The best description of Baltimore’s quirky charms came from film director John Waters, who has drawn considerable inspiration from his offbeat hometown. In his book Shock Value, Waters wrote: “I would never want to live anywhere but Baltimore. 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.” Signs of this can be seen at the American Visionary Art Museum (800 Key Hwy., 410/244-1900, Tues.-Sun. 10am-6pm, $16), which displays an array of works by outsider and self-taught artists in every medium imaginable—painted packing crates, “art cars,” and so on—south of the popular Inner Harbor waterfront redevelopment.
Location for the nostalgic 1980s film Diner, as well as the acclaimed TV shows Homicide and The Wire, Baltimore is not as faded or gritty as that might sound. For typically Baltimorean food and drink, head to historic Fell’s Point, a mile east of the Inner Harbor. One of a dozen good places to eat here is Bertha’s (734 S. Broadway, 410/327-5795), a friendly little café famed for (grit-free!) mussels and other seafood specialties. To sample the other local specialty, Chesapeake Bay crab, head down to the Patapsco waterfront to Nick’s Fish House (2600 Insulator Dr., 410/347-4123).
If you’re interested in catching a ball game, the Baltimore Orioles play at Camden Yards (888/848-2473) right downtown.
Though largely modern and commercial, Salisbury (pop. 30,343) has preserved part of its older townscape in a pedestrianized downtown shopping district and in the Newton Historic District, a collection of dainty Victorian-era houses along Elizabeth Street. The one place to stop is the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art (909 S. Schumaker Dr., daily, $7), on the Salisbury University campus, which has a comprehensive collection of carved decoys and other hunting-related arts and crafts. Though this may not sound immediately enticing, the museum does explore varying aspects of the engagement between people and the “natural” world, and the items on display, ranging from Native American reed figures to highly collectible decoys, are all beautifully crafted.
Crossing the coastal wetlands and estuaries, US-50 races east from Salisbury, bypassing a few small towns like Willards and Whaleyville, which are best seen by following the Hwy-346 frontage road. The two routes run parallel, joining each other 30 miles east in the old-time beach resort of Ocean City.