Baltimore's Best

Best of Baltimore 2018: Arts and activities

Here are Baltimore Sun staffers' picks in arts and activities categories for 2018:

Acoustics for classical music

Gordon Center for Performing Arts


Since classical music is an acoustic art form, a space with great, natural acoustics is to be doubly treasured. The Gordon Center delivers an extraordinary sound – warm, clear, enveloping – that can make a modest-sized orchestra seem twice as big, while making listeners feel more closely connected to the performers. For opportunities to experience the hall's sonic benefits, consider Concert Artists of Baltimore on May 12 and the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra on May 20. 3506 Gwynnbrook Ave., Owings Mills. 410-356-7469,

Activity for an out-of-towner

Duckpin bowling


Little known outside the Baltimore area, this is bowling that everyone can enjoy. The pins are smaller, the balls smaller (think a good-sized grapefruit) and considerably lighter (about 3.5 pounds), which means even little kids can handle them. There's a lot more action, as those smaller pins really fly when they're hit. And as aficionados know, it takes a lot more skill to bowl duckpins than tenpins. Want proof? Perfect scores of 300 in tenpins are rare, but not that rare. No one's ever bowled a perfect score in competitive duckpins. Though the number of lanes has decreased from the sport's heyday last century, there are still a handful of classic lanes around, including Patterson Bowling Center, 2105 Eastern Ave. (, 410-675-1011); Stoneleigh Lanes, 6703 York Road in Towson (, 410-377-8115); and Glen Burnie Bowl, 6322 Ritchie Highway (, 443-312-8538).


Elk Neck State Park

Situated on the Chesapeake Bay at the mouth of the Elk Neck River, Elk Neck State Park has something for every camper — from beaches to wooded trails to cliffs. The park offers accommodations for tent-dwellers and glampers alike, with more than 250 campsites and 15 cabins. 4395 Turkey Point Road, North East, 410-287-5333,

Children’s book

'The Inquisitor's Tale'

This book, written by Park School of Baltimore alumnus Adam Gidwitz and illustrated by Hatem Aly, received a prestigious nod as one of three 2017 Newbery Honor books. The awards citation noted that Gidwitz, 36, spent six years researching the story and "has written a brand-new illuminated manuscript, a sometimes harrowing, sometimes hilarious epic about three magical friends on the run in 1242 France and their encounters with a dragon, a holy dog, and cheese." Recommended for ages 10 and older. Penguin Random House, $17.99, 384 pages,

Classical performance

BSO and Bruckner's Ninth

In February, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra welcomed back to the podium veteran conductor Gunther Herbig, who invariably inspires the musicians. They played superbly for him as he shaped the profound, richly layered Symphony No. 9 by Anton Bruckner with a keen sense of its architecture, an even deeper appreciation for its heart. Also making this concert a standout was a robust account of Mendelssohn's Piano Concerto No. 1 featuring the brilliant, incisive pianist Stephen Hough. 1212 Cathedral St., 410-783-8000,

Best of Baltimore 2018: Dining and nightlife »


Creative space

Baltimore node

The member-run, multipurpose 24-hour "hacker" space harbors hard-to-access tools and equipment for metal and woodworking, digital fabrication, electronics and more, and hosts regular workshops on everything from casting and laser cutting to CNC routing and electronics. And if that weren't enough -- the environment is encouraging to those of all skill levels. Weekly OpenHacks, held every Thursday night, invite makers to share ideas, collaborate or seek assistance on projects. 2106 N. Lovegrove St., Old Goucher,

Dance party

Beyonce vs. Rihanna Dance Party, Ottobar

It was only right that Ottobar ran it back with their classic "Beyonce vs. Rihanna Dance Party" for its second rendition earlier this year, making folks question whether they preferred RiRi's "Drunk on Love" or Beyonce's "Drunk On Love." But no one thought about it too hard. They were on the dance floor, which was full of sweat, feminine energy and synchronized dance moves to the pop divas' love songs and single lady anthems. The $7 #TeamRiri and Queen Bey drink specials were a bonus. 2549 N. Howard St., Remington, 410-662-0069,

Free classical series

Community Concerts at Second

In 1987, gifted organist and organizer Margaret Budd founded a series of free performances at the handsome Second Presbyterian Church, where a remarkable array of artists has been presented. Although the emphasis is on classical, other genres get spotlighted, too; the excellent Todd Marcus Jazz Quartet performs May 20. An additional free series, Chamber Music by Candlelight, showcases talented Baltimore Symphony Orchestra members in terrifically diverse programs, as you can hear June 3. Second Presbyterian Church, 4200 St. Paul St., Guilford, 443-759-3309,


Free thing to do

Frisbee Golf at Druid Hill Park

You'll need to buy Frisbee golf discs (try Eagle Mill Disc Golf in the Jones Falls Area), but afterward, you're good to go for some outdoor free fun. The 18-hole course strikes the right balance of accessibility for first-timers and challenge for serious hobbyists, with large opens areas and tight wooded spots. Whether your throws are on target or not, it's hard to argue with a cost-free afternoon while exploring Baltimore's first large municipal park. 900 Druid Park Lake Drive, Druid Hill Park, 410-396-7900,


C. Grimaldis Gallery

For four decades, C. Grimaldis Gallery has enlivened Baltimore's commercial arts scene with a museum-level lineup of distinctive 20th- and 21st-century artists, among them Grace Hartigan, Raoul Middleman, Hasan Elahi and Ben Marcin. The "Summer '17" show was just one example of the gallery's perennial flair for bringing together work that not only boasts strong aesthetic value, but has something substantive (and often provocative) to say about our world and its challenges. 523 N. Charles St., Mount Vernon, 410-539-1080,


Appalachian Trail

The Maryland section of the Appalachian Trail only traverses about 40 of the trail's full 2,190 miles, making it a perfect distance for a long weekend of backpacking. The sector ranges from about 230 feet to 1,880 feet in elevation, and is ranked easy-to-moderate, according to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Of course, you're welcome to wander farther afield.



The Washington Monument

One-hundred-eighty-nine years old, and it's still Baltimore's most beautiful public monument. We'll even argue it outclasses that upstart pretender in D.C. It's older (by 55 years), more ornate (it's topped with an actual statue of George), and it's in one of Baltimore's toniest neighborhoods -- unlike that other monument, stuck in a neighborhood where only tourists flock. It's also never looked better, thanks to the $6.5 million restoration it got a few years back. Climb the 227 steps to the top, gaze out on the city and be reminded of what a majestic landscape Baltimore presents to the world. 699 Washington Place, Mount Vernon, 410-962-5070,

Time machine

Hampton National Historic Site

Dating back to the last years of the 18th century, this opulent, Georgian-style mansion was, for more than 150 years, home to the Ridgely family, whose immense fortune grew from mining iron from land now largely submerged under Loch Raven reservoir. With its grand entrance, magnificent rooms and cupola that was said to be tall enough that one standing in it could see clear down to Baltimore's harbor, this is the kind of structure very rich little girls model their dollhouses after. It's been open to the public since 1948, and touring the house and grounds offers a revealing snapshot of life before the Civil War; among the preserved structures are some original slave quarters, a reminder of the dark underpinnings of so much of America's 19th-century wealth. 535 Hampton Lane, Towson, 410-823-1309,


Tate Kobang, 'TateKo'

Led by singles "North North" and "A Hunnid T's," Tate Kobang's mixtape from November kept the Baltimore rapper's buzz up, while demonstrating his ability to add sticky flows to a wide variety of beats, from the off-kilter haze of "Ello?" to the snapping, piano-heavy bop "Bdddrrr." Some want Tate to stick to the sound of his original hit, "Bank Rolls (Remix)" but this project is proof he won't be boxed in.


Most anticipated event

'Mark Bradford: Tomorrow Is Another Day'

When "Mark Bradford: Tomorrow Is Another Day" opens this fall, expect to see lots of out-of-state license plates parked outside the Baltimore Museum of Art. Not only is the Los Angeles-based artist showing the artworks he exhibited while representing the U.S. in the 2017 Venice Biennale — often called the Art World Olympics — a new installation is being created for Baltimore, a painterly "waterfall" that will cascade from the museum's second floor to the lobby. Free. Sept. 23, 2018- March 3, 2019, 10 Art Museum Drive. Johns Hopkins Homewood, 443-573-1700 ,

Movie theater that isn’t really a movie theater

Creative Alliance

With offerings that range from a Hot Bits queer film festival to the works of silent movie giant Buster Keaton, it's hard to beat the variety of film offerings at the Creative Alliance, all lovingly overseen by film curator Samantha Mitchell. The crowds are cool, not to mention enthusiastic. True, Baltimore has plenty of places to watch movies that aren't really movie theaters, including the Brown Center at MICA, the Reginald F. Lewis Museum and the Motor House. But the Creative Alliance actually was a movie theater once, and the fact that the old Patterson's glorious marquee still dominates the building's façade scores it extra points. 3134 Eastern Ave., Highlandtown, 410-276-1651,


'The Color Purple,' Hippodrome

A decade after the musical version of the acclaimed book and film "The Color Purple" appeared on Broadway, a much trimmer, firmer revival directed and designed by John Doyle revealed the work's primary strengths. The national touring production reaffirmed those rare qualities in a visit to the Hippodrome Theatre. A terrific cast was headed by the subtly radiant Adrianna Hicks, whose portrayal of the long-suffering, undefeatable Celie produced genuine chills. The show truly felt redemptive. 12 N. Eutaw St., 800-982-2787,


Musical act

Snail Mail

Lindsey Jordan, who performs under the moniker Snail Mail, is a rising star in the indie-rock world, and the 18-year-old from Ellicott City is likely about to take the next leap. With Jordan's anticipated debut album arriving later this year from the venerable label Matador Records, it's easy to bet that her abundant talent — wise lyrics and hooky melodies set against Jordan's prodigious guitar playing — will only reach more listeners. Lucky them.

Music video

President Davo, 'Born in the Trenches'

Baltimore rapper President Davo displays the beauty of where he's from — "the Trenches" is a term to describe the bottom — in this unvarnished and joyful video filled with images of Baltimore kids, dirtbikes and family love. Over a spare beat, Davo uses his trademark sing-songy flow to powerfully pack-in the ways his environment shaped him: "I lost my dog in the trenches / He lost it all in the trenches / We spent so long in the trenches / we feel like we belong in the trenches."



It's just an hour's train ride to the City of Brotherly Love, where the past is present; the cuisine, artery-clogging: and the energy, high, especially post-Eagles' SuperBowl win. Explore the complex history at the city's African American Museum or at Independence Hall, where the nation's forefathers signed the Declaration of Independence. Take a trip to the Philadelphia Museum of Art -- we won't judge you if it's only to reenact Sylvester Stallone's sprint up the stairs in "Rocky." Or opt for the many festivals, like Roots Picnic, and the extravagant summer celebrations. Whatever you do, grab a cheesesteak for the road.


Overlooked attraction

Maryland Museum of Military History

Stop 100 Baltimoreans on the street, and we can almost guarantee that 100 of them won't even know this museum exists. But it's a real gem, with exhibits dating back to Maryland's 17th-century founding, continuing past the Revolution (there's even a letter from war hero John Eager Howard, who seemed to own most of Baltimore at one time), War of 1812 and Civil War, right on through World Wars I and II and the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East and Afghanistan. Mannequins, each identified as a specific Maryland service member (including the latest addition to the museum's ranks, Augustus Whalley, a Medal of Honor winner and one of the famed "buffalo soldiers") display period uniforms; there's even a jeep that stormed the beach at Normandy. Amazing stuff, collected and displayed under the watchful eye of Maryland Army National Guard Command Historian Joseph Balkoski. 5th Regiment Armory, 219 Twenty-Ninth Division St., 410-576-1496,

Place to run

Dish Baltimore

Dish Baltimore


Get the scoop on that new restaurant, learn about chef changes and discover your favorite new recipe. All your Baltimore food news is here.

Patterson Park

The two-mile loop around Patterson Park can function as its own short run or be worked into a longer route. Paths throughout the East Baltimore park — including portions with hills and stairs — can be incorporated into workouts to add length and difficulty. Or skip the hills and head to the park's east side for a mood-boosting jog by the dog park. Eastern and Linwood avenues, 410-276-3676,


'The Revolutionists,' Everyman Theatre

Lauren Gunderson's funny-sad-hopeful play "The Revolutionists" hit in December at a particularly opportune moment. It stuck many a resonant chord with its tale of women during the French Revolution anxious to be heard, to be taken seriously, even an airy-headed Marie Antoinette. Everyman Theatre's staging, deftly directed by Casey Stangl, featured the perfectly matched cast of Megan Anderson, Beth Hylton, Emily Kester and Dawn Ursula. Excellent production values added to this stirring achievement. 315 W. Fayette St., Downtown, 410-752-2208,


Public art

Wisdom Wall

Orator and famous abolitionist Frederick Douglass; Matthew Henson, the first African-American Arctic explorer; and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first native-born American to be canonized by the Roman Catholic Church, are just three of the six historical change-makers that are honored at the mural. But that's not the most endearing part. The group-effort, which highlights inspiring figures with Maryland ties on the corner of Warwick Avenue and West North Avenue, was spearheaded by Maryland Institute College of Art alumni and artist Iandry Randriamandroso, with the help of community members and local youth.

— Brittany Britto, Wesley Case, Chris Kaltenbach, Mary Carole McCauley, Sarah Meehan, Tim Smith