Locals Know Best: Grand Rapids, Michigan
When Dana Friis-Hansen moved to Grand Rapids, one of the things he was immediately smitten with was how each neighborhood was accessible to the rest, yet each of them had a character uniquely its own. It’s a walkable, livable city, yet he hardly runs out of things to explore. As the director and CEO of the Grand Rapids Art Museum, Dana is particularly attuned to the art, architecture, and all-around visual allure of the city. We chatted with him about those things as well as where he likes to eat, drink, and hang out when he’s exploring his hometown.
Heritage Hill’s name says it all. The neighborhood, which is situated about a half-mile from downtown Grand Rapids, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. The well-preserved time capsule lined with historically protected Victorian homes, including the Meyer May House built by Frank Lloyd Wright, which Dana says is particularly worthy of seeing. And the appeal is all the more enhanced by the fact that everyone who lives there keeps their property in tip-top shape.
You can easily switch from past to present with a quick stroll to Downtown, a scenic area cut through by the Grand River and dotted with public parks. There’s been increased attention to development alongside the river, but that hasn’t gotten in the way of the various running trails, biking trails, spots for fishing (yes, urban fishing) and, perhaps most interesting as far as Dana is concerned, lots of public art. He’s quick to call out Calder Plaza, the site of an old and stunning Romanesque-style City Hall that was torn down in the 1960s, much to preservationists’ chagrin. In its place stands a hulking building of glass and steel. To give the area a little pop, though, La Grande Vitesse, a giant red metal sculpture, was constructed outside, but not without opposition from locals. Dana explains that it was the one of the first NEA-funded sculpture in the country and today it’s one of great respect. It’s the city’s symbol and it appears on the city seal, garbage trucks and lots more. “I love telling that story because it shows the triumph of art,” he says. That story and plenty more about other important sculptures are what you’ll likely find if you take advantage of Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affair's free public art app, available on iTunes and the Google Play Store.
EAT YOUR HEART OUT
There’s plenty of art to be found on plates around Grand Rapids these days. The restaurant scene is more vibrant than ever, thanks to creative entrepreneurial chefs as well as longstanding institutions that just can’t seem to stop being fun. Bridge Street, an area on the west side of the river, is in the throes of a full-blown renaissance after being a bit down on its heels for a while. One of the most exciting go-tos these days is Sovengard, a Scandinavian-minded eatery in an old brick building. Dana likes its backyard beer garden and bocce ball courts, not to mention the herb gardens that grow along the walls. And the super-creative cocktails. “It’s how hygge came to Grand Rapids,” he says, referring to the Danish tradition of simplicity and coziness that’s become the trend du jour in America’s hippest neighborhoods. Equally cozy but in a different, more old-school way are the various dive bars on the strip, like the well-worn Anchor Bar.
And that’s just one street. Head over to nearby Leonard Street, where you might find Dana at Long Road Distillery, which features a laid-back, rustic-chic gastropub that serves elevated twists on classic American fare as well as the spirits they distill in the next room. Another option is the newer, locally owned Mitten Brewing Co., which dishes out excellent pizzas along with top-rate brews in its taproom, a rejuvenated Victorian era building. And speaking of beer, the area’s beer culture has been booming to such an extent that a lot of the businesses banded together to create the Brewsader Passport, a booklet that you can gets stamped on each visit to the various brewery. Pick one up at the Grand Rapids Art Museum’s Welcome Center, fill it up over the course of several days’ of visits (moderation is key in this challenge, of course,) then bring it back to the museum’s Welcome Center and trade it in for a t-shirt.
Another way to get a true sense of the local scene is a stop at the Fulton Street Food Market, especially in the summer when you can indulge in what could be the area’s most famous delicacy: fresh cherries. While you’re there, stop by the legendary Cheese Lady Store, where the selection is almost as fantastic as the store’s name.
Grand Rapids’ South Division, a longtime commercial corridor, is in the throes of a massive revitalization and it’s all about the arts, what with the arrival of artist studios and funky little shops. In fact, the district has even taken on the name Avenue for the Arts, and during the monthly first Friday, there’s an open studio with local artists’ work, from paintings to leather and wood items on display. The Frederik Meijer Gardens, another stop Dana encourages, blends art and nature in its amazing sculpture park and botanical garden. Plus there’s a five-story tropical conservatory with more exotic plants than you can shake a branch at.
And, of course, Dana has plenty of reasons to endorse his museum. Not least among them is the fact that it’s free all day on Tuesdays and on Thursday nights from 5PM to 9PM. Get it on the right day and you can catch a lecture or a yoga class. And every Thursday night in the summertime they offer free outdoor concerts. Plan to hang out a while and indulge in everything the food trucks and bar have to offer. (Food and drink are for purchase, we regret to inform.) On Sundays in the fall and winter there are classical music concerts. Other fun things to note: museum tours are free with admission and on Saturdays there’s a hands-on open studio for anyone with an urge to unleash their inner artist.
Speaking of free, there are movies in the park throughout the summer and in the spirit of democracy, the movies are decided on by public vote.
TRAVELING WITHIN AND BEYOND THE CITY
The public transportation in Grand Rapids is terrifically easy to navigate and, what’s more, it’s free. DASH is a free shuttle service throughout the downtown area. There’s also the Silver Line, which is more like a trolley. It’s free within designated city limits, but there are routes that will take you far beyond for a small fee. Like so many other cities these days, bike-sharing services are on the rise in Grand Rapids, and if you’re in heading there, take note that the trails beyond the city are an embarrassment of riches. “They say you can get all the way to North Dakota if you’re persistent,” says Dana. For help navigating, the Michigan Trails website has all the nitty gritty details of anywhere you could want to go. One of Dana’s favorite routes is about a 20-mile mostly flat ride from downtown to Rockford, a hub of riverside restaurants that offer food as delightful as the views.
Wanna explore the area beyond the city on four wheels? Head out to the towns around Lake Michigan. like the adjoining Saugatuck and Douglas. They’re Dana’s top picks, not just for the bucolic beaches. Douglas features terrific galleries to wander through and excellent restaurants while neighboring Saugatuck is known for the Saugatuck Center for the Arts, which features regional theater groups and notable musicians.
Locals Know Best: Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Jim Fricke moved to Milwaukee from his native Seattle in 2004, four years before the opening of the Harley-Davidson Museum, where he’s the Curatorial Director. He had to learn the city quickly, not least because part and parcel of helping to develop the museum was entertaining architects and designers from NYC and Baltimore and elsewhere. "I just kept trying to figure out: where do I take them to give them a sense of what feels uniquely Milwaukee?” he recalls. “Coming from the west coast, if something goes back to the Depression, it’s really old. What's fascinating here is the number of old buildings, businesses that have been continuously operating since early 20th century. I think being from the Pacific Northwest made me appreciate some of the Midwestern aspects of the city and the lifestyle here.” A lot of that lifestyle has its roots in the 19th and 20th centuries history of the city. In the 1800s, quite a few breweries and tanneries were built along the Milwaukee River. But by the 1960s, with industry declining and the flight to the suburbs in full force, the long bustling downtown fell into disrepair. Flash forward to now and Milwaukee, like so many other once-industrial American cities (see: Detroit, Pittsburgh) is in the throes of a renaissance. But even as young entrepreneurs refurbish old buildings and new construction extends the European-style cafe-lined public walkway along the river, it's hard to overlook the city’s rich legacy of lively immigrant communities and, of course, brewing. Add to that the ease of access—Jim says the airport is the perfect size and hassle-free in terms of parking and security—and the accessibility of city bike rentals, and it’s hard to resist adding Milwaukee to the top of your bucket list. WHERE OLD AND NEW MEET Perhaps the best place to witness the fusion of classic and contemporary Milwaukee is a stroll down Brady Street, which runs between Lake Michigan and the Milwaukee River. Jim is particularly fond of Glorioso’s, a family grocer specializing in Italian provisions since 1946. The first time he walked in, he said, “I thought I walked into Italian grocery in Italy. I swear I was in Italy.” Today, he’s one of the many locals who patiently stand in line for one of the standout sandwiches. He recommends grabbing lunch from there not just because the food is so superior, but because it’s also an experience to watch the generations work together. One of his favorite ways to spend an afternoon is to take the sandwich across to Regano’s Romain Coin, a tavern located in the old Pabst Blue Ribbon brewery. It’s the kind of place designed for a relaxing afternoon with a pint or two. Then Jim will wander around the corner to Sciortino’s, an Italian bakery that’s as transporting as Glorioso’s. “There’s just the smell. And there’s a grandma sitting with the cash register by the door,” he says. If you’ve got more time to walk off lunch, continue up Brady Street, meander through the locally owned shops and eateries, and carry on to the scenic bluff where you can walk down to Lake Michigan. PASSING THE BARS While the Blatt and Schlitz breweries have been turned into trendy condos and restaurants, the Miller Brewery is still operating and open for tours if you’d like to get a sense of old-world Milwaukee flavor. The unique thing about this town, though, is that back when the breweries were in full swing, many brewers also built and ran bars. That vintage flavor is kept alive at a number of joints that have a laid-back neighborhood vibe. And bowling! Jim calls out Koz’s, a classic bar with a killer jukebox and plenty of taxidermy. Plus it’s one of the few left that has a sizable space devoted to duckpin bowling, which is apparently a Wisconsin thing involving wood balls. The chill landmark Holler House, meantime, has the oldest certified bowling alley in the USA. CHOW DOWN Given the city’s history of immigrants who arrived and started what are now America’s iconic breweries, it’s little surprise that Milwaukee is dotted with low-key ethnic eateries, particularly of the Eastern European variety (see: German). Within the city limits there are three Serbian eateries, which offer fare that’s similar to Hungarian. Jim is partial to Three Brothers Restaurant, which has been dishing out wiener schnitzel and burek since it opened in the 1954. A local culinary tradition that those restaurants preserve is the festive fish fry—complete with communal tables and polka bands. While several restaurants do their own, Jim says the ones that take place at the lakefront are the most popular, so much so that people will come down from Chicago for the day to indulge. “The fish fry in Milwaukee is a big enough thing that even the most elite restaurants have to have one,” he says. But not to worry, there’s plenty more to explore beyond the oom-pa-pa. The flagship of a top-notch regional Mexican grocery chain, El Rey, is here in Milwaukee and there’s a strong enough Mexican community that the restaurants are worth checking out. Jim recommends the tacos and street food at Bel Air Cantina, which has its original location on the river and now has several outposts across the state. It’s so popular, in fact, that the owners had to buy the bar across the street to hold people while they waited. Another favorite is Café Corozon in the nearby River West neighborhood, which is also home to neat restaurants like Centro Café, a go-to for gluten-free Italian food, and several microbreweries, reminding Jim of his native Seattle. A MUSEUM TO GET REVVED UP FOR Jim’s workplace is more than a shrine to motorcycles. The Harley-Davidson Museum is a tribute to America—to industry, to pop culture, to the spirit of entrepreneurship, to design—as seen through the eyes of one enduring company. “We wanted to build a museum that has plenty to offer non-motorcyclist,” said Jim, whose resume includes stints at Seattle’s Museum of Popular Culture and a science fiction museum. “As I got into this, I started thinking that people do understand things in many ways that the Harley-Davidson story is a great American business story, starting in 1903 when three brothers and their friend started a company at local shops and foundries. A trip through the museum is a trip through US industrial history, social history, war time, post-war, the Depression, and industrial design.” For more information on Milwaukee visit their site.
Locals Know Best: Charleston, South Carolina
Ten years ago, when Yuriy Bekker moved to Charleston from Brooklyn, he was hit by a bolt of culture shock. But it didn’t take too long for the violinist and principal pops conductor of the Charleston Symphony Orchestra (not to mention artistic director of various music festivals and groups and globe-trotting performer), to realize that although there was more sunshine and tranquility and fewer bagel shops as well as Ukranian restaurants like the ones he grew up frequenting as the son of immigrants from Minsk, Belarus, he could feel quite at home in this jewel of a city, where cosmopolitan energy fuses with a laid-back southern attitude and European charm. FEED YOUR BODY, FEED YOUR SOUL The Charleston Symphony Orchestra’s concert hall, Gaillard Center, recently underwent a $140 million renovation. Performances typically start around 7.30PM and he’s usually well on his way home around 9PM. That’s pretty much dinner time, as any New Yorker will tell you. Yuriy prefers not to eat before a performance (even veterans have nerves), so afterwards he heads to 39 Rue de Jean, located just two blocks from the performance hall and known for serving food late-night. The mussels, which are flown in daily from PEI, and French onion soup are his no-fail choices. Charleston is widely known as a walkable city, so it’s easy to spot new joints that frequently pop up. Mercantile and Mash, a relative newcomer that opened in an old cigar factory, quickly became a regular hangout for him and his wife. The artisanal food market, which includes a saloon-style whiskey and beer bar, is a go-to for the house-smoked meats and a top-notch weekend brunch that’s still undiscovered by the masses. It’s located in an area of the peninsula where there’s a bustlng farmers market known for selling local crafts alongside the produce and other food. It's every Saturday from April through November, One of Yuriy’s habitual stops is Roti Rolls, a food truck that serves Indian-style rotis with local ingredients and clever names. (See: the "Mother Clucker") Of course, having been in town for a decade now, he’s well versed in the old-school eateries that make Charleston a legendary foodie destination. When it comes to getting his fix of the classic flavor of the South, he hits High Cotton for what he deems the best shrimp and grits in town, though he also sings the praises of Hominy Grill, a much better known tourist draw. There’s often a wait, but it’s worth it, he assures. A MECCA FOR MUSIC Visitors to Charleston who love classical music are in for a treat. The symphony has two different programs—a pop series of four annual concerts, each of which delivers orchestral versions of familiar tunes, and Masterworks, which features some of the most iconic pieces of classical music, or as Yuriy explains them, “the true reason for the art form.” The CSO makes it easy for everyone to access this exquisite beauty with the launch of CSOgo, a rather revolutionary and budget-friendly way to see performances. A monthly membership is $35, and it allows you to attend any performance with best day-of seats as well as chances to attend social events, making it an exciting option for wallet-watching travelers who don’t want to commit to buying tickets in advance. That means if you're in town for a few days, you can go to several performances for less than the cost of a week of lattes. When Yuriy isn’t performing in grand concert halls, you might spot him playing music elsewhere around the city. In a clever partnership with the world-class Gibbes Museum of Art, there’s an ongoing series, Rush Hour Concerts, in which a string quartet from CSO plays music somehow related to the art in a featured show. Culture buffs would be well served to coordinate their visit to the museum with one of these chamber music performances. Of course, when a musician isn’t performing, there’s a good chance you’ll find him out listening to others perform. He likes to take in the local jazz scene at Charleston Grill, which also happens to be one of the best restaurants in town with a fun bar to go with it. Speaking of bars, the Rooftop Pavilion Bar in the Market Pavilion Hotel is probably one of the best spots for a late-night outing. From several stories above the street, you can gaze out at the water and city landmarks, even in the winter, when heat lamps keep it cozy and classy. Across the street, is The Watch: Rooftop Kitchen and Spirits, an ultra-hip and more lively and rambuctious rooftop hangout, at The Restoration, a boutique hotel. MAKE A NIGHT OF IT Charleston has become an increasingly popular destination over the last few years and as a result, the downtown has a serious hustle and bustle vibe and a parking situation that’s increasingly reminding Yuriy of New York City. John’s Island is a growing community with a great deal of development that makes a fine alternative for a night out, but James Island, located next to it and just seven minutes from downtown Charleston, is where Yuriy and his wife go when they’ve got time to relax. They’ll catch a movie at Terrace Theater, which sells wine and ice cream, before grabbing dinner nearby, either tacos and tortas at Zia or craft beer and modern pub grub (lamb burger, anyone?) at Maybank Public House. DAY TRIPPER Charleston is as much of destination for nature lovers as it is to city slickers. When he has time to escape for the day, he’ll set off to gorgeous Kiawah Island, a small island with landscapes that vary from woodlands to beaches. Yuriy speaks from experience when he says it’s easy to lose the day here amid the tangle of bike trails. There’s also a multitude of waterways, which is “a world in its own,” he says, so you could rent a kayak and explore for hours. This island has a place of distinction in the annals of American musicals: George Gershwin spent summers and it’s known to be his inspiration for “Porgy and Bess.” WANDER So much of Charleston’s exquisiteness lies in the detail, and the best way to take it all in is on foot. “There’s 18th century architecture but there’s also palm trees. It has a European charm, but you can’t compare it to anyplace else. Maybe the South of France? But it really has its own identity,” Yuriy says, noting the iconic sloped porches with ceilings traditionally painted blue. He has a route he regularly strolls, one that gives a sweeping, comprehensive lay of the land. It starts at Marion Square, where the giant farmers market takes place. When it’s in season, he has his “eye-opener” roti from Roti Rolls, the aforementioned food truck, and coffee from Charleston Coffee Roasters, a local outfit that sells its brew both in super markets and at a nearby stand, then stroll north to John Street (off King Street) to Macaroon Boutique, which sells what Yuriy declares the best croissants—homemade, of course. From there, he strolls south down King Street, a boulevard lined with boutique stores, and hang a left on Market Street, an historic strip that's been the site of a market since the early 1800s. Today Charleston City Market is all slow old-world charm (see: people stationed outside making sweetgrass baskets) with a thoroughly hip vibe. Then it’s a right on East Bay, a strip that runs along the water and is home to the sleek Market Pavilion Hotel and the Old Exchange Building as well as historic Rainbow Row, a series of quaint colorful Georgian row houses where fishermen lived in the early 20th century. At the end of East Bay, you end up at the tip of the city’s peninsula where the pretty White Point Garden with views that invite lingering: From the water’s edge you can spot James Island, Mount Pleasant and the historic Fort Sumter, where the Civil War started, in between. That course lets you see lots of the city’s greatest architectural hits, including many historic churches, but Charleston is a city where there are tons of surprises around every corner. “Wander off on a small cobblestone streets and take a moment to get lost. They’re cobblestone streets and they’re lined with old homes. Just wander around, look, and enjoy. Eventually you’ll hit a main street, so you won’t be lost for long.”
Locals Know Best: Healdsburg, California
Before it was one of California’s premier tourism destinations, Sonoma County was just home to Dustin Valette. The young chef, who was born 1980, has been working in kitchens since the week after his 13th birthday and he cooked around the world—from Italy to Hawaii to New York to France—before moving to Healdsburg, less than ten minutes from quaint Geyserville, where he grew up, in 2008. After working Charlie Palmer's Dry Creek Kitchen for several years, he and his brother Aaron Garzini opened Valette on the site where their great grandfather's bakery once stood, in 2015. The rustic yet elegant restaurant quickly garnered attention for its focus on Sonoma County purveyors. To this day, lots of locals, particularly noted winemakers, are among its habitues. We checked in with Dustin for some guidance on what to do, see, and eat around his glorious hometown. His answers had us working really hard to hold back on an impulse to book a flight to California. “You look at a place like Lyon, France. Lyon screams food and wine," says Dustin. "But in Sonoma County you get the vibes of food, wine, agriculture and family. It feels wholesome, authentic, and real. That’s what Sonoma County is to me: home.” EAT YOUR HEART OUT There’s no better source for dining direction than a local chef and indeed, Dustin has lots to recommend. First up, Diavola in Geyserville, which specializes in pizzas from a wood-burning stove. The menu is impressive enough, but Dustin’s go-to is an off-menu selection: the Bambino. It's chef Dino’s twist on Chicago-style pizza. “It’s deeper dish than Chicago, though, and it has this amazing homemade sausage. It’s roasted longer, so the dough gets caramelized on the outside,” he describes. Hungry yet? In Healdsburg, the place to go is Bravas, a Spanish tapas restaurant, which he loves because you can go for an elegant splurge or you could just hang out on the terrace and order wine and exquisite Spanish snacks. One of the fun things about a hard-core culinary destination like Sonoma County is that there are incredible dining experiences to be had beyond the restaurants. You can thank local shop-owners for that. Dustin is a fan of Jimtown Store. Styled like an old-timey country store, it's about eight minutes outside of Healdsburg on the way to the wineries in Knight’s Valley. Pick up a few of their excellent sandwiches and sundry gourmet eats—charcuterie, cheese, creative salads—and you have yourself the making of a divine picnic. Alternatively (or additionally!) the Dry Creek General Store is about ten minutes northwest of Healdsburg on the way to the world-class Rafanelli Winery. their provisions, which include everything from classic breakfast fare to hearty salads to baked goods, are made in-house. Dry Creek is also a must for anyone with shopping in mind. Their wine-country-related home décor and knickknacks are made with barrel staves and other objects from the wineries. And, of course, you can’t go wrong at Dustin’s restaurant. Like Bravas, it’s an excellent option for a splurge, but it’s also perfectly encouraged to grab a seat at the bar (there are only 13 seats, so be patient) and indulge. A TOAST FOR ALL TIMES There are more than 200 tasting rooms in the area and over 500 wineries and the drive to each one is even more scenic than the last. Many tasting rooms, in fact, don't charge for the sampling. Sometimes, though, even in Wine Country you might crave a change of pace. Dustin frequents Duke's, a cocktail bar on Healdsburg's main square, for its fantastic negroni and plenty of other meticulously crafted cocktails. One of the owners, Tara Heffernon, loves to make up custom drinks on the fly. "You just tell her the ingredients you like and she’ll create a drink right then and there for you." Dustin explains. If you need further break from vino, Bear Republic Brewing is in the heart of town. It’s the original brewery/restaurant in the area—opened in 1994, and I think they led the way for microbrewery scene in the area. Red Rocket, one of their standby brews, is his go-to. GET OUT OF TOWN Thanks to all the twisting and turning roads, Healdsburg has a reputation for being one of the best bicycling areas in the USA. The biking is such a draw that there are three bike rental operations in the small town. “People literally come from everywhere to bike here,” Dustin marvels. “You can go through the majestic Redwoods and the coast is only about 15 miles away. It’s just such majestic and beautiful scenery. It’s also one of those bucket-list towns for runners. Dustin urges any and all roadrunners to pop into Healdsburg Running Company not just for attire and sporty paraphernalia, but to visit with Skip, who he calls the “running guru,” what with his unparalleled insight and direction on the myriad running paths throughout the area. Or, of course, you could just see the scenery from the car. Healdsburg is a 25 minute drive to the ocean. Dustin recommends heading out on Westside Road, along which you'll pass several of Healdsburg's finest wineries, like Williams Selyem and Arista and Thomas George Estates. You can even hit the renowned Korbel en route to the sea. There are several cute hotels and restaurants along the coast. Hog Island Oyster Co. is among the chef's favorites for indulging in bivalves that are "literally harvested fresh out of the water," he marvels. KIDDING AROUND With so much talk about NorCal’s countless wineries and high-end restaurants, it’s easy to forget that it’s an excellent family destination, and Dustin is the perfect one to reassure that, as he has two daughters, each under two years. Santa Rosa, just 15 minutes south of Healdsburg, is where Charles Shulz of Peanuts fame is from. There’s an ice skating rink that Dustin likes to go to with his young daughters. Make a day of it and visit the nearby Children’s Museum of Sonoma County or the Charles M. Shulz Museum, a shrine to all things Linus/Lucy/Charlie Brown/Snoopy, or head back to town for a bike ride with the kids. “Wine Country really is a beautiful place to bring kids to. They can enjoy the views and there’s not a lot of trouble they can get into, like running into the ocean or something. There’s no crazy or extreme place here. Wine country isn’t like Vegas or Chicago, it’s really more like a holistic family place. Plus a lot of wineries are family-friendly.”
Locals Know Best: Baltimore
John Waters, arguably Baltimore’s most famous native son since Babe Ruth, said of his hometown: “You can look far and wide, but you'll never discover a stranger city with such extreme style. It's as if every eccentric in the South decided to move north, ran out of gas in Baltimore, and decided to stay.” Indeed, between its creative eateries, vibrant public spaces, a multitude of free city-wide events, not to mention the historic sites, Baltimore has a character that’s very much its own. We connected to with Kathy Horning, who directs Artscape, the largest free art festival in the US, the Baltimore Book Festival, and more to learn more about the extravaganzas she oversees and get her guidance on where to eat, drink, explore, and just hang out in the city she calls home. CULTURE! GET YOUR CULTURE HERE! As Festivals Director for the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts, Kathy knows a thing or two about making sure people get the most out of her hometown. A giant outdoor arts festival is as good a way as any to take in an all-embracing, all-at-once understanding of a city and its people. Artscape, which takes place every third weekend in July, is a three-day extravaganza that lays claim to being the largest free arts festival in the US. Over a 16-block stretch, there are visual art displays as well as dance shows, films, and even concerts with national headline performers. Best of all: everything is free. Same goes with the Baltimore Book Festival, which started in 1996 on the heels of Kurt Schmoke, the mayor of Baltimore in the eary 1990s, declaring Baltimore the City That Reads. These are all well and good and exciting for anyone who loves the sunshine, but take heart, night owls, you get a festival all to yourself. Light City Baltimore, America’s first and largest international light festival, debuted in 2016 on the 200th anniversary of Baltimore becoming the first US city to illuminate its streets with gas lanterns. The event features 22 giant light art installations, 50 concerts and 150 performances, including plenty for kids. But there’s plenty to do year-round too. Kathy says the American Visionary Art Museum, is not to be missed. One of those institutions that uniquely Baltimorean, it spotlights artwork created entirely by self-taught visionaries. Paintings and anything with a classical flavor don’t distract from the creative innovation on display in the exhibit spaces as well as in Sideshow the funky, off-beat gift shop. And if you're there in the summer, join the hundreds of locals who gather outside on Thursday nights for Flicks from the Hill, free movies projected on a giant screen outside the museum. BEYOND CRABCAKES Food halls, those hip, sprawling spaces with food options galore, are popping up in all kinds of once-industrial spacious in American cities of all sizes, but Baltimore lays claim to the first. And Lexington Market, in the heart of the city, dates all the way back to the 1780s. The 101 vendors dish out everything from the classic crabcakes, peeled shrimp, and plenty of BBQ options, but there’s also Malaysian food, Cajun eats, and craft beer served in. “I’m a history geek and I love the juxtaposition of historical aspects with new contemporary things,” Kathy says. The hipster-meets-history vibe is unmissable. Kathy describes R. House as a food hall for millennials, what with its strong focus on artisanal. Located in a former body shop in Remington, an artsy district, ten chefs occupy the vast space and it serves as an incubator before they go on to open their own restaurants. The craft cocktail bar in the center of the 350-seat marketspace is a lively and popular nighttime hangout. PARK IT Patterson Park is Baltimore’s answer to Central Park. The sprawling landscape in East Baltimore has views of the harbor and a history that spans 300 years. Head over in the warm weather and space is a constellation of people picnicking and laying out on blankets. There’s an Asian-style pagoda constructed in the Victorian era and in the summer it’s the site of a free concert series and family activities. Kathy also notes that there’s a large Latino population in East Baltimore and many families have homey mom’n’pop eateries in the area. “They don’t really have formal names,” she warns. “They’re just spots on the corner and I love their authenticity.” Getting to the park—or anywhere in the city for that matter—is a breeze. Yes, Baltimore is very walkable, but there’s also the Charm City Circulator, a free public bus that gets you all around the city. Also, over the past year, the there’s been a big step up around town when it comes to bike infrastructure with the addition of central bike lanes in the business district and up by the college and university. Even out-of-towners can see easily the city on two wheels, what with Baltimore Bike Share, which was established in October 2016. But if you want another scenic route to the park, Kathy suggests the water taxi to the Fell's Point neighborhood. The main boulevard, Thames Street, is a cobblestone gaslight district that runs parallel to the water. It's home to about 50 bars and restaurants. It’s hard to choose, but Kathy recommends Barcocina, a nouveau Mexican spot with outdoor seating overlooking the water. And brewhounds, take note: Fell's Point's Max's Taphouse, which has over 100 taps and nearly 1000 beers in bottles, is regularly rated one of the top beer bars in the world. The neighborhood's streets are lined with funky indie shops, like The Sound Garden, a store with new and used CDs and vinyl, and Hats in the Belfry, a fancy milliner shop for hats of all styles. Other storefronts house antique stores, book stores, coffee shops. THE REST IS HISTORY Virginia, DC, and Massachusetts get lots of love from history buffs, but Maryland has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to sites imbued with historical and even literary significance. Edgar Allan Poe was famously born in Massachusetts, but he died at the young age of 40 in Baltimore and he’s buried at Westminster Cemetery, which is open daily. (Tours are offered.). His life is memorialized at the Edgar Allan Poe House, his home and workspace for about four years. It recently reopened after being shuttered many years, it gives you a close-up snapshot of the legendary writer. “The entire width of the house is maybe six feet across. You really get the sense of how miserable and cramped his living conditions were and insight as to why he created such macabre work. You can really put yourself in his shoes.” A bit better known, perhaps, is Fort McHenry, where Francis Scott Key penned the Star Spangled Banner as he watched the British bombard the city during the Battle of Baltimore in 1814. To get there today you pass through the bucolic Locust Point, a peninsular neighborhood that’s been home to various immigrant communities over the past century and a half. But it was once the site of much more mayhem. “Citizens branded together to stop the British navy. Had they succeeded, it’s regarded that they would have gone on to New York and the experiment of 13 colonies having democracy would have been crushed. It incredible—the citizens made bombs, tricked the British," she marvels. "It’s not something the city is particularly well known for, but it should be. I like to say ‘We’ve been stopping bullies since 1812.’”