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The KFDC Guide to Exploring Baltimore with Kids

A view of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor from the Maryland Science Center

 

I recommend visits to Baltimore quite often.  Not only is it nice to get a change of metro area scenery sometimes, our sister city just a 45-minute drive away is full of fantastic, family-friendly attractions to visit on a day trip or even a weekend getaway.  Even more, it’s fun to explore the neighborhoods, spend time by (or on) the water, and savor tasty eats (Baltimore has an excellent food scene). So, after way too long, here’s a round-up of all of the Baltimore places covered on KFDC in one big post, plus a few extras recommended by friends, and even more tips for a great visit there with kids. Happy exploring, hon!

 

PLACES TO GO

Miss Perception’s Mystery House at Port Discovery

Port Discovery
Where: 35 Market Place
When: Weds, 10am – 2pm | Fri & Sat, 10am – 4pm | Sun, 11am – 4pm
Admission: $17.95/ages 2+, free/under 2
The children’s museum in Baltimore has several levels full of exhibits that keep kids entertained all day long. Renovated just a couple of years ago, some areas are very new, while others are from older days — but still much loved. The famous Sky Climber was updated, and the floor to ceiling structure with a ship at its core, tunnels to crawl through, and twisting slide to zip down, is always a favorite. There are lots of interactives with measures in place for Covid safety. The linked review was written by KFDC contributor Emily Moise after the renovation, but we’ve visited Port Discovery many times over the years — I can’t even count the days off from school that we spent there — so we can vouch for its awesomeness.
KFDC Tip: If you think you might go a few times this year, I recommend checking out their membership options.

 

Go big at the Maryland Science Center

Maryland Science Center
Where: 601 Light Street
When: Friday 10am – 4pm | Saturday & Sunday, 10am – 5pm
Admission: $25.95/adult, $19.95/child
At the Maryland Science Center, you can discover a variety of science fields through an amazing array of exhibits, just about all of them hands-on and appealing to young visitors. It’s not a museum with collections of artifacts and tangible history; rather, there are models, demos, and interactive displays that encourage learning through engagement. Dinosaurs, the earth, physics, the body, energy, and space are some of the main areas to explore. There is also a Kids Room full of all kinds of hands-on fun for children in a safe enclosed space, including a special area for the under-two set.
KFDC Tips: If you think you’d go often, membership is worth checking out. The Science Center validates parking at nearby garages.

 

A view of the National Aquarium – with the USS Torsk moored in front

National Aquarium
Where: 501 East Pratt
When: Mon-Thurs 9am – 5pm, Fri 9am – 8pm, Sat 9am – 7pm, Sun 9am – 6pm
Admission: $39.95/adult, $29.95/age 3-11, free/2 & under

Get a glimpse of the underwater world at the venue right on the water. The exhibits at the National Aquarium highlight marine life and other animals from around the world — you can see hundreds of species in recreated habitats, from the Chesapeake Bay to the Amazon Rainforest to the Indo-Pacific. Sharks, dolphins, reptiles, all kinds of reef fish, sea anemones and jellyfish, tropical birds, even sloths are among the animals there. Admission may sound steep, but it’s a very cool venture that you really can’t do anywhere else in the area. Along with the exhibits are experiences like 4-D films, special tours, and animal encounters (they all cost extra).
KFDC Tip: If you can swing a visit on a Friday night, admission is half price!

 

Outrageously creative art awaits at the AVAM

American Visionary Art Museum
Where: 501 East Pratt
When: Wednesday – Sunday, 10am – 6pm
Admission: $15.95/adult, $9.95/child, free/6 & under
The American Visionary Art Museum houses some of the most wonderful, whimsical art around. The vibrant, quirky collections — including some interactive pieces — can be appreciated by art buffs of all ages. From the kooky WhirliGig outside the entrance to a replica of the Lusitania made entirely of toothpicks to a sculpture garden with amusing works to a building full of kinetic sculptures big and small, the museum is a brilliant showcase of craft and imagination.
KFDC Tip: Be sure to check out the museum shop, Sideshow. Even if you don’t buy anything, it’s a hoot to browse all of the fun, offbeat items.

 

All little hands on deck of the USS Constellation

Historic Ships
Where: 301 East Pratt Street
When: Thursday – Monday, 10am – 4pm
Admission: $15/adult, $13/teen, $7/youth
Historic Ships of Baltimore is currently welcoming visitors aboard the USS Constellation and USS Torsk (there are a few more ships, though not open right now). Touring the vessels moored at the Inner Harbor is a fun and fascinating experience for all ages. You can ring the ship’s bell, check out the cannons on deck, (pretend) take the helm, and get a glimpse at what were once the inner workings of the ship and crew. And on the USS Torsk, a World War II submarine, you can see the tight space the crew once lived in hundreds of feet underwater (which is at once creepy and cool).
KFDC Tip: For an immersive experience, the Historic Ships offers an Overnight Adventure for ages 6 and up. They are scheduled to start up again in September 2021.

 

The recreated cannery in the Baltimore Museum of Industry

Baltimore Museum of Industry
Where: 1415 Key Highway
When: Open by appointment only
Admission: $12/adult, $7/child, free/6 & under

The Museum of Industry is a great Baltimore attraction that doesn’t get nearly enough attention. Highlighting the trades and people that helped build the port city, it’s full of fun and interesting exhibits and installations, many with hands-on elements, that both children and adults will enjoy. Several permanent exhibits are set up just as the real businesses would have been when they existed, giving visitors an interesting and insightful glimpse at life during that time period.
KFDC Tip: Go on a Saturday from mid-May through November and check out the BMI Farmers Market that runs from 9am – 1pm before your museum visit.

 

The birthplace of the star spangled banner, Fort McHenry

Fort McHenry
Where: 2400 East Fort Avenue
When: Wednesday – Sunday, 9am – 4:45pm
Admission:
The birthplace of “The Star Spangled Banner,” Fort McHenry is the site of a key battle in the War of 1812. During non-Covid times, you can learn about the history of the national monument through all kinds of interesting exhibits, both in the Visitors Center and throughout the grounds. Children will especially enjoy seeing the cannons, exploring underground spaces, and touring the barracks that now house lots of neat exhibits, including several interactives. Right now, you can access the Historic Star Fort, but the Visitors Center and indoor fort exhibits are closed.
KFDC Tip: When the Visitor Center is open, be sure to watch the 10-minute, very moving film depicting the history of Fort McHenry shown there.

 

Chug on down to the B&O

The B&O Railroad Museum
Where: 901 West Pratt Street
When: Mon-Sat 10am – 4pm, Sun 11am – 4pm
Admission: $20/adult, $17/senior, $12/age 2-12

All aboard for a railroading adventure! Kids who are into trains will looove the B&O, with all kinds of exhibits all about locomotives, including real train cars on display, some they even climb aboard and explore. They also have programming especially for children like story times and the annual Day Out with Thomas event when the beloved Tank Engine visits with his crew.
KFDC Tip: Check the schedule before you go, so you can plan for a real train ride on the One Mile Express.

Urban Pirates
Where: 911 South Ann Street
When: Saturday & Sunday, 9:30am – 5:30pm
Admission: $22 ($12/age 2 & under

Set sail for some arrr-some fun on the high Chesapeake Bay seas! Urban Pirates offers family adventure cruises on weekends, taking little swashbucklers on a cruise to search for lost treasure. On the journey, there are fun activities and water canons, plus guests can get suited up for it with vests, tattoos, and drawn-on facial hair.
KFDC Tip: These adventures make for great birthday parties — my kids went to a couple here and loved them!

Maryland Zoo
Where: One Safari Place
When: March – Dec, Daily 10am – 4pm | Jan-Feb, Fri-Mon, 10am – 4pm
Admission: $22-26/age 12+, $18/age 2-11

When you have a fantastic zoo with free admission right in your own city, it’s hard to justify making a long drive to pay somewhat steep admission to see the same animals. Thus, we’ve actually never been to the Maryland Zoo. That said, I hear it’s fun (much like many zoos), and since visiting the National Zoo may be tougher since timed-entry passes are required, this is a good alternative.

Baltimore Museum of Art
Where: 10 Art Museum Drive
When: Wednesday-Sunday, from 10am – 5pm
Admission: Free with timed-entry passes
The Baltimore Museum of Art has an extensive collection of work from many centuries and genres. Pre-Covid, the BMA offered free in-person, hands-on programming for kids on weekends; now you can find family art activities online as well as tips for visiting with children.

Walters Art Museum
Where:
When: Wednesday – Sunday, 10am – 5pm
Admission: Free
We have yet to visit the museum in the Mount Vernon neighborhood, but I’ve heard the Walters’ space is just as interesting as the exhibits. Housed in several historic buildings, you apparently wind your way through galleries as you explore, kind of like a navigating labyrinth. It gets raves for its eclectic collection, with artifacts and works that include a mummy, an ark door, paintings by some of the masters, plus thousands of other pieces.

Cylburn Arboretum
Where: 4915 Greenspring Avenue
When: Tuesday – Sunday, 8am – 8pm
Admission: Free

In the same vein as the zoo, we have an amazing, huge Arboretum right here in DC, so we haven’t been to this one. But if you want some green space in Baltimore, you apparently can find 200 acres of it at Cylburn. The grounds contain hundreds of trees and plant varieties, trails, gardens, and a historic mansion (though not open right now).

 

Baltimore’s Little Italy

PLACES TO EAT

Little Italy
Where: Southeast area of downtown Baltimore
When: Varies by restaurant
Cost: Varies by restaurant

The charming neighborhood in southeast Baltimore is known for restaurants that serve delicious, authentic Italian food. And the options range from casual carry out pizza and subs to family-style meals to more upscale dining. We’d often head that way after a visit to Port Discovery — a day of play works up appetites! — and the neighborhood is just a few minutes’ drive from the children’s museum. Amicci’s and Isabella’s are a couple of great places to go with kids, but you’re practically guaranteed a scrumptious meal at any of them.

Baba’s Mediterranean
Where: 745 East Fort Avenue
When: Tues – Sat, 11:30am – 8pm & Sun 12-7pm
Cost: Sandwiches and salads under $10

This has been a go-to for us after a day at the Baltimore attractions. Falafel sandwiches, greek salad, kabobs, super tasty Baba’s Ghannous and hummus, and more yummy bites always make everyone happy. I always get extra dips to bring home, too.

Miss Shirley’s Cafe
Where: 750 E. Pratt Street 
When: Daily, 8am – 3pm
Cost: Entrees $15-20, Kids Box $10
It can sometimes be hard to get a table, but if you do, you are in for a treat. Plan to start your Baltimore visit there — Miss Shirley’s is known for its breakfast and brunch (great for lunch, too).  The food is downright delicious. Kids’ meals are served in a cute bento box, and children’s books are available while they wait (in non-Covid times, anyway).

Nacho Mamas
Where: 2907 O’Donnell Street 
When: Sun-Thurs 12-10pm, Fri-Sat 12-11pm
Cost: Entrees under $20
Located in the Canton neighborhood of Baltimore, Nacho Mamas is about a 10-minute drive from many of the big attractions, but worth heading that way after you’re done playing by the Inner Harbor. The quesadillas, tacos, wings, burgers, sandwiches, and other easy fare are scrumptious and substantial — and served in big hubcaps. Lots of Elvis-themed decor makes it awesome, too. Take time to walk around Canton, a fun waterfront area in the city.

 

Stroll, shop, eat, and drink along the charming streets of Fell’s point

EXPLORE MORE

Fell’s Point
Most folks are aware of Fell’s Point, the lively, historic neighborhood on the water in southeast Baltimore. It’s an easy mile walk from the Inner Harbor (or a fun, little water taxi cruise) and a great area to check out with the fam. All kinds of eateries and boutiques line the streets, plus the Broadway Market is great to browse for treats.

Canton
Just mentioned above, Canton is a vibrant waterfront neighborhood — fun to stroll, shop, eat, and drink. There are a variety of stores to browse and places to get a bite, from easy, casual snacks to finer dining.  The annual Baltimore Seafood Festival takes place there, this year from September 12-14.

Baltimore Farmer’s Market & Bazaar
The open air market runs every Sunday 7am – 12pm underneath the Jones Falls Expressway at Holliday & Saratoga Streets. It’s fun to walk around and check out the fresh produce stands, gourmet foods, sweet treats, crafts, and other goods. Concessions are for sale, too — you can even stop there for breakfast or lunch, then head over to the larger attractions on the Inner Harbor.

 

Getting There
Baltimore is an easy drive from DC, just 45 minutes up I-95 or the BW Parkway (295) depending on where you are departing from. However, if you want to relax and enjoy the ride there, you can take the MARC train from Union Station. The hour-ish ride to Baltimore’s Penn Station is $9/passenger each way, and there are several departure times throughout the day.

Do you have a favorite Baltimore adventure you don’t see here?  Let us know in the comments!

 

 

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Where to Play on the Weekdays: October 7-11

See quirky works both indoor and out at the American Visionary Art Museum

See quirky works both indoor and out at the American Visionary Art Museum



Monday – Hike among the woods and wetlands of Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria. Turtles, frogs, and birds are among the wildlife you could see. Stop by the nature center for even more exhibits and animal encounters. The park is open daily from dawn to dusk, and admission is free. You can read more about it among the big list of outdoor recommendations.

Tuesday – Catch a performance of Lulu and the Brontosaurus at Imagination Stage. Showtime is 11am. Tickets range from $15 to $22. (If you can’t make it Tuesday, there’s a show on Wednesday at 10:30am, too.)

Wednesday – See some of the most wonderful, whimsical art around at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore. The colorful, quirky works — some of them interactive — can be appreciated by art buffs of all ages. Hours are 10am – 6pm Tuesday – Sunday. Admission is $15.95/adults, $13.95/seniors, $9.95/students & children 7 and up, free for ages 6 and under

Thursday – Visit ponies, cows, peacocks, chickens, bunnies, and llamas at Old Maryland Farm in Watkins Regional Park. When you’re done, head over to the nearby playground to let the kids climb and swing. Admission is free to both. The farm is open 9am – 4pm Tuesday – Friday (9am – 4:30pm on Saturdays, 11:30am – 4:30pm on Sundays and holidays).

Friday – Head to an area farm to take advantage of smaller weekday crowds at one of several fall festivals that are already underway. See this guide to find out where you can celebrate the season.


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Where to Play on the Weekdays: April 22-26

Feeding the peacocks during a birthday party at Old Maryland Farm

Feeding the peacocks during a birthday party at Old Maryland Farm



Monday – Enjoy a special Earth Day session of Story Time for Families at the National Museum of the American Indian. Join staff at 11:15am in the imagiNATIONS Activity Center on the 3rd floor to hear the story When the Shadbush Blooms, about the Lenni Lenape, a Native community from the Chesapeake region. These interactive Hok-noth-da (“Did you hear?” in the Shawnee language) readings usually take place Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays, but they’ve added another one this week. Plan to spend time before or after exploring the many hands-on exhibits in the center geared toward children. Admission is free.

Tuesday – Visit ponies, donkeys, peacocks, chickens, bunnies, and llamas at Old Maryland Farm in Watkins Regional Park. When you’re done, head over to the nearby playground to let the kids climb and swing. Admission is free to both. The farm is open 9am – 4pm Tuesday – Friday (9am – 4:30pm on Saturdays, 11:30am – 4:30pm on Sundays and holidays). And if you live in DC, don’t forget to vote in the special election!

Wednesday – It’s Kids Day at Lebanese Taverna in Arlington. Enjoy free children’s entertainment every Wednesday from 10-11am. And stay after for a tasty bite to eat!

Thursday – See some of the most wonderful, whimsical art around at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore. The colorful, quirky works — some of them interactive — can be appreciated by art buffs of all ages. Hours are 10am – 6pm. Admission is $15.95/adults, $13.95/seniors, $9.95/students & children 7 and up, free for ages 6 and under

Friday – Get a dose of nature in an unexpected place at Winkler Botanical Preserve. Located just off 395 and Seminary Road in Alexandria, the park is a nice outdoor surprise in an area full of office complexes and strip malls. Hours are 8:30am – 4pm, and admission is free.


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Filed under All ages, Animals, Art, DC, Eats, Educational, Farm, Free, Live Entertainment, Maryland, Museums, Music, Nature, Ongoing, Outdoor, Park, Spring, Virginia, Weekdays

The American Visionary Art Museum: Wonderful, Whimsical Art for All Ages

A good indication of the fun that's yet to come

A good indication of the fun that’s yet to come

It’s a shame the American Visionary Art Museum doesn’t allow photography inside, because one look at some of the brilliant, quirky, beautiful, inspiring works of art housed there is all it would take to immediately understand why kids and adults are wild about the museum. Though I think the images I was able to capture outside may do the trick just as well.

We visited last week while Owen was still on winter break (Sasha was already back in school) when some friends invited us to join them there. We knew about the museum — friends had recommended it and No Monsters in My Bed has a nice review as well — but just hadn’t made it there yet, since jaunts up to Baltimore usually take us to the well known attractions that cater to kids. In fact, Owen had assumed this museum was also full of science-related exhibits, play spaces, and interactive fun. When he realized on the drive there that it was actually an art museum, he was somewhat disappointed.

It's called a Giant WhirliGig. The name alone rules.

It’s called a Giant WhirliGig. The name alone rules.

That was until we pulled into a parking space behind the museum and he did a complete 180. Just across the street was the awesome Giant WhirliGig, plus the mosaic mirrored facade and school bus topped with plastic swans and bunnies in the entrance courtyard. That elicited a “Whoa! That is so cool!” And that sentiment was expressed many a time as we toured the rest of the exhibits.

A perfect welcome

A perfect welcome

When you walk in to the museum, be sure to look down. The welcome mat is made entirely of toothbrushes, the graying bristles spelling out “Smile” across it. And that’s just the tiny tip of a huge iceberg. That building, just one of three, is full of remarkable art that is fun, unique, enchanting, captivating. Really, I could exhaust all my adjectives describing the many wonderful works to see.

More mirrored mosaics line walls around the stairwell. Owen loved the model of the Lusitania made out of 193,000 toothpics and five gallons of glue. All of the kids spent a good while peering into a case full of Pez depensers and looking at their reflections in warped mirrors. They also loved the fairy houses constructed entirely of plant materials — we all agreed it reminded us of the Season’s Greening exhibit at the Botanic Garden. A bed with Alfred E. Neuman tiled on the headboard made me chuckle.

Shhh... I snuck a shot of the Pez!

Shhh… I snuck a shot of the Pez!

There’s some more serious art in the main building, too. A series of beautiful large, embroidered illustrations tell one woman’s story of surviving the Holocaust. Another exhibit presents works by Gretchen Feldman, both lovely scenes that reflect her idyllic life and bold pieces that depict the cancer cells that ended it.

Bring it, Bobby Fischer

Bring it, Bobby Fischer

After touring the main building for about an hour, we made our way to the next one, which houses just one work. In the middle of the floor is a lifesize chess board, its chessmen made made of metal and about as tall as Owen, that you can actually play.

Whimsy in the sculpture garden

Whimsy in the sculpture garden

Art you can play in

Art you can play in

From there we headed out to the sculpture garden where the kids romped in the play structure made of logs and thick tree branches. In the courtyard leading to the third building we stopped to gawk at the large mirrored egg, a very tall guitar bird, and giant nest attached to one wall before heading inside.

See quirky works both indoor and out at the American Visionary Art Museum

See quirky works both indoor and out at the American Visionary Art Museum

The third building was probably the kids’ favorite — and I thought it was pretty fabulous, too. Not only did we walk in to a spectacular sight of big, whimsical sculptures, all previous entrants in the annual Kinetic Sculpture Race, showcased throughout, we were also directed by staff to the smaller kinetic sculptures, which offered some hands-on amusement. Enclosed in glass all along one wall of the downstairs, these intricate little wooden sculptures move at the push of a button. We watched a dragon fly, sailors sitting down for a meal, a man eating spaghetti in a bathtub, a cat drinking milk, and many more adorable and wacky moving scenes. As for the bigger works, there are elephants, giant pink poodles, a jeweled car, and more — all just incredible to view.

Nesting

Nesting

One member of the staff was very informative and gave us background on the building. We learned that one wall on the third floor is made completely from barrel staves leftover from the brewery that was previously housed in the building. He also let us know that we could go out on the balcony to stand in the nest we’d seen from outside. How often does one get to stand in a nest?

All in all, a wonderfully fantastic outing. I already can’t wait to return, next time with Sasha along, too. Those giant pink poodles have her name written all over ’em.

The American Visionary Art Museum is located in Baltimore near the Inner Harbor. It’s open daily 10am – 6pm Tuesday – Sunday. Admission is $15.95/adults, $13.95/seniors, $9.95/students & children 7 and up, free for ages 6 and under. *It’s also open on Monday, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day with free admission & special programming for all!

If you go:

– There is plenty of metered parking right behind the museum on Covington Street and on Key Highway. You can use a credit card on Covington, but bring change for Key.

– A cafe, Cielo Verde (formerly Mr. Rain’s Fun House),  is located in the main building. (We didn’t eat there, but I hear they have great bloody marys.) It’s currently open for private bookings only.

– Elevators are conveniently located and make the museum stroller friendly.

– Be sure to check out, Sideshow , the museum shop. Even if you don’t buy anything, there are tons of fun, kooky items to browse.

– Membership is available – $100 for a 4-person household, and you can add additional family members that are 17 and under.

Baba’s Mediterranean Kitchen, just minutes away, is a tasty lunch option.

 

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