Now don't get us wrong: We love the Smithsonian. It's just that that esteemed institution sometimes has its priorities a little too straight, erring on the side of preserving and maintaining rather than, say, giving kids a good time. Maryland's Science Center is part of the newer generation of museums that invites interaction and works constantly to engage visitors. Exhibits have included a race car simulation backed with a "science of speed" tutorial and a Visible Human exhibition with leading-edge imaging technology revealing mysteries of the human body. Permanent exhibits include a crackling Van de Graaff electrostatic generator, a display on Chesapeake Bay ecology and a science arcade full of hands-on demos on light, mechanics, sound and whatnot. There's the inevitable IMAX theater, and the Davis Planetarium, whose show is aimed at audiences 10 and up (though even toddlers are amused and hushed just to see the rendering of the sky). If you've got the 3-to-7 crowd in tow, don't miss the K.I.D.S. room, a see-touch-do bonanza. And watch for the "curiosity carts," which wheel mobile, hands-on experiments around during down times.
-- John Kelly and Craig Stoltz
Words to the wise: Do the math: A family of four won't get out of here for less than $30. Call ahead to see what special exhibits are on tap; it can be worth planning a trip around them.
Notes: Certain Imax and Davis shows are interpreted for the hearing impaired.
Food: A Friendly's restaurant is in the building, but there are plenty of other snack and meal offerings around the Inner Harbor and Little Italy.
Nearby: Baltimore Maritime Museum, Baltimore Public Works Museum and Baltimore National Aquarium.