Just because it’s the darkest and coldest season of the year doesn’t mean your family’s adventures should stop. Whether you’re checking out the artwork on the iconic yellow salt boxes with hot cocoa in hand or taking in some of Charm City’s cultural institutions, whimsy abounds even when the temperatures drop. I had lived in Baltimore City for about ten years when I had my son, and suddenly I saw a whole new side of my adopted hometown. It’s been a delight to get to know a different side of Baltimore—attractions based on their proximity to playgrounds, flexible scheduling, and open spaces to run and play.
Here are my suggestions for where to experience kid-friendly fun in Baltimore:
Gather a pile of picture books at Central Library
The Enoch Pratt Free Library’s home base at Central Library in Mount Vernon wrapped up a multi-million dollar renovation in fall 2019, and the architecture of the 1933 landmark is truly jaw-dropping. Fun fact: Basilica of the Assumption, the first Catholic cathedral in the U.S., is right across the street.
The children’s room, located downstairs, is a treat for young kids. My son enjoyed the scale model of the building and spotting fish in the fountain, in addition to picking out a haul of kids’ books to take home.
Parking can be a bit tricky in this area, but this branch’s location is along many bus routes and light rail and subway lines. Here, you’re within walking distance to Mount Vernon Marketplace (a modern food hall with a range of tasty dining options), Trinacria Foods (a hole-in-the-wall Italian market and deli with amazing homemade pasta dishes, sandwiches, and cookies), and the famous Lexington Market (under construction but still open for business). The library is also near the historic Chinatown district on Park Avenue.
Note: all Pratt branches are closed on Sundays.
Bask in tropical temperatures at Rawlings Conservatory
I don’t know much about exotic plants, but I always enjoy a trip to Howard Peters Rawlings Conservatory and Botanic Gardens in Druid Hill Park—especially in the winter. The striking building, dating to 1888, contains different rooms with varying temperatures and degrees of humidity: the Mediterranean House, Tropical House, Desert House, Palm House, and the famous Orchid Room.
Druid Hill Park is one of my all-time favorite places, as there is always a fantastic cross-section of Baltimoreans recreating here. Even with the reservoir under construction (or especially so, if you enjoy watching construction vehicles as much as my toddler does), the park offers ample opportunities for biking, walking, running, basketball, and tennis.
The conservatory, named for former Maryland House of Appropriations chairperson (and father of one-time Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake) Pete Rawlings, currently requires timed ticketing. Admission is free and guided tours range between $3-$7.
Wave to animals at the Maryland Zoo
The Maryland Zoo could hardly be called an off-the-beaten-path destination for Baltimore families. However, visiting in the winter may be somewhat unexpected. The zoo is open year-round, though they offer fewer public hours in January and February. The campus is quite spread out, and a visit involves a lot of time outdoors. I wouldn’t suggest going in sub-zero cold, but it’s worth a trip on a warmer winter day.
The two main areas to explore are the African Journey—where you’ll find exotic creatures such as elephants, lions, giraffes, and rhinos—and the Maryland Wilderness, full of native species such as otters, turtles, snakes, and bobcats. We have never made it through both sections in one visit, so I’d recommend prioritizing one instead of attempting both.
Another new attraction is the Main Valley, which reopened to visitors in late September 2021 after being closed for 16 years. New signage tells the story of the zoo’s beginnings in the 19th century and describes how best practices have changed. For example, the decorative iron cages built in the early 1900s were designed to showcase the animals—not to provide a familiar, comfortable habitat with conservation in mind. This new feature is a welcome addition that tells a more complex story about the zoo’s history. Another bonus of this newly-reopened area is that it’s now a much faster walk from the entrance to the main exhibits.
Get your wiggles out at Lake Montebello
I love walking the scenic 1.3-mile trail around Lake Montebello now that it is closed to vehicular traffic. Located in a primarily residential area of Northeast Baltimore, it’s not as well-known as other parks in the city but is beloved by many neighbors who bike, stroll, roller skate, and run around the flat loop.
Lake Montebello was built between 1875-1881 as a reservoir to serve the growing city of Baltimore. The nearby water filtration plants, which were cutting-edge water system models, remain in use today. In the winter, I like to walk there in the late afternoon and catch the sunset reflecting on the lake. Disc golfers use the course year-round and wooded trails connect to the neighboring Herring Run Park. Clifton Park is also very close.
Root for the home team at college sporting events
Take advantage of the fact that Baltimore is home to a number of colleges and universities and attend a collegiate sporting event this winter. Whether you’re a fan of Division I basketball or prefer Division III bowling—or want to check out anything in between—you can find it in the Baltimore area. With smaller venues and price tags than professional leagues, college games make an easier outing for young kids. Within the city, you could cheer on the Morgan State Bears at the HBCU located in northeastern Baltimore; the Johns Hopkins Bluejays, well-known for their lacrosse program (the season begins in February); and the Loyola Greyhounds from the private Jesuit university along Charles Street.
Get crafty at an art studio
Winter is the perfect time to practice a new craft, either through formal classes or DIY experimentation at home. I have fond memories of my mom taking my brother and me to different spots to sketch when we were kids and making paper, greeting cards, and scrapbooks together. Baltimore has a seemingly endless number of creative powerhouses, offering a variety of outlets for both adults and kids.
Kids ages 7-12 can learn to sew through classes at Domesticity Studio in Lauraville. The Creative Alliance in Highlandtown offers Kerplunk! All ages drop-in art classes every Saturday afternoon. Ages 3+ can learn weaving, painting, embroidery, fabric collage, dyeing at Social Studio in Roland Park. Mount Washington’s Baltimore Clayworks offers classes in hand-building and wheel throwing techniques for youth ages 6-16.
There are plenty of opportunities for kids to become familiar with the performing arts as well—including the Eubie Blake Cultural Center, the Baltimore School of Music, Everyman Theatre, Peabody Preparatory, and Chesapeake Arts Center.
Lead Photo: The Maryland Zoo