Let us first acknowledge this: COVID-era fun is different from pre-COVID fun.
We know that a game night at home is not a game at Homewood Field, and that a streamed concert is not a night at the Ottobar. A socially distanced picnic is not Spring Fair, and the Houseparty app is not a house party.
We’re not doing big gatherings at the moment because it’s unsafe for you, for Hopkins, and for Baltimore. Right now we’re doing other stuff. We’ve curated a list below of experiences and activities that are either entirely virtual or local to the greater Baltimore area, and are possible to do while adhering to university protocols about masking and social distancing and gathering limitations.
We know there are a lot of “what to do during COVID….have you tried going for a walk?” lists out there. We wanted ours to be different and better. To that end, we’ve tried to limit our suggestions to things that are genuinely fun and worthwhile. We wanted to give you a list of places, ideas, and activities that will help you build quality relationships and wonderful college memories.
Some basic advice:
Manage your expectations a bit. Comparison is the thief of joy. If you’re constantly thinking “This is not how I pictured college,” you’re going to kill what fun there is to be had.
Remember that it’s important and healthy to have fun! Lack of fun will affect your mental health. Furthermore, if you don’t seek out COVID-safe social experiences, you’ll be that much more likely to eventually get bored or frustrated enough to participate in unsafe ones. Just giving up on fun is the social wellness equivalent of a crash diet. It works for a while, but when it fails, it completely fails.
Make the weekend a little different. COVID restrictions can make all the days run together; it’s worth it for your mental and social health to do something to mark the days you’ve set aside for rest, relaxation, and recreation. Have a COVID-safe end-of-the-school-week ritual (a celebratory playlist, a treat you only indulge in on weekends, etc.) that tells your brain, “It is the weekend now.” Plan a special meal or activity. Visit a new place, with friends or solo. Whatever your ritual is, follow university and local public health guidance on social distancing and masking as required.
COVID-era fun takes a little more planning than pre-COVID fun. It’s a hassle, but it’s necessary. You’ve got coordinate with friends versus a “come one, come all” mentality. You have to double check logistics, because public health guidance and operating hours are subject to change. You have to be prepared to pivot if you show up somewhere and find it’s too crowded. Sure, planned fun is less serendipitous than what you might have imagined your freewheeling college nights to be. But stuff that requires forethought can also result in unique experiences that you and your friends can really enjoy.
Be worthy of the trust, freedom, and responsibility you’ve been given. Almost anything on the list below could be done in COVID-safe ways and in COVID-unsafe ways. Most Hopkins students have complied with university and public health guidelines. But as we learned from the recent cluster, it only takes a few folks’ bad decisions to affect our whole community. There will always be people who try to bend the rules, find a loophole, or engage in some magical thinking about what is safe. Don’t do it. Hold yourself and your peers to a higher standard and find creative ways to enjoy your Hopkins experience. If you’re not sure if something’s a good idea, err on the side of caution and don’t do it.
Email us at email@example.com if you have ideas to add to the list. We’d love to hear from you!
Originally posted February 25, 2021, updated since then to reflect new information.
Explore Stony Run Trail, a nearly three-mile stretch of former railroad line that winds from the edge of the Homewood campus through woods and neighborhoods, ending near Northern Parkway. Bonus points if you can find the bench with the little community diary tucked underneath.
At several points, the Stony Run Trail intersects with the footpaths of Roland Park. These charming, semi-hidden walkways are woven through the Roland Park neighborhood, creating interesting and beautiful shortcuts.
Bike the Jones Falls Trail. This paved trail starts at Cylburn Aboretum and heads south into Baltimore City.
Lots of us are missing live music during COVID-19. It’s tough to find an exact substitute for a live concert, but there are a few virtual options. You can watch a concert film via a streaming service or pay to stream an actual live show (the Veeps platform has some cool options). We’re also partial to 87.9 FM WTMD which is available via app or on the actual radio (kids, ask your parents). Shows hosted by working performers like Dan Deacon and Kelly Bell have some of the energy and fun of a live show.
Check out Hopkins Groups for a mix of university-sponsored in-person and virtual events. Hopkins is full of creative people doing cool things.
Take a walk around Lake Montebello. This paved 1.4-mile loop around a serene reservoir is good for walking, biking, and rollerblading.
The Baltimore Museum of Art will be open to guests starting Sunday March 28. Visit the museum’s website for details.
Plan a quiet self-care night. Whatever that means to you.
Window shop (or actually shop) on the Avenue in Hampden. COVID has hit a lot of these small businesses pretty hard and they could use the support.
You too can go Threat Level: Midnight, à la the Dunder Mifflin crew in one of the best episodes of The Office, and do a table read of a screenplay. Choose a screenplay, assign roles, and laugh your heads off. This Daily Dot article has some further tips for making your table read a success (namely, pick a dialogue-heavy and relatively short script). This activity can be done IRL or virtually with friends near and far, or even a mix of both.
Take a cruise on the Harbor Connector. This commuter boat runs 6am to 8pm daily, and it’s a fun way to zig zag around the Inner Harbor and get some fresh air.
Wander around Second Chance to find discount used furniture and raw materials for your DIY projects or just gawk at the rows and rows and rows of one-of-a-kind secondhand items.
Definitely the most innovative idea on this list: marathon a show via your favorite streaming channel.
Related to No. 19: Establish a “streaming content club” where you all come together (virtually or IRL adhering to university guidelines or a mix of both) to discuss an episode (or a season) of a show. The club idea is a fun way to combine folks who watched a show when it first premiered and those who are just getting around to it. Be sure to establish a firm spoilers policy to avoid heartbreak for the latecomers.
Play a social online game. Contrary to the popular image of the isolated online gamer, there’s a host of wellness benefits to video games. Some favorites recommend to us by Hopkins students: Trivia Mafia, Animal Crossing, Overcooked, Don’t Starve Together, Minecraft, Star Wars: The Old Republic, Skribble, and Pokemon Go.
Not interested in venturing into a theater, but also tired of passively watching movies? Make your own interactive movie night. Select your favorite genre (horror, romcoms, action, etc.) and use a randomized BINGO card generator that lists all the cliches of that particular type of film to create personalized cards for everyone. Have your friends Zoom in, mock the movie in the chat function, and compete for prizes.
Get down to Locust Point to see the new Domino’s Sugar sign. Just this summer, the iconic neon was replaced with an LED version. (It looks great.) While you’re in LP, you can drive by Under Armour HQ, visit Fort McHenry, and grab a treat at Ice Queens.
Explore Patterson Park. Winter highlights include a self-guided mindfulness walk, the dog park, and the famous Pagoda. We’re also partial to sunset picnics near the Ellwood Avenue edge of the park, facing west toward the downtown skyline.
If you’re missing your pets, a visit to the unofficial Wyman Park dog park off of Tudor Arms Drive is a good substitute. It’s a COVID-safe open air gathering place, and the dogs are great conversation starters if you are sick of talking to your housemates.
Pick a residence-hall- or rental-friendly DIY home project and do it. Paint something that you’re allowed to paint. (If you’re unsure, don’t paint it.) Build something. Rearrange your furniture. Go to Ace Hardware in Waverly or Falkenhan’s in Hampden for supplies and expert advice. Ask a friend to help, and then return the favor by helping them do something similar in their space. We’re all spending a lot of time at home these days; it might as well be set up exactly the way you want it to be.
Visit Roosevelt Skate Park and try not to face plant. If you’re not a skater, we still highly recommend this place because it’s weirdly soothing to watch.
Hopkins’ proximity to MICA means a lot of great art supply stores, like Artist & Craftsman Supply, BLICK, and the MICA store. Stop by, get some inspiration, buy some materials, and go home and make some art. It could be a solo project or a collaboration with friends. Even if the result is more Pinterest Fail than Picasso, the process can be fun.
Visit Experiential Education if you want to learn about upcoming workshops and trips. If you are outdoorsy, these are your people. If you’re not outdoorsy, the EE team will show you the way. They also have gear you can rent if you want to plan your own outing.
Just relax. Half-watch something on TV. Read a magazine that’s been laying around your room for months. Play a game on your phone. Exchange silly texts with your funniest long-distance friend. Allow FOMO to completely leave your body and life. Chill.
If the GOPass sounds out of your budget, great news: Homewood Arts is sponsoring a free watch party for Center Stage’s production of The Glorious World of Crowns, Kinks and Curls on March 28. It’s part of a whole series of free events from Baltimore institutions like the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Everyman Theater, and more. Bookmark this page to keep track of events. Update: those events are over but Homewood Arts is still awesome.
If you’re more of a maker than a culture vulture, OpenWorks has a host of classes, studio space, and equipment for rent, in both virtual and IRL formats.
Support your local bookstores like Greedy Reads (Remington and Fells Point) and the Ivy Bookstore. If you go to the Ivy, be sure to check out the charming park behind the building.
See if you can find all of the Baltimore Salt Boxes. If you’re feeling inspired, make one of your own.
Take a hike around Lake Roland. It’s just barely over the city line in Baltimore County, and features paved walkways, hiking trails, and a great big dam with a cool waterfall.
If you’re missing the fun of live pro sports and want to experience some local sports culture, the Baltimore Ravens have helpfully created a playlist of the franchise’s 25 best games ever on their YouTube channel. You can watch the full games, including Super Bowl XLVII (aka the Harbaugh Bowl aka the Blackout), the Mile High Miracle (a famous game-winning TD pass from Joe Flacco to Jacoby Jones), and a high-scoring, come-from-behind OT win over Seattle in 2003 (a fast-paced choice that will hold the interest of casual fans, plus a chance to see HOFer Ed Reed at his best). Any game on the list would be a fun game watch with a small group of friends IRL, or virtually if you want to watch with a larger crew.
Posted on March 26, 2021. Updated on September 3, 2021 to reflect new information.
Bold claim: the National Aquarium is BETTER during COVID because the 25% capacity means it’s way less crowded and noisy. It’s a calming experience during a generally uncalm time in our lives.
When we asked students what they were missing most lately, a lot of you said swimming!
Great news: the O’Connor Rec Center pool is open, albeit with limited hours. (The outdoor pool at Cooley in East Baltimore is slated to open Memorial Day weekend.) Access to the Rec Center (including the pool) is free to undergraduates and available to other Hopkins affiliates for a modest monthly fee. Update: O’Connor’s pool is currently closed and will reopen on September 27. The Cooley pool is open through Labor Day.
O’Connor Rec Center also has some brand-new lawn games that members can borrow for free. They have giant Jenga, bocce, ladder ball, cornhole (both standard and tailgate sizes), Slammo, and more.
A virtual way to explore Baltimore is through the Out of the Blocks podcast, co-created by Peabody Institute professor Wendel Patrick. NPR called it a “uniquely immersive listening experience that emerges from a mosaic of voices and soundscapes on the streets of Baltimore.”
Local musician Ed Hrybyk hosts free outdoor concerts every week, weather permitting. While there’s no admission fee for these concerts, please tip the musicians as you’re able.
Baltimore has a vibrant bluegrass music scene; keep up-to-date on live jams (which are still virtual as of this writing, but may become live in the future) via the Baltimore Bluegrass Jam FB group or follow Alex Lacquement on IG for news about local events.
April is the official start of blue crab season in Maryland, and a crab feast is a huge, fun mess so it’s perfect for small outdoor gatherings. You’ll need to borrow or buy some (relatively cheap) stuff to pick the crabs and prevent your table from being ruined; Baltimore Magazine has a helpful guide. Be sure to invite AT LEAST one experienced crab picker to show the rest of your crew how to do it; crabs are expensive and you don’t want any of that delicious crab meat going to waste.
Visit the Walters Art Museum, which is just across the street from the Peabody Institute. If you want to keep things totally virtual, the Walters has a series of virtual tours geared towards young adults and college students.
You don’t need to travel to Washington, DC to see some pretty pink blossoms; you just need to go to Union Memorial Hospital to see some beautiful cherry trees. Fun fact: the current trees are the descendants of two trees originally gifted to the hospital in 1939 by a grateful patient, mobster Al Capone (yes really). The gift was a thank you for curing his syphilis-related dementia (yes really). Capone originally came to Baltimore to be treated at Johns Hopkins Hospital, but the hospital’s board refused to admit the notorious gangster for treatment (yes really).
Pick a date to see the JHU Barnstormers’ upcoming production of Bare: A Pop Opera. UPDATE: The ‘Bare’ run is over but the Barnstormers’ fundraiser is going strong. Consider a donation, as your budget allows.
Shop at one of Baltimore’s many farmers markets. (Everyone knows about Waverly but have you been to the others like Johns Hopkins Hospital or Druid Hill? Also, getting up early to grocery shop on Saturday mornings is not for everyone and some of the other options are on different days of the week.)
Visit the Carry On Shop (operated by The Women’s Board of Johns Hopkins Hospital) at one of their two locations (Johns Hopkins Hospital and the Shops at Kenilworth). This secondhand store has great prices on quality clothing and a variety of home goods. Their hours vary by location, so double check that they’re open before you go.
Grab a seat on the patio at Belvedere Square for lunching, studying, and people watching.
Visit the recently renovated Central Branch of the Enoch Pratt Public Library. If you can’t make it there in person, check out their really robust and diverse virtual events, especially the Writers LIVE! Series.
If you’ve been feeling blue, take the Stress and Depression Questionnaire. It’s a confidential, convenient, and safe way to find out how stress and depression may be affecting you, and to learn more about available mental health resources at Johns Hopkins and in the community. (We realize this suggestion may push the boundaries of “fun” but it’s a great tool.)
Play tennis, the perfect social distancing sport. There are courts on campus at Homewood, and a variety of others throughout the city.
If you’re an architecture, urban planning, or sustainability geek, visit the Coldspring New Town development. Located about three miles northwest of the Homewood campus, renowned architect Moshe Safdie designed it as a response to urban population loss and environmental concerns in the 1970s. It was praised from a design perspective when it was first built, but it never quite took off the way that many hoped.
Write some Cards for Courage. The organization, which sends notes to hospital patients, was launched last year by three Hopkins undergraduates.
If you have access to a car, drive one of Maryland’s scenic byways. (You will not believe how fast Falls Road stops looking like Hampden and starts looking like horse country.)
Speaking of horses: you can take a riding lesson or a trail ride at City Ranch, Inc. (Adult group lessons are $90 so it may be worth seeing if you can get a group of friends to chip in.)
If you’re too lazy to get into COVID baking but still want to make a fun and delicious dessert, look into a Baltimore classic with only two ingredients: the Lemon Stick. It’s a mainstay of the Flower Mart at Mt. Vernon.
If you’re missing the experience of travel, take a dream vacation via one of the Calm app’s travelogue Sleep Stories. Calm premium content is available to all Hopkins affiliates for free via calm.com/jhu.