Baltimore for Kids
Published: October 10, 2011
Non-parents just don’t understand. Having children, especially young children, changes the nature of everything you do, from when you do it to how long you can do it to what you look for in things to do. That doesn’t mean you don’t want to know where the nice restaurant is or the hopping bar, but you’re gonna need some ideas for how to fill those pre-bedtime hours. And here they are.
The Maryland Science Center (601 Light St.,  685-2370, mdsci.org, $11.95-$18.95) is the coolest kid activity in town. We know, “science”? Not cool for some kids, but this isn’t your usual chalk-dust-dry lesson. If the dinosaurs looming in the enormous front windows don’t sell it, the three floors of totally hands-on exhibits (plus an IMAX theater, a planetarium, and frequent demonstrations and special events) will quiet any complaining once you’re inside. It’s also one of the more affordable attractions in town.
Which is not to say that the National Aquarium (501 E. Pratt St.,  576-3800, aqua.org, $19.95-$29.95) isn’t cool. It’s very cool, from its pier-side setting to its display after display of exotic aquatic life (our favorites are the crazy Amazon fish) to its culminating dolphin show (for a small extra charge). It is often quite crowded though, so avoid weekend visits if you can, and definitely buy your timed-entry tickets online ahead of time.
The Maryland Zoo (Druid Hill Park,  396-7102, marylandzoo.org, $10.50-$16.50) offers a more modest animal-life experience; it is, as they say in sports, in a rebuilding year, one that’s been going on for a few years now. But baby elephant Samson and several refurbished exhibits have helped spruce it up, and we always say that its hilly, shady paths constitute one of the best walks in town.
Port Discovery (35 Market Place,  727-8120, portdiscovery.org, $13.95) is a children’s museum in name, and it features all sorts of cool exhibits/play areas (our fave: the Egyptian tomb). But what it’s best for is indoor climbing, crawling, and running-around time, thanks to its towering (but safe) central climbing structure. If your kids don’t leave here with all energy expended, you didn’t do it right.
Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine (2400 E. Fort Ave.,  962-4290, nps.gov/fomc) sounds like the embodiment of another sometimes-less-than-exciting school subject: history. While there’s history aplenty—sometimes demonstrated via re-enactments, etc.—the grassy ramparts and wide-open fields make it another prime running-around spot.
Baltimore is a town with a startling number of museums, and most of them have programs especially for children. For more info, see the American Visionary Art Museum, Baltimore Museum of Art, Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African-American History and Culture, the Walters Art Museum, and the B&O Railroad Museum in Tourist Attractions (page 18) and/or The Arts Scene (page 24).
Parks and Playgrounds
There are two enormous multi-use parks conveniently located on the city’s east and west sides: Patterson Park (pattersonpark.com) and Druid Hill Park (druidhillpark.org), respectively. Each features playing fields, tennis courts, and play/exercise equipment spread around their many acres, but each also boasts the kind of random surprises that can make a good day at the park better. The enormous statue of Scottish freedom-fighter William Wallace that overlooks the Druid Hill reservoir, for example, offers all sorts of clambering fun.
Historic Federal Hill Park isn’t that big, and parking nearby can be tough, but if you’re in the harbor/Federal Hill area, it boasts a sizable playground with an unparalleled view and grassy flanks for rolling.
That said, the best playground in town has got to be Our Playground at Stadium Place (900 E. 33rd St., stadiumplayground.org). Tucked away behind a YMCA building not far from Johns Hopkins University, it packs all manner of swings, climbing areas, and imaginative play options into a shadeless but padded and fenced playground.
As you might expect, the surrounding counties feature a lot more bucolic fun than Baltimore City does. Irvine Nature Center (11201 Garrison Forest Road, Owings Mills,  738-9200, explorenature.org) isn’t necessarily a travel-from-another-state destination, but it offers a pleasant afternoon of woodsy fun with a cool nature center and several gentle trails. Wildlife-wise, chipmunks are usually about it, but hey, chipmunks.
Oregon Ridge Park (13555 Beaver Dam Road, Cockeysville,  887-1815, baltimorecountymd.gov), to the north of the city, offers a large playground as well as a cool old nature center, several short hiking trails, and (in season) a swimming beach nestled in a former quarry.
Outside town to the west sits the Scrap Tire Playground (Patapsco Valley State Park, Ellicott City,  461-5005, dnr.state.md.us/publiclands/central/patapsco.asp), hidden away in the heart of a Patapsco State Park picnic area. Your smaller kids will go nuts for play equipment built mostly from recycled car and truck tires (yes, the big ones), and it’s shadier than most urban play spots.
AMuse Toys (1623 Thames St., [410) 342-5000, amusetoys.com) is the best toy store in the center-city area, with a small but well-curated stock of creative toys (i.e., not the movie tie-in stuff or video games) of all kinds for most ages.
Toward the north end of town, Barston’s Child’s Play (Village of Cross Keys, 86 Village Square,  435-0804, barstonschildsplay.com) fills a small space in an upscale shopping area with untold numbers of toys and games and books and art supplies and dolls—it specializes in the on-the-fly birthday-gift suggestions.
Not far away, Shananigans Toy Shop (Wyndhurst Village, 5004-B Lawndale Ave.,  532-8384, shananiganstoyshop.com) specializes in more unusual toys, but the kind that kids love to play with, not the kind collectors keep in the box. For your budding connoisseur.
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