Each week, Yahoo Travel pits rival cities against each other to determine once and for all which destination is the best. This week, we take on two mid-Atlantic capitals — Washington D.C. and Baltimore.
THE CASE FOR WASHINGTON D.C.
The D.C. skyline (Photo: Getty Images)
For politicos, D.C. may be a wasp’s nest of conniving competitors. But for locals and visitors, the capital city is a Mecca for global arts and culture, with one of the most sizzling culinary scenes on the East Coast. Thanks to the federally funded Smithsonian, the world’s largest collection of museums lines the grassy mall in downtown D.C. — which means there are a gazillion fascinating exhibitions happening on any given day, and almost all are free of charge. D.C. foodies have a lot to sink their teeth into, as new chef-driven concepts, including José Andrés’ Minibar, have cropped up in droves on the 14th Street corridor and other trendy rows in recent years. Bonus: There’s an easy way to leave D.C.’s hideous traffic in the dust — grab a ride from a corner bike share rack and get to peddling.
The First Family, keeping it real (Photo: The White House/Flickr)
Famous Faces: As long as that hulking white mansion sits on Pennsylvania Avenue, D.C. will always be home to the country’s biggest celeb: the President.
A Metrorail station (Photo: Mark Fischer/Flickr)
How to Get Around: While Baltimorians bemoan their city’s lack of public transportation, D.C. is home to the labyrinthine Metrorail subway system, which was expanded in August. Cabs and buses are ever-present, but tooling around is best done by bike — the Capital Bikeshare program has scattered over 300 bikes, parked and ready to roam, around the city.
A scene from “St. Elmo’s Fire” (Photo: Everett Collection)
Famous Films: Seminal Brat Pack flick, “St. Elmo’s Fire,” uses stately Georgetown as a backdrop; creep-tastic “Silence of the Lambs“ filmed a scene at the U.S. Department of Labor; and countless political intrigues— from ”All the President’s Men“ to ”Patriot Games“ and ”A Few Good Men“ — have captured slices of D.C. on celluloid.
The Jefferson Hotel (Photo: Jefferson Hotel)
Haute Hotels: Great hotels in D.C. are as common as T-shirt kiosks on the mall. The swishy Jefferson Hotel, a 95-room boutique hotel, does circa-1700s Federal-style décor — a D.C. hallmark — better than anyone, patterning its rooms after the discerning, heavily-curtained tastes of Thomas Jefferson. The new and modern Hotel George takes it cues from George Washington; throw pillows in the rooms are gussied up in mini military uniforms. The Hay-Adams, a circa-1927 property that feels like an old-world European mansion, was renovated in 2001 to include the Top of the Hay, a show-stopping rooftop terrace with 360-degree views of the city.
POV at the W (Photo: Getty Images)
Watering Holes: D.C.’s imbibers fall into two distinct categories: the cocktail set and the beer guzzlers. Custom cocktails and aged scotches rule at POV, the glamorous rooftop bar at the W, and the always packed Barcelona, while brews flow freely at stellar dives and music venues like Rock & Roll Hotel and Little Miss Whiskey’s Golden Dollar.
The Atlas Disctrict (Photo: Caitlin Hull/Flickr)
Hipster ‘Hood: The recent revitalization of the far-flung H Street Corridor — a.k.a. the Atlas District — in northeast D.C. has been a boon for the city’s hipsters (yes, there are a few), as artsy bars and restaurants have popped up like crazy over the past few years. Not to be missed: Dangerously Delicious Pies and Frenchie café, La Grenier.
Rooting on the Washington Nationals (Photo: Scott Ableman/Flickr)
Home Teams: The collective fervor for the Washington Nationals baseball club has reached fever-pitch since the team moved into the district in 2008. At the time, Orioles owner Peter Angelos famously proclaimed, “There are no baseball fans in Washington, D.C. That’s a fiction.” Wrong-o, Bucko.
The half smoke at Ben’s Chili Bowl (Photo: Stuart Spivak/Flickr)
Signature Nosh: The half smoke is a sausage that looks like a hot dog but is spicier and larger and comprised of coarsely ground pork and beef. Get one at the venerable Ben’s Chili Bowl or the just-opened Meats & Foods.
Soul Food in D.C. (Photo: Adam Fagen/Flickr)
Southern or Not? D.C. is technically the gateway to the north, but at its heart it’s a southern city. Soul and cajun food traditions are preserved through eateries like Art & Soul and Ben’s Chili Bowl, and D.C.-specific lingo (see “bama” in reference to a “countrified” person and “jont” instead of joint) is proudly embraced.
The Kogod Courtyard in the Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture (Photo: NCinDC/Flickr)
Arts Scene: The city’s museums are among the best in the world, but the National Portrait Gallery and American Art Museum rise to the top when it comes to the quality of its permanent collections and innovative new exhibitions. When sought-after exhibitions, look for placement in D.C., they come to the American Art Museum: witness the Irving Penn retrospective, slated to land here next year.
THE CASE FOR BALTIMORE
(Photo: Getty Images)
While Washington D.C. offers up stultifying rush hour traffic and a population largely comprised of stone-faced federal employees, nearby Baltimore has a laid-back population that prizes community and out-of-the-box artsiness. The city’s downtown has seen a population increase of 130 percent since 2000, and many formerly sketchy neighborhoods have been transformed into cool, walkable enclaves peppered with cute coffee shops and boutiques. Baltimore is home to the best aquarium on the east coast — Washington’s aquarium closed last year — and a cache of art galleries and museums that celebrate the offbeat and the interesting. But it’s the city’s staunch individualism (a giant, multi-level pagoda beautifies its largest public park) that earned the city its rightful nickname: Charm City.
Hometown director John Waters (Photo: Corbis)
Famous Faces: Filmmaker and counter-culture legend John Waters has lived in Baltimore for eons, and once said, “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.” Novelist Ann Tyler is also a longtime denizen.
A street scene in Baltimore (Photo: Elly Blue/Flickr)
How to Get Around: The bike paths in and around downtown Baltimore — and through beautiful Patterson Park — are well-maintained and generously sized. For drivers, traffic in the city’s core is almost never too tough to take. And with all the gentrification going on downtown, paired with Balt’s digestable dimensions, it’s entirely possible to spend the day walking from destination to destination.
Scene from 2007’s Hairspray (Photo: Everett Collection)
Famous Films: John Waters made Baltimore’s then-shambolic neighborhoods famous in his kitschy circa-1988 classic “Hairspray,” which he followed up with “Cry-Baby.” Baltimore native Barry Levinson filmed his famous dudes-coming-of-age story, “Diner,” in the Hollywood Diner under Jones Falls Expressway.
Lobby of the Hotel Monaco (Photo: Kimpton Hotels/Facebook)
Haute Hotels: The search for a stylish hotel in Baltimore dead-ends at around two places — and they’re pretty much right next to each other. Budget conscious travelers will find plenty of hotel options in Baltimore. Check out the eco-conscious Inn at the Black Olive, for a comfy stay on the waterfront that doesn’t break the bank. A more swag-adelic experience can be had at the Hotel Monaco, which features marble-clad common areas with soaring ceilings — just a short stroll from the aquarium and the harbor.
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Club Charles. (Photo: Seth Sawyers/Flickr)
Watering Holes: The antidote to D.C.’s glossy, soulless nightlife scene is Baltimore’s genuinely hip collection of watering holes. Spy on John Waters and friends at Club Charles, a 1940s-themed bar, or head over to Federal Hill’s Pub Dog Pizza & Drafthouse to do a deep dive into craft beers and the house’s Wing Dog pizza, which is topped with buffalo wing sauce-covered chicken, smoked gouda and ranch salad dressing. Yeah, it’s crazy good. If cocktails are your thing, sample the fizzy orange crush — an artisanal play on a classic Ocean City bar drink (main ingredients: Sprite and O.J.) — at the excellent Fleet Street Kitchen, which sources most of its ingredients locally.
Strolling around Hampden (Photo: Getty Images)
Hipster ‘Hood: Former working class neighborhood, Hampden, has been colonized by hipsters in recent years, and the quirky establishments have followed. To see: vintage fashion and accessories shop Hunting Ground and artsy housewares boutique Trohv.
The Orioles mascot (Photo: Getty Images)
Home Teams: D.C. may have its own club now, but the Orioles are the original baseball dynasty in the Washington-Baltimore corridor — and still the best. Catching a game at the retro-fabulous Oriole Park at Camden Yards conjures levels of giddiness most commonly experienced by 5-year-olds holding whirls of cotton candy.
Faidley’s famous lump crab cake from J.W. Faidley Seafood (Photo: jpellgen/Flickr)
Signature Nosh: Welcome to the cult of Old Bay seasoning. Crabbing for Maryland Blue crabs, and picking every last bit of meat out of steamed crabs over a messy table with a group of friends, is a way of life in Baltimore. Crab cakes? A citywide obsession.
At the Hon Cafe (Photo: Lindsay Filz/Flickr)
Southern or Not?: So-called “Hon” culture in Baltimore is equal parts working class pride, Southern kitsch, and John Waters kookiness. “Hon” — as in “Welcome to Bawlmore, Hon” in the local dialect, dubbed Bawlmorese — pays homage to working-class Baltimorians from ethnic backgrounds who may or may not wear a beehive, bejeweled cat’s eye glasses, and skin-tight leopard pants. Café Hon celebrates the idea (and word), and the annual HonFest, a week-long neighborhood festival that covers four city blocks in Hampden.
Baltimore Love Project: city-funded graffiti installatio from artist Steven “ESPO” Powers (Photo: Stephen Powers/Tumblr)
Arts Scene: Outside of D.C.’s Smithsonian institutions, the city’s arts scene is virtually nonexistent. Baltimore, in contrast, is home to a collection of fascinating and fun galleries and museums, including the American Visionary Art Museum, which features a 15-foot papier-mâché Divine sculpture, in homage to John Waters’ fierce heroine. The city also embraces amazing street art; it recently funded graffiti artist Steven Powers’ ongoing Baltimore Love Project, which has so far seen blocks of dilapidated buildings ornately tagged with messages including “I’m here because it’s home.”
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