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I Traveled To Baltimore For The First Time, And Now I Know Why They Call It "Charm City"

Hi, I'm Morgan! I'm an entertainment reporter for BuzzFeed, and outside of chatting with celebs, two of my favorite things to do are try new foods and travel to new destinations.

Closeup of Morgan Murrell
Courtesy of Morgan Murrell

So, when Visit Baltimore invited me to take a trip to "Charm City," also known as Baltimore, Maryland, for the weekend, I jumped at the opportunity!

Skyline view of a city's waterfront with modern buildings and a clear sky, depicting a travel destination
Education Images / Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

It was not only a chance to immerse myself in the city, but it was also a way to celebrate Baltimore hosting the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) Tournament, a men’s and women’s sports competition consisting of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), for the fourth time.

Now, I have been to Maryland before, but never to Baltimore. I was excited to experience the things I've heard so much about: the accents, the rich Black history, and, of course, the food. Maryland is known for crabs and their crab-related dishes. Unfortunately, I was cursed with one of the worst allergies known to humankind — seafood allergy...not just shellfish, seafood as a whole — but I was still eager to see what they had to offer my taste buds.

Animated character Mr. Krabs from SpongeBob SquarePants in a surprised pose
Nickelodeon

Here's what I did:

On day one, we (myself and the rest of the press baddies) got settled into our beautiful hotel, the Sagamore Pendry Baltimore. This place was absolutely stunning! I would stay here again a million times over. The service was excellent, and I'm not just saying that because they offered complimentary whiskey shots with my welcome drink.

My videos and photos of this place do not do it justice. It's a luxurious waterfront hotel located in Fells Point with spacious rooms, a courtyard, a ballroom where they throw parties, a pool with views of the harbor, a restaurant, and a bar. It's also situated right on Baltimore's historic Recreation Pier, which is filled with local businesses and attractions for people to enjoy.

Elegant hotel lobby with chandeliers, plush seating, and a cozy ambiance, suitable for travelers seeking luxury accommodation
Elegant hotel lobby with chandeliers, plush seating, and a cozy ambiance, suitable for travelers seeking luxury accommodation
Outdoor urban infinity pool overlooking a city skyline and harbor on a clear day
Outdoor urban infinity pool overlooking a city skyline and harbor on a clear day

Morgan Murrell

Later that night, we enjoyed a five-course meal curated by award-winning Executive Chef Saon Brice at the popular Black-owned restaurant BLK Swan. To my surprise and delight, the fine dining experience was sponsored by Don Julio tequila, which means each course was paired with a specialty cocktail.

Bottle of Don Julio and a welcome cocktail menu on a table with a place card
Courtesy of Morgan Murrell

I devoured everything on my plate but decided to pace myself with five cocktails. Despite my love for tequila, even I knew that would be a recipe for disaster if I finished every single drink. I had a great time at BLK Swan. Along with the savory food and delicious drinks, the ambiance and music made for a perfect way to end my first night in Baltimore.

Three dishes on a table illuminated by blue light, with a person's hand holding a cocktail
Courtesy of Morgan Murrell

On day two we learned more about the bustling art scene in Baltimore, so we hit the streets to get a taste of it! Thanks to BmoreArt, we got to check out five incredible institutions and exhibits.

Our stops included:

1. Waller Gallery — it's a multidisciplinary art space conceived and curated by scholar Joy Davis. It highlights projects created by people of color and features a variety of art forms including paintings, digital works, and crafts. While we were there, we got to meet Schroeder Cherry, a Baltimore-based painter and puppeteer, who captures scenes of African diasporic life through mixed media. Learning about the symbolism behind the objects he uses in his pieces was so interesting.

2. Last Resort Artist Retreat — this beautiful park-like private home acts as a residency for artists where they can self-reflect, explore their creativity, and mingle with fellow artists for four weeks. Set up with a bed and breakfast flare, founder Derrick Adams wanted to create a place where creatives could nurture their gifts while still uplifting the community. I didn't even know things like this existed! How can such a communal place feel so intimate? There's art everywhere you turn, both inside the house and outside on the lawn. I couldn't help but feel inspired as we toured the area.

3. good neighbor — founded by married couple Shawn Chopra and Anne Morgan, this is another cool establishment that combines various services in one spot. It serves as a hotel, cafe, communal space, and retail store. They also host events ranging from art exhibitions to plant styling/curation. It combines the owners' shared love of design, hospitality, food and drinks, art, and education. This place was so cool. I couldn't get enough of the decor, and the food was great! While we were there, we got to chat with artist SHAN Wallace to view her compelling public artwork, Auntie Likes Her Rum and Extra Old Bay.

4. Jeffrey Kent's Studio — we had the honor of meeting Jeffrey Kent himself as he showed us around his studio. He's a multidisciplinary artist who uses his personal experiences and socio-political references to breathe life into his artwork, which includes large colorful paintings, sculptures, and bricolage. With his learnings, he prides himself in sharing his knowledge with underprivileged youth from marginalized communities. It was truly inspirational learning about his life, the ways he channeled his pain into art, as well as the symbolism behind some of his pieces.

5. Gallery CA — a contemporary art space focused on celebrating local, regional, and international artists. We got to experience the uninhibited black space II exhibition which shines a light on the cultural impact and contributions of Morgan State University. Each piece was created by a current or former student of that HBCU — Jasmine Adams, Destiny Bocas, Ennis Hodgson, Ernest Shaw Jr., Desiree Thaniel, and Mariah Williams. I was truly in awe of the talent in that room and left with a few favorites forever ingrained in my mind.

Art holds such a special place in my heart, and that goes for art in all its forms, including music, books, and TV/film. The ability to transform an idea into something physical will never cease to amaze me. These are just a few pieces I saw during the City of Artists tour:

Expressive painting of a face with prominent eyes and lips displayed on a gallery wall, suggesting an artistic travel destination
Expressive painting of a face with prominent eyes and lips displayed on a gallery wall, suggesting an artistic travel destination
Framed artwork featuring an abstract circular design, possibly suggesting travel themes. Artist's signature in the corner
Framed artwork featuring an abstract circular design, possibly suggesting travel themes. Artist's signature in the corner

Photo by Morgan Murrell, artwork by Dana A. Greaves, Photo by Morgan Murrell, artwork by KOLPEACE

The first photo shows a piece by Dana A. Greaves called "Face 9," and it's included in the Waller Gallery's Just Among Us exhibit.

The second photo shows a piece by KOLPEACE called "Untitled," and it's also featured in Waller Gallery's Just Among Us exhibit.

Painting of two animated characters in a kitchen, one sitting with hair rollers, the other standing
Painting of two animated characters in a kitchen, one sitting with hair rollers, the other standing
Painting of a family with two children in a home setting, evoking a sense of domestic travel and cultural exploration
Painting of a family with two children in a home setting, evoking a sense of domestic travel and cultural exploration

Morgan Murrell

The first piece titled "LOST ART" is by MSU graduate Roe Vision, and it's featured in Gallery CA's uninhibited black space II exhibit.

The second piece titled "Brotherly Love 97'" is by MSU graduate Jasmine Adams and is also featured in Gallery CA's uninhibited black space II exhibit.

After that, we took a quick lunch break at Papi Cuisine — an Afro-Latin fusion restaurant that left my mouth watering. It's owned by Chef Alex Perez, who is of Dominican and African American descent. I ordered the honey jerk lamb chops, mac & cheese, with the hot honey Old Bay wings as an appetizer. When I tell you I cleared my plate...I CLEARED IT! This would make a great brunch or happy hour spot.

A plate of lamb chops next to mac and cheese on a dining table, indicative of local cuisine
A plate of lamb chops next to mac and cheese on a dining table, indicative of local cuisine
Close-up of a refreshing drink with a lime slice, served on a table with a person in the background
Close-up of a refreshing drink with a lime slice, served on a table with a person in the background

Courtesy of Morgan Murrell

I managed to fight off the itis as we continued to our next destination at the Mariott Waterfront Hotel. We met up with innovator Akio Evans for a wearable art workshop. Before we got there, we all assumed we'd be throwing some paint on a T-shirt while hoping our inner-artist made an appearance. But boy, were we wrong!

Man standing in front of a table at an indoor event, gesturing with hands, wearing a purple sweater with a graphic design
Courtesy of Morgan Murrell

The East Baltimore native allowed us to use our imagination as we created our own sweatshirt designs using stills from a comic book. The comic told the story of how Baltimore saved Nike's iconic shoe, Air Force 1. Despite us all receiving the same comic strips, none of our sweatshirts looked the same. Akio made the workshop fun and informative. Creativity was at an all-time high this day, and I soaked up every second of it.

To end the night, we grabbed dinner at Rooted Rotisserie — a family-style restaurant owned by husband and wife duo Chef Joseph Burton and Amanda Ngangana offering French-inspired dishes. Everything was so tasty and made with love.

Table with dishes including pasta and greens, with people dining, indicative of local cuisine

Once again, my photos don't do the food justice!

Courtesy of Morgan Murrell

On day three, we finished up our art tour with a visit to the historic Reginald F. Lewis Museum where we explored the BLACK WOMAN GENIUS: Elizabeth Talford Scott—Tapestries of Generations exhibit. It examined the profound impact Elizabeth had on fiber arts, especially for Black women.

Exhibit with
Exhibit with
Sculpture with textured details on a human-like figure without eyes displayed in an indoor venue visited by onlookers
Sculpture with textured details on a human-like figure without eyes displayed in an indoor venue visited by onlookers
Art installation of a woman's portrait on a quilt with cascading fabric at the bottom, displayed in a gallery
Art installation of a woman's portrait on a quilt with cascading fabric at the bottom, displayed in a gallery

Courtesy of Morgan Murrell, Courtesy of Morgan Murrell / artwork by Nastassja Smith, Courtesy of Morgan Murrell / artwork by Kibibi Ajanku

The exhibit featured incredible work by Nastassja Smith, Kibibi Ajanku, and many more!

Following our trip to the museum, we went on Baltimore’s Marble Hill: How A Neighborhood Shaped the Civil Rights Movement guided tour, which I learned was home to several Civil Rights leaders including the Supreme Court's first Black Justice Thurgood Marshall, Lillie Carroll Jackson, Clarence Mitchell, and Rev. Dr. Harvey Johnson.

Next, we got ready for the main event: the CIAA men’s basketball tournament championship game at CFG Bank Arena. The Lincoln University Lions went head-to-head against the Fayetteville State University Broncos.

I was so excited to attend my first CIAA championship game! The HBCU experience is so special and unique, so it was beautiful to see so many students, family members, alumni, and fans fill the arena wearing paraphernalia from their school or Divine Nine sorority/fraternity. And when it comes to cheerleaders, majorettes, and, of course, the bands, nothing compares to the ones at an HBCU. The love in the room was palpable.

Morgan at the CIAA game

Now, because I didn't have any personal connection to either team playing in the championship game, I decided to root for the Lincoln University Lions since I'm a Leo. Both teams played extremely hard, but the Lions ultimately came out on top with a 54–51 victory over the Broncos.

Scoreboard showing a basketball game result with players on the court celebrating
Courtesy of Morgan Murrell

After the excitement of the game, we grabbed dinner at The Empanada Lady — an Afro-Latina, woman-owned business known for selling traditional Puerto Rican-style empanadas, sides like sweet plantain, and seasonal drinks like coquito. The vibes were immaculate at this restaurant. They had the music going and games at every table, ranging from an oversized Connect 4 to Cards Against Humanity, so there was always something to talk about. The food and drinks really hit the spot!

On day four, during our final day, we enjoyed a gospel brunch at Sagamore Pendry's Rec Pier Chop House. The music selections were lovely, and the buffet spread was delicious. Now, delicious isn't typically a word I use when it comes to buffets or hotel food, but this spread tasted like a home-cooked meal.

Before we parted ways, we took a stroll through Fells Point and Recreation Pier. There's so much life in this little area, and I wish we had more time to walk around and explore. It was so easy to fall in love with this city, even without experiencing half of what it has to offer.

People walking on a boardwalk by the water with lampposts and a clear sky
People walking on a boardwalk by the water with lampposts and a clear sky
Person passing by mural-adorned building with balcony, possibly a restaurant, in a travel-related setting
Person passing by mural-adorned building with balcony, possibly a restaurant, in a travel-related setting
Quaint bookstore entrance with decorative door and sidewalk sign
Quaint bookstore entrance with decorative door and sidewalk sign

Courtesy of Morgan Murrell

Thank you so much, Baltimore! You left me so full. I didn't get a chance to check out the nightlife, so I'll definitely be back!

Morgan Murrell pointing at the camera
Courtesy of Morgan Murrell