Stuff to See
Clark's Elioak Farm, 10500 Clarksville Pike, Ellicott City, (410) 730-4049, clarklandfarm.com. This place might be as much for the grown-ups as the kids, 'cause Clark's is where the outsized mushrooms, Cinderella pumpkin coach, and other fantasy fixtures of long-defunct local amusement park the Enchanted Forest ended up. While mom and dad stroll down memory lane, the kids can play storybook or visit the cute farm animals. There isn't much in the way of shade, so stock up on water and sunscreen.
Druid Hill Park. You can't miss it, and shouldn't. Outside the fences of the kid-magnet zoo at its heart there are acres of lush fields and woods, with playgrounds and places to wander. Sadly, Safety City remains off-limits.
Dutch Wonderland, 2249 Lincoln Highway E., Lancaster, Pa., (866) 386-2839, dutchwonderland.com. Piles of rides and attractions and food and everything else you expect from the finest in Amish-country theme parks.
Frontier Town Campground, 8428 Stephen Decatur Highway, Berlin, (410) 641-0880, frontiertown.com. "Dumb old boring woods." If that's the guff you catch on family camping trips, try this mega-campingplex. It's not only just minutes away from both OC and Assateague, it also boasts a water park, mini-golf, and all sorts of other on-site kiddie fun. Or, you know, tell 'em to suck it up and enjoy the nature.
Hershey Park, 100 W. Hersheypark Drive, Hershey, Pa., (717) 534-3900, hersheypark.com. big-time amusement park fun with a lil' bit of small-town PA charm infused.
Indian Echo Caverns, 368 Middletown Road, Hummelstown, Pa., (717)-566-8131, indianechocaverns.com. While Boonsboro's Crystal Grottoes Cavern might be slightly closer, this is the best area cave attraction in which to beat the heat. Descend a winding set of stairs to the riverside cave mouth and prepare to be dazzled by the crazy formations and intriguing history (cave hermit alert).
Irvine Nature Center, 11201 Garrison Forest Road, Owings Mills, (443) 738-9200, explorenature.org. This slice of suburban wilderness boasts a swank new nature center focused on Maryland flora and fauna, and there are several lovely trails for shady wood walks.
Knoebels Amusement Park, Rt 487 between Elysburg and Catawissa, Pa. (800) 487-4386, knoebels.com. It's a not-inconsiderable drive to Knoebels, as the Google Map flies, but it's totally worth it. This family-run enterprise tucked away in a shady river valley in middle-of-nowhere Pennsylvania is where old amusement-park rides go to live again--rollercoasters, rocket rides, trains, kiddie-go-rounds, a log flume, and on and on. There is no admission fee; all rides and activities are priced individually, and low. The food rocks, in an old-school concessions way, and there's a ginormous pool, too, so bring your suit.
Maryland Science Center, 601 Light St., (410) 685-2370, mdsci.org. The Science Center might be the awesome kid attraction in town. It's got multiple floors of fascinating hands-on educational exhibits and an IMAX theater. And this summer, the touring exhibit antARcTica (through Sept. 7) helps keeps things cool while the Chinasaurs (through Sept. 27) exhibit ups the Center's already high dino quotient.
Meadowood Regional Park, 10650 Falls Road, Brooklandville, (410) 887-6747, baltimorecountymd.gov/Agencies/recreation/countyparks/regionalparks/meadowood.html There's a running track and acres of playing fields but the real attractions at this just-outside-the-beltway park are the playground and the small creek you cross to get from the parking lot. Bring your water shoes.
Oregon Ridge Park, 13555 Beaver Dam Road, Cockeysville, (410) 887-1818, baltimorecountymd.gov/Agencies/recreation/countyparks/oregonridgelodge/index.html So much outdoor fun so close to town, including the swimming beach, a playground, the nature center, miles of trails, and a big ol' grassy hill for rolling down.
Please Touch Museum, Memorial Hall, Fairmount Park, 4231 Avenue of the Republic, Philadelphia, Pa., (215) 581-3181, pleasetouchmuseum.org. The soaring architecture of historic Memorial Hall is going to be a mind-blower for most kids all on its own, but once they get inside and get a load of all the cool for-pretend play areas, hands-on activities, and general running-around coolness, their little heads are gonna explode.
Port Discovery, 35 Market Place, (410) 727-8120, portdiscovery.org. Half colorful kids' museum, half indoor play park, Port Discovery is perfect on those days when it's just too hot to be outside. Serious running-around fun.
Scrap Tire Playground, Hilton Area, Patapsco State Park, Ellicott City, (410) 461-5005, dnr.state.md.us/publiclands/central/patapscovalley.html The problem with many area playgrounds in re: summer fun can be summed up as no trees, which equals no shade. This sprawling play area creatively constructed from old tires is the exception, nestled as it is amid a cool forest grove and ringed with shaded picnic tables. The metal slide still gets pretty hot, though, so watch it.
Six Flags America, 13710 Central Ave., Upper Marlboro, (301) 249-1500, sixflags.com. "Maryland's Only Amusement Park" boasts the full spectrum of rides, from twisty coaster-geek freak outs down to the kiddie stuff, plus a water park and all the other theme-park trimmings.
Whitaker Center for Science and the Arts, 225 Market St, Harrisburg, Pa., (717) 724-3857, whitakercenter.org. It's not quite as new and mod as the Maryland Science Center, but honestly that's part of the charm of this downtown Harrisburg attraction--the hands-on learning and fun just involves fewer touch screens.
812 Park Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21201