You don't need a seat in Baltimore's Camden Yards to cozy up to the Orioles. In a town thick with local flavor, book a table at Little Italy's Luigi Petti some Thursday night, and chances are you'll find Orioles owner Steve Geppi crooning My Way, along with an occasional celebrity guest like former Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda.
In walking distance of Harborplace, the Rouse Co. Inner Harbor waterfront development where tourists usually flock, is a trove of lesser-known sites that capture the offbeat nature of the city that spawned writer Anne Tyler and film directors John Waters and Barry Levinson. The best way to experience the Inner Harbor is to traverse Harborwalk, the 7.5-mile path which follows Baltimore Harbor from the base of Federal Hill at the southern end to Canton Waterfront Park, passing Harborplace. If you don't want to cover Harborwalk on foot, you can hop a water taxi (800 658-8947) with 15 stops along the route. A $3.50 ticket ($2.50 for kids) buys unlimited passage for a day.
HOMICIDE SCENE. Start with the American Visionary Art Museum, at landing 4 on the water taxi route. Housed in a former paint factory and whiskey warehouse, it was declared by Congress to be the nation's repository for "self-taught art."
Many of its 100 works are by the institutionalized and homeless and are often comic or unsettling. The museum is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday (410 244-1900).
As you walk toward the Inner Harbor, the Revolutionary War-era Federal Hill looms to the left. Six blocks up Light Street is Cross Street Market, an enclosed farmers' market where you'll find a bar and lively singles crowds Fridays and Saturdays. If the water taxi doesn't satisfy your nautical urge, two ships sail from Harborplace. The Minnie V, a 45-foot skipjack sloop built in 1906, takes 24 passengers on an hour-and-a-half sail, encouraging you to help crew (410 685-0295). Or try the Clipper City, a 158-foot replica of an 1854 Baltimore Clipper (410 539-6277). It sponsors weekend Cajun, reggae, or calypso cruises.
Five blocks east of Harborplace is Little Italy. Locals go to Sabatino's for bookmaker's salad (lettuce, cheese, tomatoes, shrimp, eggs, anchovies, and parmesan dressing), Caesar's Den for veal, Da Mimmo for dressy dining, and Vaccaro's for dessert. Past Little Italy lies Fells Point, the location for TV's Homicide. Check out the Waterfront Hotel on Thames Street, where bar scenes are filmed and where you may find actors after hours. The hotel doesn't serve overnight guests now, so consider Celie's Waterfront Bed & Breakfast at 1714 Thames St. (410 522-2323) or the Admiral Fell Inn at 888 S. Broadway (410 522-7377). Some of Celie's seven rooms have fireplaces; daily rates run from $100 to $200. The 210-year-old Admiral Fell Inn, once a boarding house for sailors, offers 80 rooms and charges $195 for a two-bed room to $350 for a bilevel suite with fireplace.
The Point is home to funky stores, flea markets, antique shops, restaurants, and bars, including the internationally known Bertha's Mussels (the shellfish come in everything from herbed butter to cream sauce). As you make your way toward Canton Waterfront Park, note the S.S. Capt. James, a building shaped like a ship. Inside is a 24-hour diner where the waitresses address everyone by the local appellation "Hon." Two blocks inland from the park is a two-block square of bars and restaurants. Don't miss Nacho Mama's, decorated with Elvis and sports memorabilia. The menu includes meatloaf, Santa Fe chicken, and nachos--a $6.95 plate piled high enough for a big meal. Put your name on the long waiting list and practice passing as a native. All you need is the accent. Repeat: "How 'bout dem Balmer Oryuls, Hon?"