Harbor East is an emerging jewel

This is the first installment of a monthly feature exploring the stores, restaurants and sights of Maryland neighborhoods.

Here's an open invitation to city dwellers and suburbanites alike to get in on one of Baltimore's latest makeovers. Sprung from neglected waterfront property, Baltimore's glossy new Harbor East neighborhood boasts luxury hotels, office towers, fine restaurants and a melange of boutiques and stores.

The burgeoning district is not yet complete and begs for more pedestrians to fill its streets and stores. But as shopping opportunities proliferate, foot traffic increases and the noisy waterfront construction site gives way to the Four Seasons Hotel and Legg Mason tower, Harbor East promises to become a vibrant hub of activity.Already visitors can easily idle away an afternoon shopping, dining and admiring this neighborhood's amazing transformation even if they stick to three blocks contained by Fleet Street, President Street, Central Avenue and the waterfront.A word to the parking police, though: A two-hour limit for on-street parking won't cut it. Ladies who lunch and sauntering shoppers will resent having to re-up at the persnickety parking kiosk.

If you plan an open-ended visit, consider tossing the car into a garage before exploring Baltimore's newest quarter.

Below is a four-hour itinerary to get you started:

11 a.m.: Begin at Benjamin Lovell Shoes, an airy space filled with trendy footwear and accessories. The wish-list brand names found here could walk about any city with a pulse: Naot, Hobo, Ugg (of course), BZ Moda, Tsubo, Ariat, Beautifeel, Mephisto, Thierry Rabotin and others. Need Jibbitz to adorn your kid's Crocs? Choose from a trove of sunflowers, gems, butterflies and smiley faces. And grab a few pairs of Hot Sox, always amusing.

618 S. Exeter St., 410-244-5359,

11:30 a.m.: Head west to Kashmir Imports, a mesmerizing cross between a hippie haven and a posh women's clothing store. A member of the Fair Trade Federation, this shop specializes in the work of artisans from the Kashmir Valley in the Indian-held part of Kashmir. Their needlework captures the color and nature of the Himalayan foothills. It will be a challenge to leave this place without a shawl, cape or spectacular embroidered jacket that can carry you through the day and into the night. Also lovely: wall hangings that resemble glamorous crazy quilts - beaded, sequined and jewel-toned.

830 Aliceanna St., 410-209-2700,

Noon: At the corner of Aliceanna and President streets, contemplate for a moment the towering gold flame of the Katyn Memorial commemorating the 1940 massacre of Polish soldiers in Russia's Katyn Forest. Lunch close by at the expansive Lebanese Taverna. You and friends may dine extravagantly on just the fattoush, a Lebanese salad mixed with pomegranate extract, sumac, radish and olive oil, tossed with toasted pita chips. But save room for the restaurant's "mezze" plates: samplings of tabbouleh, falafel, spinach pie, olives and other savory Mediterranean, heart-healthy offerings.

719 S. President St., 410-244-5533,

1 p.m.: Enough eating already. Resume shopping mode back on Aliceanna Street. Take a peek in Urban Chic. Clearly designed for youngish women, men and their children, this shop will arouse your inner cool kid with an ample selection of jeans, frocks and sweaters from Velvet, Juicy Couture, Alice & Trixie and other desirable labels. This browser found it painful to leave behind an adorable empire-waist jacket with big, fat buttons by Nanette Lepore, marked 40 percent off the original $475. And in case you nibbled on too much falafel, you may want to pick up a copy of How Not to Look Fat, by Danica Lo.

811 Aliceanna St., 410 685-1601,

1:30 p.m.: Time for a break from the relentless demands of fashion. On to the house dressing. Skip across the street to Arhaus. Taking a stroll through the sprawling furniture and home-goods store is akin to a nanosecond trip around the globe. Mosaic dining tables from Italy, copper tabletops from Mexico, restored Balinese architectural remnants recycled as mirror frames, a whimsical chandelier hung with forks and spoons: These and thousands of other items conjure the legions of craftsmen and craftswomen, inspired by venerable traditions, who have rendered function into beauty.

660 S. Exeter St., 410-244-6376,

2 p.m.: By now, you're thinking that this once sparsely inhabited piece of Baltimore will soon be populated by hundreds of young professionals who won't want to drive to Towson to buy their running shoes. Good thing City Sports is on the job. From Pilates to ping-pong, the expansive sporting-goods store has what you need for any number of exercise and leisure activities. Deep breathers will find a deluxe yoga mat by Prana. Sherpa wannabe's will find Merrell Spirit Tibet boots. And athletes of all stripes will gravitate to the Under Armour boutique that anchors the store.

809 Aliceanna St., 410-837-4420,

2:30 p.m.: Scoot down the block for a quick cruise through South Moon Under, where life is an endless beach party and panty lines are a mortal sin. Fortunately, along with the kicky top from Plenty by Tracy Reese and the black bellbottom jeans by Level 99, there is an entire display of Spanx Powerpanties. If nothing fits, you can always buy a picture frame or glassware and rethink your wardrobe needs.

815 Aliceanna St., 410-685-7820,

2:45 p.m.: The day is coming to a satisfying close. But something's missing. Right. The chocolate. Handmade Swiss chocolate, to be exact. Glarus Chocolatier awaits your craving. Co-owner Benjamin Hauser may be on hand in this delightful shop to wrap up a box of four delectable morsels, including perhaps a dark rocher, a small jumble of roasted almonds dipped in Swiss dark chocolate. The signature tiny cow bell on the ribbon is a pastoral touch that recalls the Hauser legacy in Switzerland. You may also choose to share a bar of chocolate (dark or milk) sprinkled with a glittery trail of Balinese salt crystals. Sweet and salty heaven. "It's our answer to a chocolate-covered pretzel," Hauser says.

644 S. Exeter St., 410-727-6601,

Head with your treats to Lancaster Street and take a seat on a ledge. Watch the moored boats bob up and down in the harbor. Listen to the pounding pile drivers at the Four Seasons site. Count all the people on their cell phones. Unwrap your chocolate. Take a bite and let the day melt deliciously away.

Got more time? Here's more to do:

Harbor East offers leisure and luxury to keep you busy from morning until night. Here are some other options:

Begin at Harbor News, where glossy magazines from around the world will set the tone. Stir your deep, sheltering desires with an issue of Objekt or World of Interiors, two sleek design magazines. Or immerse yourself in couture with British Vogue or a runway book by Gap Press featuring the latest London and Paris shows.

1010 Aliceanna St., 410-244-5140,

Unwind at Spa Sante with a massage, body wrap and/or facial.

1429 Aliceanna St., 410-534-0009,

If more escape is required, proceed to the Landmark Theatres, where you may sip a martini with your popcorn as you watch a major motion picture.

645 S. President St., 410-624-2622,