Families can be so engulfed with the over-scheduled, everyday chaos of life that it's sometimes hard to make time for fun. Visit any of these attractions, and the payoff will be happy family memories and maybe even a little learning too.
If the energy expended by the young guests of this Inner Harbor museum could be harnessed, the self-described "kid-powered museum" would indeed run without a monthly electric bill. A few hours here and even your big kids will nap on the way home. The three-story climbing structure will physically tire them, but the constant learning opportunities, cleverly disguised as play, will leave them mentally exhausted too.
While not specifically designed for kids, this aquatic wonderland of exotic and native Maryland species fascinates kids of all ages. The youngest ones enjoy watching the swishing of the creatures in the softly lit tanks. Older kids and adults love the elaborate recreations of native habitats. Note: Strollers are not allowed inside. Check your stroller at the door, and the museum will lend you a carrier for free.
Maryland Science Center
This Inner Harbor attraction's exhibits, where kids reconstruct dinosaur skeletons, play a tune by ear or use a pulley to heave themselves to new heights, all teach by doing. And the shows pack in even more info. The Davis Planetarium puts on a fabulous star show, and the IMAX movies' 3-D effects leave audiences with wobbly knees. There's so much to learn here that most kids simply won't be able to retain it all – or likely even half of it. But that's okay because they will remember the fun.
The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore
Set in leafy Druid Hill Park, The Maryland Zoo exudes the old-fashioned charm of its 19th-century origins, amid its 21st-century makeover. With the Main Valley closed since 2004, visitors now take a tram to an entrance near the polar bears' digs. The African Journey is where you can visit the elephants, giraffes, lions, chimpanzees, cheetahs and more. A boardwalk meanders through The Children's Zoo and Maryland Wilderness, allowing a close-up view of the animals.
Take them out to the ballgame! The Orioles' Dugout Club makes it even easier on the wallet for mom and dad. For children under 14, tickets to each of the 10 Dugout Club dates have a lowered price. Accompanying adults can buy discounted tickets on game days.
Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum
Kids love trains. Whether it's model train layout or a working steam engine, if it runs on tracks, chances are it will fascinate kids. And while young folks will certainly enjoy the B&O's train ride and historic locomotives, this place is not just for children. Serious train buffs will enjoy the one-of-a-kind engines and dramatic roundhouse.
Baltimore Museum of Industry
Let their imaginations run wild in a re-creation of an early 20th-century Baltimore neighborhood where they can pretend to be tailors, grocers, pharmacists, bakers, and bankers. And learn about working and living in a community. On the western edge of the Inner Harbor, the Baltimore Museum of Industry tells the stories behind the businesses that built Baltimore. Its large complex has ample parking and the waterfront patio makes a great picnic spot.
Sandy Point State Park
A day at the Bay will make them sleep all night. The beach at this 786-acre park has a commanding view of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. The park's recreational activities include swimming, fishing, crabbing, boating, and windsurfing. Visitors enjoy picnicking as well as wildlife viewing and bird watching.
Adventure Park USA
This Wild West-themed amusement park offers laser tag, paintball, arcades, and miniature golf in addition to its rides and concessions.
Six Flags America
A day at this Largo, MD amusement and water park is pure fun. There's very little educational content here, but sometimes that's just what kids need. Only 40 minutes southeast of Baltimore, Six Flags is open April through October, though its Hurricane Harbor Water Park is only open in the summer. With 100-plus rides, attractions, and shows everyone in the family– from the youngest toddlers to the biggest thrill-seekers –will go home happy, tired and looking forward to a return visit.