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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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Let’s Party!

The kids’ joint party at Watkins Nature Center – double the birthday fun!

 

Every year since starting this blog, I’ve done one big post about birthday parties.  They are kind of a thing for me, and rather than reiterate why, I’ll just direct you to this post and this one, which not only cover the background on my quest for good party venues, but also have a bunch of recommendations for places to host a bash for your child. And in keeping with the once-a-year tradition, here’s another post dedicated to the birthday party, a compilation of potential locales to celebrate our kids’ big days. And if you know of a good one that I have yet to mention, feel free to add it in the comments.

Welcoming another party guest

Watkins Nature Center
I’ve suggested birthday parties at nature centers before, but Watkins now gets individual mention – and huge props – after I hosted my kids’ bash there earlier this year. It couldn’t have worked out better for us.  Since Owen and Sasha’s birthdays are just two weeks apart, we once again took advantage of the opportunity to throw a joint party. However, that meant we needed a venue that could accommodate guests of both kids. It also had to be indoors for their mid-winter party. On top of that, we wanted an activity that both birthday honorees, ages 3 and 6, would enjoy. Watkins came through in spades. Their party room accommodates up to 50 guests – 25 children and 25 adults, which was way more than other nature centers I checked out. We played up the “bringing the outdoors in” concept during what’s usually a cold time of year (it ended up being an unseasonably gorgeous day and the kids got to enjoy the trails, pond, and rescued birds around the center along with the animal and nature exhibits inside). But best of all, both Owen and Sasha were thrilled about the main event: A live animal show, a 30-minute viewing of some of the center’s feathery and reptilian residents. As far as logistics go, you can’t beat it. The cost for a three-hour rental (that includes set up and clean up time) is $155, which is pretty stellar in the DC area. You bring your own food, cake, and supplies, and plenty of tables and chairs are there for you to set up as desired. The party room is cute with big, colorful insect and amphibian paintings on the walls, and there’s much more to awe kids in and around the center. I recommend booking well in advance, as they only have two party time slots per weekend – from 1-4pm on Saturdays and Sundays. For reservations, call 301.218.6702 (Update: Rates & options have changed since this was published. Check with Watkins for the most current info.)

National Building Museum
The NBM was included in my first birthday party post, but with some new options available, it makes the list again. Craft Activity Birthday Parties are available in a variety of themes: Castle & Crowns and All Aboard! Train Construction are for children 3-6, while Tower Power and Crazy Creations are suitable for 6-11-year-olds. Each two-hour party includes a building orientation, hands-on craft, and party time in a museum classroom. All guests also receive complimentary tickets to view exhibits after. Cost is $250 for 10 guests, $15 for each additional guest. Another option for kids 6-11 is the Brick City Party, a tour of the Lego Architecture exhibit, a chance to construct their own brick buildings and create a Lego city, and a birthday celebration. The two-hour party costs $300 for 10 guests, $15 for each additional guest.  You must be a member at the Family Level or higher to book a party at the NBM, but I highly recommend getting the membership, anyway – at $80/year, it pays for itself if you and the kids visit the Building Zone and exhibits even just a few times.

Ice Skating
A cool way to celebrate a kid’s big day is on ice… make that, at the ice skating rink. And there are several in the area that host parties. Kettler Capital Iceplex has a package for $185 that includes party room rental, admission for 10 kids and 2 adults to the public skate session, skate rentals, food and drinks, party host, and party supplies. More guests can be added for extra cost.  Cabin John Ice Rink in Bethesda rents a party room for $50/hour (you bring food, supplies, etc.) and a studio rink for $185/hour. You can also forego the private rink, and guests can skate during public skate sessions (admission is $3.50/ages 3-4, $5.50/ages 5-10, $6.50/ages 11 and up.) Be sure to book a party room during public skate times.  For an ice skating party under the sky, the Pentagon Row Ice Skating Rink is a great option (though only open November – March).  Their birthday package includes a 25-minute skating lesson, then skate time, and tables can be reserved for party time. Cost is $12/person with a six-person minimum.  These are just three suggestions; for even more ice skating options, check out the venues listed in this post.

Roller Skating
When I was a kid, I probably had at least three birthday parties at the roller skating rink. I can even recall donning a sparkly headband (one that went around my forehead, not on top of my head), scrunching my legwarmers around my ankles, and circling the rink as Xanadu blared in the background. Surely, that’s not completely a thing of the past (Olivia Newton-John is due for a major comeback, right?). At least it’s not at a few area roller rinks. One of them is Wheels Skating Center in Odenton, Md., where birthday party packages for up to 10 skaters are available. Packages include admission and skate rental, pizza and drinks, 45 minutes at a party table, supplies, a free skate pass for each party guest, and special goodies for the birthday kid. Skate Zone in Crofton, Md., is another place to get rolling, with a few party packages starting at $195, are available. The basic includes admission and rentals for 8 guests, food and drinks, game tokens, an hour at a party table, supplies, and goody bags.

Pirate Ship Parties
Buccaneer-obsessed kids can fulfill their pirate dreams on the high Chesapeake “seas.” Two different companies in Baltimore and Annapolis offer party packages for swashbuckling birthday boys and girls. Owen has attended – and had a blast at — parties at both locations. And if his birthday fell at a different time of year, he’d probably opt to celebrate it at one of them. Urban Pirates in Baltimore offer three birthday packages starting at $275 for 15 guests, 30 minutes of boarding activities, 60 minutes of sailing on the Fearless, a special Pirate birthday song and goodies for both the honoree and guests. Cake time costs extra, so you may have to plan for another venue, perhaps a nearby park, for that. Visit the website to see all of their party options. Pirate Adventures in Annapolis has a few packages available, all of them including 30 minutes of face painting and dress-up before a 75-minute cruise aboard the Sea Gypsy, a ride that takes party-goers out on the Bay and includes fun and games of the pirate variety. Depending on the package, there may or may not be time in a party room after, so you might have to figure out another option for cake. Package prices begin at $675 for 45 passengers, and while that sounds steep, you might consider doing what a friend of mine did, and sharing the party with a friend.

Sprinkles Cupcakes
After attending a Mother’s Day cupcake decorating session here, Sasha declared Sprinkles as her next birthday party venue. And I completely understand why: Cupcakes! Ones you get to frost yourself and adorn with all the pretty and fun toppings you like. In an adorable pink-walled (and floored) party room above the shop.  Sprinkles provides the bare cupcakes, then sets out several flavors of frosting along with a variety of cute, edible sugar decorations — sprinkles included, of course — so that party guests can make their cupcakes look and taste exactly the way they want them. And you’re welcome to bring your own food and drinks for party fare other than the scrumptious treats. The cost for all of this is $500 and includes two hours of rental time, 4 dozen full-sized cupcakes or 6 dozen mini cupcakes , all decorating tools, Sprinkles to-go boxes, and a party coordinator to assist, and set up/clean up by Sprinkles.  The rate might sound steep, but as the room accommodates 20 guests seated and 30 standing, it could possibly be a shared party.

ComedySportz 4 Kids
This improv show at The Comedy Spot in Ballston Common Mall is how Owen wants to celebrate his next party. We’ve never been, but I looked into this option for the kids’ birthdays this year and learned they were too young, as it’s recommended for first graders and up.  The fly-by-the-seat-of-the-pants show encourages audience participation and even invites theatre-goers to get in on the act, too.  Afterwards, groups can stay for a party on stage. Rates are $10/person for up to 30 guests, plus $100 for the post-show celebration. You bring all the food and supplies; they’ll help you clean up when it’s over. And if you want to go big for the occasion, you can buy out the entire show and have the place to yourselves for $600 (another joint birthday possibility).

Ballet Petite
A friend claims this is a must on a list of area birthday party recommendations. And by the sound of it, I couldn’t agree more. I would have adored a soiree like this when I was a little girl. Catering to budding ballerinas and young entertainers, two party packages indulge the dance enthusiast’s fancy. For children ages 3 and up, there’s the Ballerina Party that includes a story, dance session in ornate costumes, tea party, and a fairy-dusted birthday cake. Kids 5 and older, can turn their party into a production with the Musical Theatre Birthday that includes a song and dance from a popular Broadway show, “auditions”, then a chance to perform the show for parents. Afterward, the party moves to a disco club where guests relax with music, apple cider, and birthday cake. Rates start at $650 for 16 guests (again, one to possibly share to cut costs). Ballet Petite has locations in both Bethesda and McLean.

The Playseum
The venue full of cute, themed rooms encouraging pretend play and hands-on fun for little ones gets loads of raves from parents as a great place for everyday play (Sasha, for one, loves it there). I’ve heard their birthday parties are fantastic, too.  They offer a few packages at different price points, depending on the number of guests and activities included. The basic ($150) gets you an hour of playtime and cupcake decorating, and story time for 6 children. A more-frills one  ($300) includes an all-day play pass, a private party room for two hours, a themed story time, and Playseum dollars to purchase a toy or activity. For more details and other party options, see the website.

 

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