[Note: This post was written by KFDC contributor Emily Moise, who visited Port Discovery with her family, including her 3-year-old daughter and baby son. In all the years our family visited the children’s museum in Baltimore, I never did a proper write-up, and my kids have aged out of a lot of it. But as Port Discovery recently underwent a major renovation, the timing is great for one now.]
As we await the *almost open* children’s museum here in Washington, DC, a half-day trip up to Baltimore’s Port Discovery will certainly tide you over. The Inner Harbor, and its historic seaport, provides the perfect metaphorical backdrop for this children’s museum that has, without exaggeration, something for every child, with every interest, to embark on.
Open since 1998, the museum completed a $10.5 million renovation in 2019, notably with the floor-to-ceiling “SkyClimber” and twisting slide, as well as a life-size ship facade where kids can play captain and load “cargo” on the third-story overlook. The museum has the latest and greatest in hands-on, creative play — though, like all children’s museums, things become “well-loved” so some of the 10+ exhibit spaces aren’t as brand-sparkling new as others.
If you have a preschooler in tow, your first stop will likely be at the “Store & Fill’er Up Station” which is one of the most authentic fake food shopping set-ups I’ve experienced. It’s a convenience store modeled after sponsor Royal Farms, allowing kids to fill up a grocery tote, get a pretend fountain soda, put gas in the car, and “drive.” A few levels up, “Tiny’s Diner” offers even more for the play food lovers with a large space conducive to collaborative play and parent engagement.
Perhaps the most unique exhibit space is “Wonders of Water” where my daughter’s love of squeegeeing grew exponentially with the addition of spray bottles and free-range windows. Also found here are STEM-infused water tables, a giant bubble hoop, and a musical water play (and spray) area. The most thoughtful touches are the amenities: raincoats, crocs, and a drying station for all sizes.
For those with younger toddler-age children, you won’t want to miss “Tot Trails” which is limited to children three and under. This exhibit space is set up with simple yet stimulating activities for all levels—sitters, crawlers, climbers, and walkers. Like most of the museum, STEM and arts are intertwined in a rudimentary, unintimidating way. For example, here you’ll find a classic wind tube with leaves for little ones to insert and catch with a butterfly net.
Lastly, “The Oasis” provided a much-needed wind down from the stimulation. It’s a children’s library-esque space stocked with books, cozy nooks, and exploratory play stations. By chance, we walked in just as story time was about to start—on this Martin Luther King Jr. weekend day, themes of community and connection were shared throughout the three books read. This was the perfect ending to our visit, leading to an instantaneous car nap for both of my children.
Port Discovery is located at 35 Market Place on Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. General admission to the museum is $17.95 for visitors ages 1+. If you think your family will go at least couple of times in a year, consider a membership starting at $140.
* There are lockers to store your items (for free) in “The Pier” eating area — use them! The museum is three levels of non-stop movement, particularly for a first-time visitor trying to see and do everything.
* The Pier is also where you can take a snack or lunch break. Bring your own food or carry out from one of the neighboring establishments.
* There are many, many exhibits — more than mentioned here, including a bunch for grade school ages — so be ready for a long day (or plan on more visits!)
* Port Discovery hosts lots of special events and themed weekends — check the calendar for any you might want to experience.
* You could make it a longer trip to Baltimore, overnight or even weekend, and also visit the Maryland Science Center, American Visionary Art Museum, Baltimore Museum of Industry, or tour the historic ships docked at the Inner Harbor.