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If you’re looking for a destination with multiple daytrip opportunities for your young family, consider checking out downtown Baltimore, MD. Whether you’ve got toddlers or teenagers, you’ll find plenty to do in ‘Charm City.’ Many of the activities are within walking distance of one another – you may just find yourself spending several days exploring them all!
Below is Part 1 in our two part series of family adventures in downtown Baltimore. The entire series features 12 awesome activities, with six venues shared in Part 1 and six different venues shared in Part 2.
The Baltimore Museum of Industry
Baltimore was never a one-industry town. If you think of Pittsburgh, you naturally think of steel. If you think of Detroit, you think cars. But Baltimore? Think straw hats and umbrellas. And boots, space capsules, and schooners. And Linotype machines. And cigars, seaplanes, and refined sugar. And radios and sail cloth and toilets… the list goes on. Baltimore positively hummed with all sorts of factories, many of which are gone.
The Baltimore Museum of Industry documents Baltimore’s industrial past, preserving industrial artifacts and providing historical context. Located at 1415 Key Highway, you’ll enjoy the free on-site parking and your kids will enjoy the colorful mix of exhibits. The museum makes the city’s industrial past come alive, using a variety of recreated tableaus of old general stores, clothing factories, print shops, canneries, and machine shops.
The museum even addresses the issue of child labor and the role children played in the Industrial Age of America. This is fascinating for adults, but is a great place to bring kids. The museum’s dynamic displays move it’s visitors through the early 19th century, all the way to the 21st century. There are a number of hands-on exhibits and the information is presented in brief, colorful, information-filled exhibits. In my experience, my children and I could move through the museum quickly before anyone become bored. If you are visiting with older kids, you can dig in a little deeper by reading all the detailed information.
Ripleys Believe It or Not Odditorium
This place is made for staring! Located at 301 Light St Light Street Pavillion, Ripley’s Believe It or Not Odditorium has the weird, the bizarre, and the just plain odd. Looking for a life-sized T-Rex made out of pop-tart foil? Then look no further, because the Odditorium has one.
You are simultaneously struck with awe, amazed by people’s ingenuity, and grossed out – all at the same time! See shrunken heads from South America, weird presidential memorabilia , donkeys made out of junk, and personalized light shows. A few of my favorites were locks of George Washington’s hair and a giant Abraham Lincoln penny made entirely out of pennies.
I definitely recommend the Odditorium for kids aged six and up. But take your teenagers there too, because they’ll have a lot of fun!
The Waterfront Promenade
The Waterfront Promenade is a paved walkway that hugs nearly seven miles of waterline along the Inner Harbor, from Fort McHenry to the Canton Waterfront Park. We walked approximately 4.7 miles of it one Saturday morning, encountering not just sweeping views of the Inner Harbor, but also random farmers markets and the quaint streets of Fells Point. You can still see remnants of the Inner Harbor’s industrial past despite all the gentrification and the million-dollar condos and townhomes. We found ample parking, even on a Saturday morning, adjacent to Canton Waterfront Park, at 3001 Boston Street. On the opposite side of the harbor there are numerous parking garages.
I recommend this activity for kids of all ages – they’re never too young to get some exercise and explore their world! The whole family will appreciate the flat and easy traverse, which offers many changing views. Challenge your kids to keep track of the different birds they’ll be sure to see – mallard ducks, Canadian geese, cormorants, and even great blue heron are common to the area.
There are also several kid-friendly parks, including Pierce’s Park, featuring original sculptures, a musical fence, a living willow tunnel, native plants, and the famous horn sculpture and the Walter Sondheim Fountain. The big splash pad adds another element of delight for kids on the waterfront, located adjacent to West Shore Park. The Fountain operates from May to September, each year.
The Waterfront Promenade offers many different opportunities. Tour the Seven Foot Knoll Lighthouse or visit the USCG Cutter Taney, the only remaining survivor of the attack on Pearl Harbor, sitting in the water to the right of the promenade. After walking from one end to the other, take the Water Taxi back, and see the harbor from a different perspective!
Through a day and then a dark and stormy night, British gun ships pounded Fort McHenry with rockets, bombs, and mortars. But Baltimore bravely withstood the bombardment and didn’t surrender as expected. When morning came, the British inexplicably withdrew. Frances Scott Key, watching from a ship in the harbor, glimpsed the Star Spangled Banner still flying at Fort McHenry through the clouds and smoke, and in his joy and relief, scribbled the verses that later was adopted as our National Anthem.
Fort McHenry is preserved as a National Historic Site, located along the Inner Harbor at 2400 East Fort Avenue, with free parking. It commemorates the winning of this battle during the War of 1812 and also memorializes the writing of our National Anthem. In addition to completing a Junior Ranger activity, there are cannon and musket-firing demonstrations, fife and drum performances, and period games. You’ll also enjoy living history exhibits and live demonstrations, which are recommended for elementary school aged kids on up.
The National Aquarium
At the National Aquarium, a variety of habitats are explored. Visitors can experience an Australian river gorge, Maryland’s streams and rivers, the Chesapeake Bay, and a tropical rain forest. Fish and animals of all types, shapes, and sizes are on exhibit. Look carefully – you’ll see a green sea turtle, as well as sharks, jellyfish, stingrays, and, of course, a clown fish or two.
Look for the Critter Chats and Animal Encounters at different locations throughout the aquarium. These cover a variety of topics which kids might find interesting and occur at different times. In the Children’s Discover Gallery, they’ll also have a chance to (safely) touch jelly fish, stingrays, and other sea critters. With an Imax theater and a cafe, you can honestly spend all day there!
Depending on how crowded the aquarium is – and it can get very crowded on weekends – you should plan on spending anywhere from two to four hours there. This will depend on your dedication to reading all the explanations and information. Or maybe you’ll want to stay even longer, to linger and watch these wonderful animals.
To beat the crowds, plan on arriving before 11a or after 3p. Weekdays and non-summer/non-holiday weekends are your best time of year to visit. A yearly family membership is available, which makes each visit a little less stressful – you don’t have to see everything to feel like you’ve gotten your money’s worth! The aquarium is definitely recommended for kids of all ages, but please note that no strollers are allowed in the aquarium. These will have to be checked in at the entry lobby, where you’ll also find lockers and restrooms. Please note that the National Aquarium is dedicated to sustainability and does not offer disposable straws in its cafe.
The Walters Art Museum
The Walters Art Museum, located at 600 North Charles Street, is a fantastic place to visually interest your child and introduce them to the world of fine arts. There are paintings, to be sure – and these are worth a quick browse – but there are also Egyptian mummies, a Room of Wonders with a stuffed crocodile and a huge turtle carapace, and much, much more. If you have younger kids, try searching for paintings which include a recognizable animal, like dogs, horses, and cows, among others. Its amazing how much young children will benefit from seeing colors and shapes outside of a TV screen.
There are a variety of exhibits and you certainly don’t have to view them all! That’s what is so nice about a free museum – even if you’re only there for 30 minutes, you and your children will benefit greatly. I highly recommend this museum for elementary school age kids, on up. If the paintings don’t catch their imaginations, then the stuffed crocodile and Egyptian mummies will!
There is a parking lot across the street from the museum at Centre and Cathedral Streets, but that can be expensive. There is also street parking, but that is hit or miss. Its best if you can include this museum into a day of other walkable activities, just to get the most bang for your buck.
Parking can be the toughest part of planning kid-friendly daytrips while visiting Baltimore, as moving kids between multiple venues can be challenging. Where available, I’ve noted on-site parking. A number of these kid-friendly destinations are near Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. Parking for these are best at the public parking lots and garages near the Inner Harbor. The least expensive parking garage we found was $20 per day, next to the Baltimore Regency Hyatt across the street from Harbor Place, and that’s where we usually ended up parking.
There are various strategies to moving little people throughout the city from a centrally-located parking garage:
- Wear your walking shoes and bring a large stroller or wagon. Baltimore is just like any other American city, whose downtown is relatively safe during the daytime and needs caution after dusk.
- Use one of the dockless scooter and bicycle services throughout the city, like Jump, Lime, Spin, or Bolt. This is not recommended for younger children.
- Use a car service, like Uber, Lyft, or one of the many Baltimore area taxi services.
- Use the Baltimore Link local bus services.
- If you are close to the Inner Harbor, use the Water Taxi services.
No matter how you travel, convenience is sometimes worth the higher cost. But with the myriad of fun activities in the downtown Baltimore area, its easy to feel like you’re still saving money. Enjoy Baltimore! ◊
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