When filmmaker John Waters needs inspiration for his strange and sometimes demented fictions, he looks no further than his hometown of Baltimore. With so many things to do and see, the city is a spark plug for the imagination. Waters and his fellow Baltimoreans can often be spotted prowling the hilly streets of the Hampden arts community, where 1960s culture enjoys a second life thanks to Cafe Hon and the annual HonFest street festival. Fans of Waters can head south from Hampden to the harbor-side American Visionary Art Museum, where they’ll find a towering statue of his recurring star, Divine.

Founded by the former director of a mental institution, the modern art museum spotlights so-called "outsider" works—paintings, sculptures, and drawings from alternative artists with an undeniable creative spark but, in many cases, little professional training. Exhibition rooms host surreal acrylic paintings, a model ship made from toothpicks, and a mobile that extends to a height of three stories. Outside, you’ll find a 55-foot tall, wind-powered kinetic sculpture and a defunct school bus encrusted with gems and broken glass.

At the nearby Maryland Science Center, children explore the wonders of natural science in themed areas where they can create their own tornados, dig for dinosaur fossils, and look at human cells through microscopes. At Newton's Alley, scientists-in-training can test Sir Isaac Newton's theories via interactive exhibits that lift objects on air currents and render sound visible.

Just across the harbor are the star-shaped battlements and original stone buildings of Fort McHenry, where Francis Scott Key penned the "Star-Spangled Banner" as American soldiers valiantly fought off the British. Visitors to the fort can help park rangers raise and lower the flag each day from June to August. Though it seems simple enough, this task can be daunting—it takes at least 20 people to keep the 30’x42’ flag off the ground. Tours led by costumed guides shed light on the crucial roles the fort played during the Civil War and the first World War.

A keen sense of history seems to pervade everything in Baltimore. A walk through the historic Mount Vernon district may lead you to the door of The Brewer's Art, a combination restaurant and brewery housed in a 19th-century townhouse. The brewers here work hard to craft hoppy concoctions that range from traditional pale ales to specialty beers such as a stout loaded with hints of chocolate and chipotle. Sample other culinary styles along the cobblestone streets of Fell’s Point, a former shipping district and sailor's hangout that’s now home to a good number of Greek and Japanese restaurants. Here, you'll also find Obrycki's, where paper-topped tables nearly buckle under the weight of delicious crab cakes and steamed crabs.

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