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NICAR24: Things to do in Baltimore

The 2024 NICAR Conference is just around the corner. This year, members are heading to Charm City. IRE’s annual data journalism conference will host amazing sessions March 7-10. But what is there to do outside of conference sessions and networking in Baltimore? 

Thanks to NICAR24 Regional Committee members Tisha Thompson, Mallory Sofastaii and Kimi Yoshino, we’ve got you covered! Thompson is an investigative reporter with ESPN. Sofastaii is a consumer investigative reporter at WMAR-2 in Baltimore. Yoshino is editor-in-chief of The Baltimore Banner

Need a bite to eat? These options are just a walk away!

  • Lebanese Taverna - Mediterranean cuisine with lunch options.
  • Ekiben - Asian fusion restaurant with fantastic sandwiches to grab for a quick lunch.
  • Kooper’s Tavern - Classic American pub with burgers and crab soup on the waterfront in Fells Point.
  • Daily Grind - All-day coffee shop with bakery items on the waterfront in Fells Point.
  • Captain James Crabhouse - Seafood restaurant that serves an all-you-can-eat hard-shell crab feast located on the waterfront in Canton. This location is a long walk or a short taxi. 
  • Miss Shirley’s Cafe - Located in the Inner Harbor.
  • Attman’s Delicatessen - Authentic Jewish deli.
  • Penny Black - Go here for a great burger, which Baltimore Banner reporter Ben Conarck described as a "damn smoky, damn fine burger."
  • Charleston - Located in Harbor East, Charleston is one of Baltimore’s premier restaurants. Low country cuisine meets fine dining. Pricey with many James Beard nominations and occasional celebrity guests.  
  • Thames Street Oyster House - In the heart of Fells Point, a great place for oysters or a crab cake.
  • NiHao - Helmed by Peter Chang, this James Beard-nominated Chinese restaurant in Fells Point offers delicious modern spins on Chinese cuisine.
  • Chiapparelli’s - Italian restaurant in Baltimore’s Little Italy.
  • Sabatino's - An old-school landmark in Baltimore’s Little Italy. 
  • Cafe Gia - Located in Little Italy, this Sicilian restaurant offers homey meals and wine with colorful murals.
  • La Scala - High-end Sicilian restaurant in Little Italy with an extensive wine list and indoor bocce court. 
  • La Tavola - Contemporary Italian cuisine in the heart of Little Italy showcasing the cooking of Venice-born chef Carlo Vignotto. One Banner reporter calls this "100% the best restaurant in Little Italy"
  • Marta - Near Paterson Park. Get the tuna cannoli.
  • Vacarro’s Italian Pastry Shop - Pastry and dessert shop. A must for dessert in Little Italy.

Willing to grab a bite a little farther away? Thompson recommends The PaperMoon Diner to visit if you want to get a “John Waters” vibe. This eclectic restaurant serves a plethora of menu options, including a vegan selection. 

Yoshino suggests folks keen to eat outside of the immediate conference vicinity to visit Clavel: A James Beard-nominated Mexican restaurant with a great selection of mezcal; however, they don't take reservations. But there are two amazing bars that you can drink at while waiting — Fadensonnen (natural wine bar) and W.C. Harlan (speakeasy type and right across the street from Clavel).

For those coming or going by train, the James Beard-nominated Alma Cocina Latina serves Venezuelan food near the train station with excellent plating and flavors. 

What about nightlife? These are just a quick walk.

  • Fells Point - This neighborhood in Baltimore is known for its range of pubs, restaurants and live music. 
  • Power Plant Live! - Entertainment venue home to several bars, restaurants and clubs (21+).
  • Max’s Taphouse - This Fells Point taphouse has over 100 draft lines and 2,000 different cans and bottles, a great selection for everyone.
  • Ministry of Brewing - A brew hall located inside a former church building. 
  • The Horse You Came in On Saloon - A 200-year-old bar in Fells Point that claims to have served Edgar Allen Poe his first drink. 
  • Cat's Eye - An easy walk from Harbor East to Fells Point, a favorite dive bar of The Baltimore Banner staff. No food, but live music every day.
  • Keystone Corner - A great place for jazz with food from a Michelin star chef. 

Or do you want to get away from the conference venue after sessions wrap? For folks willing to travel farther, Sofastaii suggests an excursion to TopGolf, Horseshoe Casino or the neighborhood of Federal Hill to do the trick. 

So now you’ve got a bite and a drink. What about sightseeing?

  • Reginald F. Lewis Museum - This African American history museum is a short walk from the conference venue with artifacts dating back to 1784. 
  • National Aquarium - This is a renowned aquarium walking distance from the conference. 
  • Maryland Science Center - An interactive and educational science museum walking distance from the conference. 
  • Fort McHenry - While not within walking distance, this location is the battle site that inspired “The Star Spangled Banner.” 
  • Patterson Park - Not within walking distance, but a beautiful park with walking and running paths, dog park, pond and courts. 
  • Fells Point - While this neighborhood also houses great nightlife and food options, it also is a great place to sightsee. It’s a short walk along the waterfront from the hotel with some of the oldest rowhouses in the nation.
  • Babe Ruth Birthplace Museum - The childhood home of Babe Ruth, walking distance from the conference. 
  • Phoenix Shot Tower - Known as one of the tallest buildings in the nation at the time of construction, the tower is a nearby tourist attraction.
  • George Peabody Library - While not walking distance from the conference, this library is described as a “gorgeous cathedral of books.”
  • The Historic Ships - Walk on board the USS Constellation, the only surviving ship from the Civil War era, as well as a WWII Navy submarine, a Coast Guard cutter, and a classic Maryland lightship. They're all docked along the Inner Harbor, walking distance from the conference. 
  • The B&O Railroad Museum - An amazing museum dedicated to trains in the B&O's original roundhouse. Although not within walking distance, the museum allows visitors to take a short ride on the first mile of the commercial railroad ever built in the United States.
  • Camden Yards - This location is one of the most famous ballparks in the nation, within walking distance from the conference.
  • Green Mount Cemetery - A Victorian resting place for a long list of the famous and infamous, including John Wilkes Booth, Johns Hopkins and Enoch Pratt. Not within walking distance. 
  • Edgar Allen Poe House and Cemetery - Learn more about Edgar Allen Poe by visiting his house, which has been converted into a tiny museum. Find out more about his mysterious death in Baltimore. His grave is walking distance from the house — but the attraction is not walking distance from the conference. 
  • The Walters Art Gallery - Founded and opened in 1934, it holds collections from the mid-19th century that were amassed substantially by major American art and sculpture collectors, including William Thompson Walters and his son Henry Walters. Not walking distance. 
  • Domino Sugar Sign - From the conference hotel you can easily spot the famous sign across the harbor. According to Thompson, if the wind blows “the right way,” you can smell the brown sugar as they unload tanker ships across the harbor, and if it blows the other way and you’re lucky, you can smell freshly baked bread from the H&S factory not far from the hotel. 
  • The Museum of Industry - It tells the story of Baltimore's history. While not walking distance from the conference, it is easily accessible by Uber/Lyft or water taxi from Pier V. 
  • American Visionary Art Museum - Exhibitions combine art, science, philosophy, humor and especially social justice and betterment.

Consider also these additional local tips for running and sightseeing, on-screen pop culture and — last but not least — the iconic Mr. Trash Wheel. Read on for more details:

Routes on foot and by water

  • Running: There are over 250 neighborhoods in Baltimore, and Sofastaii recommends attendees venture out and explore! She said Baltimore is a “runner’s dream,” and there are multiple excellent routes throughout the city, including the waterfront promenade that stretches from Canton to Fort McHenry. 
  • Sightseeing loops: Thompson concurs, suggesting walking or running along the Baltimore Waterfront using its interconnected walkways that wrap around restaurants and office buildings: “If you go west from the hotel, it is roughly a 2-mile loop if you take the waterfront to the Maryland Science Center or 3-miles if you have the energy to climb Federal Hill. If you go eat, it’s an easy 1-mile loop to Fells Point, 3 miles to the Canton Safeway, and a 4-mile loop to the Natty Boh sign on Brewers Hill.” 
  • Water taxi trip: Yoshino offers another waterfront itinerary to Federal Hill, taking advantage of the free water taxi from Pier V to Federal Hill, where you can walk around, visit the American Visionary Art Museum or Museum of Industry or grab a sandwich at Di Pisquale's. The Museum of Industry is “one of my favorite places to take out-of-town visitors,” she says. 

Cinema and film 

And there’s plenty for television and cinema aficionados. Fans of Baltimore native John Waters can seek out odd spots to enjoy around town. Fans of “The Wire” (set and produced in Baltimore) will also have plenty to discover while touring the area. Likewise, Yoshino says fans of “Homicide: Life on the Street” have added reason to drop by Kooper’s Tavern (noted in the regional committee’s local food suggestions) — it’s across the street from the Pendry Hotel (the site of the Baltimore Police Department in the show) and the bar has the old Homicide white board, used to keep track of solved and unsolved homicides. “Of course, when I went in for a drink and to see the board, nobody that worked there had ever seen the show or knew what I was talking about!”

Mr. Trash Wheel

Finally, worth noting to NICAR attendees, the conference venue is located next to one of Baltimore’s most iconic landmarks – Mr. Trash Wheel. According to the website for the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore, “Mr. Trash Wheel is a social media celebrity, Baltimore landmark, and part of the semi-autonomous trash interceptor family in the Baltimore Harbor and surrounding waters.” And because we love data at NICAR, you can enjoy a decade’s worth of Mr. Trash Wheel data here.

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