Waaaaay back in 2010, before we even knew we’d go for the full 50, we embarked on our first ever USA roadtrip. Our second ever state was Maryland, and specifically Baltimore within it (we’d just finished watching The Wire). Since we only had one night there, and we loved what we saw, we knew we had to go back one day. Our 2016 trip was due to start in DC, just a short hop from Charm City, so we decided to go for another night. We also stopped in Annapolis, the State Capital, for good measure – more of that later.
We arrived in DC on a Thursday afternoon and since US immigration can take a while, that soon became Thursday evening. That meant driving from DC to Baltimore through rush hour traffic – and this is no mean feat. It was hands down the worst traffic we’d encountered on our travels! So we were a little slow getting to Baltimore, but we got there in the end. We arrived at our hotel, the super swanky Hotel Monaco, housed within the old B&O Railroad headquarters it is full of grand staircases and high ceilings. We loved it.
Our first stop was at Johnny Rad’s Pizzeria, a little out of the centre of Baltimore in the Canton neighbourhood. There are some pretty sketchy parts of this city and while you’re generally going to be pretty safe in what is basically the next neighbourhood over from Fells Point, we did decide on an Uber rather than walking. Johnny Rad’s is a super cool bar and pizza place – including a fully vegan pizza offering for Hannah. The beer was delicious and fresh, and the staff were really helpful. There are even video games to play if you’re feeling competitive!
We Ubered back into Downtown and stopped for a couple of beers at Alewife just a couple of blocks from our hotel. It was another beery triumph, with 40 taps pouring some brilliant American craft beer (Josh had an American craft beer legend – Bell’s Two Hearted IPA on tap for the first time). We were pretty sleepy by now having started out on our travels some 21 hours earlier!
The next morning we headed down to Inner Harbor and walked around to the American Visionary Art Museum – a museum for “outsider” art. We’d visited back in 2010 and were so moved and fascinated by some of the pieces, and the stories behind them, that we knew another visit was a must. Some of the pieces from six years previous have remained the same – the model of the Titanic made of matchsticks for example, but there was so much new stuff. We particularly loved the psychedelic rotating bumble bee extravaganza made with paper plates and the portrait of Willie Nelson made from seeds and corn. It was a brilliant stop.
We walked back round the harbor and because it was such a brilliantly sunny day we decided to head up Baltimore’s World Trade Center, which sits just on the water. It’s a nice view on a clear day but if we’re honest, Baltimore isn’t the prettiest town from up high!
Lunchtime was fast approaching so we picked up the car and motored out to the Hampden neighbourhood to check out Cafe Hon. The outside of the cafe is adorned with a giant flamingo and inside its equally kitsch-y with leopard print booths and retro formica tables. The food is pretty basic but its cheap and very tasty. The one major drawback is this small neighbourhood seems to be very popular so parking was a nightmare!
Baltimore has retained all of the gritty charm it had when we first visited in 2010, and has added some very nice beer and food places along the way. Its still occasionally a little rough around the edges – some of that is psychological because of the reputation it has, but some of it is definitely not just in our heads! We’d thoroughly recommend it to anyone who wants to get a feel for North Eastern metropolitan US cities that aren’t New York or DC.
On our way out of Maryland, heading to West Virginia, we made an all-too-brief stop in Frederick. There’s not much in Frederick, but there is a brewery. Flying Dog brewery no less, one of the few American craft brewers to have gained a reasonable foothold in UK pubs and bars. They have a really cool tap room serving up the freshest beer possible!
Later in our trip we looped back round to Maryland for a night in Annapolis. You couldn’t hope to find much more different a city to Baltimore! It is much smaller, despite being the State Capital, and altogether more quiet and unassuming, but no less good a stop for it. We dropped our bags off at the Loews Hotel, a comfortable hotel just a 10 minute walk from the waterfront, and headed out for the afternoon.
We swung by the headquarters of the Maryland Republican Party to check out the back porch Ronald Reagan statue – a reasonable likeness but in a bizarre location, looking out onto a car park down a side street! From there we walked to the State Capitol building, which is an impressive building nestled in among some really pretty streets.
We headed down to the waterfront as the sun set and found a very civilised, charming town with plenty of options for food and drink. We stopped for a pint at the Federal House pub in the main square which had another great selection of beer – Maryland does not disappoint when it comes to beer! Most of the eating options did involve a lot of seafood though, so finding a vegan option that was good for both of us wasn’t the easiest! We settled on Dry 85 on Main Street, mainly because it had such an extensive beer and cocktail list.
The next morning we took a leisurely walk across the interestingly-named Compromise Street bridge from downtown towards Eastport – Annapolis is a really very attractive town and a really nice place to just walk and take in the views.
Our last stop in Maryland was literally just before we got on the plane. About a half hour drive from Dulles International Airport is Silver Spring – home to the National Museum of Health and Medicine. We absolutely loved it here. Its free – major bonus – and has some great exhibits from the fascinating (the bullet that killed Abraham Lincoln) to the gross (massive human hairballs) and loads in between. If you have some time to kill before your flight you should definitely go here!
We’re glad we decided to give Maryland a few more days. Baltimore is a great, if slightly under-loved city, and there are some beautiful old towns and cities besides that are well worth your time. It suffers slightly from being right next door to Washington DC with all its politics and history, but we really think it shouldn’t be overlooked.
Rate the State:
8.5/10 (The more we see, the more we love).
Good for: seafood, beer, history, coastline.
Bad for: not particularly snazzy, Baltimore is occasionally sketchy