Hidden attractions can be discovered over the holidays

December 28, 1993|By JACQUES KELLY

These are the days when parents search out places where they can entertain their vacationing children.

It is also the week when attendance peaks at museums and other attractions.

Baltimore's National Aquarium, Science Center, Fort McHenry, Walters Art Gallery and Baltimore Museum of Art are the best known Christmas-New Year's destinations, but there are other places worthy of a long look where lines will be shorter and the pace less hectic.

Try these places that may be a little off the regular tourist track, but will be delightful.

* The Museum of Industry, 1415 Key Highway, Inner Harbor area. This is one of the city's most child-friendly attractions. There's a hands-on, please-touch canning operation, a machine shop, electrical shop, print shop, tailoring business and circa-1900 drug store, all alongside the harbor's edge.

The curators have been wise enough to salvage artifacts and equipment before they may have been consigned to the scrap yard. Not everything is aimed at children. There are worthy exhibits on many Baltimore industries past and present.

* B&O Railroad Museum, Pratt and Poppleton streets, five blocks west of Oriole Park at Camden Yards. This attraction gets my vote as this country's top railroad museum with its acres full of vintage locomotives, rolling stock and a museum full of lanterns, station clocks, dining car china, models and a miniature version of Harpers Ferry.

The 1883-1884 car shop building (the largest circular industrial building in the world) is filled with rare 19th and early 20th century locomotives and passenger and mail cars. There is vintage equipment from the Pennsy, Central of New Jersey, Maryland and Pennsylvania, Western Maryland and Chesapeake and Ohio railroads.

As an added bonus this holiday season, four trains a day will travel a three-mile round trip on the B&O's original route out of Baltimore.

* Ellicott City B&O Railroad Museum, Main Street and Maryland Avenue, Ellicott City. This stone depot is this country's oldest railroad station. This is a charming small museum with a large operating Christmas train garden. During the holiday season, there will be demonstrations of Ellicott City life in 1863 in the former freight agent's living quarters.

There is also a display of antique toy trains on loan from local collectors. As an added bonus, visitors might catch sight of one of the freight trains that still operate on the CSX Old Main Line.

* The Baltimore Streetcar Museum. 1901 Falls Road, just off Maryland and Lafayette avenues. Open Sunday only, 1-5 p.m. This is one of Baltimore's most delightful and frequently overlooked museums. Nestled in the Jones Falls Valley, it has a ** collection of restored streetcars that once traversed the city. Motormen and conductors discuss the history of the cars.

One of the prizes of the fleet is a 1930 Peter Witt-style car painted yellow and cream with red trim and numbered 6119. It frequently ran on Harford Road, the Woodlawn line to Gwynn Oak Park and the North Avenue crosstown route. The car is decorated with vintage advertising signs. It makes the mile-and-a-half trip along Falls Road several times throughout the afternoon along with other handsomely restored cars.

* Cloisters Children's Museum, 10440 Falls Road, Brooklandville, Baltimore County. Clown-magician Marty Kurland's act is popular here, but the stone 1920s castle is an architectural eccentricity, a Gothic fantasy.

* Zoo Lights. Baltimore Zoo. Druid Hill Park. This special event is subtitled a "Holiday wonderland," and it is. Yards of electric lights have been strung throughout the zoo property. The show is at night when the lights go on and the zoo resembles a Baltimore version of Tivoli Gardens.

* Light Rail. It's cheap ($1.25 adult fare, reduced fares for senior citizens and children) and the trains run every 15 minutes.

The largest parking lots are at Timonium and Glen Burnie (Cromwell Road) but there is parking at many of the stops along the way. Each stop has a ticket vending machine.

Light Rail provides a warm and efficient tour of northern Anne Arundel County, and parts of Baltimore City and Baltimore County. You'll ride over the Patapsco River and get unusual views of downtown from the elevated portions of the line.

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