The West Coast is famous for its scenic road trips, while the East...well you've got New York City. But where do two native New Yorkers go to escape this beloved (but awfully crowded) city? With just three days to spare, my friend Kevin and I decided to road trip our way to Baltimore. 

Pre-trip spending

Gas: $20 estimate. We left NYC with about half a tank of gas. 
Accommodation: $80.25 two nights in an Airbnb in Baltimore (this was my half, total cost was $160.50)

Total: $100.25

On the ground

Wednesday

Total: $145.49

8:30am: To kick off our mini road trip, we decided to make Philadelphia our first stop (via Holland Tunnel $12.50 toll). After parking ($5), we made our way to the Reading Terminal Market, where the warm aroma of food greeted us. We grabbed a melted, cheesy Philly cheesesteak ($9.79) at Spataro’s Cheesesteaks and ended on a sweet note with a chocolate chip walnut cookie ($2) and a fruit passion whoopie pie ($3) from Flying Monkey Bakery. 

A collage of images showing the menu for Spataro's Cheesesteaks on the left, a close up of the cheese steak in the middle and a fruit passion whoopie pie on the right
Cheesesteaks and whoopie pie at the Reading Terminal Market © Wanly Chen / Lonely Planet

2pm: We made a quick stop at Philly’s Chinatown ($2.75 parking) for strawberries and blueberries ($3), and filled up on gas before we hit the road again ($43). We headed to Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens ($8 student admission) for the charmed works of Isaiah Zagar. The 'garden' is small, but definitely worth it! We snagged some cute buttons ($2 each) from the gift shop before bidding adieu to Philly. Our next stop – Baltimore ($3 toll).

5pm: We settled into our cozy home in Baltimore before Uber-ing ($9.90) to the Hampden for some dinner. We went to Holy Frijoles and got the three taco platter with chorizo, chicken and carne falso ($12) and a chicken fajita ($14) to share. We were so full after dinner, but my sweet tooth (again) could not resist dessert. We headed to Waffie where, of course, we got a waffle topped with honey graham ice cream and Oreo crumbs ($6.15). So. Darn. Good. We Uber-ed back home ($9.40) to rest up for our next day in Baltimore. 

On the left, the author stands at the top of a staircase covered in mosaics, on the right is a close up of two buttons with colourful designs
The artsy Magic Garden and some souvenirs © Wanly Chen / Lonely Planet

Thursday 
Total: $119.16

8:30am: We drove to Papermoon Diner, a funky, colorful diner where I got the Monte egg breakfast sandwich ($12), a mountain of gooey, salty and sweet goodness. Parking was a lot cheaper than Philly – one dollar for the whole hour. 

10am: After breakfast, we head to Graffiti Alley ($1 parking) and explored the spray-painted art, where we got to see a freshly painted mural of Toni Morrison. The alley wasn’t too big, so we headed over to our next stop: the George Peabody Library at the John Hopkins University. Even though we couldn’t check out any books, the structure simply left us in awe ($2.75 parking, free admission). It was a hot day, so we grabbed Bai drinks from 7-Eleven to cool off ($3.19). 

A colourful spray-painted mural of Toni Morrison
A new dedication to the late, great author Toni Morrison © Wanly Chen / Lonely Planet

1pm: For lunch, we stopped at LP Steamers to try Baltimore’s famous crab cakes. We ordered the fried sampler ($25), a bucket of PEI mussels ($10), 2 steamed premium oysters ($2.50 each) and 2 raw oysters ($2.50 each). For a person with slight seafood allergies, I was most pleased that I did not break out in hives. 

3pm: After finding the rare (and free!) parking space near LP Steamers we decided to Uber ($7.44) the rest of the way to our next destination: Fort McHenry, a historical monument that had inspired Francis Scott Key’s 'The Star-Spangled Banner.' We didn’t buy tickets to enter the monument, but we had a pleasant walk around the surrounding trail.

5pm: When we left the monument, there were two electric Lime scooters conveniently waiting for riders (apologies to those who got to the monument with the scooters). We decided to hop on them and ride to downtown ($8.88). Because I was fairly terrified throughout the entire journey, we nixed the scooters and decided to bike around Inner Harbour ($8.90). The weather was perfect, so we biked back to our car. 

On the left, a close up of the wild salmon dinner and a dirt cup dessert
Main course and dessert at the Food Market, Baltimore © Wanly Chen / Lonely Planet

6:30pm: We headed back to the Hampden area for dinner, this time at Food Market for some American fare food. We didn’t have a reservation, but we didn’t want to wait (our adventures made us quite hungry) so we agreed to be seated at a community table. The experience was a huge treat; we had our own spot but it was like having family dinner with locals! It was restaurant week in Baltimore, so we had a three-course meal for $35 per person. My meal: farm fresh vegetables and friends salad, wild salmon and the food market classic (a dirt cup). Needless to say, the food coma hit pretty hard right after. 
 

Friday

Total: $57.70

8am: On our last morning in Baltimore, we headed to Pete’s Grille for some breakfast. I had the morning special: a short stack of pancakes, 2 scrambled eggs, and sausage ($7.95). Kevin tried the scrapple, which, to my understanding, is a meatloaf made of mystery meat. It tastes better than it sounds. The portions were just so BIG! There were only two pancakes, but I barely made it through one before admitting defeat. We said goodbye to Baltimore, and headed to our penultimate stop – Ocean City, New Jersey. 

On the left, two bowls of chopped up fruit, on the right two ice-cream cones with sprinkles
A smoothie bowl, followed by some ice-cream in Ocean City © Wanly Chen / Lonely Planet

1pm: Admittedly, Ocean City was not exactly on-route home (bad planning on my part), but we left all regret behind when we saw the beach ($5 toll). After parking ($4.50), we walked around the boardwalk for some healthy-ish food. When we thought it was going to be just hot dogs, funnel cakes, fried oreos (delicious, but so not good for you), we found Bungalow Bowls – a cute store selling smoothie bowls –  where I ordered Island in the Sun ($11) to hit the spot.  

5pm: The weather was simply perfect and we ended up staying at the beach for a few hours ($5 beach pass). As we headed back home, we just simply couldn’t leave the beach without getting an ice-cream cone. We went to Kohr Bros where I had the vanilla and chocolate swirl with rainbow sprinkles ($5.25). Sadly, just seconds after I took a photo of my cone, I was covered in rainbow sprinkles and ice-cream (it melted so fast). It was quite the sticky situation to get out of.

8pm We left New Jersey and were home-bound ($19 toll at Verrazano-Narrows Bridge). Courtesy of Mama Chen, we had dinner at home.

The final tally

$100.25 +  $322.35 = $422.60

Note: We used EZ-Pass for our trip, so toll costs are estimates.

For our first mini-road trip, I say it was a success! It was a lot of fun and a nice breather from NYC, but if I must admit, food in NYC still beats other cities by a long shot. 

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