Baltimore is the center of the sports universe. We've got the Super Bowl champion Ravens and the suddenly super Orioles, looking for consecutive playoff berths, not to mention the MISL champion Baltimore Blast, amazing prepschool and college lacrosse, and some of the best high school and rec basketball in the country. Oh, and Baltimore is the epicenter of the single greatest form of bowling ever created. So we've got that going for us, which is nice. And do you remember those commercials? Maryland is apparently America in miniature. That means anything you were planning to do outdoorsy, you can do it here, but you won't have to go as far, and since it's in miniature, mountain climbing is way easier and our tiny bears are far less frightening. If Galileo were to draw a map representing the sports universe, it would be a bunch of balls orbiting Stephanie Rawlings-Blake riding bareback with Ray Lewis on a laser-eagle, but until he does, you can navigate the Baltimore sports and rec landscape with this handy-dandy guide.
Sports to Watch
Army-Navy Football Game (M&T Bank Stadium, 1101 Russell St.,  261-7283, baltimoreravens.com) It used to be truly terrifying when the Army and Navy would get together in their annual battle for supremacy with battleships arrayed offshore trading fire with tanks lined up on the beach, but that's all changed. Since 1890 doughboys and the swabbies have been settling their differences on the gridiron, and on Dec. 14, 2014, the big game returns to M&T Bank Stadium. Expect a punishing ground game from Army and, since they don't allow boats in football, the same from Navy. It is one of the ultimate football experiences and not to be missed.
Grand Prix of Baltimore(grandprixofbaltimore.com) For 51 weekends a year, there is little worse than getting caught behind tourists sightseeing their way down Pratt Street. Then there's Labor Day weekend, when the script gets flipped and those tourists are Sunday-driving at a blistering 185 mph. The race hasn't caught the imagination of the average Baltimoron yet, but it's worth the trip. Sunday features the open-wheeled IZOD IndyCars, but the really fun stuff is on Saturday's American Le Mans Series where Ferraris, Corvettes, and Porsches go fender to fender with blazing fast Le Mans prototypes that look straight out of The Jetsons. If nothing else, it's a hell of a spectacle.
Baltimore Blast (1st Mariner Arena, 201 W. Baltimore St.,  685-9800, baltimoreblast.com) Imagine soccer if it were somehow made interesting, and you've got a pretty good idea of what they play in the Major Indoor Soccer League (MISL), and in 2013, the Blast brought home the championship. Affordable tickets and a fast, easy-to-follow game make Blast soccer truly fun for the whole family.
Baltimore Orioles (Oriole Park at Camden Yards, 333 W. Camden St.,  685-9800,baltimore.orioles.mlb.com) Buck Showalter's Birds have transformed from perennial laughingstocks to one of the most feared franchises in baseball, and Camden Yards is once again a great place to be. The O's play 81 home games and possibly even some playoff ones, so there's plenty of opportunities to catch a game. My advice? Buy in advance to avoid the shitty same-day surcharge, get cheap seats, then head to the fantastic outfield bar. One in three patrons gets a Chris Davis homerun ball in their Natty Boh.
Baltimore Ravens (M&T Bank Stadium, 1101 Russell St.,  261-7283, baltimoreravens.com) The World Champion Baltimore Ravens (man, I love typing that) are undoubtedly the hottest ticket in town. They've sold out every single home game they've played since moving here in 1996, and that's unlikely to change now that Joe Flacco and company are wearing rings. Tickets start at $62 for an upper-deck seat on a notch and go straight up from there, but don't expect to get tickets at face value. For 50-yard line seats to the Thanksgiving game against the Steelers, expect to take out a second mortgage.
Women's Flat Track Roller Derby (Du Burns Arena, 1301 S. Ellwood Ave.,  475-0088,charmcityrollergirls.com) If you love NASCAR but think it needs more women and fewer cars, then roller derby is the sport for you! The Charm City Roller Girls have become an institution in this town, and just like Dale Sr., they've done it by trading paint through the corners and without even once turning right. Take it in as a spectator or check their website for Charm School open tryouts for women over 18 and see if you've got what it takes to be a roller person.
NCAA Lacrosse Championships (M&T Bank Stadium, 1101 Russell St.,  261-7283, ncaa.com) Lacrosse is more than just guys named Brad chasing each other with sticks, it's Maryland's official team sport, and the NCAA Tournament is more than just a lacrosse game, it's where all of the best Brads get together and decide who is the very Bradiest. Also, it's the only major sport where Johns Hopkins has a chance to actually win something, so check out the championships May 24-26.
Pimlico Racecourse (5201 Park Heights Ave., (410) 542-9400, pimlico.com) Sure, the grandstand looks like termites holding hands on the outside, and the inside has all the charm of the Glen Burnie DMV with somehow more sorrow, but hey, those are our termites and they sell very cold beer with which to drown that sorrow. And trackside, the place is glorious. Skip the Preakness and take in a Tuesday night. There are few things more beautiful and more Baltimore than watching the ponies sprint down the stretch over the backdrop of rowhomes.
Sports to Play
Baltimore Beach Volleyball (200 Key Highway,  388-8087, baltimorebeach.com) The only thing better than being Tom Cruise is pretending to be Tom Cruise while playing beach volleyball at the harbor. Leagues run all spring and summer, and there are skill levels ranging from "I Know How to Play Volleyball" to "I Have No Idea Where I Am Right Now," and it is honestly the best excuse to spend an evening at the harbor.
Duckpin Bowling When the Good Lord Himself goes bowling, He doesn't stick His fingers in any stinking holes, He bowls as bowling was meant to be bowled, with thee little balls in a duckpin lane. If you're bowling in Baltimore and your bowling big balls, you're not doing it right. There's still a bunch of duckpin lanes in the area, here's four we like: Patterson Bowling Center (2105 Eastern Ave.,  675-1011, pattersonbowl.com) in East Baltimore on the outskirts of Canton is super-old school; Mustang Alley's (1300 Bank St.,  522-2695, mustangalleys.com) has four duckpin lanes to go with their additional eight lanes for finger-in-the-hole types; Stoneleigh Lanes (6703 York Road,  377-8115, stoneleighlanes.com) just south of Towson University feels like bowling in your grandma's basement; and Parkville Bowling Lanes (7607 Harford Road,  444-6100, parkvillelanes.com), in the Parkville Shopping Center, just a block outside the city, is the biggest of the bunch with 26 duck lanes and no big-ball nonsense.
Disc Golf at Druid Hill Park (Greenspring Avenue and Poplar Drive West,  396-6106, druidhillpark.org) If you are looking for a "sport" that allows you to wear Birkenstocks (they still make those, right?), talk about the Phish tour, and smoke enough rope to re-rig the Constellation, disc golf it is. Or if you really like Frisbee and don't have any friends, Druid Hill Park has your outlet.
Golf the Classic Five (bmgcgolf.com) I am going to be totally honest here, I've never golfed outside of Jolly Rogers, so the notion of golfing without being menaced by a ceramic lion seems a bit silly, but if you're a Lancelot of the links, why not take in Baltimore's Classic Five? And even if you're not, you gotta admit it's pretty cool that Baltimore still has five municipal golf courses and a driving range, four of them still inside the city. Carroll Park Golf Course (2100 Washington Blvd.,  685-8344); Forest Park Golf Course (2900 Hillsdale Road,  448-4653); Clifton Park (2701 St. Lo Drive,  243-3500); Mount Pleasant Golf Course (6001 Hillen Road,  254-5100); Pine Ridge Golf Course and Driving Range (2101 Dulaney Valley Road,  252-1408).
The Dominic "Mimi" DiPietro Family Skating Center in Patterson Park (200 S. Linwood Ave.,  396-9392) Just 'cause it's cold outside doesn't mean you've got to curl up and wait for summer, and from October through the end of March, you can get your ice on for a cool $4. The rink is home to ice hockey, broomball, and sled hockey (whatever the hell that is), and has been a Baltimore institution since 1967.
Parks and Green Spaces in the City
Cylburn Arboretum (4915 Greenspring Ave.,  367-2217, cylburnassociation.org) The 207 acres of beautifully manicured gardens and pathways that meander about the gorgeous stone Cylburn Mansion provide one of Bmore's best picnic spots. Plus, Cylburn is the only one of Baltimore's parks with a garage that's been turned into a nature museum.
Druid Hill Park (2600 Madison Ave.,  396-6106, druidhillpark.org) Looking for a park that has outdoor waterside rowing machines, a growing collection of chainsaw art, a farmers market, agave plants the size of a Hyundai Elantra, and a pride of live lions? Sounds like you're looking for Druid Hill Park, Baltimore's largest. Druid Hill Park is home of the Maryland Zoo, with its new penguin exhibit, and the gorgeous Rawlings Conservatory, and it offers stunning views of the city from the running path around the reservoir. It's a great place to picnic or to hold your impromptu weekend bubble, box, and donk car show.
Gwynns Falls/ Leakin Park (1920 Eagle Drive, baltimorecity.gov) The massive 1,200-acre conjoined parks are home of the Carrie Murray Nature Center and its collection of rehabbing reptiles and raptors, an actual steam-powered mini-railroad, the gorgeous Orianda Mansion, 14 miles of hiking and biking trails, dense woodlands, and wandering waters.
The Jones Falls Trail ( 984-4058, baltimorecity.gov) Eventually, the trail will run 10 miles, from the Mount Washington Light Rail Station to the harbor. As it is, the trail traces some beautiful stretches of the Jones Falls, passes through Druid Hill Park, and skirts the Baltimore Streetcar Museum. The Jones Falls Trail makes for the best bicycling in the city. You can park nearby at 3100 Swann Drive in Druid Hill Park.
Patterson Park (27 S. Patterson Park Ave.,  276-3676, pattersonpark.com) Patterson Park is not only one of the best parks in Baltimore, it’s one of the best in the nation. You can fish in the stocked boat lake, play basketball in some of the city’s best outdoor games, or take to the tennis courts, swim in the great city pool, ice skate in the winter time, take in a concert on the lawn, and climb to the top of the beautifully restored pagoda built atop the city’s War of 1812 battlements and take in the view. My favorite Patterson Park activity, however, is the Audubon Society’s Urban Bird Walks. The Audubon Society has cataloged over 180 species of birds in this urban jewel of a park. The walks meet at the park fountain at 8 a.m. on the second Friday and last Saturday of every month.
Sherwood Gardens (4100 Greenway,  785-0444, guilfordassociation.org/sherwood) Sherwood Gardens is one of the city's hidden treasures, and that's probably on purpose. Getting there is a pain as many of the roads into and out of the Guilford neighborhood are closed, making navigating around the park tough for non-locals. Finding the place is worth it, however, especially if you've got Dutch friends visiting. Sherwood Gardens is one of the finest tulip gardens in the world, with over 80,000 bulbs planted every year. Pack a sandwich and head over to do some tiptoeing.
The Waterfront Promenade (waterfrontpartnership.org) A lot of us city folk don't think even about heading down to the harbor—that's tourist country—but the 7 miles of landscaped brick trails running from Canton to Federal Hill should change that perception. The harbor really is a beautiful place to take a walk.
Parks and Green Spaces Outside the City
Baltimore and Annapolis Trail (dnr.state.md.us/greenways) It actually originates a bit south of Baltimore, near the airport, and, yes, it does go all the way to Annapolis. The trail is relatively flat and well-paved, making it a viable daytrip for those of us who like to ride but may not quite be in Tour de France shape.
Gunpowder Falls State Park (dnr.state.md.us/publiclands) A sprawling area northeast of the city, the falls are a popular destination for fishing, hiking, or creek-walking. There's swimming beaches along the Gunpowder River and even decent tubing on the northern stretch. There are several hiking loops of varying length and difficulty within the park as well.
Oregon Ridge Park (13401 Beaver Dam Road, baltimorecountymd.gov) Oregon Ridge is a haul from downtown Bmore, but if you're looking for a good dog-friendly hike, it's worth the trip. The heavily wooded trails combine with crisscrossed icy creeks that keep things a bit cooler than we're used to in the city. There's also a great nature center and plenty of activities year round.
Robert E. Lee Park (Falls Road and Lakeside Drive, pawpoint.org) Robert E. Lee Park has great trails, you can take your canoe or kayak and get in some paddle time, but what sets Robert E. Lee Park apart (besides the unfortunate name) is Paw Point. Paw Point has a great off-leash area for the mutts and hands down the best dog beach in Bmore.
Where to Get Wet
City Swimming Pools (baltimorecity.gov) Ever wonder what's the best thing the city does? Wait until the third 100-degree day in a row, then wander over to one of the city's many public pools, and you'll know. Sure, the hours can be sort of variable and, yeah, they can get pretty crowded, but when schnauzers are bursting into flames on the sidewalks, hit the city pools, and take the wee ones. The updated kids pools are the bee's cool, refreshing knees.
The Loch Raven Fishing Center (12101 Dulaney Valley Road,  887-7692) There is little on earth more shocking than piloting your rental rowboat around a forested island on Loch Raven and spotting the skyline of Towson. Heavily forested and full of fish, it's really easy to forget where you are when you rent a boat on Loch Raven, but the rates are cheap, the fish are plentiful, and the beer (in my cooler, at least) is ice-cold.
North Point State Park (7200 Graces Quarter Road,  477-0757, northpointstatepark.homestead.com) It can be easy to forget we live on the largest estuary in the U.S. of A., and with that great privilege comes a lot of great beaches. My favorite is North Point State Park. The 1,310-acre park has plenty of great hiking trails, plenty of grills for the grillin', great fishing, and a beautiful sandy beach for the swimmin'-and all for just $4 a car. Oh yeah, and take in the old streetcar terminus and contemplate the rail system we used to have that could get you all the way out to this glorious spot for a nickel, and weep.
Swimming Holes Maryland's got tons of water, so much that it's springing out of the earth all over the Land of Pleasant Living, so finding swimming holes is easy. Heck, just wait for the next heavy rain and head to the nearest city sinkhole-that can't be more than half-a-block away. But if you want to go somewhere safe and legal, these are a few good options. Most are privately owned and you've got to pay for the privilege, but with that, you get sliding boards, picnic tables, grills, and water so damn cold it will freeze your bones solid. Here's a partial list: Oregon Ridge Beach in Cockeysville (13401 Beaver Dam Road,  887-1817, baltimorecountymd.gov); Beaver Dam Swimming Club (10820 Beaver Dam Road,  785-2323, beaverdamswimmingclub.com), also in Cockeysville;Rocks State Park (3318 Rocks Chrome Hill Road, Jarrettsville,  557-7994) in Harford County; and northwest of the city and possibly the best of the bunch, Cascade Lake (2844 Snydersburg Road,  374-9111,cascadelake.com), way out in Carrol County.
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