A summer of sun, fun right here

July 09, 2004|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

The sweltering days of summer are upon us and a whopping 334 million Americans are taking off on vacation, headed toward destinations fun, faraway and fantastic. Maybe they're sipping drinks with umbrellas on a sandy white beach. Maybe they're camping in the cool Rocky Mountains.

Then there's you, stuck in Baltimore. Stuck to wander the steamy, grimy city streets while your friends and family are off swimming, hiking, biking somewhere not here. For whatever reason - a tight budget, never-ending home renovations, vacation hours drained - you're nowhere but here, hon.

But don't leap off the Bromo Seltzer tower just yet.

With a little bit of creativity and flair, you can turn Baltimore into your own vacation resort.

* Start at home.

Drape a colorful line of paper lanterns ($10 at Pier 1 Imports) across your deck or fire escape. Add a palm tree plant or two ($69.99 each at Home Depot). Crank up some island tunes. Burn some tikki torches ($5 to $9 anywhere), light some citronella candles (about $5 anywhere), fire up the grill for some pineapple-ham skewers and voila, a tropical resort in your back yard or on your rooftop. Hula the night away at home.

* Or "check-in" at the fanciest hotel in town.

Don't pay for the harbor view room at the Harbor Court Hotel on Light Street, silly, not even if it's going for the low, low summer price of just $299 a night. Don't eat at its four-star Hampton's restaurant. But do sign up for the magnificent spa treatments at the same place that caters to the likes of Sharon Stone and Will Smith when they're in town. Starting at $45 and up, spend your lunch hour on such indulgences as a make-you-feel-like-pudding Swedish massage. Or take the whole day off and add a chemical peel, sea mud body wrap and relaxing pedicure.

* A Key West sunset can't be beat.

But a Friday sunset happy hour at Little Havana Restaurante y Cantina on Key Highway will do in a pinch. Overlooking the harbor, the restaurant has a warehouse-sized tropical bar complete with Cuban murals and a snazzy deck out back filled with little palm trees, pastel-colored picnic tables, cocktail tables made of drum barrels and old-school mood lighting. Order a pitcher of mojitos with plenty of crushed mint leaves, close your eyes, let the Cuban music flow over you and hope for a rare summer breeze as you forget all about that project due Monday.

Walking tour

* Forget those famous walking tours of England's beautiful countryside.

Create your own in-town tour. Start off with a great cup of coffee at Port City Java on East Fort Avenue. Hike over to Fort McHenry to see where the original 42-by-30-foot battle flag flew during the British bombardment of 1814, inspiring Francis Scott Key to write "The Star-Spangled Banner." Make your way back to Charles Street, through Federal Hill, up to the bustling Lexington Market and on to Trinacria deli where you can buy $3.99 wine, some sandwiches, breads and cheeses. Yes, we're talking picnic in Mount Vernon. Top it off by visiting the Maryland Historical Society on West Monument Street where you can see the original manuscript of our national anthem.

* Napa schmapa. Why spend thousands for a taste of California wine and West Coast chic when Maryland's oldest family-run winery is just 15 minutes north of the Baltimore Beltway in Long Green Valley? Picture it: Crab cake dinner on the grass, a chilled bottle of award-winning methode champenoise sparkling wine, and dancing under the stars to live blues and big band swing music. All this, including rows of carefully tended vines and a cluster of charming 19th-century farm buildings, at Boordy Vineyards every Saturday night through summer.

Set sail

* Water, water everywhere. Take advantage of it.

Annapolis may be the sailing capital of the world, but Baltimore's no slouch in that arena either. Get a taste of the good life - sans valet parking, cocktail lounge or members-only dining area - by signing with the Downtown Sailing Center, which prides itself on teaching people basic skills about the nautical sport. Best of all, once you start, your summer fun continues through fall as your new-found sailing buddies cruise the Chesapeake in the evenings and party at First Friday Socials.

* A brief round-the-world romance for a steal.

If you want the ambience of a Parisian outdoor cafe and the culinary delicacies of Asia to mentally transport your main squeeze around the globe this summer, seek out the beautiful backyard stone patio at Suzie's Soba on the Avenue in Hampden. Start with the cool cucumber salad for a relaxing early evening dinner in the middle of an enclosed garden decorated with weathered, wood planking, candles, potted plants and wall-crawling vines. Try one of the exotic Japanese and Korean dishes and then finish with a glass of homemade limeade and the banana tempura dessert covered in raspberry sauce.

Baltimore never felt so far away.

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