What's Baltimore like for a culinary enthusiast who is in her mid 50's?
August 8, 2013 5:47 AM   Subscribe

My husband and I are looking for a hip, progressive, ethnically mixed city that is not over-priced yet. We have lived in nyc, Miami and La and have been priced out of all these markets with the overpriced housing. Considering Baltimore as I heard its not completely off the charts housing wise. I am a chef and teach cooking classes and he is in the renewable energy business and we work for ourselves. Both of us like good food, outdoors stuff like biking and hiking and enjoy a liberal atmosphere. Are we dreaming or might Baltimore be a good fit?
posted by privatechef to Home & Garden (39 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Baltimore is a great place to cut your teeth in community activism.

The challenges:
Baltimore Reads
Adult Literacy in Baltimore
Crime rankings by Cities

Baltimore Community Activism
RAF Baltimore
Baltimore Reads
Literacy Baltimore
posted by Nanukthedog at 6:08 AM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm at work right now so I can't fully answer your question, but I would like to say that I am a Baltimorean who loves living here for all the reasons you listed. It's a city that doesn't take itself TOO seriously, and is definitely affordable.

I recommend asking the folks over at reddit.com/r/baltimore this question as I think they could provide a much better response than I could ever give.
posted by OuttaHere at 6:19 AM on August 8, 2013

I grew up outside of Baltimore and it can meet your needs. But, have you considered New Orleans?
posted by tafetta, darling! at 6:40 AM on August 8, 2013

Baltimore is crime central, sadly - and neither hip nor progressive - keep looking. You should look at DC immediate areas.
posted by Kruger5 at 6:44 AM on August 8, 2013

Best answer: I am going to say something and you might just dismiss it out of hand, but I'd counsel you not to! I know you're asking about Baltimore specifically - and I'm sure it is a lovely town - but what you've described you're looking for can be had in Houston. To a T.

Houston is a blue patch in a sea of red. It's a food lover's Mecca. It's got the energy industry including a lot of renewable and emerging technology (and it is really non-controversially THE place for that industry). The state has no income tax. The housing is less expensive than elsewhere. We don't have winter. Okay, that's not true. We have winter - but while the rest of the country shivers, we eat dinner out on the patio wearing a light jacket.

Also, the city is really multicultural, featured recently on NPR and touted as the new face of multiculturalism in America because of the way out demographics are changing ahead of the rest of the country.

The city has all of the Big 4 performing arts - symphony, ballet, opera, theater - plus tons of others. It's got a pretty amazing modern art scene with The Menil Collection and the Museum of Fine Arts and the Contemporary Arts Museum.

And if you like biking, and hiking, Memorial Park and Allen Parkway have good options for both of those things. Hiking is admittedly light in this area, but a day trip to the hill country or the piney woods of East Texas or an hour to the beaches of the gulf coast are easily accomplished for some nature. Plus some super fun kayaking options here - both in coastal waters and bayous.
posted by jph at 6:48 AM on August 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

Baltimore is all about community activism, it's true. I also take issue that it is neither hip nor progressive. The arts scene here is pretty fantastic and the food scene has taken off pretty spectacularly. If you have a car, there are also plenty of outsidery options. I've been here four years and I love it.

In terms of crime, you won't get murdered if you don't try to sell drugs or take over drug territory. Also, don't leave expensive shit in your car. Other than that, you're good to go with any other normal urban precautions.
posted by josher71 at 6:49 AM on August 8, 2013

Response by poster: We are looking for a town that is not too hot and humid so I think New Orleans might be out of the mix. What immediate areas near DC are you thinking of? Love the idea of Annapolis but I don't think we could afford the housing..
posted by privatechef at 6:49 AM on August 8, 2013

How about Philadelphia? It's got a very hip food scene, brew scene, affordable housing in lots of different neighborhoods, miles and miles of bike trails through Fairmount Park, and a large academic presence that supports tons of great, reasonably priced restaurants and bars. Renewable energy manufacturing I'm not too informed about, though we do have solar panels on our rowhouse in Center City Philadelphia installed by a local installer. And if you want to go to NYC there's the Bolt Bus or Megabus, where a comfortable 2 hour trip runs less than $15 each way.
posted by citygirl at 6:51 AM on August 8, 2013

Response by poster: I have heard a lot about Houston but not sure if my husband would be open to it. I think it's too land locked for him. He is into sailing..
posted by privatechef at 6:51 AM on August 8, 2013

Ah yes. I guess I assumed from the fact that you lived in Miami that heat and humidity would be okay! Carry on in your search! Do not pass go. Do not settle on the Gulf Coast.
posted by jph at 6:52 AM on August 8, 2013

But Houston isn't land locked...

It's at the head of Galveston Bay. It's also 45 minutes from Galveston Island and even less to the Boardwalk in Kemah. Trust me when I say that if sailing is what you're after, this would be a perfectly reasonable place to do exactly that.
posted by jph at 6:54 AM on August 8, 2013

What immediate areas near DC are you thinking of

Arlington, VA. There's a lot to do, within the city/neighboring cities and if you want even more, you have DC and all of its neighborhoods.

It's affordable compared to Nyc.
Liberal and diverse.
Restaurants and shops.
Low crime.
posted by Kruger5 at 6:55 AM on August 8, 2013

What a nice surprise to see Houston mentioned, but if she said this "We are looking for a town that is not too hot and humid so I think New Orleans might be out of the mix." I'm pretty sure Houston might be out as well.

That being said, I love living in Houston, and it really has everything you could want in my opinion. But damn if the summers aren't miserable most the time.
posted by DynamiteToast at 7:02 AM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Well, if Baltimore doesn't work out, come up to Providence, RI!
posted by wenestvedt at 7:09 AM on August 8, 2013

Annapolis is relatively cheap actually, unless you live right downtown. You must love boats and it is not hip at all.

I've lived in Baltimore and it sounds from your criteria like it would fit the bill perfectly. It is cool and liberal as heck (no idea why anyone would think it isn't... maybe if they lived there in the 80s?).

Other choices would be perhaps most of the West Coast, especially NW. Too far?
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:15 AM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

I've lived in Baltimore and it sounds from your criteria like it would fit the bill perfectly. It is cool and liberal as heck (no idea why anyone would think it isn't... maybe if they lived there in the 80s?)..

Yea, i have a feeling that kruger5 either has never been to Baltimore or briefly passed through it. It's a really great city, and affordable and close to tons of water. (Chesapeake Bay is awesome).
posted by waylaid at 7:20 AM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

I completely disagree with Kruger5's assesment and as a Baltimorean who has lived in the DC area AND Baltimore, I really wouldn't even compare the two.

First of all the DC Area is almost twice as expensive as Baltimore. Not to mention there is a complete lack of culture and home-grown civic feel. I lived in DC for many years and after living in Baltimore for a few years I realized that Washington DC (Northern VA included) just doesn't have a soul. Yes you have museums, parks, and restaurants, but it does not have the local culture that Baltimore has. I blame the high level of out-of-staters who live there for business/political reasons.

Back to Baltimore though, because I don't want to turn this into a DC vs. Baltimore thread.

To say Baltimore is not hip or progressive would be just wrong. Baltimore has a huge indie music and arts scene. There are many neighboorhoods, such as Mt. Vernon, Charles Village, and Hampden which are very much open, liberal and have a quaint charm that I have not found in many cities I have visited or lived in.

I would recommend visiting Baltimore. Neighborhoods like Fells Point, Canton, Federal Hill, Hampden, and Mt. Vernon have plenty of affordable charm and a neighborly, blue-collar, small town feel. I love the corner bars, the cheap beers, the sports fanatacism and the peculiar food scene. There are great higher-end restaurants here (Woodberry Kitchen, Charleston) as well as smaller yet just as good and affordable (Samo's, Jack's Bistro, Thai Arroy).

Baltimore is definitely a city and along with this comes something Baltimore is notorious for, and it's crime. All I can say is that crime in Baltimore is relatively segregated away from the better neighborhoods. The standard rules apply when living in any city. I have lived here for years and have not been the victim of crime, others can probably share their stories, but as long as you are smart and live in one of the better neighborhoods, I would think it reasonable to believe that you will be fine.

If you have any specific questions about the city, feel free to message me.
posted by OuttaHere at 7:22 AM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Agree with OuttaHere, although i think he takes a dimmer view of the DC area than I do - I found that what he says are largely true in some of the transplant heavy neighborhoods (Northwest DC, Arlington, Alexandria), where there's tons of dynamic, excitign things happening in other parts of DC, Montgomery and Prince George's County (having lived in alll of these, i can promise this is the case).

I do also agree that good Baltimore neighborhoods will keep you away from some of the ills of the bad neighborhoods (and by bad, i mean completely vacant blocks, random crime, etcetera).

But I do agree that a visit should be in order (I would do Philly as well in that trip to see thta as well - i think it meets a lot of things that the OP is looking for.
posted by waylaid at 7:31 AM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, Kruger5 is simply incorrect. Don't listen to the Baltimore haters - they're usually people who have visited once or twice and didn't leave the Inner Harbor except when they accidentally found themselves in a bad neighborhood. Or watched too many episodes of The Wire and think the city revolves around the drug trade.

Skim the Baltimore Citypaper to get an idea of the progressive vibe the city has going on. While it's not a "food city" in a way that even comes close to NY or LA, it definitely has it's own little scene going on for sure. It's a decent city for arts and music too.

I don't know how a thread about Baltimore turned into people suggesting Houston and Arlington since the cities don't even compare. Baltimore is a distinctly East Coast city, unique in it's quirky Mid-Atlanticness in a way that you just don't get anywhere else in the country. I highly recommend a visit, and to be sure to check out neighborhoods like Federal Hill, Canton, Fells Point, Mt. Vernon, Hampden, Station North Arts, and Charles Village. These are neighborhoods that easily remind me of some of the most desirable areas in Boston, DC and Brooklyn except tons cheaper.

kalessin's response is awesome - I'd take note. There are a whole lot of people, especially artists and recent college grads, who are migrating to Baltimore and for a reason.
posted by windbox at 7:48 AM on August 8, 2013

Response by poster: Thank you all for your input. We can handle some heat and humidity as we are now on the shorleine of CT. and I actually don't mind that over the cold which we are finding we both mind more. It's all a trade off in the end, right? We moved here hoping to get away from a soul-less environment of LA and so DC would not be a choice. We both want down to earth, racially mixed, funky and artsy is good but we are not adverse to upscale either. We are open to all kinds of food, people, scenes and really miss the fabulous affordable food and farmers markets of LA. The produce here is crap except in the summer and its very over-priced year round.
We also really like music, movies and forward thinking communities and find here it's a bit old fashioned, like going back in time really. We are into green recycling, the environment etc and it's just not main stream type of thinking here.
Both of us really found ourselves longing for more connection in LA and Miami which are fairly transient cities and here there is that. So that is a plus.
The biggest deal breakers of where we are; the cold winters, the lack of good food (either at the market or a restaurant) high real estate prices ( for a decent house it's $450K and up)and the lack of progressive thinking.
We have both heard Bellingham, WA is a great town and really are open to checking out many smaller cities or large towns.
Isn't Houston is large car culture town? I don't know, just what I heard..
Thank you for all your input!
posted by privatechef at 8:00 AM on August 8, 2013

I guess we talked you out of Sarasota. Talked ourselves out of too and are looking for the next place. Have you looked into Pittsburgh?
posted by fivesavagepalms at 8:18 AM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have visited Miami in August and currently live in Louisiana and its August. I would pay money to experience New Orleans August over Miami. If you have lived in Miami, the heat and humidity in Louisiana is small potatoes compared to it.

NOLA boast an impressive arts scene, AMAZING FOOD (Tales of the Cocktail was just here last month), great farmers' market and it is a giant blue dot in the sea of red down here in the South. What I also love about NOLA over Baltimore is the architecture. It is so much more colorful and fun and interesting.

I'd strongly consider it over Houston which is major car town, hotter in the summer and (IMHO) rather soulless (in laws currently live there so we visit quite often).
posted by tafetta, darling! at 8:49 AM on August 8, 2013

With your follow up, recommending Austin.

Much better than Houston. It's Texas' exception (pretty liberal, pretty great weather, awesome music scene, great food and fresh ingredients, lots of community vibe & spirit).

The negatives:

Land locked (though, you have lake Travis and plenty of sailing there)
posted by Kruger5 at 8:58 AM on August 8, 2013

Your experience of Baltimore will depend a lot on who you interact with, and finding the entree into your niche may not be easy, thanks to the factors kalessin covers. I went to college there, so that's how I got connected with progressive politics and the arts scene. Red Emma's and Village Learning Place are sites you might want to check out.

I live in DC now, and thanks to the friends I made in Baltimore, was able to find the side of the city that isn't transient and soulless, and I love it here. But if it was just a little easier to manage the commute, I'd be tempted to move back to Baltimore. DC housing is just stupid expensive.

One caveat about Baltimore is that enjoying a liberal, multicultural atmosphere can be challenging because the city is so neighborhood-oriented. So picking your neighborhood is important. It's also important if you want to live a low-car lifestyle. It's getting better (a lot better), but I wouldn't characterize the city as super-friendly toward biking-as-transportation.
posted by EvaDestruction at 9:35 AM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yes, Houston is a car culture town. However, the amount of time you spend driving is inversely proportional to the amount you are willing to spend on housing. Areas that are convenient to central amenities are more expensive than developments established within the last 10 years, for instance.

Austin is an alternative, of course. I hope that Lake Travis does not dry up entirely, however.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 9:38 AM on August 8, 2013

If you don't like heat and humidity, you do NOT want Houston. (or Austin!) Summer lasts from mid-April to late October. The minute you step outside your door, you are a sweaty mess and need a shower. And I am not exaggerating, not even a little bit.

And yes, car culture. You cannot survive in Houston without one. From my house to my job is 10 minutes, at 4 am without traffic. It takes 45 minutes at 3 pm on a Monday. And it takes 1 1/2 hours by bus. Assuming the bus shows up on time.

Housing is very cheap, compared to most places.

We do have lots of great restaurants and shopping. Eating and shopping are what people do when it's too hot to do anything else.

Diversity: Houston has decent sized populations of Asians, East Asians, Africans, Hispanics, Arabic, and Russians. We don't have much in the way of Western Europeans, so there are no real pockets of, for instance, Italians or Irish like you might be used to in eastern cities. What passes for good Italian food in this city is a damn shame. And the best fish and chips I've found is in a Jewish deli. That said, we do have Central Market, which is something everyone should see before they die. It is the supermarket to end all supermarkets, and I would marry it if I could.

Houston also has a rather friendly and fairly active collection of MeFites, too. (Hi, jph!)

I'm going to suggest a place you may not have ever thought of: Las Vegas. The CEO of Zappos, Tony Hsieh, is single-handedly rebuilding downtown Vegas and making into a funky, artsy, diverse area. There's also hiking, restaurants, and very affordable housing. Once you leave the Strip, it's like a normal mid sized city, but the tourism means you have access to a lot of world-class restaurants, shopping, entertainment, etc, that you'd normally have to pay exorbitant housing costs to be near. There's Lake Mead for water recreation, and Red Rock for hiking. The economy is definitely turning around, it's a fairly progressive place, and although it gets damn hot, there's no humidity. It's clean, the traffic is light, the roads are well maintained, and boy howdy if the entire world of diversity doesn't pass through Vegas!

If you're interested at all, I can email you more detailed info. I would also suggest checking out the local newspaper, LVsun.com. Vegas is a weird combination of small town/world class city, which might work for you.
posted by MexicanYenta at 10:07 AM on August 8, 2013

DC resident who spends significant amounts of time in Baltimore with Baltimore natives.

Baltimore has a fantastic arts and music scene, housing is very affordable for a major city on the east coast (particularly compared to the DC area), and there is a really impressive amount of civic pride in the city.

Things that I love about Baltimore: cheap, lots of funky awesome things like the annual Kinetic Sculpture Race and Artscape, lots of neat free community events, awesome ethnic food, the Bun Shop, best selection of dive bars ever.

Things that I don't like so much about Baltimore: high crime so I don't like walking by myself, not very good public transit (although there is some!), total city-wide obsession with professional sports, really really aggressive bad drivers and no parking.
posted by forkisbetter at 10:31 AM on August 8, 2013

total city-wide obsession with professional sports

This is true. They cancel pottery classes, for example, for Ravens playoff games. EVERYONE is into it.
posted by josher71 at 10:50 AM on August 8, 2013

Response by poster: Love Austin, been there many times but it will be having a serious problem with water in the near future- my husband is in the re-use water biz and this place IS drying up.
LV- I am sorry to say I despise more than anywhere I have ever been- there isn't one thing about it that I like plus environmentally- oy, don't get me started so that is not even a consideration.
We really need to be near water, we are both major water people and won't consider a place that is land locked.
I suppose some more trips are in order. We have already visited all the towns on the West coast, Portland, Eugene, Santa Fe, Salt Lake City, Denver, Boulder- either visiting friends or taking some research trips. Still looking. Providence seemed expensive if you are in the nicer neighborhoods, from what we saw and the not so great hoods were really sketchy..
posted by privatechef at 10:54 AM on August 8, 2013

Response by poster: The sports thing- big turn off!
posted by privatechef at 10:55 AM on August 8, 2013

It's just part of the culture here. There are obviously some people who don't care but it's definitely part of the character of the city.
posted by josher71 at 11:17 AM on August 8, 2013

Best answer: I live on the Maryland side of the DC metro area, but for the past three years I've spent nearly every weekend visiting a Baltimore-native SO who doesn't own a car. I'm not going to say that Baltimore is a bad place or that it doesn't have hip, progressive areas and good food, but from what I've seen, those things are both limited and localized. Neighborhood really does matter, and going someplace interesting usually seems to mean going halfway across town in all sorts of different directions.

I'm probably not the best person to comment on driving, because I always hate city driving, but it isn't fun, and the public transportation is kind of a mess. Things don't line up in sensible ways, like having weird gaps between buses and light rail.

The Ravens thing still freaks me out. I've seen people get genuinely annoyed and fight over Ravens-branded potholders at a gift swap. I can basically guarantee that people will try to make it a big deal for you. Even if you don't care, you're often expected to pretend to care and are sometimes asked to explain why you aren't wearing purple. Seriously.

Oh, and hon. I hate hon.
posted by Akhu at 11:52 AM on August 8, 2013

I guess the best answer is that you need to visit. Obviously people have different experiences. I hear a lot of talk about how people say "hon" but have heard it maybe once or twice in my four years here. I don't have a car and find my way to cool stuff no problem, for the most part. So, my experience is almost the opposite of Akhu. You'll just have to see for yourself.
posted by josher71 at 11:58 AM on August 8, 2013

With your follow up, recommending Austin.

Much better than Houston. It's Texas' exception (pretty liberal, pretty great weather, awesome music scene, great food and fresh ingredients, lots of community vibe & spirit).

The negatives:

Land locked (though, you have lake Travis and plenty of sailing there)

I feel like I have to defend this, as I do every time someone compares Houston and Austin. In my opinion and having spent a lot of time in both cities, Houston has 90% of the things Austin has, and much more that Austin doesn't. Austin will always be slightly more hip and trendy overall, but most bands that tour through Austin hit Houston as well. The only restaurant I miss from Austin is Pluckers, but they're building one here this year, and there's an incredible amount of good places to eat in Houston. I'm aware that's not the sort of food you're interested in though, but someone upthread mentioned farm to table restaurants and I immediately thought of Underbelly, which I finally got to try recently.
posted by DynamiteToast at 12:30 PM on August 8, 2013

Response by poster: I love Austin as I said and would be open to Houston, I think my husband isn't due to the sprawl and strip mall presence. I recall he also said it was to much of a car culture for him. I don't mind that after being in LA, it is a non-issue for me.
Food wise, not sure what you meant Dynamite toast about my not being interested in farm to table? Hmm. I don't see anywhere that I said what I was into food-wise. I like all food especially ethnic, hole in the wall places and anything fresh and healthy. Farm to table is an over-used term in my opinion that is now becoming quite annoying. It simply means fresh good food that isn't part of a big chain - like most ethnic hole in the wall restaurants have always used. The trendy part of the food scene I can live without.
Yes a trip to Baltimore is in order.
Anywhere else?
posted by privatechef at 1:45 PM on August 8, 2013

Best answer: If you are still open to the DC-area, you might consider Silver Spring or Tacoma Park. You can still find affordable housing in Tacoma Park (it's rumored that you can in Silver Spring, but I don't believe it). Both are metro-accessible, and full of arty, funky, indie, awesome people. You will have amazing ethnic food, an amazing farmer's market, good local and dive restaurants, and a solid art scene.

Cost-wise, Baltimore is probably cheaper, although not necessarily in the neighborhoods people have recommended to you. If you make the trip to Baltimore, it might be worth the little bit of extra time to check out Silver Spring and Tacoma Park, which are right next to each other.
posted by OrangeDisk at 1:51 PM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Well, if you looked at Santa Fe, I guess big lakes are enough water...

You might consider Albuquerque, it has a very different feel than Santa Fe. Particularly if cultural and socioeconomic diversity is something you are looking for along with ethnic diversity. Housing is considerably cheaper, winters a little warmer.
posted by yohko at 2:08 PM on August 8, 2013

Woops, the "not interested in" comment was about Pluckers, I constructed that sentence poorly. I guess I just inferred that you liked the farm to table places because someone else said it. Sorry bout that.
posted by DynamiteToast at 5:48 PM on August 8, 2013

Response by poster: Portland is a good fit in many ways but there were some issues; the unemployment rate is quite high which means they pay pretty badly for what I do which is teach culinary. It is about half of what I was paid in LA. But the real estate doesn't reflect that which was the biggest deal breaker. I looked for 4 days with a realtor literally ten places a day and saw not one house that was in our price range that was decent. The house we wold have wanted was now in the $700k range and this was in the cool walking neighborhoods. The point of moving there was to be in one of those "hoods" so it seemed depressing to be looking out in the burbs for a deal. Then there is the lack of sunny days in the winter.. My friend who has been there for 25 years says it can be gray and drizzling for weeks on end. Somehow that didn't seem appealing either. Too bad because I love the food scene, funky vibe, artsy stuff, demographic and they have a great airport
Madison I am sure IS great but long cold winters are not for me or my husband.
Thinking of Durham possible but no water... Where else?
posted by privatechef at 4:43 PM on August 26, 2013

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