The Harbor Without The Crowds

JAQUES KELLY

May 12, 1993|By JACQUES KELLY

Goodbye Inner Harbor. I'll see you again in the fall when the tourists leave.

Many Baltimoreans take that vow every May when the first of the buses arrive, the tour groups from New Jersey and other places converge on Pratt and Light streets, and the lines form at the aquarium and other attractions.

Also, the Orioles are in town and their fans add to the congestion. Your friends who live downtown mail you invitations to parties but tell you that you can't park on the street.

In some areas, like Otterbein, parking is not allowed at all. In other neighborhoods, there's permit parking. You'll have to pay for a space in a parking garage.

So what's a Baltimorean to do on a balmy day when the Patapsco River sends a subliminal message -- "Come visit me." message?

There are proven ways to avoid the T-shirted mobs at Pratt and Light streets. It takes a little extra walking or driving, but there's no reason to give up on the city's touristy downtown just because it's awash with day-trippers.

Here's a strategy.

Want the hard-core Inner Harbor? See it from Federal Hill park. The city's downtown skyline has never looked so good as it does from a bench atop the old hill.

Viewed from the hill's paths and walks, the harbor, both inner and outer, looks like a miniature animated city.

The pleasure boats skim along the water. You can't hear the traffic but you can watch it pass. You over look the dreadful architecture. It's serene and peaceful here and you're in part of the Federal Hill neighborhood.

Take a short walk along Warren Avenue -- the street facing the southern side of the hill -- or Battery Avenue or Hamburg Street. Each year, more of this 19th century neighborhood of rowhouses gets cleaned up. Each year, more gardens appear. It's an area of back streets, little courts and unexpected views.

If you must have water at your feet, try walking the long pier that extends surprisingly deep into the Patapsco at Key Highway and East Cross Street.

This is the HarborView property, where there's a marina and boathouse.

Even on a foul weather day, the vistas and sights are more interesting than anything offered by the promenades at Harborplace.

One of the neighborhood's best attractions is the Baltimore Museum of Industry at 1415 Key Highway, a short walk or drive away. It's the place with the big overhead crane standing outside.

This is a user-friendly, Baltimorean-friendly museum. It has rooms of exhibits devoted to the manufacture of silk umbrellas, tin cans and Glenn L. Martin Co. airplanes.

This is a place for people to learn that the drydocks, warehouses and canneries once hummed with activity. It is also a good place to look back at pre-micro chip industrial America.

Next stop, Fort McHenry.

But before you get there, you'll get a tour of the Port of Baltimore by following the detour signs to the fort.

The detour selected by traffic engineers -- the Fort Avenue Bridge over the CSX rail yards is closed for repairs -- rambles through parts of the Locust Point neighborhood that most people have never seen.

The temporary route is an experience in itself, offering an opportunity to see the port from the vantage point of a longshoreman. If you get lost, don't tarry on the railroad tracks or you might wind up on the front end of a diesel locomotive.

Once you've reached it, Fort McHenry is Baltimore's most delightful waterfront park.

For those who want to avoid the detour, there is summer daytime boat service to the fort from the Inner Harbor's finger piers and from the foot of Broadway in Fells Point.

There are two other relatively cheap boat services -- Baltimore Water Taxi and the Harbor Shuttle -- for trips from the corner of Pratt and Light streets to Fells Point and Canton.

Native Baltimoreans tend to overlook these pleasant conveyances. They can be full of tourists (especially on holiday weekends) but they provide the best views of the working harbor.

So you don't have to completely desert Baltimore's tourist district during the summer. There are ways to outsmart the day-trippers.

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