Adventure Aquarium, 1 Riverside Drive, Camden, NJ, (856) 365-3300, adventureaquarium.com. Just across the river from Philly sits a worthy rival for our own harborside fishtank. No dolphin show, but sharks, hippos, octopi, jellies, you name it.
Catoctin Wildlife Preserve and Zoo, 13019 Catoctin Furnace Road, Thurmont, (301) 271-3180, cwpzoo.org. A small, family-run zoo with a surprising variety of birds, reptiles, and mammals (some of which you can feed) spread over several acres of wooded paths. And Cunningham Falls State Park is right across the highway, in case you need more outta-the-car time.
Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, Druid Hill Park, (410) 396-7102, marylandzoo.org. The new giraffe exhibit rocks, the baby elephant is cute, and the rest of the city's venerable zoo is hanging in there. Still one of the best walks in town.
National Aquarium in Baltimore, 501 E. Pratt St., (410)576-3800, aqua.org. The granddaddy of Inner Harbor attractions, filled to the gunwales with fascinating aquatic life, plus a dolphin show. Buy tickets online ahead of time, if you can, especially for weekend visits.
National Zoo, 3001 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington, nationalzoo.si.edu. Pandas, tigers, elephants, hippos, and orangutans are among the highlights at one of the finer zoos on the East Coast. The hills it's built on can be a haul, so if you're wondering whether or not to bring the stroller, the correct answer is "yes."
Philadelphia Zoo, 3400 W. Girard Ave., Philadelphia, Pa., (215)243-1100, philadephiazoo.org. Quiet as it's kept, Philly has a cool zoo (gorillas! African wild dogs!), and the ZooBalloon is totally worth doing if you're not afraid of heights.
Plumpton Park Zoo, 1416 Telegraph Road, Rising Sun, (410) 658-6850, plumptonparkzoo.org. A small private zoo of the chain-link-fence variety.
Salisbury Zoological Park, 755 South Park Drive, Salisbury, (410) 548-3188, salisburyzoo.org. A nice little municipal zoo in a park along a shady stream. Don't miss the awesome playground just outside the northeast gate.
Stuff to Do
Toddler Time at the B&O Railroad Museum, 10:30 a.m., May 20 and first and third Wednesdays of each month through August, except Aug. 5, B&O Railroad Museum, 901 W. Pratt St., (410) 752-2490, borail.org. If Thomas the Train Engine has captured your pre-schooler's imagination, he or she can get his fix of the real thing with train rides and train-tale story time.
Balticon, May 22-25, Marriott Hunt Valley Inn, 221 International Circle, Hunt Valley, balticon.org. If your kid is into sci-fi, this is the place to be, with authors, vendors, workshops, cosplay, filk, the works.
Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian in IMAX, starts May 22, Maryland Science Center, 601 Light St., (410) 685-2370, mdsci.org. You can drive down 95 and fight D.C. traffic and take your kids to the Smithsonian museum complex this summer, or you can drive (or walk) down to the museum complex that is the Inner Harbor and watch Ben Stiller and various monkeys and CGI beasties caper around on a screen several times the size of your house as the sequel to the beloved Night at the Museum hits MSC's IMAX theater. Or, you know, both.
Gatorade Free Flow Tour, May 23, Charm City Skate Park, 4200 Boston St., (410) 327-7909, allnightcatfight.com. This skateboard competition is barnstorming the country this summer, looking for amateurs who dream of going "from Flow to pro." Start practicing.
UniverSoul Circus, June 2-7, Security Square Mall, universoulcircus.com. The beloved African-American circus troupe celebrates its 10th year on the road with another spin through town.
Children's Gardens: A Primer, 6:30-7:30 p.m. June 4, Barrington Middle School, 3910 Barrington Road, (410) 448-5663, parksandpeople.org. The Parks and People Foundation and Girls and Gardens are putting on this workshop to get your kids' hands dirty, so to speak, in the wonderful world of gardening. It's only $4 but you have to call to register.
¡Cantaré Muchas Melodías!, 3 p.m. June 6, Creative Alliance at the Patterson, 3134 Eastern Ave., (410) 276-1651, creativealliance.org. Patricia Vergara and Cecilia Esquivel play a bilingual set of lively Latin music for the kiddos at the Creative Alliance. Bueno.
Superhero Night, gates open 4:45 p.m. June 6, Prince George's Stadium, 4101 NE Crain Hwy., (301) 464-4865, baysox.com. Local kid rocker Milkshake perform on top of the third-base dugout followed by a Superhero meet-and greet for kids who belong to the Louie's Kids Club (free to join). Tickets for the concert are only $10 for ages 3 and up and include admission for the evening's game, Baysox vs. the Erie SeaWolves, at 7:10 p.m.
Parent's Night Out at Pump It Up, 6-9 p.m. June 11 and July 9, 11515 Cronridge Drive, suite J & K, Owings Mills, (410) 356-9050, pumpitupparty.com. You may have been to the warehouse full of inflatable jumpy stuff that is Pump It Up for a birthday party, but on the second Thursday of each month, you can drop your (potty-trained, fully waivered) kids off for open jump, grab some Mom and Dad time, and pick up your sweaty, exhausted offspring later.
Patterson Park Fishing Festival, 10 a.m.-1 p.m. June 13, Boat Lake, Patterson Park, pattersonpark.com. Fishing is always fun (at least for the first half hour), so bring your tackle on down to Patterson Park (or rent a pole for $1, though supplies are limited) and drop a hook in the water. There will be games and crafts, too, in case they just aren't bitin'.
Father/Son Lookalike Contest, 6:30 p.m. June 19, the Avenue at White Marsh, White Marsh, theavenueatwhitemarsh.com. OK, so this is gonna take a special kind of father/son relationship (not to mention likeness) to work, but if your son will humor you, and maybe even dress like you a little, you could take home a prize.
The Jonas Brothers, 7 p.m. July 13, Verizon Center, Washington, ticketmaster.com. The men don't know, but the parents of little girls understand: the dreamiest of tween pop sensations live in concert. OMG.
Fiddlers and Fireflies, 6-9 p.m. July 16, Howard County Conservancy, 10520 Old Frederick Road, Woodstock, (410) 465- 8877, hcconservancy.org. One of the best small joys of summer--fireflies--take center stage, along with zippy, kid-pleasing bluegrass music, at this nature-oriented family event on Howard County's historic Mount Pleasant Farm.
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's The Magical Music of Disney, 7:30 p.m. July 17, Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. (410) 783-8000, baltimoresymphony.org. The BSO tackles the timeless tunes of Disney classics such as Mary Poppins, The Little Mermaid, and The Lion King with projected visuals and live orchestral oomph.
Otakon, July 17-19, Baltimore Convention Center, 1 W. Pratt St., otakon.com. You don't have to be a kid to be into anime and Asian pop culture, but it's an obsession that seems to take root early, and this massive annual gathering will hook your curious youths if they aren't totally hooked already. The weekend consists of an anime music video screening and contest, a masquerade contest, Otakurave dance party, panels, celebrity appearances, live music, and merchandise.
812 Park Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21201