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A College Kids' Guide to Baltimore

NYU kids have Manhattan, nightclubs, Brooklyn for when they want to get a little gritty. DC-based co-eds can shop their way through Georgetown, ending up at the local Ethiopian dive for dinner. Baltimore's charms aren't regularly featured on the covers of college guides, and so most college students arrive with their heads filled with images from "The Wire" and admonishments from their parents not to stay out after dark. They're pointed toward the National Aquarium, the Inner Harbor, and their local campus bars.

Not to knock our sweet marina, but there's a whole 'nother scene out there, kiddos.

To those in the know, it's no secret that Charm City is climbing the cool-city charts, surpassing the nation's more predictable towns in the ways of art and music. As September kicks in and thousands of eager young people descend on campuses throughout Bmore, we've browsed the town to compile a list of hip alternatives to the crab cakes-and-consumerism routine.

Munch on this

Carma's Café at 3210 Saint Paul Street, nestled right up to the Johns Hopkins Homewood campus, brings new meaning to the expression "hole-in-the-wall." But don't be deceived: this basement establishment dishes up the freshest of gazpachos and the most savory of paninos. At roughly $8 per plate, it's easy on the wallet. To act like a local, start with the Icelandic yogurt. Eat it while clutching a Don Delillo paperback. Sit outside, provided there are free tables. Always, always order the special.

If a whiff of grilled meat makes you run for your PETA brochures, check out One World Café at 100 West University Parkway. This vegetarian enclave invites you to grab a chair and pull out your laptop, all while nibbling on homemade carrot cake or gorging yourself on their famous baked macaroni and cheese. The 21+ crowd will find hump-day solace on Wednesday nights, when happy "hour" lasts until 2:00 a.m.

Those closer to the Inner Harbor and Fed Hill (that's Federal Hill for you newbies) can find a gem of East Asian cuisine tucked away at 1019 Light Street. Thai Arroy, despite its modest shopfront, is a beacon of fascinating flavors and spices. Great prices ensure you'll subsist on more than ramen for the remainder of the month, and the BYOB policy isn't bad either.

Pizza aficionados have long debated the choice between Iggies at 818 N. Calvert Street and Joe Squared at 133 W. North Avenue. We say, why not try both? The talented folks at Iggies whip up personal pies topped with onion confit, duck meat, and asparagus, and you'll be talking about it all the way back to NYC. Joe Squared beckons to large parties, serving up overstuffed pies in the shape of – you guessed it – squares, and their beer isn't half-bad either.

Where to catch a show

Rams Head Live! (exclamation intended), at 20 Market Place, meets all of your rock 'n roll expectations -- and then some. From Jay-Z to Journey, Louis XIV to Lyle Lovett, performers make sure to book this joint even if it means skipping our nation's capital. The building's acquired quite a personality in its 200+ years -- ask the bartender to show you the bedpost of the ghost who supposedly still haunts the tavern.

For those a bit more familiar with the local music scene, the Windup Space is where it's at. Smack in the center of the Station Arts North District at 10 W. North Avenue, you'd be hard-pressed to find another space more representative of the community's creativity. This multifarious art space doesn't discriminate: cool music, film, and art of every kind are showcased with a young, catchy confidence. Don't plan ahead -- just show up and be surprised.

After dark: The 21+ kind of fun

The Brewer's Art, at 1106 N. Charles Street, is a rite of passage for any 20-something in the area. Hardly a secret by now, this microbrewery-cum-bar is a tried and true local favorite. Don't expect to find a coveted seat at the bar – but if you do, mark your territory. Try the Ozzy, but heed its warning – a 7.5 percent alcohol content sure can sneak up on you. If you're in the mood to munch, you'll never go wrong with refinements of bar foods like garlic fries and buttery mussels.

If you're in the mood to dance, there's no hipper place than the Ottobar at 2549 N. Howard Street. Make sure to don the highest of heels ladies, keep up your energy, and know a thing or two about the local music scene (or at least pretend to). Wallflowers need not apply.

A GLBT favorite is Grand Central, a club/bar combo that promises to entertain. Ladies' Night means the predictably discounted drinks, but also the wildest array of outfits this side of Lady Gaga's closet, as well as the occasional spontaneous puppet show (yes, you read that correctly). Cross the street to the Hippo for techno and an amped-up video room.

Daylight attractions

After a refreshing hangover brunch at Carma's, nothing's better than a trip to the Book Thing, Baltimore's fabulous free book depot. Its philosophy is simple and nearly socialist: you put something in, you take something out. If you volunteer for a few hours at its location at 3001 Vineyard Lane, you can walk away with armloads of books, free of charge.

Now you're going to want a place to roll around in all that literature. Take your new goodies over to Druid Hill Park, a scenic arena that ranks with NY's Central Park as one of the oldest landscaped public parks in the U.S. After you awake from your sun-soaked nap, no shortage of activities awaits you: Druid Hill Park is home to the Maryland Zoo, Howard Peters Rawlings Conservatory and Botanic Gardens, an 18-hole disc golf course and various lakes and swimming holes; a perfect day to spend an otherwise-wasted Sunday.

A transplant from the west coast, Stephanie Delman is well versed in the art of adapting to a new environment. Now entering her senior year at Johns Hopkins University, she's proud to call Baltimore a second home. Favorite activities include checking out local swimming holes, searching for the city's best Greek restaurants, and just strolling down Saint Paul St on any sunny afternoon.

Got a comment? Tell us where you go when you take a break from the book on Twitter, Facebook or send us an email. Want to suggest a possible story? Send us an email!

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