We try not to complain about people without kids not understanding what it's like to have kids ('cause really, how annoying is that?), but it really is a whole new ballgame. Where young single types see chic shops and hip restaurants, parents see thousands of dollars in potential breakables and a vast chicken-nugget desert. Which isn't to say mom and dad don't like to have fun, but that's for when the sitter comes. If you have a rugrat or two to entertain during waking hours, here's Baltimore in brief.

Attractions

Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine

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(2400 E. Fort Ave., [410] 962-4290, nps.gov/fomc

) might seem like an attraction for older kids who are into history or playing soldier, but the old earthen ramparts and grassy expanses make for excellent running-around for almost any kid.

The Maryland Science Center

(601 Light St., [410] 685-2370,

, $11.95-$18.95) can’t boast the renown or the physical impact of the National Aquarium, but then there is that dinosaur in the front window. The three floors of nerdtacular exhibits (plus an IMAX theater and planetarium and frequent demos and special events) represent the best hands-on kid fun in the region at an affordable price.

The Maryland Zoo

(1876 Mansion House Drive, [410] 396-7102,

, $10-$16) is not the San Diego Zoo; it has trimmed back on exhibit space and animals in recent years. But the 2-year-old elephant Samson and a number of revamped exhibits have given the place a boost, and the shady, hilly trails remain one of the best strolls in town, giraffes or no. (The zoo is closed in January and February.)

The National Aquarium

(501 E. Pratt St., [410] 576-3800,

, $19.95-$29.95) is kind of unavoidable—not that you should think of avoiding it. It is, after all, filled to the gunwales with sea creatures of all kinds, from spectral jellyfish to the charismatic dolphins (it’s a mere $3 extra on a regular admission for the dolphin show). But you should definitely get tickets ahead of time, either online or early in the day, especially on summer weekends.

Port Discovery

(35 Market Place, [410] 727-8120,

, $12.95) is a children’s museum with a special emphasis on kinetics, aka, climbing, jumping, and running around. There are all manner of exhibits and theme areas here, but the three-story climbing structure makes it every parent’s best rainy-day friend.

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Museums

Baltimore is a town with a startling number of museums, and most of them have programs especially for children. For more info, see the

American Visionary Art Museum

,

Baltimore Museum of Art

,

Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African-American History and Culture

, and

Walters Art Museum

in the

chapter and the

Baltimore Streetcar Museum

and

B&O Railroad Museum

in

.

Parks And Playgrounds

Baltimore is blessed with two enormous multi-use parks, conveniently located on the city’s east and west sides:

Patterson Park

(

) and

Druid Hill Park

(

), respectively. Each has playing fields, tennis courts, and play/exercise equipment spread around their acreage, but each is worth exploring for its surprises (the Patterson Park pagoda, the Druid Hill reservoir) too.

Don’t overlook historic

Federal Hill Park

. That’s kind of a joke, because you can’t miss it—it’s that big grassy ziggurat on the south side of the Inner Harbor. Anyway, there’s a big playground on top with fabulous views, and who doesn’t love rolling down a ginormous hill?

Irvine Nature Center

(11201 Garrison Forest Road, Owings Mills, [443] 738-9200,

) isn’t necessarily a visitor destination, but if you happen to be in the northeastern suburbs it offers a pleasant afternoon of woodsy fun with a cool new nature center and several gentle trails.

Oregon Ridge Park

(13401 Beaver Dam Road, Cockeysville, [410] 887-3678,

) to the north of the city, offers all manner of outdoor experiences. Take one fork in the road on entering and you come to a large playground and grassy fields. Take the other and you wind up at the park’s nature center, located at the head of several hiking trails and right by a swimming beach nestled in a former quarry.

The Scrap Tire Playground

(Patapsco State Park, Ellicott City, [410] 461-5005,

) outside Baltimore to the west, is a bit of a local secret. In the middle of a state park picnic area sits a large playground built mostly from recycled truck and car tires. Big fun.

Our Playground at Stadium Place

(900 E. 33rd St.,

) is the best playground in town. Tucked away behind a YMCA building near the leafy Charles Village and Waverly neighborhoods, it’s a sprawling affair of catwalks and castle towers and climbing areas and swings. There are usually other kids and parents around. Not much in the way of shade, though, so bring water and sunscreen in hot weather.

Toy Stores

Amuse Toys

(1623 Thames St., [410) 342-5000,

) If you’re visiting, chances are you’ll be in Fells Point, and if you are, you’re only a few cobbles away from Amuse Toys, where the focus is less on glorified Happy Meal tie-in stuff and more on toy classics and educational playthings.

Barston's Child's Play

(Village of Cross Keys, 86 Village Square, [410] 435-0804) occupies a small space in an upscale shopping plaza, and said space is absolutely crammed with toys and games and books and art supplies and dolls—something for everyone, somehow.

Shananigans Toy Shop

(Wyndhurst Village, 5004-B Lawndale Ave., [410] 532-8384,

) is the stop for local toy connoisseurs (the kid kind, not the Japanese-toy-obsessed-grown-up kind), its small stock is specially selected by toy fans for maximum surprise.

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