For visitors, chances are that all you will want to see is in two neighborhoods:
Greater Charles Village is the collection of small neighborhoods along and around Charles St north of the Jones Falls Expressway, including the Homewood Campus of Johns Hopkins University and the Baltimore Museum of Art. Charles St is lively, with lots of good dining options, bars, and other assorted shops and things to do.
Hampden is eccentric
Hampden is Baltimore quirkiness at its most extreme. It is a singularly eclectic neighborhood, with an odd mix of gentrification, eccentric long-time residents, the occasional drunk, and hipster/artist arrivals dubbed locally as "Hampsters." What, exactly, is that distinctively quirky Baltimore element? Too eccentric to define, it is a weird combination of assorted beehive hairdos, offensive John Waters flicks, arcane local comic books, Bawlmerese, calling people "hon," assorted strange 1950s nicknacks, ice cream soda fountains, extremely gaudy glasses, and other assorted traditions one would not find elsewhere. If you would like to peer a little further into Hampden culture, John Waters' Pecker is basically a personal tribute to the neighborhood, and don't worry, it's one of his least-offensive flicks. The main commercial strip is on 36th St, known locally as The Avenue, and you will find virtually everything of interest here.
Baltimore Museum of Art, 10 Art Museum Drive (at N Charles St and 31st St in), ☎ +1 443 573 1700, . W-F 11AM-5PM, Sa-Su 11AM-6PM, M-Tu closed. Fantastic collection of 19th century, modern and contemporary art.Free.
The Gilman Hall cupola at the Johns Hopkins University.
Johns Hopkins University,  is a mammoth institution in Baltimore, and it is here that you will find its center on the Homewood Campus.
The Homewood campus was a property purchased in 1800 by Charles Carroll, signer of the Declaration of Independence, as a wedding present for his son, who designed and oversaw the building of the outstanding federal style country house. The Johns Hopkins University was the first research university in the United States. Tourists will enjoy the Homewood House, a historic home built by Charles Carrol for his son, now a history museum, and the Lacrosse Museum and National Hall of Fame.
Flying Spaghetti Monster Billboard, 3901 Falls Rd. A prominent sighting of the Pastafarian deity, right on the side of a devotee's house. If this didn't already indicate clearly enough to you that you are in Hampden, note the text below: "BELIEVE YOUR NOODLY MASTER, HON."
along 36th St (the Avenue). 14-15 July 2009. Hampden's big neighborhood celebration, which grew over the past fourteen years from a little pageant created by a few eccentrics on a lark to a major city festival that draws even international visitors. The "hon" is a certain local style of lady that developed in the early 1960s, featuring dresses with flamboyant prints, very large and brightly colored horn-rimmed glasses, spandex pants, leopard pants, heavy eye-shadow, and as-tall-as-possible beehive hairdos. If you have seen Hairspray in any of its incarnations, you know what the Baltimore hon looks like. The name itself comes from a shortening of "honey," used as a friendly way of saying "mam." (This widespread usage reportedly came from desegregation, when white Baltimoreans wanted to evade calling black men and women a more formal "sir" and "mam.") Today, Honfest is full of hons in full costume (or just their everyday hon look), and features two main events—the crowning of "Miss Hon," success in which depends on your look, and your participation in the second event—the Running of the Hons. If you want to be a hon for the day, fret not, you can get your makeup and beehive do right on site during the festivities.
The more tasteful south side of 34th St in December
. Hampden's premiere attraction, bringing in suburbanites all throughout December, is the Miracle on 34th Street in Hampden—an out of control Christmas decorations bonanza, all just on one block of 34th. Strands of lights are strewn across the street from house to house, plastic and inflatable reindeer wander the lawns, and the glare from the displays turns the night sky orange. Over the top or not, it really is magical and worth whatever difficulty you have in getting here. Traffic around this block in December approaches a stasis, in which cars may approach or leave, but the ones in the center may not ever move.
Baby New Years. New Years viewed through the warped lens of Baltimore's funkiest neighborhood approaches the bizarre in a way that any John Waters fan would recognize. The lights are still up on 34th St, and the block is packed with people waiting to see the ball drop and the "appearance" of Baby New Years. The ball is a lighted ball that someone somehow rigged up with a garage door opener to fall down a lamppost at midnight; "Baby New Years" is a large forty-something mustachioed man wearing nothing but a bonnet and a diaper, who comes out of his house to thunderous applause at the dawn of the new year.
The Book Thing, 3001 Vineyard Lane (near Greenmount Ave/Route 45, take the 8 bus from Inner Harbor), ☎ +1 410 662 5631, . Sa-Su 9AM-6PM. Free books! Take as many as you like, leave as many as you like, do anything you like with them (except re-sell them). Boxes are provided.
North Baltimore is home to several record stores worth checking out if you're into real vinyl: Jojosouth Records, the True Vine, and Celebrated Summer Records in the Hampden neighborhood and Normal's Books and Records in Charles Village are all worth a look.
Hampden Junque, 1006 W 36th St. A glorious mishmash of assorted Baltimore nostalgia and bric-a-brac. Their window display is always a sight to behold!
Novelty Haus, 3678 Falls Rd, . A fun little store just off Hampden's Avenue, they sell cool toys, records, books, magazines, locally made items including some amazing t-shirts.
Atomic Books, 3620 Falls Rd, . A well-curated alternative bookstore and Baltimore staple. Not a huge selection, but all the counter-cultural greats are represented, as well as many local authors.
Sturgis Antiques, 3554 Roland Ave., . Not your run of the mill antique store, that's for sure; more like a curiosity exhibit. From antique pharmaceutical gear to WWII propaganda to two-headed turtles, this place is definitely worth a stop if historical peculiarities interest you.
Woodberry Kitchen, 2010 Clipper Park Rd, . If you want a special meal while you're in town, Woodberry Kitchen is the place to go. Features seasonal foods from local growers and dishes of the Chesapeake region in a gorgeously, but rustically, renovated historic mill complex. Recently a top contender for "Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic" for the coveted James Beard award. Reservations (weeks in advance) are a must.
The Food Market, 1017 W 36th St, . Another place fit for foodies (and to compete with Woodberry Kitchen) is the new Food Market. The Food Market "focuses on approachable, serious comfort food, in a smartly designed industrial-modern space". It placed in OpenTable’s 2013 Diners’ Choice Award for the Top 100 Hot Spot Restaurants in the United States.
Rocket to Venus, 3360 Chestnut Ave, . A favorite haunt of Hampden area hipsters ("hampsters"), Rocket to Venus serves up inventive and inexpensive dishes in a slick but relaxed atmosphere. Also a lively bar scene at night.
Birroteca, 1520 Clipper Rd, . In a beautifully restored 19th century millhouse, world class chef Cyrus Keefer prepares artisan pizza and Italian-influenced small plates along side what is almost certainly the largest selection of local brews on tap anywhere in town. Great cocktail selection too.
Cafe Hon, 1002 W 36th St (under a three-story pink flamingo), ☎ +1 410 243-1230, . M-Th 7AM-9PM, F 7AM-10PM, Sa 9AM-10PM, Su 9AM-8PM. If you want more than a dash of Hampden culture with your food, come here. Cafe Hon is has its fair share of campy decor, but not so much of genuine Hampden culture (for that, look to the nearby "Junque" store). Your waitress will call you hon (but probably wouldn't normally speak like that). It has been around for ages and is an iconic centerpiece on the Avenue. The food is nice, if not great, and a little overpriced.$6-15.
Golden West Cafe, 1105 W 36th St, ☎ +1 410 889-8891, . M-F 10AM-3PM, 5PM-10PM; Sa 9AM-2:30PM, 5PM-10PM; Su 9AM-2:30PM, 5PM-8:45PM. The Golden West Cafe is very popular, and not without good reason. The atmosphere is casual and comfortable (and family-friendly), with almost beautifully tacky "golden western" decor. The "southwestern" food on offer is very good, even for the relatively high prices. The service is slow and inattentive—don't be shy about hollerin' at your server if he's ignoring you. The bar here is one of the better places in Hampden to enjoy a beer, and it's open Su-Th until 1AM, F-Sa until 2AM.$8-15.
La Famiglia Northern Italian Restaurant, 105 W 39th St (near Hopkins University), ☎ 443-449-5555, . 5PM nightly. Traditional Italian cuisine in the heart of the Tuscany Canterbury community. Complimentary valet, open 7 nights a week. Private dining room and outside terrace seating also available.$$$.
Maxie's Pizza & Bar, 3003 N. Charles St, ☎ 410-889-1113, . Pasta, salads, hoagies, sandwiches, entrees, and an excellent selection of pizza by-the-slice with every topping imaginable.
Papermoon, 227 W 29th St, ☎ +1 410 889-4444, . M-Th 7AM-midnight, F-Sa 7AM-2AM. A late night diner south of Johns Hopkins that can go head to head with any Baltimore establishment on funky decor—every non-food-related surface in and on this building is plastered with elaborate and brightly painted found/trash art (if you have been diagnosed with OCD, never come here). The colors of the place alone are worth a visit just to cheer up your mood. The food is basically what you would expect from large-serving diner-style comfort food, perhaps a bit more, and is served until late (despite that the management, in a fit of idiocy, decided the place would no longer be open 24 hours). Ultimately though, you come here because you can't find a place this authentically funky outside of Baltimore.
Luigi's Italian Deli and Market, 846 W 36th St, . The best sandwiches in town! A favorite with Hampden locals as well as vistors walking around the Avenue's shops.
13.5%, 1117 W 36th St, . Don't let the idea of a snooty wine bar turn you off, 13.5% has some of the friendliest service in town, delicious small plates, and of course plenty of wine selections (and great cocktails, too).
Carma's Cafe, (on 32nd between Charles and St Paul in Charles Village). Well known for their sandwiches and excellent coffee, Carma's offers indoor and outdoor seating just blocks away from Johns Hopkins University and the Baltimore Museum of Art.
Donna's, 3101 St. Paul Street. Coffee shop—Baltimore chain.
Common Ground, 819 West 36th St. Coffee shop on The Avenue (36th St) in Hampden.
The Windup Space, 12 W North Ave, ☎ +1 410 244-8855, . Tu-Sa 5PM-1AM. A new place with a lot of buzz. It's a hybrid art gallery, event space (lectures, poetry readings, live music, etc.), nightclub, dive bar, all in a stylish converted industrial space. If a gallery visit set to experimental string quartet improv or trip rock with $2 Natty Bohs appeals, then this is clearly the destination of choice.