Quirky Baltimore

Baltimore: It’s authentic, unique and definitely a bit quirky. Tucked away in the city’s eclectic neighborhoods are tons of off-beat treasures, traditions, and cool things to see and do.

1 of 23

Divine Statue

American Visionary Art Museum

For fans of John Waters, the first stop on any tour has to be the Divine Statue. A drag queen from Baltimore County who became a beloved movie star in John Waters’ films like “Hairspray” and “Polyester,” you can find the larger-than-life statue at the American Visionary Art Museum, which is dedicated to intuitive artists.

"Divine" sculpture by Andrew Logan.

2 of 23

Fifi the Pink Poodle

American Visionary Art Museum

On the first Saturday in May, the American Visionary Arts Museum sends artists on a wacky 15-mile dash across the city. Humans must power each entry in the race. They pedal through mud, an obstacle course, and into the Chesapeake Bay. A mainstay sculpture in the race is Fifi, a pink poodle covered in 300 yards of magenta ballerina tulle and plastic pom-poms. For the rest of the year, Fifi is on exhibit at the museum.

3 of 23

Patterson Park Pagoda

Patterson Park

This Victorian pagoda in Patterson Park was built in 1981 as an observation tower for viewing the city. On clear days you can take in views of the rest of the park, the city, and Fort McHenry from the top of the pagoda, which is open Sundays mid-April through mid-October from noon-6 p.m. Also in the 137-acre park is a boat lake, 19th-century marble fountain, a recreation center, a fenced-in dog park, and more.

4 of 23

Graffiti Alley

Station North Arts & Entertainment District

An otherwise nondescript L-shaped alley between brick buildings in the Station North Arts & Entertainment District has been transformed into a lawful canvas for graffiti artists. Layers upon layers of spray paint cover the walls from the ground to the roof. Since graffiti is encouraged here, artists are continually dropping by, and the alley is ever changing. Also in Station North are more than two-dozen murals of the Open Walls projects as well as art galleries, music venues, and theaters.

5 of 23

Painted Ladies

Charles Village

Charles Village is home to Johns Hopkins University and the Baltimore Museum of Art, and it’s also known for its iconic "Painted Ladies," Victorian row houses painted in vibrant hues. Beginning in 1998, the neighborhood was challenged to a series of house-painting contests, and the resulting rainbow of homes is so iconic that the neighborhood often appears in travel guides and on magazine covers.

6 of 23

Painted Screens

Beginning in the early 1900s, the streets of East Baltimore became an outdoor museum of vivid paintings on window and door screens. The homegrown form of folk art not only beautified neighborhoods, but was a practical way to add privacy to your home because it allows the homeowner to see out but no passersby can see in. The tradition can still be spotted around the city today.

7 of 23


Formstone, a type of stucco that imitates various forms or masonry, was invented in Baltimore and has been applied to brick rowhouses all across the city. According to a local historian, the odd architectural fad was widely used to cover leaky, porous bricks in working-class neighborhoods. It’s ubiquity once caused John Waters to describe it as “the polyester of brick.”

8 of 23

Baltimore Beach

Baltimore Beach

On the south side of the Inner Harbor is a large patch of sand known as Baltimore Beach. When it’s warm outside, thousands of people play beach volleyball on seven courts. The beach has been touted as the home of the largest inner-city metropolitan league on the East Coast, and is a stop on many beach volleyball tours.

9 of 23

Zappa Statue

Southeast Anchor Library

Another quirky Baltimore hero is musician Frank Zappa. You can find his bust outside the Southeast Anchor Library, a branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library in the Highlandtown neighborhood. The 15-foot statue was a $50,000 gift from a Zappa fan club in Lithuania.

10 of 23

Baltimore Tattoo Museum

Baltimore Tattoo Museum

The walls of this museum devoted to tattooing are full of all kinds of tattoo flash, covering just about any style and tradition. If you feel inspired to get some new ink, it is also a fully operational tattoo parlor.

11 of 23

Chamber of Wonders

Walters Art Museum

Three galleries at the Walters Art Museum are installed to recreate the collection of an imaginary Flemish nobleman in the Southern Netherlands (present-day Belgium) in the 1600s. There is an entrance gallery with arms and armor, a chamber full of natural history marvels and ingenious man-made objects, and a collector’s study lined with portraits of inspiring people from the past.

12 of 23

Bed of Nails

Maryland Science Center

Among the dozens of interactive exhibits at the Maryland Science Center is the opportunity for kids to lay on top of a bed of nails. Don’t worry—it’s safe, and kids will love it! The exhibit is within the “Your Body” section of the museum.

13 of 23

Edgar Allan Poe’s Grave

Westminster Hall and Burying Ground

In 1849, author Edgar Allan Poe was found delirious on the streets of Baltimore, and within a few days he had died. The circumstances and cause of his death remain uncertain. For decades, a mysterious "Poe Toaster" celebrated the author’s birthday by leaving a partial bottle of cognac and three roses on his grave. You can see it for yourself at Westminster Hall and Burying Ground.

14 of 23

Cafe Hon Flamingo

Cafe Hon

Plastic pink flamingos can be found in lawns throughout Baltimore, and a two-story flamingo that has been hovering over the Hampden restaurant Cafe Hon since 2002 also immortalizes the kitschy trend. There was a brief period it was taken down while the restaurant and city discussed a permit for the decoration (the restaurant claimed the flamingo was “hibernating” during this time), but now it’s on display to stay.

15 of 23

Mr. Trash Wheel

Mouth of Jones Falls in Baltimore's Inner Harbor

Its formal name is the Inner Harbor Water Wheel, but locals call this googly eyed contraption “Mr. Trash Wheel.” It sits at the mouth of the Jones Falls River in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and harnesses the power of water and sunlight to collect litter and debris, which includes everything from cigarette butts to tires.

16 of 23

BUS Stop

Creative Alliance

Fourteen-foot letters spell out BUS and double as seating at this bus stop in front of the Creative Alliance in the Highlandtown neighborhood. The permanent public art project transforms the dull experience of waiting for the bus into an entertaining—and photo op-worthy—activity.

17 of 23

Ouija Board

Green Mount Cemetery

The Ouija board was born in Baltimore and first patented by Elijah Bond. Interestingly, the man who was responsible for bridging the communication gap between the living and the dead ended up being buried in an unmarked grave; a noted paranormal enthusiast and Ouija board collector set out to find him, and today one side of his headstone in Green Mount Cemetery looks like a Ouija board.

18 of 23

National Bohemian Beer Sign

Brewer's Hill

A one-eyed, handlebar-mustachioed character known as Mr. Boh has been a recognizable icon in Baltimore since his introduction as the mascot for National Bohemian beer in 1986. He is immortalized in neon on top of the former brewery in Canton, which has now been turned into a mixed-use complex called Brewer’s Hill. Though the beer is no longer made in Baltimore, it is still a local favorite and is known colloquially as Natty Boh.

19 of 23

Domino Sugars Sign

Domino Sugar's Sign

The red-orange glow of the Domino Sugars sign can be seen from around Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. It marks a sugar refinery that has been operating for nearly 100 years; the sign itself was first illuminated on April 25, 1951. The largest single letter in the sign is the D, which is 40-feet high.

20 of 23

Bromo Seltzer Arts Tower

Bromo Seltzer Arts Tower

This 15-story clock tower was erected in 1911 at the corner of Eutaw and Lombard streets in honor of Bromo-Seltzer antacid inventor “Captain” Isaac E. Emerson. The Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, Italy inspired the design for the building. Today, the tower has been transformed into studio spaces for artists and visitors can tour the tower every Saturday from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. and during open studio days.

21 of 23

The Squeakness

Pigtown Main Street

Each October the Pigtown neighborhood, named in homage to the butcher shops and meat packing plants that were once housed there, hosts an annual Pigtown street festival. One of the main events are live pig races, known as the Squeakness, a tip of the hat to the Preakness Stakes that take place in Baltimore.

22 of 23

Toilet Bowl Races

Chestnut Avenue

Each summer at a neighborhood festival called Hampdenfest, a soapbox derby with a twist takes place. Each racer must include a toilet bowl in the design of their vehicle, which is pushed down a hill on Chestnut Avenue. The event began as a fundraiser for the Skatepark of Baltimore, and the profits continue to go to the park.

23 of 23

Man/Woman Statue

Baltimore’s Pennsylvania Station

This 51-foot statue in front of Baltimore’s Pennsylvania Station features a man and woman intersecting with a common red neon heart. It’s been called a manifesto about human rights, a peace symbol for troubled times, and the most debated piece of public art in the city.