Residents and merchants speak "Bawlmerese" and will call you "hon." Big hair and feather boas are chic, and pink flamingos are the ornament of choice.

In Hampden, kitsch rules.

Once a blue-collar enclave south of Roland Park, the north Baltimore neighborhood is now a residential, shopping and dining destination for artists and young professionals. But Hampden has resisted development in other ways, opting for independent shops and non-chain restaurants, keeping a small-town charm in a big city.

Hampden's main drag -- 36th Street, better known as The Avenue -- is home to the bulk of those establishments. Whether you seek vintage clothes, locally made artwork, a delicious meal or antiques and collectibles that stray a little out of the norm (there's that kitsch again), you're likely to find it along these several blocks.

Two streets south, on 34th Street, you'll find Baltimore's own miracle every winter. "Christmas Street" lights up for the holiday season, drawing visitors from near and far to witness the over-the-top Hampdenesque decor.

The neighborhood is a destination once again every June for HonFest, a street festival at which the annual Best Hon is crowned, a hair spray display that would make John Waters proud. (His movie, "Pecker," took place in Hampden.)

Hampden dates back to 1802, when houses were built for the workers at nearby mills. During much of the 19th century, the area flourished by cornering the market on cotton duck, a material used for making ships' sails.

Things went south after the Depression and the mills were no longer operational by the early 1970s, but the neighborhood has embraced its history by renovating the mills as studio spaces and keeping the typical rowhome architecture.

Typical, though, is not a word that is often used to describe Hampden. It's a unique charming blip on the radar and a must-see, hon.
Location: North Baltimore city

Boundaries: 41st Street to the north, Clipper Mill to the south, Falls Road to the west and University Parkway to the east

Highlights/Landmarks: 36th Street (The Avenue), 34th Street, HonFest, Mayor's Christmas Parade

Schools: Hampden Elementary, Medfield Heights Elementary, Robert Poole Middle, Western Senior High, Baltimore Polytechnic Institute (includes surrounding areas)