotted me on their own, cheered, and got a little proof of life video to share on Facebook with my friends and family back home!
The next couple of miles were fairly uneventful, aside from the continued rolling hills, as we ran past John Hopkins University. Well until the next water stop that is.
Have you ever been involved in an incident, where you could see the trainwreck that is about to unfold right in front of you, but there is nothing you can do to stop it?
That was me approaching my mile eleven water stop. We were now on a long downhill stretch, so I had found a second wind, and was flying at this point pace wise.
In similar fashion as previous water stops, runners from each side of the road had grabbed cups of water and started to migrate back towards the center, just steps in front of me.
I started to run through the scenarios in my head as quickly as possible. I can try and go around them, but with two people side by side weaving all over and others creeping our way, it was not going to be an easy task. Option B, was to try and squeeze through the ever shrinking hole between them, though also not ideal.
I regrettably opted for the latter, in combination with numerous loud announcements of “coming behind you” and “sneaking through”, neither of which appeared to register in their brains. Honestly, I can’t blame them. They were at mile 24 after all.
Just as I got between them, they both took one more wobbly step closer together and created a Katrina sandwich, of which I could not get out of. I happened to be mid arm swing when this occurred, and had done a little side twist in an effort to shimmy though more easily. One arm was now through and the rest of my body was smack dab against the back of the poor gentleman on my right.
I kept yelling “step right, step right” but it was like asking a deer on the highway in front of your headlights to politely step right. It wasn’t going to happen. This poor gentleman had just shy of completely shut down all mental and leg functions at this point.
After what seemed like an eternity, but was realistically probably only a few seconds, I was able to gently nudge him sideways, apologize profusely, and continue on my way.
I was thankfully now less than two miles away from the finish line, most of which were a long straight line with a subtle downhill. My new plan of action for approaching water stops was to run against the curb in the bike lanes behind the water tables, to stay clear of the center congestion for the final stretch.
I definitely got some crazy looks from volunteers, but other runners quickly picked up on my ingenuity and joined me.
Unfortunately the long downhill we had been enjoying came to a halting stop. We were instead met with a short steep uphill, just before we approached mile twelve.
It took everything I had not to start walking. My legs were dead, and I was not quite aware yet, but I had been running the same personal best pace as Wineglass a few weeks prior, despite a massive difference in elevation gain thanks to the non-stop hills!
Shout out to whoever smartly set up a cheer section on that hill at mile twelve though, and kept everyone motivated and moving!
I finally crested that last crazy hill, and noticed the course appeared to take a sharp left ahead. Being an area of town I didn’t frequent much when we spent weekends in Baltimore, I was not aware that we were basically back to Inner Harbour, and about to finish.
I made the left turn and suddenly there it was, the finish line, about a block ahead.
Making a final kick, I crossed the line and stopped my watch. Wait, what? Does that say 2 hours and 8 minutes? That can’t be right. That is the same time I ran at Wineglass a couple weeks prior, which was my current personal best.
I was too tired to recall exactly how many seconds were tacked on to the time from Wineglass, and didn’t yet have my official finishers time from Baltimore, to realize I had run a new personal best time that day, by a mere 18 seconds.
If someone from the Baltimore Marathon could bring me the PR bell to ring, that would be swell!
More exciting than the new personal best time however, was the insanely awesome crab finishers medal that I was about to receive!
The medal is literally a 3D, die cast, blue crab that’s belly opens to reveal Fort McHenry inside!
As I made my way through the finishers area, I happened to notice a younger guy and girl in front of me wearing Shippensburg University singlets. If you are not familiar, Shippensburg University is a fellow PSAC (Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference) school with Lock Haven.
I snagged them as we were waiting in line for our food and asked them if they ran for Shippensburg, which they did. They explained they had a whole crew that had come down from the team to race the half marathon.
It was suddenly all making sense! Of course my next question was, “did you happen to have a giant cheer squad of friends and family all over the course?”. They did!
So despite not being one of their own kids, their parents were cheering for me like I was, just by seeing the Lock Haven jersey! Excuse me while I go ugly cry now. I asked them to give everyone a big thank you for me when they were reunited!
We made our way to the end of the food tables and parted ways. I was beyond exhausted and very overheated from the unseasonably warm temperatures. I shuffled my way over to the planned meeting spot, with my hands full of sticky orange slices and a bottle of water, and attempted to call Laura to let her know I was done.
Once we reunited, we made our way down to the waterfront where they had the race photographers setup capturing everyone’s finisher photo with the USS Constellation and Baltimore Aquarium in the background. I hopped in line for my turn, then we strolled around the finishers festival for a bit, so I could check out the food vendors and buy some swag.
Not being in the mood for anything food related at the festival, we started the walk back to her apartment. I spotted a Subway along the way and requested a pitstop. Despite living near Philadelphia, where hoagies are life, I oddly enjoy a good turkey and cheese hoagie from there.
For the first time since I was running in college, I ordered, and ate, a full foot long sandwich, plus the bag of chips and three chocolate chip cookies like it was nothing.
Once I finished my lunch, I rested for a bit then got cleaned up for a dinner that I had been looking forward to since signing up for this race, Maryland Blue Crabs!!
Having spent many a weekend on the water in Baltimore, I was not a newbie to laying out a large sheet of brown paper on a picnic table, dumping out a bucket of fresh steamed crabs and corn on the cob, and chowing down!
There are many spots to get fresh crabs in Baltimore, but Captain James on Aliceanna Street is in my opinion the best. We got an Uber and made our way over to the crab shack, which is a separate building across the street from their main restaurant, and has a large deck outback overlooking the water. The menu at the Crab House is quite limited compared to the restaurant across the street, consisting of only Mussels, Clams, Snow Crab Legs, Steamed Shrimp and of course Maryland Blue Crab. They also have soup (again with crab), some sides and alcohol. So long story short, if you don’t like shellfish, you are not going to have an enjoyable time.
Blue crabs if you aren’t aware, are seasonal, which usually starts in April and ends late November. This is not an exact science however, and can change from year to year. Sadly for us, Blue Crab season had in fact ended. That would explain why the entire Crab House was empty to the point of us thinking it was closed when we arrived.
We walked back out to the parking lot to try and decide what to do. Despite having eaten an insane amount of food for lunch, I was approaching hangry levels, and needed food ASAP. It was also evident that if Captain James didn’t have any crabs, no other restaurant was going to either.
I quickly remembered the Snow Crab Leg option though, and went back inside to ask about those. We were in luck, because those are not a locally fished item, they are in stock year round!
We went and grabbed a table outback on the deck, and they came out and took our order. Three orders of Snow Crab Legs with a side of fries.
To be honest, I actually prefer Snow Crab Legs to Blue Crab anyway. It’s a lot less work to get the crab meat out of the shell, and you don’t have to deal with removing all of the gross crab guts.
Being the only table there, our crab came out fairly quickly, and we went to work with our little wood mallets and claw crackers, pulling out tender crab meat and dipping it in the cup of melted butter. It was a good thing we were all hungry and ate quickly, as the cool evening temperatures hilariously turned our cups of melted butter back to solid butter, shortly after we began eating.
Everyone was pretty exhausted at this point from running and cheering earlier that morning, so instead of heading out to the bar to celebrate, we went back to their apartment to relax and go to bed early.
Despite the insane amount of hills, and on-course collision issues, this was a really fun event that I would absolutely do again! It is also one of my favorite medals, which they seem to have kept the design of up until 2021 at least.
If you live local to the Maryland area, check out their King Crab Challenge. You must complete the half marathon at the Frederick Running Festival, the Baltimore 10-Miler and the full or half marathon at the Baltimore Running Festival, but then on top of your regular medals, you get a 7” two pound medal that lights up and has sparkly crystals on the crown. It’s actually so big it has its own kick stand on the back! You are basically Flavor Flav of the running world for the day with all of your bling!
Race Website: https://www.thebaltimoremarathon.com
Lodging: Baltimore Marathon works with Team Travel Source to get you discounts on local hotels. Check their options and rates first via the race website. Being a large city though, hotel options are endless. Your best bet is to check the handful of options on S. President Street between Fleet Street and Aliceanna Street. It’s a safe neighborhood and walkable to the start/finish area.
Airports: Baltimore Washington International Airport (BWI) is your closest major airport sitting just 10 miles outside the city center.
Getting around town: Baltimore is a fairly walkable city, but should you find yourself wanting to rest your legs, check out these fun options to get around town.
The Charm City Circulator is a fleet of 24 FREE bus shuttles that run around the city. The orange route runs from Hollins Market to Inner Harbor East and the Banner Route runs from Inner Harbor East to Fort McHenry. Please note, this may have limited to no route options due to the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Water Taxi’s are a staple of Baltimore life! Baltimore Water Taxi offers one price tickets for all-day, unlimited on-off service to more than 30 attractions and neighborhoods. Even if you aren’t trying to neighborhood hop, they are a great cost friendly way to get a waterfront view of the city skyline.
Things to do
Visit Baltimore is your go to for the most up to date city events!
National Aquarium – If you do anything while in Baltimore, the aquarium should be on the top of your list! I have been visiting it since I was a kid and it continues to get better with age, regularly ranked as one of the top aquariums in the country. Upon entering, you will be greeted with the aquarium’s newest section, Australia: Wild Extremes, home to over 1,000 animals alone ranging from Crocodiles and turtles to a laughing kookaburra. Make your way back to the Dolphin Discovery zone where you can check out the daily life of bottlenose dolphins, check out some jelly fish and listen to talks from marine mammal experts. Head over to the original section of the aquarium where you will find Black Tip Reef on the ground floor. A 270,000 gallon exhibit, which is home to Blacktip Reef Sharks, giant sea rays and a number of tropical fish. Next make your way up the escalator to the smaller exhibits which eventually lead into the rooftop Tropical Rainforest where you can spot Blue Poison Dart Frogs, a Two Toed Sloth and Golden Lion Tamarinds. Finally you will make your way down the spiral ramp through the Atlantic Coral Reef, a 335,000 gallon exhibit where you can view eels, porcupine fish and Bonnethead Sharks. Speaking of sharks, your final adventure down the ramp leads you through Shark Alley, a 225,000 gallon exhibit with six species of sharks. The almost completely dark atmosphere gives you as close of a feeling as possible to swimming in the ocean with these toothy creatures. You can even see a 4D movie or book a special private tour/experience while there! Don’t forget to get your photo in the giant shark jaw before heading out!
The Maryland Science Center – Have kids in your group, or adults who like to act like kids? Check out the science center which is located on the corner of the harbor just a short walk from the start and finish area. This place is loaded with hands on exhibits about dinosaurs, where you can dig for fossils or Newtons Alley where you can hands on explore matter, energy, force and motion. It is a must see for anyone into science!
The Maryland Zoo – Located in the Druid Hill Park neighborhood, the Maryland Zoo is a 745 acre sanctuary to over 1500 animals and is one of the oldest in the country dating back to 1876. The zoo features animals native to Maryland, a polar bear exhibit, penguins and even the chance to feed giraffes in the expansive African Journey section.
Fort McHenry – Used for defense during the Battle of Baltimore in the war of 1812, the fort is also the birthplace of our National Anthem by Francis Scott Key. As a National Park, the grounds outside the fort are free to wander, but there is a $15 fee to enter the actual fort and the adjoining museum, unless you have one of the many National Parks Passes in which case it is free. The flag that flew over the fort during the War of 1812 was the largest garrison flag ever flown, measuring 30 feet high by 42 feet wide, so the British could not miss it…and trust me, neither will you!
American Visionary Art Museum – Located across the Harbor in Federal Hill, this unique museum is a work of art in itself! Sculptures line the grounds surrounding the building, which is covered top to bottom in mirror and glass mosaic. All works of art are made by self-taught artists, using the concept that art begins by listening to the inner voices of the soul, and often may not even be thought of as ‘art’ by its creator. I can assure you, if you find big museums full of expensive master works boring, you will love this place!
Chessie Paddle Boats & Electric Pirate Boats – As soon as you approach the water of Inner Harbor near the aquarium, you will spot these colorful Chessie Dragon paddle boats and tiny pirate boats scurrying around. These boats are run by Living Classrooms, an amazing non-profit that provides access to more equitable education, workforce development, community safety, and health and wellness opportunities for city youth in Baltimore and DC. If you plan to rent a paddle boat, maybe save this for after race day and bring along some friends with fresh legs, or you may find yourself stranded in the middle of the harbor.
Pierce Park – This adorable interactive park is located near the Pier Hotel on Pier 5, just a short walk from the Aquarium at 716 Eastern Ave. Both children and adults will enjoy the oversized sculpture that can be climbed through, using the end as a slide, the Willow Tunnel, musical sculptures and fence and homophonic words etched into the bricks such as two, too and to.
Federal Hill Park – If you want a nice panoramic view of the Inner Harbor and city skyline, walk around past the Science Center to Federal Hill Park. You will need to make your way up the grass hill that sits behind Rash Field (where the sand volleyball courts are). It’s a little bit of a walk up, but you will be rewarded with this!
Walk Around Fells Point – This is one of, if not my favorite neighborhood in Baltimore! It was the main hub for shipping back in the day, so the buildings are brimming with history as are the cobble stone streets. This area is loaded with bars and restaurants as well as boutiques and gift shops and has great up close views of the harbor.
Edgar Allan Poe House – Celebrate the legacy of a literary icon at The Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum. The museum is housed in the quaint dwelling at the corner of North Amity Street in the Poppleton neighborhood that Poe called home from 1833-1835. It’s in this house that Poe wrote some of his most enduring works of prose. Stop by and tour the place where Poe rested his head and put pen to paper. (Text snagged from the Visit Baltimore site as I have never been, but it’s worth mentioning!)
Kinetic Sculpture Race – This one is only held in May, so not on race weekend BUT if you happen to find yourself heading to Baltimore in May be sure to check this out. A Baltimore tradition held annually since 1998, this is to no surprise hosted by that whacky American Visionary Art Museum mentioned above. Teams of competitors, a.k.a. Kinetinauts, race along a 15-mile loop in the ultimate feat of problem solving, thinking green and teamwork. Basically picture the most out there, whacky and creative floats you can picture making their way through the city and then taking a plunge into the harbor at the end. Yep, that’s right. They also need to float. Entries are judged on categories such as creativity, pit crew, engineering and best entry into the water.
Where to Eat
Okay, I am just going to say it. Please, I beg of you, wander outside of the bright shiny lights of the chain restaurants surrounding the Inner Harbor for your meals. Or don’t if you like to eat lack luster, over priced food after waiting an hour for a table. Totally your choice.
Instead take a stroll (or Uber) to neighborhoods such as Fells Point, Little Italy, Mount Vernon, Canton or Brewers Hill for a more local and tasty dining experience.
If you are looking for something a bit more on the fine dining scale, check out the handful of restaurants where S. President Street connects to Lancaster Street by the Four Seasons Hotel such as, Ouzo Bay (Mediterranean/Seafood), Charleston (Very high end, drool worthy, Low Country Southern) or Cinghiale (Italian).
Some personal favorites are:
Teavolve, Fells Point – This place has amazing breakfast and if you are a tea fan, they have over 30 varieties to choose from, as well as locally roasted coffee. They also have plant-based options for anyone who is vegetarian or vegan!
Blue Moon Cafe, Fells Point – There will be a wait. It will likely be long. Yes, it is worth it! 2,000+ 4 Star Reviews on Yelp do not lie.
La Tavola, Little Italy – Highly recommended if you are looking for a little pre-race carb loading! They also have a gluten free menu for those who need it.
Captain James Crab House, Between Fells Point & Canton – Blue Crab will likely be out of season by race weekend, but their water front deck and family friendly (aka mess friendly) paper covered picnic tables are a fun atmosphere on a warm night if you find yourself there in summer!
The Owl Bar, Mid Town/Mount Vernon – An old speakeasy inside the Belvedere Hotel. Really cool atmosphere for a post race meal and drinks.
Stuggy’s Hot Dogs, Fells Point – Be sure to try their famous Crab Mac n Cheese Dog, because when in Rome…or in this case, Baltimore!
Other suggestions from the Visit Baltimore Site
Where to Shop
Su Casa, Fells Point – While technically a furniture store, this place is loaded with fun gifts and unique knickknacks for your home. I made it a point to stop in here every trip to Baltimore, yes almost weekly, to see what neat items I could find. Aside from mass produced items, they also sell an abundance of local art and gifts. My favorite find was two hand carved wood ducks that sit in front of my fireplace, each with little wood name tags.
aMuse Toys, Fells Point – Really fun and unique toys and gifts for kids or parents to be. This is definitely not your big box toy store!
Fells Point Surf Co, Fells Point – Surf inspired clothing, sun essentials as well as Baltimore themed gifts.
Charm City Run, Fells Point – Running & Walking specialty store for picking up some last minute race needs
Zwiebach Creations – Puzzles and other gifts, all with intricate and colorful hand sketched designs. Many have iconic Baltimore scenes! She is Baltimore local, but currently only available online.
Bin 604 Wine Shop, Inner Harbor East – Offers a variety of local wine perfect for a take home souvineer from race weekend!
Under Armor Brand House, Inner Harbor East – Normally I wouldn’t recommend a large corporation in my local places to shop, but since Under Armor is headquartered in Baltimore, I am making an exception. Their headquarters sits over beyond the Domino Sugar Factory, if you have any UA obsessed kiddos who may want a photo in front.