Remember, way back in 2016, when it felt like everyone was walking around outside, looking down at their phones and collecting Pokémon?
There’s a chance you’ve stopped playing since then — but maybe, like me and millions of others, you haven’t. According to ActivePlayer.io, a website that compiles game statistics, an estimated 80 million people logged in to Pokémon Go in July 2022.
The game has been a constant for me and my fiancée since it first came out in 2016. We were in college, not yet engaged, and would spend time between classes walking around campus and competing to see who could catch which Pokémon first. For different reasons, we’ve both started new accounts (my reason involves being locked out of an email address), but we still play together. Sometimes it’s evening walks with our dog, sometimes it’s a Saturday afternoon downtown to take advantage of a special Pokémon event.
In middle school, I went through a phase where I was ashamed of my Pokémon hobby, but now I’m not: I’ve been playing Pokémon games since the early 2000s, when I was old enough to read and understand them on my Game Boy Color, and I have no intention of stopping any time soon. I play Pokémon Go every day, and I’m really excited for the new games coming out on the Nintendo Switch later this year. In addition to loving the game, I’ve been able to find some small community of players. Let me share that with you.
If you have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about, here’s the quick version: Pokémon is a franchise of trading card games, TV shows, video games, merchandise and more from Nintendo. The titular Pokémon are nonhuman creatures with fantastic abilities, like breathing fire, flying, transforming shape and shooting bolts of lightning. The series largely focuses on collecting Pokémon and competing in battles with other players, known as Pokémon trainers.
Pokémon has been around since the mid ’90s, first as a video game, then as a trading card game. Soon after, a manga and TV franchise followed. Pokémon Go is a mobile game app introduced in 2016 that uses your real-world location to superimpose Pokémon on a virtual map for you to collect. The game originally involved just walking around and “catching” Pokemon. Now there are battles, trading and more. The basic mechanic is unchanged: see a Pokémon on your screen, tap on it, then throw Poké balls to capture it.
Now that that’s out of the way, where are the best places to play in Baltimore?
I may be a bit biased here, since I spent a year living just off 36th Street, known as The Avenue, walking my dog and playing Pokémon Go during the pandemic. My personal favorite stretch in Hampden is The Avenue, between Falls Road and Chestnut Avenue. You can extend the route a bit further east by going down to Beech Avenue and into Wyman Park, but you certainly don’t have to for a successful afternoon of catching.
There is no shortage of PokéStops (in-game markers that you can spin to retrieve items and that can be used to lure more Pokémon) or gyms (in-game locations where you can challenge Pokémon left by other players, or participate in group raid battles). The high number of PokéStops means you can replenish your game supplies as you catch and battle your way through the neighborhood.
The second reason I love playing in Hampden is that I love iced coffee. On the Avenue in Hampden, there are a few places to stop for a cup to go. My personal favorite was — and still is — Golden West Cafe, because it has a window that you can place to-go orders at without going inside. There are plenty of restaurants and shops to stop in on The Avenue that make for great breaks from the heat while playing.
Who does’t love Patterson Park? It’s got walking trails, scenery like the Pagoda, rec fields and even a dog park. On days when living in a city starts to feel claustrophobic, taking a walk through Patterson (or Druid Hill) Park is a great way to find some breathing room.
Patterson Park, too, has plenty of PokéStops and gyms. And I’m not the only one who has noticed. On special Pokémon event days, you’ll see groups of people walking around playing together, and I’ve never had a bad experience.
Along the water
This one almost feels like a cop-out, but I promise it’s not. When we lived in Midtown, my fiancée and I would walk down to the Inner Harbor and begin our circuit. We’d walk along the water to the Rusty Scupper, and then turn around and walk around the harbor until we reached Mr. Trash Wheel between Pier Six and Harbor East. On especially ambitious (or not too humid) days, we’d keep walking into Fells Point.
Much like in Hampden, this route is good because of all the diversions along the way. In Harbor East and Fells Point, there are plenty of shops and restaurants if you need a break or drink. You’ve got great people watching and you can stare out at the boats in the water, too.
Between Twitter and Facebook, Baltimore has an amazing Pokémon Go community. Seriously. I’ve been able to use both social networks to find people to talk to or to get questions answered. I’ve made friends with people who would otherwise have been strangers online, because the game brought us together.
And I’m not the only one. When I posted in the Pokémon Go Baltimore Facebook group about this story, I got a bunch of responses, including from people who told me they made lasting bonds because of the game.
Sandra Stengel, who lives in Hampden, said she’s been playing since the game came out in 2016. She mostly uses the Facebook group as a source for game-related news, but she’s gotten some real-life relationships out of the game, too.
“Most of the people that I became friends with were met at raids in the early days. I got added to a chat and it became a super active community. A bunch of us connected in ways beyond Pokémon Go. We started hanging out for tacos and trade nights at the person that became my husband’s home,” she told me.
Now, she and her husband have a seven-month-old future Pokémon trainer.
“If she is into it!” Stengel told me. “So far, she loves her Pokémon stuffies.”