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Five Unusual Museums for Summer Diversions

Codes, streetcars and famous teeth-these Baltimore-area museums provide unique experiences.

When asked to name a in Baltimore in which to escape the summer heat, people are likely to suggest the National Aquarium or the Maryland Science Center.

Nothing wrong with that-if your thing is elbowing through crowds to look at bones or pretty fish, and leaving with your wallet substantially lighter.

For those who have done the aquarium and zoo with the kids ad nauseum, here are some suggestions for Baltimore-area museums slightly off the beaten path that provide different and unique experiences:   

Fire Museum of Maryland
1301 York Rd., Lutherville, 21093

Claiming to have the third-largest collection of any fire museum in the world, the Fire Museum of Maryland has 42 antique fire apparatus, memorabilia, fire fighting equipment, models and photographs. Children can dress up in turnout gear and climb on a 1938 Mack fire engine. There's a bell to ring, lights to flash and a hose to haul, too. Among the informative displays is a special collection related to the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904. Hours: Sat 10 a.m.-4 p.m. (May), Wed-Sat 10 a.m.-4 p.m. (June, July and August), Sat. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. (September to December). Admission: Adults $12, senior citizens and firefighters $10, children 2-18 $5, children under 2 are free.

National Museum of Dentistry
31 S. Greene St., Baltimore, 21201

An affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, the National Museum of Dentistry has collections of historical instruments and equipment-including George Washington's teeth. You can sing along with vintage toothpaste commercials and learn about fascinating toothy facts. Hours: Wed-Sat 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Sun 1-4 p.m. Admission: Adults $7, senior citizens and students with ID $5, children 3-12 $3, children 2 and under are free.  

National Cryptologic Museum
9900 Colony Seven Rd., Ft. Meade, 20755

Not long ago, the National Security Agency was so super-secret that some said its initials stood for "No Such Agency." Today, the NSA's Ft. Meade headquarters has a museum and a free activity book for kids you can pick up outside of the gift shop. On exhibit at the museum are supercomputers, code-cracking devices, informative displays on the use of codes through history, and an Enigma machine that visitors can play with. The gift shop sells NSA pens that write in code. (They'll write in French too-if you know French.) Hours: Mon-Fri 10 a.m.-4 p.m., 1st and 3rd Sat of the month 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Admission: Free.

National Electronics Museum
1745 W. Nursery Rd. Linthicum Heights 21090

Dedicated to the history of the nation's defense electronics, the National Electronics Museum was founded by employees of Westinghouse Defense and Electronics Systems Center in Baltimore, where they developed radar, communications, countermeasures systems, space sensors and all kinds of stuff. Familiar with the AWACS planes with the huge radar dome on top? The museum has on display the actual antenna that rotates inside. The museum also has a complete amateur radio station, fully equipped with vintage and modern communications systems, and a mindboggling collection of vacuum tubes. Hours: Mon-Fri 9 a.m.-4 p.m., Sat 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Admission: Adults $3, senior citizens and students $1, children under 5 are free.

Baltimore Streetcar Museum
1901 Falls Rd., Baltimore, 21211

Relive an earlier era when the city was criss-crossed with streetcar lines. Admission includes historical displays, an audiovisual presentation of Baltimore's streetcar history, a guided tour of the carhouse, and unlimited rides on original Baltimore streetcars on the museum's tracks. Hours: Sundays 12-5 p.m. all year, Saturdays 12-5 p.m. from June to October. Admission: Adults $7, senior citizens $5, children 4-11 $5, children under 4 are free. Family maximum is $24.

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