A Maryland family vacation is easily accessible for anyone living on the Eastern Seaboard and offers an intriguing mix of nature, history and attractions. Families looking for plenty of things to do might enjoy urbanized Baltimore and Annapolis, while those looking for a relaxation or nature should check out the eastern and western sides of the state. These family vacation locations in Maryland offer such variety, in fact, that one of its nicknames is “America in miniature.”
Baseball and Basilicas in Baltimore
There are many ways to see Baltimore, but perhaps the most unique way is by pirate ship. Urban Pirates lets you rent out a pirate ship with a crew full of sea dogs who have games and activities for the whole family. Kids can actually fire the ship’s water cannons at the pirate who sails up and tries to steal the ship’s treasure. There is also the option to have a 21+ BYOG (Bring your own grog) cruise for just the older landlubbers in your family.
Try on a real NASA space suit or gaze at the 12 full-sized dinosaur skeletons on display at the Maryland Science Center. Permanent exhibits highlight the human body, dinosaurs, outer space and automobiles. The Kids Room is a special play area designed to appeal to the eight-and-under set. There is also a five-story IMAX theater.
Geppi’s Entertainment Museum is the perfect attraction for all ages. The personal collection of comic book magnate Steve Geppi, the museum is packed with collectibles from all eras of American pop culture, from a Ben Franklin political cartoon to Star Wars and Transformers action figures. As might be expected, the comic book collection is particularly good and includes a rare Action Comics No. 1, which marked the first appearance of Superman.
Right by Geppi’s is Camden Yards, home of Baltimore’s Major League Baseball team: the Orioles. For the family looking for a day at the ballpark, the Orioles not only offer discounts for groups of 15 or more, but will also throw in a free mention of your vacation on the scoreboard. There are also tours of the park available.
The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, America’s oldest cathedral, presents a rather different kind of attraction. Built in 1821 and renovated in 2008, the basilica has been a center of American Catholicism since its founding, though visitors of any creed will be in awe of its architectural beauty.
For those Maryland family vacations wishing to experience a little bit of the history of Baltimore, trek out to Fort McHenry, which still guards the entrance to Baltimore Harbor, just as it did during the bombardment of 1814 that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the National Anthem. The fort is now a National Historic Site open to the public. Visitors can see how it looked in the 19th century, including a flag pole in the exact spot of the famous flag that Key wrote about.
Also outside the city (about a 40-minute drive) is Six Flags America. Youngsters can spend time with their favorite characters and moderate rides in Looney Tunes Movie Town while thrill-seekers brave the brand-new Apocalypse or one of the other seven roller coasters in the park.
Explore Naval History in Annapolis
The city is probably best known for the United States Naval Academy, the undergraduate college that produces officers for the U.S. Navy. Stop by the visitor center and pick up a walking tour around the beautiful campus grounds or watch the cadets drill in formation daily at noon. The U.S. Naval Academy Museum highlights Navy memorabilia and history.
Tours are offered at the Maryland State House, the oldest continuously used state capitol in the nation. The capitol witnessed such historic events as the ratification of the peace treaty that ended the American Revolution and George Washington’s resignation of his role as commander of the Continental Army.
The William Paca House is also a noted landmark for Annapolis family vacations. A Georgian mansion once home to an original signer of the Declaration of Independence, this National Historic Landmark is now open to visitors, who can either tour the main house or wander among the gardens. The house is also a regular stop on the many walking tours that focus on historical landmarks in the city.
Baltimore is not the only city in Maryland infested with pirates. Annapolis has its own pirate ship lurking in the harbor, and like its cousin in Baltimore, is a great family-friendly experience. Youngsters can dress up like pirates, learn the lingo and fire a water cannon at the dread Pirate Pete.
Campsites and Caves in Western Maryland
Away from the bustle of urban Maryland, the western portion is full of natural beauty and moving Civil War sites.
The best way to see some of that natural splendor might be the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad. The train departs from Cumberland and takes round trips that last 3.5 hours, providing riders with beautiful views of the Allegheny Mountains. At night, the line runs special murder mystery trains, where guests can enjoy dinner and suspense while they track down the killer among them.
The Crystal Grottos Cave in Boonsboro claims to have the highest concentration of cave formations of any cave yet discovered. Guided tours are run every half hour, groups are welcome and discounts are available if booked far enough in advance. Dress wisely–the inside temperature of the cave is a permanent 54 degrees, regardless of the season.
The area is also home to Deep Creek Lake, Maryland’s largest freshwater lake. A man-made lake formed in 1920 for the purpose of hyrdro-electric power generation, Deep Creek offers excellent fishing, water sports and hiking trails. Adventure Sports Center International offers whitewater rafting for all skill levels, from beginner to Olympic-caliber. Near the lake, there is a winery, a microbrewery and numerous antique shops.
The premier historical site in the region is Antietam National Battlefield, site of the 1862 Civil War battle that was the bloodiest day in American history. The battlefield is well preserved, and tours are available from both guides and personal audio devices as you wander past such critical sites as Bloody Ridge and Dunker Church. Another important Civil War site in the area is Monocacy National Battlefield, commemorating the heroic Union holding action that kept a Confederate Army from capturing Washington in 1864.
As your base for exploring the mountains and battlefields, perhaps you might stay at Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park in Hagerstown, a combination campground and resort aimed at families. In addition to campsites, the park features such amenities as water slides, minigolf and LaZer Tag, though that might make it difficult to convince the kids to ever want to go outside of the campground.
Relax on the Eastern Shore
The Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay has long been a favorite area for tourists. If you are looking for a destination that offers both seaside tranquility and a wide variety of attractions, the eastern part of Maryland might be for you.
Ocean City is the hub of the region and a favorite summer destination for many who live in Baltimore. Some of the highlights include 17 golf courses, excellent surfing and fishing so good it is known as the “White Marlin Capital of the World.”
Family members not on the water or the links can wander the Boardwalk, named one of America’s best, and enjoy some of the street performers, carnival rides, restaurants and shopping. At the end of the Boardwalk is the Life-Saving Station Museum, which in addition to exhibits about life-saving equipment features a saltwater aquarium and displays on topics such as beach fashions.
After that, you can relax at the free, 10-mile long beach, which offers free family activities six nights a week, including fireworks displays and Family Beach Olympics.
Ocean City is not the only attraction in the region, though. The Chesapeake Bay is dotted with numerous small, quaint towns that could be fun to explore. Consider spending some time in tranquil St. Michaels or strolling down the tree-lined streets of Easton. Chesterton, Cambridge and Crisfield are also worth seeking out.