Oyster season begins on October 1 in Maryland, and that, plus the long-awaited relief from the oppressive summer humidity, make fall an ideal time to explore Baltimore. The bustling bar district Fells Point (which locals simply call Fells) is ideal for an oyster crawl, and the best ones include a stop at the tiny and locally loved Thames Street Oyster House, where the adventurous can order the silver-tiered Grandiose Shellfish Tower—resplendent with fresh oysters, jumbo shrimp, cracked lobster tails, and stone crab claws. Those looking to get to the booze right away can knock back some oyster shooters—one oyster, one spirit, and one garnish, layered elegantly in a shot glass. The “Americano” combines icy vodka, horseradish, and cocktail sauce, while the “Matador” sizzles with tequila blanco, jalapeño, and house-made hot sauce.
The neighborhood’s cobblestone streets are dotted with must-visit shops too: Ten Thousand Villages stocks fair-trade items crafted by artisans from more than 38 countries and Su Casa specializes in hipster-chic home decor and locally made furnishings. Dig vinyl? Cross the street to one of the nation’s top-rated record stores, the Sound Garden and feel cool again, even if you haven’t been to a concert since late 2019.
If you’ve still got the energy and the appetite, eat Bertha’s Mussels at the dive bar of the same name, or linger late-night over draft beers, crab dip, Old Bay wings, and live music at the Admiral’s Cup (“the Cup”) or the Horse You Came in On (“the Horse”).
Need to breathe? The water taxi is an open-air way to tour the city, or you can hit the trails about a half hour outside Baltimore. Both Gunpowder Falls and Patapsco Valley State Parks offer extensive miles of hiking and bike trails to catch fall foliage.
On the culture front, this is the time to visit Baltimore’s American Visionary Art Museum. Rebecca Hoffberger, founder of the award-winning museum—which showcases self-taught artists and the intersections among art, science, and social justice—will be retiring in early 2022 but has curated a timely exhibit, Healing and the Art of Compassion (and the Lack Thereof!), before she passes the reins. She also helped the museum win John Oliver’s “weird art” competition, and the AVAM will be one of five museums around the country showing the TV host’s Last Week Tonight’s Gallery for Cultural Enrichment exhibit in November.
The Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture is also a timely stop. Not only does its permanent collection recount 400 years of the area’s past, but its additional exhibitions also look at the present, like the current Make Good Trouble: Marching for Change, about Marylanders’ involvement in the George Floyd and Black Lives Matter protests. Additionally, the Baltimore Museum of Art will unveil the Ruth R. Marder Center for Matisse Studies this fall, to showcase its Matisse collection, the largest of any public museum in the world.
When Halloween rolls around, don’t miss the Great Halloween Lantern Parade and Festival, when thousands of artists, musicians, and performers hoist illuminated artworks, puppets, and lanterns in a festive procession that celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. If you’re into something darker, honor the master of macabre, Edgar Allen Poe, at the Poe House and Museum, or explore the Burial Grounds at Westminster Hall to find his grave. Then calm your nerves at Annabel Lee Tavern, an inconspicuous speakeasy named for his final poem.
Where to stay
In the glow of Baltimore’s iconic Domino Sugars sign, the Sagamore Pendry is central to Fells Point, Harbor East, and Canton.
Stay at the Sagamore Pendry: from $404/night; expedia.com
Relais & Châteaux’s the Ivy offers boutique spa luxury in Baltimore’s centrally located Mt. Vernon neighborhood.
Stay at the Ivy: from $690/night; expedia.com
Spend an hour, or a day, perusing the warehouse at Second Chance, where building materials and home furnishings are saved from landfills and sold to the public. Revenue from the sales are used for job training and workforce development.
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Jennie Burke I am a freelance writer and a certified English teacher. I write about children and families, teaching, social justice, and the destigmatization of substance use disorder.