Baltimore: Destination of the week
A famous harbor and other natural attractions make this former victim of Rust Belt decay an ideal East Coast destination.
Thu, Jan 05 2012 at 8:40 AM
When it comes to tourism, Baltimore sits in the shadow of its high-profile, monument-and-museum-filled neighbor, Washington, D.C. This Maryland metropolis has a gritty but charming image, mainly thanks to media coverage, TV shows like the critically acclaimed HBO series "The Wire," and its history as a blue collar port and industrial town. There is no denying, however, that "Charm City's" tourist attractions and historical narrative are as interesting as those of any other East Coast city.
It is possible to find eco-friendly hotels and organic food in the city, and the waters of Chesapeake Bay and more-rural landscapes of Baltimore County can add a natural element to a green-themed itinerary. So Baltimore is useful as a base for exploring central Maryland, but the city itself can also be an eco-friendly destination. Like other aged East Coast cities such as Philadelphia and Boston, Baltimore has walkable historic sightseeing routes. These, coupled with the city's parks, markets and user-friendly transit options, make it a good addition to low-impact travelers' East Coast itineraries.
Baltimore has a decent public transit system operated by the MTA (Maryland Transit Administration). The city also connects to Washington via a regional commuter rail line. This makes it easy to get around the entire Baltimore-D.C. area without a car. In Baltimore, a light rail service and subway system connect major attractions such as the Harbor, Camden Yards and downtown. A free shuttle service, known as the Charm City Circulator, operates along several routes, each of which pass some of the city's best attractions. Unlike the Circulator, the rail lines are geared toward commuters. However, a $3 day pass makes the train a cheap option for anyone who wants to explore beyond the obvious tourist sites. The MTA bus system covers those areas that cannot be reached by rail. A unique form of public transit is the water taxi service, which crisscrosses Baltimore Harbor. This cheap ($9 for a day pass) and relatively green transit option is a good alternative to the more pricey harbor sightseeing cruises.
The Inner Harbor area, the epicenter of Baltimore's tourism scene, can be negotiated on foot, although exploring elsewhere in the city requires other forms of transportation.
The Inn at the Black Olive is one of the greenest places to lay your head in Baltimore. The inn was designed with the goal of receiving the highest eco-certification available: LEED Platinum. The Olive Room, an adjoining restaurant, serves organic Greek fare. Guests get a complimentary breakfast each morning. The Black Olive focuses on replicating the diet and other lifestyle features of Mediterranean areas known for their high quality of life and the long life spans of their inhabitants.
Boutique hotels are not the only players in Baltimore's green hotel game. The Fairfield Inn Inner Harbor (part of the Marriott group) was the first hotel in the city to receive LEED certification. It has a large rainwater collection tank in its courtyard. Recycled materials were used in its building and landscaping. A state-of-the-art green roof lowers heating and cooling costs and aids in drainage. The hotel also purchases wind power credits to offset its carbon emissions.
Yet another super-green sleeping spot in Charm City is the Hotel Monaco, owned by Kimpton Hotels. The Monaco boasts eco-friendly features like a recycling program, natural cleaning products, green dry cleaning procedures, and a donation program that gives unused and partially used in-room toiletries to local charities.
Woodberry Kitchens is one of the most impressive locally focused eateries on the East Coast. It achieves its eco-friendliness by using local ingredients and adapting its menu to include whatever foods are fresh and readily available. A weekend brunch features a sampling of the kitchen's best dishes, while locally caught Chesapeake Bay oysters are one of the Woodberry's biggest menu highlights.
Liquid Earth brings raw, vegan and vegetarian cooking to Baltimore. Aside from relying on local farms for its organic produce, Liquid Earth makes its own organic tofu. The restaurant is named after its unique blends of fresh-squeezed juices, but sandwiches, salads and other bistro-style fare make this a good stop for people seeking a complete dining experience.
If you want to get a taste of Baltimore's foods closer to their source, it is best to visit one of the area's many farmers markets. These include markets in wider Baltimore County as well as a large number of markets held in the city itself. One of the best markets, both as a place to shop and as a tourist attraction, is Lexington Market. This venue has been in operation since the late 1700s. Everything from meat to produce to baked goods are for sale from Lexington's many vendors.
It can be difficult to find wildlife in the vast urban areas of Baltimore. A great place to look is the National Aquarium, one of the most respected aquariums in the country. It features the usual assortment of animal attractions, including dolphins, tropical fish, and sharks. More unusual exhibits, like a jellyfish display and an exhibit on the exotic life of Australia, are also part of the aquarium. Reptiles and birds are some of the venue's non-marine residents. In addition to its exhibit spaces, the aquarium also leads efforts to protect aquatic life both locally and internationally. It is involved in rainforest and coral reef conservation projects and also leads local efforts to clean up Chesapeake Bay and to educate people about the animals that call this famous body of water home.
The Maryland Zoo is a similar animal-centered attraction in Baltimore. It boasts breeding programs and is a member of the Species Survival Plan initiative, which plans for the future of species that are mainly bred in captivity. Two species that the zoo is attempting to aid in this way are the African black-footed penguin and the Panamanian golden frog.
Baltimore is a great place for foot-powered sightseeing. The most popular place for tourists to visit is the Inner Harbor. Once the poster child for Rust Belt industrial decay, it has been transformed into the heart of the city, with museums and shopping opportunities along its promenades. It is possible to traverse the entire Inner Harbor area on foot. Visitors who want to see the city's museums and soak in the classic, maritime atmosphere can even find a hotel in the Inner Harbor and experience the city's seaside without ever having to hop in a taxi or on a bus. Baltimore's Heritage Walk tours start from the Inner Harbor. These three-mile strolls pass the most historic sites in Baltimore's long and colorful history. Guide-led and self-guided tours are available, and both are free with the Heritage Pass, a museum and attraction card that offers access to many Inner Harbor museums and historic sites.
Visitors who come to Baltimore during the summer can enjoy Artscape, one of the country's largest free art festivals. The event features a huge recycling and trash collection program, and visitors are encouraged to take public transportation.
While most visitors to the city focus on urban attractions, Baltimore and its surrounding county have notable natural spaces as well. In the city, Patterson Park and Druid Hill Park stand as the two most prominent bastions of greenery. Patterson features a lake, a pagoda, and a fountain, as well as ample greenspace for walking. This is a neighborhood-oriented place with community gardens and an Audubon Center that holds nature-themed events and classes. Druid Hills is a historic park that stretches for more than 700 acres. Many of the park’s fountains and man-made ponds have been drained so that native plants can reclaim the landscape. There is also a botanical garden on the premises. Druid Hills is one of the country's oldest landscaped public parks, dating back to the 1860s. Baltimore's most expansive greenspace is the Gwynn Falls Trail. This trail is 15 miles long and connects parks in more than two dozen neighborhoods in Baltimore. When added together, the parkland associated with the trail covers more than 2,000 acres.
Eco-attractions in Baltimore County include the Marshy Point Nature Center, a 490-acre park that features wetlands and forest. An interpretive center and trails make it easy to learn about and view the flora and fauna of the center's protected landscapes. The Oregon Ridge Nature Center has a similar set of attractions. It boasts five miles of trails and a full calendar of nature and culture oriented events. Cromwell Valley Park, meanwhile, is an area that contains both working farms and protected natural tracts of land. Its focus is educating families and school groups about conservation and sustainable agriculture.
Whether you are interested in an urban sightseeing vacation or exploring the natural areas around Chesapeake Bay and central Maryland, Baltimore offers all the features to make your travels environmentally friendly.
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