Once summer break begins, boredom can set in. Before the whining starts, we've come up with a list of activities proven with local families. Because there are two kinds of fun we search for during Maryland's summer – in the shade and in the water – we've divided them accordingly.
Ice rinks are most popular in the winter months, but we're not sure why everyone in Baltimore isn't gliding around on the cool ice when it's hazy, hot and humid outside. Check out the programs at Mount Pleasant Ice Arena (mtpleasanticearena.com), Piney Orchard Ice Arena in Odenton (frontline-connect.com), and the Reisterstown Sportsplex (rtownsports.com). The Columbia Ice Rink (columbiaicerink.net) reopens in August.
The Baltimore-Washington area has no shortage of trails for biking and jogging. But we love the shade offered along the Torrey C. Brown Trail, formerly the Northern Central Railroad Trail, which stretches 20 miles from Hunt Valley to the Pennsylvania state line (dnr.state.md.us/greenways/ncrt_trail.html). Along the way, visit the Sparks Bank Nature Center and the Monkton Cafe, which carries Prigel ice cream, at the Monkton Bike Shop (bikestuff.net).
When the heat is unbearable, your family could be happy at a museum simply walking through the cool marble-tiled halls and air-conditioned galleries. But there's also art for kids to create. The Walters Art Museum has drop-in activities on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. No registration is required. In June, families can create various sculptures; each week there's a new material. In July, the theme is Aquatic Art, with a chance to make art with shells and maritime flags (thewalters.org). At the Baltimore Museum of Art, families are invited for special tours and art activities on Sundays at 2 p.m. (artbma.org).
From animal "Meet and Greets" on Fridays at 10 a.m. to night hikes, check out Irvine Nature Center's calendar. There are also trails and the lush Woodland Garden. The center has various geocaches if you're looking for a treasure hunt (explorenature.org).
Your family probably has a favorite playground. But in the summer heat, we're partial to the leafy Patapsco State Park's Hilton Tire Park in Catonsville (dnr.state.md.us/publiclands/central/patapscohilton.asp) and Linkwood Park on Coldspring Lane near Loyola College in Baltimore (mapofplay.kaboom.org/playspaces/15680).
Bowling alleys provide year-round family fun, but look for summer specials online and at sites such as Groupon for discounted bowling fun. There are various locations including Dundalk and Woodlawn (amf.com), Patterson Park Bowling Center (pattersonbowl.com) and Stoneleigh Lanes in Towson (stoneleighlanes.com). Plus, these alleys all offer kid-friendly (and invented-in-Baltimore) duckpin bowling, hon.
Offering the amusement of a day at a carnival in air-conditioned comfort, The Works Fun Center in West Baltimore has arcades, a DJ booth, bumper cars, moon bounce, putt-putt, game room and indoor playground. A $40 weekday family pass includes most activities, four hot dogs and a pitcher of soda (theworksfun.com).
And check out the sampling of adventures created for kids ages 5 to 9, including a 20-foot-high rock wall, at Terrapin Adventures in Savage (terrapinadventures.com). It's $25 for an hour. The outdoor adventure company also has ziplines, a giant swing and other thrills, for various prices and ages. Be sure to check the weight and age restrictions.
The Sky Zone indoor trampoline park in Columbia stands out among the bouncy house venues, in part because it appeals to a slightly older set, from elementary to high school students. There is a toddler time, but a 10-year-old and 15-year-old will have fun here, too. Prices start at $5 to $11 (skyzone.com).
A matinee is a must on any summer bucket list. We're fans of the local historic theaters and Bengie's Drive-In. But we especially love flicks offered for free or only a buck by several local theaters: R/C Hollywood in Arbutus, Muvico Egyptian 24 at Arundel Mills in Hanover, and Regal Cinemas in Bel Air, Abingdon, Bowie, Westview in Frederick, Waugh Chapel, Hunt Valley and Westminster. Be sure to ask if the concession stand has special deals for children.
There's something so quintessentially fun about floating in an inner tube down a lazy river. But we especially like it when all we all have to bring are our sunglasses and the lemonade. Monkton Bike and Terrapin Adventures rent tubes ($20-$25) and provide directions, tubing-maryland.com. Oregon Ridge Park naturalists are also organizing tubing and canoe trips on the Gunpowder Falls in July and August. Check for details at oregonridgenaturecenter.org. If you want to try kayaking, windsurfing or stand-up paddleboarding, check out Ultimate Water Sports (ultimatewatersports.com), which operates out of the Hammerman area of Gunpowder Falls State Park.
When the kids have grown tired of your sprinkler, check out the splash pads in Baltimore at North Harford Park, Solo Gibbs Park (bcrp.baltimorecity.gov/Recreation/Aquatics/PublicPoolsListing.aspx) and Mount Vernon Children's Park (mountvernonchildrenspark.org), which also has a huge sandbox. There's also a large one at Cascade Lake in Hampstead (cascadelake.com). New this season is a splash pad at the Roger C. Carter Community Center's pool complex in Ellicott City (howardcountymd.gov/rccc.htm).
The water tables at the Maryland Science Center (mdsci.org) and Port Discovery (portdiscovery.org) provide hours of entertainment without having to suit up. Both venues have plastic aprons and wall air dryers, but we recommend bringing along a change of shirt. Museum admission applies.
You don't have to go "downy oshun" for a day at the beach. Check out the sand at Oregon Ridge Park in Cockeysville and Rocky Point Beach in Essex (baltimorecountymd.gov/Agencies/recreation/countyparks). Kids under 12 are free.
Still on the waiting list at your neighborhood swim club? Baltimore City (bcrp.baltimorecity.gov/Recreation/Aquatics/PublicPoolsListing.aspx) and Howard County (howardcountymd.gov/rccc.htm) have public pools with reasonable daily admission fees. Residency is not required. More expensive, but still open to the public, are pools operated by the Columbia Association (columbiaassociation.com/facilities/sports/swim/outdoor-pools).
The rope swing at Beaver Dam Swimming Club, a quarry in Cockeysville, is one of summer's great pleasures. You can also find a traditional pool and a sandy volleyball court. Weekdays $11-$15 (beaverdamswimmingclub.com). We also love the old-fashioned swimming hole atmosphere at Cascade Lake (cascadelake.com), which has floating docks and a slide, in Hampstead. $8-$15.
Just 35 miles from Baltimore, there are more than a dozen water rides at Six Flags America. (Check height restrictions.) A season pass is $64.99, or less if you buy four (sixflags.com/america/attractions/water-park-rides). Or check out the resort-quality but extremely affordable North Arundel Aquatic Center (aacounty.org/RecParks/swimcenters/aquaticcenter), which has two water slides, a splash area and a waterfall. Kids must be potty trained, and two-hour admissions are timed. $4-$8.
A hike to a waterfall meets both our criteria for summer fun — it's in the shade, and there's water to splash in at the end. If the kids are past the stroller age, there are several options, including Raven Falls in the Gunpowder Falls State Park (dnr2.maryland.gov/publiclands/Pages/central/gunpowder.aspx), where you can climb and wade at various points, and Kilgore Falls at Rocks State Park (harfordmd.com/listing/Kilgore-FallsFalling-Branch-Area), where stairs have been carved into the rocks to climb along the falls, and a smaller one at Patapsco State Park's Glen Artney area (dnr.state.md.us/publiclands/central/patapscoavalon.asp) that's an easy walk.
No one will get wet, but the kids will love the breeze as you cruise around Baltimore's Inner Harbor in a water taxi. Stop in Fells Point or the Inner Harbor for an ice cream treat, and the family will feel truly refreshed (baltimorewatertaxi.com).