During her inaugural address in 2011, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake pledged to attract 10,000 new families to Baltimore in the next decade. Of course, this is a lofty goal (and one promised by many past mayors), but we think we’re seeing signs of progress—the city is more family-friendly than ever. “Baltimore is experiencing a renaissance, which I don’t think can take place without families,” says Judy Chung O’Brien, founder and president of the Downtown Baltimore Family Alliance and Otterbein mom of three. “So we want to advocate for those families—let everyone know we’re here, we’re important.” Once was, parents had to rely on the surrounding counties for “mommy and me” classes or a great swimming pool. Now, the city is finally catching up with the county, and we provide an extensive list of family-friendly activities in the entire metro area – everything from festivals and museums to restaurants and art classes. We also feature a list of spots for the more adventurous tykes, as well as tips from an urban mom of four who makes it work. “When you’re having a baby, instead of automatically thinking, ‘We have to move to the ’burbs now,’” O’Brien says. “I want people to realize how vibrant and connected this city is for families."
Learn and Play
Maryland Science Center
601 Light Street, 410-685-5225, mdsci.org
If your little one has a case of the “whys?” and you are somehow without all the answers, hightail it to the Maryland Science Center. Whether it be hoisting oneself up using a pulley system to learn about Newtonian physics or marveling at the science of black holes in the planetarium, the Science Center offers a way to make complicated scientific concepts accessible to tiny inquiring minds. May ushers in two visiting exhibits: one on wildlife rescue and rehabilitation efforts and another in which you enter Victorian London and use your deductive reasoning skills to help Sherlock Holmes solve a case. Other popular features include an IMAX theater; an activities room for kids 0-8 with a working miniature Baltimore streetscape; permanent exhibits on dinosaurs, the human body, and the Chesapeake Bay; and free Friday night stargazing at the observatory.
National Aquarium Baltimore
501 E. Pratt Street, 410-576-3800, aqua.org
Let’s face it: We all have favorites among the more than 16,000 critters who call the National Aquarium Baltimore home. Near the top of the list for most people? The dolphins and the sharks. Luckily, the aquarium offers plenty of opportunities to spend extra quality time with these creatures. For a truly memorable slumber-party experience, spend $95 for a Shark Sleepover where you’ll go behind-the-scenes, on the catwalk over the tank, and into the Shark Discovery Lab for activities before curling up in an underwater viewing area for the night. Similar sleepovers with the aquarium’s Atlantic bottlenose dolphins are available as well, but we suggest the pricey but truly special Dolphin Encounter, which allows for private, two-hour, play-and-training sessions with members of the aquarium’s pod of dolphins. It costs $209.95, but it’s actually priceless.
National Museum of Dentistry
31 S. Greene Street, 410-706-0600, dentalmuseum.org
Ah, teeth-brushing: every child’s pre-bedtime nemesis. But perhaps a trip to the National Museum of Dentistry will convince them otherwise? Boasting a collection of more than 40,000 objects including George Washington’s ivory dentures (nope, not wooden) and Queen Victoria’s personal oral-hygiene instruments, the museum doesn’t sugarcoat the often grisly history of tooth care, but also seeks to comfort anxious tots with MouthPower, an interactive exhibit that recreates a dentist’s office replete with kid-sized dental chair, white lab coats, mock X-rays, and tutorials on how to floss, healthy eating, and the importance of avoiding tobacco. Alternately, you can explore the forensics exhibit, which explains how teeth and saliva can identify a person just as well as fingerprints.
Geppi’s Entertainment Museum
301 W. Camden Street, 410-625-7060, geppismuseum.com
Opened in 2006 by comic-book magnate (and Baltimore magazine publisher) Steve Geppi, Geppi’s Entertainment Museum houses his extensive collection of American pop culture and entertainment memorabilia, including toys, dolls, movie posters, comic books, collectibles, and much more. Organized chronologically, the galleries allow visitors to trace the American childhood experience decade by decade from the late-Victorian era through today. Along the way, kids will recognize many enduring icons (Superman, Batman, Indiana Jones, the Star Wars gang) and puzzle over other bygone characters. (What’s a Howdy-Doody?) Make a point to visit the special gallery dedicated to the museum’s newest exhibition, Baltimore Heroes, as well. The exhibit highlights many of the unique personalities and companies that have shaped Baltimore.
35 Market Place, 410-727-8120, portdiscovery.org
Baltimore-area parents must have dropped to their knees and thanked the heavens above when Port Discovery opened in 1998. Billed as the city’s only kid-powered museum, the building (a renovated former fish market) houses myriad engaging play environments——including a ’50s-style diner, a mini soccer stadium, a treehouse-ropes course, and a Pharaoh’s tomb——all designed to teach educational and life skills and tire out those indefatigable tykes. (And while you might lose your kid in that treehouse, the staff is used to panicked parents and always finds your little ones.) In addition to its permanent exhibits, the museum hosts temporary shows like the current The Wizard of OZ educational exhibit, up through September 15. Kids can go over the rainbow with activities ranging from exploring munchkin houses to creating their own tornado.
5402 Harford Road,
Here’s the number one thing about Clementine: It’s a restaurant first and foremost——with really great food and cool things on the wall. (You can even peer into an entire room full of meat.) Here’s the second thing about Clementine: It’s so tot-friendly that it’s usually the first place people recommend when someone asks about “kid-friendly” meal spots. (And a nice change from the usual answer: such-and-such diner.) You can leisurely eat Andouille sausage cabbage rolls or coconut-and- sweet-potato risotto or any of the aforementioned meat, while your kids hang out on the comfy sofa or rug and dig through bins of toys and books in between mouthfuls of Winnie’s Fantastical Mac & Cheese. It’s like a peace treaty between kids, adults, taste buds, and sanity.
Golden West Cafe
1105 W 36th Street,
It’s a toss-up when someone asks us why Hampden’s Golden West Cafe is our go-to for kid dining. It might be the eye candy sprinkled all over the restaurant (Moose head! Record albums! Willy Wonka-esque cupcakes! Upholstered booths! Brightly painted walls!) It might be the small smattering of toys in the waiting area to keep little ones entertained while they patiently (not!) wait for their table. Or it might be the menu—an under 10-year-old’s dream: quesadillas (served with Fritos!), New System Bakery cinnamon bread French toast, a ton of vegetarian and vegan options for the mini non-meat eaters, and perfectly crisped tater tots with dippy sauce. (Get two orders since parents tend to steal . . . or so we’ve heard.)
2010 Clipper Park Rd. #126, 410-464-8000, woodberrykitchen.com
We have certain rules when it comes to Woodberry Kitchen. We only bring our kids for brunch or supper (dinner is for gov’t mule cocktails and babysitters), and we ask to be seated in the big room. That guarantees enough space for coloring books, baby bags, and maybe even a kid under the table with an iPad. What we mostly love about this Clipper Mill gem with seasonal food and Chesapeake influences is the very not-kid-like kid menu: chicken on a stick with carrots and salad, wood-oven flatbread with cheese and herbs, and pan-cakes (not pancakes) with peach compote and real maple syrup, washed down with grass-fed milk and housemade fruit soda pop. The wait staff is always attentive, equal parts flirty and respectful. Plus, the high chairs are old school and the coffee strong. That’s all most parents need.
700 South Broadway, 410-537-5005, toddconners.com
We were surprised, too. After all, this is a corner bar in Fells Point. (All the parents’ eyes just lit up.) But, see, the owners have 1.5 kids (one here, one on the way). And, you know, kids change you——and your menu. So, not only do they offer things like grilled chicken-breast strips and a five-ounce bistro steak, but they have sides like apple slices, celery and carrot sticks, and mashed potatoes. And they recently reached out to their neighborhood listserv to ask the parents not only what else they’d like to see on their kids’ menu, but also whether they were offering right-sized portions and enough healthful options. A thoughtful kids’ menu like that makes our hearts and bellies happy.
Swing Of Things
Pier 5, piercespark.org
As Pierce’s Park was being constructed between the Columbus Center and Eastern Avenue, there were a lot of “hmms” and “ohhs” and “that’s not a playground!” Well, precisely. Pierce’s Park turned out to be a play space that breeds creativity and exploration. You don’t need a slide when there are landscaped berms to roll down, and you don’t need swings when you can barrel through a living willow tunnel, and you certainly don’t need monkey bars when there is a musical fence for banging out a tune. And what to make of the giant David Hess horn-like stainless steel sculpture? Well, that just depends on where your kid’s imagination has taken them that day.
1518 Latrobe Park Terrace, sobosports.com
This is a playground’s playground——no wonder it’s always teeming with kids: neighborhood kids, soccer kids, after-school kids. Located in the über family-friendly Locust Point, Latrobe is always clean and always friendly. Even if you don’t know anyone when you arrive, you’ll most definitely leave with a future play date or e-mail address. The best thing——besides the swings and slides and plenty of play spaces that cater to lots of different ages——is that the entire place is fenced in. That means that if you have a runner (and haven’t we all at some point?), there is a fence and gate between kid and freedom. But we promise, once your kid sees Chesapeake Chessie (a giant climbing creature) busting out of the ground, they won’t want to go anywhere else.
Rodgers Forge Tot Lot
Blenheim Road, Towson, rodgersforge.org/kids.shtml
The number one reason to move to Rodgers Forge? The schools. The number two reason? The Tot Lot. Located at the western end of Hopkins Road, between Bellona Avenue and Blenheim Road, it’s old-school perfection: a sand pit, two sets of swings, a see-saw, slides, and a large climbing structure. The minute the sun peeks out, parents, grandparents, and nannies, with tons of kids in tow, head en masse to the public playground with plenty of shade and a big grassy area to play ball (with a net strung between two trees for soccer). And because it’s a neighborhood playground, everyone knows everyone and looks out for everyone’s kids——including shared snacks and toys.
Our Playground at Stadium Place
900 E. 33rd Street, stadiumplayground.org
Looking around this happy place, it’s hard to remember the heartache. The entire 1,700-square-foot playground, built on the former site of Memorial Stadium, was destroyed in 2008 by an arsonist, but rebuilt again by volunteers a year later——bigger and better. Located behind the YMCA, at the corner of 33rd Street and Ellerslie, you can hear the cries of delight before you see the tunnels for climbing, the bridges for conquering, the Maryland flag house for pretending, and the padded surface for running (and safe falling). The playground doesn’t offer much in terms of shade; parents can often be seen running after their kids with hats and sunscreen. But with its proximity to the 32nd Street Farmers’ Market, The Johns Hopkins University, and lots of neighborhood kids, the crowd is wonderfully diverse and so appreciative of all those who helped to rebuild.
Walter Sondheim Fountain in West Shore Park
West Shore Park, 400-500 blocks of Light Street, waterfrontpartnership.org
For years, the Inner Harbor has epitomized the conundrum “water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink”——or, in this case, play in. But that all changed with the creation of the Walter Sondheim Fountain in West Shore Park. Conveniently located between the city’s Visitor Center and the Maryland Science Center, West Shore Park is a bastion of lawn in the midst of the Inner Harbor that hosts regular events sponsored by Waterfront Partnership. But its crown jewel is undoubtedly the fountain, which sprays jets of (yes, clean) water 20 feet into the air in timed patterns from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. during the warmer months.
City Pools, bcrp.baltimorecity.gov/recreation/aquatics.aspx
Baltimore City’s Department of Recreation and Parks operates and maintains a system of 29 pools, but even it admits not all the pools are equally hospitable. Because of budget shortfalls, most of the city’s 13 once-vibrant neighborhood pools are in varying stages of dereliction. But, over the last decade, the agency has focused its resources on renovating the six “park pools”——that is, the pools located within Cherry Hill, Clifton, Druid Hill, Patterson, Riverside, and Roosevelt Parks——to great effect. Renovations are complete at four of the six: Cherry Hill, Clifton, Patterson, and Roosevelt, which are now ADA-compliant and feature spray pads and play areas. Each park pool will be open on the weekends beginning May 25 before transitioning to a seven-day schedule from June 15 through Labor Day. Best of all, admission is cheap: $2 a visit for park pools, $1 for neighborhood pools, and free for any splash pad.
Downtown Sailing Center
1425 Key Highway, 410-727-0722, downtownsailing.org
Annapolis may claim more Top-Siders per square mile than anyplace else in Maryland, but Federal Hill’s Downtown Sailing Center (DSC) is nurturing the next generation of mariners right here in Charm City. Operating out of the Baltimore Museum of Industry, the nonprofit DSC has been offering youth sailing programs since 1990. Programs range from summer day camps for varying ages and abilities to private lessons, often for very low fees or free. It’s all part of DSC’s mission to make sailing accessible to all Baltimoreans regardless of income, age, race, or disability. And for landlubbers, the DSC hosts a monthly Thursday Night Racing Program, during which sailboats whip around the Inner Harbor.
Michael Phelps Swim School
Several locations including 5700 Cottonworth Avenue,410-433-8300, mpswimschool.com
What better lineage to learn to blow bubbles and dive for rings, then from Baltimore’s favorite Olympic son? While you might not see Phelps hanging out too much at Meadowbrook, your kids will learn to be better swimmers. We love that the indoor pools are heated, so there’s no shivering kids during the colder months, how attentive the staff is, and the swim shop for oft forgotten swim goggles and earplugs. The other parents don’t care that we’re still carrying around our baby weight or that our kid occasionally pees on the floor. And someone always seems to have an extra swim diaper on hand when we forget ours. Also, the classes are very specific——eight different levels for ages six months and up——so kids are taught at their perfect speeds.
Back To Nature
Irvine Nature Center
11201 Garrison Forest Road, Owings Mills,
Whenever we start feeling a little city claustrophobia, we throw the kids in the car and head northwest to Irvine Nature Center. Just maneuvering up the long driveway brings out a loud cheer, and, before we can slather on the Bug Be Gone, our kids are running off to explore the 116 acres of meadows and woods in Owings Mills. Even on a rainy day, the Exhibit Hall keeps them entertained for ages learning about woodlands and wetlands and seeing spiders and snakes and turtles. But our inner naturalist is happiest at the members’ only outdoor classroom/play area with instruments made out of recycled materials, uprooted trees for climbing, sand mounds for digging, and birdfeeders for spotting winged friends. Our favorite place to end a visit is the Woodland Garden. Quiet kids might get rewarded with a glimpse of a fairy. (At least that’s what we tell our kids.)
Park After Dark
27 S. Patterson Park Avenue, 410-276-3676, facebook.com/pattersonpad
“Remember when we slept in Patterson Park?” is what your kid will elatedly say to you every time you drive by the pagoda. That is, if you sign up for the 2nd Annual Patterson Park After Dark. See, historically, when the summers would get unbearable, residents of non-air-conditioned Southeast Baltimore would sleep in the park. Not only was it a lot cooler than their stifling row houses, but it created a sense of community. Last year, Park After Dark was created to help bring back that warm and fuzzy feeling (emphasis on the warm). Locals were invited to bring tents and participate in a potluck barbecue. There was a night critters animal show, a scavenger hunt at dusk, face-painting, and a security guard patrolling the area all night (all for a $15 donation to benefit the local neighborhood association). And it’s back June 29.
The Children’s Zoo
1876 Mansion House Drive, 410-396-7102, marylandzoo.org
One of our most-oft-used memberships, The Maryland Zoo is great for its walkability, picnic tables, playground, and tram that can easily hold our double-stroller monstrosity. (Not to mention, the workers are always so helpful lugging it on and off.) But our kids always head to The Children’s Zoo first. They love the Marsh Aviary with its lily pads for hopping and giant bird’s nest for, um, nesting. They love to scare themselves silly in the bat cave and slide down the giant tree slide (repeatedly). They love to spin in the turtle shells and brush the goats. They love to visit with the farmyard animals (especially the owl) and sit on the horse saddles. And they love that it dumps us right at the start of the Jones Falls Zephyr train ride.
Patterson Park Audubon Center
2901 E. Baltimore Street, 410-558-BIRD, pattersonpark.audubon.org
For most city kids, birds can be broken into two categories: ducks and pigeons. That’s reason enough to grab some binoculars and join the urban bird walks in Patterson Park——they happen on the second Friday and last Saturday of each month——so metropolis dwellers can spot more exotic fowl like red-tailed hawks, blue herons, black-throated blue warblers, and, of course, Baltimore orioles. The Tiny Tots monthly Saturday program (suggested for ages 2-5) is wrapped around a theme and involves a walk, craft, and story. Most kids (and often the adults) will learn something they never knew and leave with a new appreciation for their own backyard.
Mount Royal Avenue & Cathedral Street, Charles Street, Bolton Hill, and Station North Arts & Entertainment District,artscape.org
With hundreds of thousands of people turning out for the free fest, Artscape can be claustrophobic and hard to navigate, especially if you’re pushing a stroller or trying to keep your eye on little ones. But here’s a secret: If you bring the kids on Friday afternoon (July 19 this year) before the throngs appear, it’s a more manageable affair. The music starts early——there’s a children’s stage, too——and there’s also arts and crafts, storytelling, and plenty of family-friendly activities and performances. Older kids might also want to check out Gamescape, which showcases indie video games and the locals who created them.
Summer Socials at West Shore Park
400-500 blocks of Light Street, waterfrontpartnership.org
Back by popular demand, Waterfront Partnership’s Summer Socials make for a great evening out with the kids. They’re held on Fridays at the Inner Harbor’s West Shore Park (near the Maryland Science Center) with its waterfront play area and interactive fountain for cooling down on those balmy, Bawlmer nights (this year May 10, June 21, July 26, and August 23). It’s scenic, it’s social, and it’s free, with live music, food trucks parked nearby, and a fenced-in area with toys from Fells Point’s aMuse (giant balls, hula hoops, and cones) that will tucker your kids out. Beer, wine, and liquor are also available, but that doesn’t seem to rile up the laid-back, family-friendly vibe.
Baltimore Book Festival
Mt. Vernon Place, baltimorebookfestival.com
The Children’s Bookstore tent is a particularly magical spot at the Baltimore Book Festival (September 27-29). Like the Roland Park shop, it’s a haven for young readers, but with an added caveat: favorite authors appear over the course of the weekend to read, answer questions, and sign books. In recent years, the likes of Libba Bray, E. Lockhart, Michael Buckley, Natalie Standiford, Laura Amy Schlitz, and Pseudonymous Bosch have made young hearts flutter and probably solidified many childhood love affairs with books and reading. Here, you can also sit in on panel discussions about Fairy Tale Novels or Dork Diaries and debate the merits of Zombies vs. Unicorns.
Greek Folk Festival
520 S. Ponca Street, 410-633-5020, greekfolkfestival.org
Of Baltimore’s ethnic festivals, the Greek fest is particularly kid-friendly. Hosted by St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Greektown, it retains a homespun charm and neighborhood intimacy that can make for a pleasant family outing. The fest offers face-painting, sand art, and art exhibits for children, along with folk dancing that never fails to impress youngsters. The lively movements coupled with the colorful dress can be downright captivating——so don’t be surprised if the kids want to join the fun. Classes are offered throughout the weekend (June 6-9), and there’s lots of great food, too. In fact, it’s worth the trip for the gyros and baklava alone.
3134 Eastern Avenue,
The Creative Alliance was cited as “Best Creative Hub” in last year’s “Best of Baltimore” issue, in part, because its community outreach and programming are so strong. And Kerplunk!, its art workshops for children, are a key part of that mix. The free workshops are held on Saturday afternoons and allow children of all ages to check out on-site exhibitions and create collages, sculptures, and drawings inspired by what they see. There’s no registration necessary, but children need to be accompanied by an adult. Families are encouraged to drop in for as long as they like, be it a quick walk around the galleries or a full afternoon of art making.
Carl Grubbs’s SAX Music and Dance Camp
7221 Croydon Road, Gwynn Oak, 410-944-2909, contemporaryartsinc.org
As a youngster, Carl Grubbs learned saxophone from the legendary John Coltrane, who was married to his cousin. Grubbs grew up to be an acclaimed musician and educator, teaching at Saint Paul’s School and founding the Summer Activity Extraordinaire (SAX) Music and Dance Camp in 1997. SAX is a program for children, ages 4 to 17, interested in instrumental music (clarinet, trumpet, guitar, piano, drums, and, of course, saxophone), singing, and dance (African and modern). Grubbs and a crew of professional instructors teach all skill levels——from beginners to prodigies——over the course of the two-week camp, which is held at Loyola University. Baltimore is lucky to have a musician of Grubbs’s caliber, who’s committed to the arts and passing along his expertise to the next generation. Coltrane would be proud.
TWIGS at Baltimore School for the Arts
712 Cathedral Street, 443-642-5167, bsfa.org/twigs/overview
Each year, hundreds of local elementary and middle schoolers (grades two through eight) take after-school arts classes through Baltimore School for the Arts’s TWIGS program. Prospective students audition in the spring for slots in the following year’s dance, music, visual arts, and theater classes, which can help train youngsters for arts careers and also prepare them for admission to the school. In fact, one-third of BSA ninth graders came through the TWIGS program. Highlights for this year include weekly music recitals, a dance production of Hansel & Gretel, and a visual-arts exhibition. Interested parents can observe TWIGS classes on scheduled dates throughout the year.
2905 Walnut Avenue, Owings Mills, 410-828-1814, pumpkintheatre.com
Pumpkin Theatre offers an impressive array of classes and family-friendly productions for children 18 months to 18 years old. Now in its 46th year, the theater recently announced it was relocating to Har Sinai Congregation in Owings Mills, a move that allows it to pump up its education initiatives. Thanks to the additional classroom space, Pumpkin plans to expand its creative drama program, increase its number of weekday and after-school classes, and add master classes and workshops——with an eye toward creating a community drama school. A full list of classes will be posted on Pumpkin’s website in August. At Har Sinai, families can spend the day at the theater, bring a picnic, and check out craft rooms and a playground before and after main-stage shows.
Maria Broom’s Interactive Music Series with BSO
1212 Cathedral Street, 410-783-8100, bsomusic.org/bsokids
Maria Broom lights up any stage, and that will certainly be the case when the acclaimed actress/dancer/storyteller hosts the BSO’s Music Box Series. Each 30-minute concert features Broom and BSO musicians in a series of interactive segments promoting musical and motor development in children 6 months to 3 years. The show includes classical children’s pieces, and plenty of bouncing, clapping, and singing along with Broom, who figures to be an engaging and educational presence. The concerts take place on Saturdays, May 4 and June 15, at 10 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. Be sure to arrive early and check out pre-concert activities focusing on literacy and listening skills.
Arts And Crafts
Pinching and Throwing at Clayworks
5707 Smith Avenue,
Pinching and throwing materials aren’t frowned upon at Baltimore Clayworks. In fact, they’re skills kids are encouraged to develop in classes such as Teen Clay, a six-week program that cultivates clay-shaping skills, such as pinching and coiling, and basic throwing techniques with a potter’s wheel. Clayworks also offers one-day workshops where children, ages 6 to 11, collaborate on a clay project with a parent, grandparent, or adult friend. Those workshops are held on weekends, from 2 to 4:30 p.m. Most classes are held at Clayworks’s Mt. Washington studio.
Hands-on Art Appreciation at Abrakadoodle
9606 Deereco Road, Timonium, 443-841-7171, abrakadoodle.com
Kids ages 20 months to 12 years can access their inner Van Gogh at Timonium’s Abrakadoodle——although considering how that turned out (with the ear and all) maybe they should access their inner Joyce Scott (local art hero, much better role model). Through art classes and camps, they can develop creative outlets and gain an appreciation for Old Masters and new ideas. From painting and mosaics to food art and fashion, there’s a wide range of arts and crafts for all types of interests and all types of kids. Some drop-in classes are offered, but most require registration. You can check out a full schedule at the Abrakadoodle website.
Art Exposure’s Creative Messes
1419 Riverside Avenue, 410-404-3587, artexposureinc.com
Art Exposure, an organization dedicated to upping art’s community profile, offers various arts and crafts opportunities for children, including a Creative Messes class for toddlers (ages 2 to 4). It’s a class for gluing, beading, cutting, tearing, painting, and learning simple techniques for creative work and play. Art Exposure also offers teen photography, sculpture, drawing, and book illustration classes, along with camps for puppetry, video production, and three-dimensional art at various locations around town.
Charm City Kids Club
1500 Riderwood Drive, Lutherville, 410-337-2252, charmcitykidsclub.com
When Lindsay Klatsky and Stacy Bekman Radz moved to Baltimore from New York City, they couldn’t find an all-in-one place for their kids. So, in 2011, they opened Charm City Kids Club (CCKC) in Lutherville, which offers a variety of classes for infants to elementary-aged kids. We especially love their creative approach to art classes, which puts finger-painting to shame. CCKC features a fashion-design class, where kids create their own clothing and accessories; an edible art class that actually encourages the little ones to play with their food; and an eco-art class where tykes use recyclable materials to produce a masterpiece. Plus, if the kids get bored, they can always venture over to the club’s play-town, complete with a kid-sized grocery store, movie theater, and diner.
Earth Treks Climbing Center
Several locations including 1930 Greenspring Drive, Timonium, 410-560-5665, earthtreksclimbing.com
Earth Treks (with locations in Timonium, Rockville, and Columbia) is home to some of the largest indoor rock-climbing gyms in the country. While that may sound intimidating, the friendly staff makes it easy for climbers——any age——to get started. For tykes (ages 5 and up) just starting out, there’s “open climb” any Saturday or Sunday where $25 gets them three climbs, a harness rental, and an instructor to show them the ropes. Teens 13 and up are old enough for Earth Treks’s adult indoor courses, where they can hone their skills with an instructor for $75 a month. There are also tons of climbing clubs (for kids aged 6-18) and Earth Treks is known to throw one fun birthday party, where teachers are patient with rowdy kids and out-of-shape adults alike.
South Baltimore Little League
1101 E. Fort Avenue, 410-547-0236, eteamz.com/sobolittleleague/
Believe it or not, the South Baltimore Little League (SBLL) has been around almost as long as the major-league Orioles. Established in 1957, this all-volunteer nonprofit hosts 20 teams of co-ed baseball for 4- to 14-year-olds on the Fort Avenue baseball fields between the firehouse and Phillips Food factory. During the summer, six nights a week, you can find young kids clad in familiar uniforms (Orioles, Blue Jays, Dodgers, Athletics, to name a few), fielding grounders, or hitting balls off the tee, depending on their age group. Many of the kids (who mainly come from Southeast Baltimore and Essex) accelerate through the entire program, and some earn eligibility for the tournaments that lead up to the televised World Series.
1400 Coppermine Terrace, Ruxton, 410-337-7781, copperminefieldhouse.com
Talk about having it all under one roof. Coppermine Fieldhouse, a facility located north of Mt. Washington, seems to do it all. Starting with kids as little as 10 months, the staff and coaches (mostly former athletes) offer a huge variety of classes, including soccer, gymnastics, baseball, dance, cheerleading, rock climbing, running, swimming, lacrosse, and outdoor adventure (think hiking and making s’mores). Of course, the smallest tykes start out with just a basic movement class before they can start running around with their older comrades. In the spring, Coppermine opened a second location at Du Burns Arena in Canton, which is mainly focused on competitive sports. The facility sees an average of 1,700 kids run through its doors a week (not including birthday parties) and the best part? They make a point to be open during all school holidays and breaks.
Junior Orioles Dugout Club
333 W. Camden Street, 410-685-9800, baltimore.orioles.mlb.com
Kids love baseball, but tend to run out of steam sometime during the second inning. So that’s why the Orioles created the Junior Orioles Dugout Club, which, for 10 games a season, features a heightened family atmosphere in a special upper concourse section with face painters, balloon makers, a moon bounce, and speed pitch. Kids also get the chance to run the bases, and tons of O’s swag (a hat, lanyard, magazine, and bag). Plus, the Oriole Bird seems to pay extra special attention to those sections during the game. The annual package costs $20 and any family member can buy an additional upper deck ticket for $6—ensuring that kids aren’t the only ones who enjoy the game.
Pilates For Me Too
110 W. Timonium Road, Timonium, 410-453-9111, macwellness.com
If raising kids makes you feel like you just can’t find the time to exercise, you may now be out of excuses. The “Pilates For Me Too” class at the Maryland Athletic Club (MAC) incorporates both a challenging workout for the parents and some introductory exercises for the little one. The breathing rhythms and stretching movements actually help young children develop motor skills. Plus, parent and child get some bonding time. Ideally, kids are between the ages of 5 and 7, and the weekly classes run for a month.
B&O Railroad Museum
901 W. Pratt Street, 410-752-2490, borail.org
You know a museum is good when your kids get excited just pulling into the parking lot. That’s the case with the B&O Railroad Museum in West Baltimore, located in the old Mount Clare Station and adjacent roundhouse. Nearly every exhibit——which covers trains and railroad artifacts from the Civil War up though the ’50s——is kid-friendly. Inside the museum, there’s the new and improved Choo Choo Blue Kid Zone, with tons of train tables and tracks. (And there are comfy rocking chairs for sitting and watching the kids play.) Outside the roundhouse, there is a mini amusement park for kids, featuring a train ride and a carousel. And for the bigger kids that may want the real thing, there is the Mile One Express, a 20-minute roundtrip ride along the first commercial mile of railroad laid in America. Last time we went, we spied the adults having just as much fun as the little ones.
Trains in Leakin Park
4921 Windsor Mill Road, 410-448-0730, calslivesteam.org
Never heard of the Chesapeake and Allegheny Steam Preservation Society? Well you should’ve. From April to November, on the second Sunday each month, this nonprofit group of steam-train enthusiasts take visitors aboard mini replicas of local steam trains around three miles of miniature tracks in the middle of Leakin Park. With train aficionados, clad in conductor hats and overalls, leading the steamers along, kids get to experience what it really must have felt like aboard these vessels, as the greenery of the surrounding park whizzes by. (Okay, it doesn’t go that fast.) There’s also a train-themed playground and plenty of picnic tables nearby, so families can make an afternoon of it.
Baltimore Museum of Industry
1415 Key Highway, 410-727-4808, thebmi.org
No Baltimore history lesson is complete without a visit to the Baltimore Museum of Industry. Kids learn an important chapter of the city’s past as they get transported to its industrial age. They can take on the roles of builder, engineer, blacksmith, foreman, oyster shucker, printer, and garment worker, all while earning a wage of tokens by the end of the day. One of the coolest rooms, for kids and adults alike, is where they house the printing press. (Try to go on Saturdays, when an expert can tell you about linotype and the history of print.) There are also exhibits that we adults remember being not that long ago, complete with an old general store and advertising campaigns from the ’50s.
Baltimore Streetcar Museum
1901 Falls Road, 410-547-0264, baltimorestreetcar.org
If your kid thinks trains are cool, just wait until they ride on their first streetcar——and you tell them that these trolleys were how most people used to get around. Open on Sundays year round and Saturdays, June through October, the museum is the only place where you and your family can ride historic streetcars in the city. The all-volunteer staff operates cars like the iconic PCC or #1164, a 12-bench model that’s open on all sides. Perhaps the most fascinating part——besides the historical exhibits and gift shop inside——is the original signage on all the streetcars. Watch your kids recognize their neighborhoods on the trolley’s front marquee or laugh at how dated some of the advertisements are inside the car.
2400 E. Fort Avenue, 410-962-4290, nps.gov/fomc
It’s not just for tourists! Fort McHenry has spruced up in recent years and is a great spot to spend one or two hours with the kids. An inexpensive entry fee ($7) allows you into the visitor’s center, various exhibit rooms, and onto the fort’s grounds. The park rangers here deserve some kind of award——not only do they dress in traditional Colonial wool in the summer heat, but they are always extremely interactive with children. They’ll take time to tell them stories in the teaching room or enlist kids’ help with folding up the American flag. Besides the history lesson, the fort is a great opportunity for kids to let off steam. They can run around on the grass, skip along the edge of the “ramparts” and, if you think ahead to bring one, fly a kite. Families can also set up picnics by the cannons as they look out onto the harbor.
529 Belvedere Avenue, 410-464-9773,belvederesquare.com
If it’s a summer Friday in North Baltimore, that means that tons of families from nearby Govans, Homeland, Stoneleigh, and Rodgers Forge have flocked down to Belvedere Square for Summer Sounds. The square’s parking lot is blocked off as people park their strollers, camp chairs, and coolers down to secure a spot and take in whatever cover band is performing that week. Past acts have included The Kelly Bell Band and Beatles’s tribute band The Apple Scruffs. There is plenty for kids and parents to chow down on, including Taharka Bros. Ice Cream, Atwaters’s sandwiches, and refreshments from Grand Cru. But the kids always congregate right up front by the band, holding hands and dancing in circles until the sun falls.
PNC Concerts in the Park
27 S. Patterson Park Avenue, 410-276-3676, pattersonpark.com
When Southeast Baltimore row homes feel too cramped for your family, find relief in the concerts in Patterson Park. Every Tuesday and Sunday in the summer, PNC Bank and WYPR put on free concerts by the pagoda in the park, starting at 6:30 p.m. Families can grab a blanket and a picnic dinner while they listen to everything from salsa and ragtime to bluegrass and funk. Partnering business Joe’s Bike Shop is there for free bike tune-ups and kids can take a park-themed quiz at the Patterson Park booth. The concerts kick off June 9 this year with the soulful Bellevederes and go through August 18, when the All Mighty Senators will close the season.
Mt. Vernon Place, wtmd.org
For the indie-music lover, big or small, there are WTMD’s First Thursday concerts all summer at Mt. Vernon Place. The Towson radio station gets a chance to showcase three up-and-coming acts every month for a diverse crowd in the Mt. Vernon streets. Kids can run around the grassy area in front of the monument or play in the fountain, as food trucks park on either side of the fun, selling pizza and gyros. (And The Brewer’s Art provides libations for extra parental relaxation.) Parking is definitely tricky, but the Light Rail’s Centre Street station and Charm City Circulator’s purple route are right near the action. This year, the concerts start off on May 2 and go through September 5, featuring acts like folk/pop singer Brett Dennen and Austin alt-rockers Alpha Rev.
Since 2002, the wacky musical duo and venerable kids’ favorite Milkshake has been entertaining families all over town at museums, festivals, and parks. And this summer is no different, as they promote their latest album Got a Minute, released in March, which is a recording of 13 songs for PBS Kids that are each a minute long. The disc seems ideal for little ones with short attention spans. (That’s all of them, right?) Catch Milkshake on tour as they play Six Flags America in Bowie on June 15, the Baker Park Family Concert Series in Frederick on June 20, and two rocking shows on the Backyard Music Stage at Strathmore in Bethesda on July 11.
Southeast Anchor Library
3601 Eastern Avenue, 410-396-1580,prattlibrary.org/locations/southeast/index.aspx
It’s hard to pick a favorite branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library, but among the best for children has to be the Southeast Anchor Library in Highlandtown. Opened in 2007, the 27,000-square-foot structure boasts a large children’s department with a cozy “Story Room” and an upstairs teen section that houses its giant chess set with toddler-sized rooks, bishops, knights, et al. The children’s programming at the branch is superb as well. There’s Preschool Leaps every Wednesday at 11 a.m., which prepares ages 3-5 for a school environment with songs, stories, rhymes, activities, and free-play. Then, on Thursdays, library associate Edwin Perez presents Buena Casa Buena Brasa, a Spanish-English story time.
Mother Goose on the Loose
Pretty much every educational study ever emphasizes the importance of reading to your kids early and often. Mother Goose on the Loose is an award-winning, early-literacy program for ages birth to 3 that can step in for you when laryngitis strikes. Available at four Pratt branches (Central, Canton, Hampden, Light Street), Port Discovery, and Olenka School of Music locations in Ellicott City and Columbia, the half-hour program runs in 10-week sessions and uses a variety of techniques including songs, puppets, and rhymes to boost speech development, motor skills, self-confidence, and cooperation. The repetitive approach lays a strong foundation for further development at home, and, when the time comes, at school.
Urban Pirates Story Time
Ann Street Pier, urbanpirates.com
Ahoy, matey! Story time is so much better when there’s a little adventure involved, don’t you agree? Well, of course you do, which is why you’ll want to attend Urban Pirates’s free Pirate Story Time once it begins for the season on May 31. Hosted aboard the good shipFearless docked at the Ann Street Pier in Fells Point, the twice-weekly story time (every Wednesday and Friday at 9 a.m.) combines songs, games, and stories read by costumed actors for a uniquely imaginative experience. If your budding Bluebeard isn’t ready to disembark once the story ends, take advantage of the 25-percent discount for story-time attendees and set sail on the ship’s 9:30 a.m. cruise (normally $10-20).
Two locations, including 6105 Kenwood Avenue, Rosedale,
Kudos to Baltimore County Public Library system’s Rosedale and Woodlawn branches for their immersive Storyville learning and play centers. Though the décor varies slightly at each location, both Storyvilles offer an interactive child-sized village with age-specific environments ranging from a Baby Garden and toddler area to a grocery store and mailroom that allows kids up to age 5 to work on math and literacy skills during play sessions. Each Storyville also comes with its own puppet stage and theater, home living area, construction zone, and library complete with age-appropriate books and comfy armchairs for snuggly reading sessions. It’s all so darling, you’ll be wondering why there isn’t an adult version, too.
3417 Eastern Boulevard, Middle River,
This venerable drive-in theater has been open near the docks of the Chesapeake since 1956. And we like to think a lot hasn’t changed since then. The ticket office at Bengies is still cash only——can’t mess with those new-fangled credit card machines. And you get admission to three movies for just $9, an absolute steal. Pulling into the drive-in right before sunset, turning off your headlights, and tuning into the AM station all feels incredibly vintage. The first movie is always kid-appropriate (this summer, look out for Despicable Me 2) and the other two are suited for adults. So it’s ideal for your kid to watch the first feature, then snuggle up with blankets and pillows in the car while mom and dad enjoy the rest.
Free Family Flicks at The Pratt
400 Cathedral Street, 410-396-5430, prattlibrary.org
Going out to the movies is expensive. Add a few kids, candy treats, and drinks, and you’re downright bankrupt. The Enoch Pratt Free Library understands this. So, in 2009, they introduced Free Family Flicks, a monthly event where kid-friendly movies are screened at the central branch——for free! On Saturdays at 2 p.m., families and their little ones pack into the Wheeler Auditorium to view these PG or under films——everything from classics like E.T. to newbies like The Lorax. A great perk is that when your kid decides to have a tantrum in the middle of the movie, the all-family audience is very understanding. Plus, if the movie is based on a story, the staff encourages kids to go downstairs and check out the book from the Pratt’s collection.
Outdoor Movie Nights
Fells Point, Federal Hill, cdjoint.com, avam.org
If you want to take the family to an outside movie downtown, there are a couple of options these days. There are the Fells Point Films on the Pier, sponsored by The Sound Garden, where movie-goers plant camping chairs and coolers along the narrow Broadway Pier every Wednesday in July and August at sundown. Not all movies are suited for youngsters, but they make sure to mix it up with a Twilight or Hunger Games every now and again. Then there’s Flicks From the Hill, sponsored by AVAM, where 400-800 people spread picnic blankets on Federal Hill to watch classics (or cult classics) projected onto the side of the museum. These movies (last year featured Blue Hawaii and The Triplets of Belleville) are probably better suited for older kids.
When your kids need a little adventure, head to these wide-open spaces.
Oregon Ridge Nature Center 13555 Beaver Dam Road, Cockeysville, 410-887-1815
This 1,000-plus acre park has an educational nature center, dual playgrounds, a beach area for swimming in the summer, nature hikes, canoe trips, and fishing classes.
864 Smith Lane, Fallston, 410-638-3559
Built as a tribute to the young Annie Cumpston, Annie’s Playground looks straight out of a fairy tale with its treehouse, amphitheater, puppet theater, and dragon slides.
8600 Foundry Street, Savage, 301-725-1313
For future Bear Gryllses, there is this outdoor adventure center with a climbing tower, zip line, giant swing, high-ropes course, kayaking, sailing, and river tubing.
Prigel Family Creamery
4852 Long Green Road, Glen Arm, 410-510-7488
This organic dairy farm in Glen Arm has delicious ice cream (we like the mint chocolate chip), and you can enjoy live music, tour the creamery, and meet the farm animals.
Kinder Farm Park
1001 Kinder Farm Park Road, Millersville, 410-222-6115
This public park outside Annapolis has playgrounds and trails, and is also a 4-H-sponsored farm with goats, pigs, horses, and sheep. New baby animals are being born all the time!
1101 Hilton Avenue, Catonsville, 410-461-5005
Patapsco Valley State Park boasts a scrap-tire playground located off of Frederick Road in the middle of the woods. The park has hundreds of tires for climbing, bouncing, and swinging.
Clear Meadow Farm
3114 Troyer Road, White Hall
Just off of Jarrettsville Pike, there might be the best photo-op ever: 300 acres of sunflowers that the Rose family has been planting in their Clear Meadow Farm since 2009.
Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum
213 N. Talbot Street, St. Michaels, 410-745-2916
If you have some future watermen on your hands, this maritime museum will do the trick, as kids can tong for oysters in a shanty, spend the night in an 1879 lighthouse, or learn to sail the H.M. Krentz.
Clark’s Elioak Farm
10500 Clarksville Pike, Ellicott City, 410-730-4049
This 540-acre farm on Route 108 is home to a petting zoo with goats, chickens, ducks, sheep, and pony rides. The farm also features restored pieces from the old Enchanted Forest amusement park.
Ladew Topiary Gardens
3535 Jarrettsville Pike, Monkton, 410-557-9570
Ladew features 22 acres of gardens with topiary designs. Kids can enjoy hands-on exploration of the gardens, role-playing games, summer concerts, and nature stories.