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Where to Find Cheap (or Free) Summer Activities

Family walking in the woods with a picnic basket.
oliveromg/Shutterstock

Whether you’re looking for things to do with or without the kids this summer, there are lots of activities for the budget-conscious. Here are some cheap (or free) summer activities perfect for everyone.

You don’t have to spend much money to have fun in the sun. Here are some activities you can do if you’re child-free, some you can do with the kids, and a few you can do right in your backyard.

A Local Park or Hiking Trail

Summer is a time meant to be spent outdoors. Take some time to get back to nature and go to the park. Parks have a ton of amenities, so you’ll never lack for something to do. If it’s a state park, you might need a pass or have to pay a small fee (depending on where you live). Many parks, however, are free.

Here are just a few of the things you can do at a park:

  • Fish: If a park is on a lake or pond, you might be able to fish. Some have docks set up, while others might have space on the shoreline to drop a line. You’ll have to pay for a fishing license for each person participating.
  • Hike: This is a chance to get a good workout while enjoying the fresh air. If you bring the kids along, point out the plants and animals you see along the trail.
  • Have a picnic: Nothing says a day at the park like a picnic. Pack some sandwiches, fruits, and veggies, and enjoy a romantic date or a family day. Many families host their reunions at local parks and do a potluck or grill out. Your park might even have a space for grilling (you just have to bring the charcoal).
  • Swim: If your park has a swimming hole, take advantage! Make sure you bring the sunblock and that everyone wears protective footwear in case of glass.
  • Look at the stars: If you’re outside the city, you can probably get a good view of the night sky. This is a great time to teach your kids about the constellations—or learn about them yourself.
  • Camp: Rent a spot at your local camping park and put up a tent or two. If you’re not into roughing it, some parks have cabins for rent or areas where you can park your RV. This will cost you some money, but it’s cheaper than a hotel room!
  • Play sports: Some parks have tennis and basketball courts. They might offer a football or soccer field, too. It might take a little money to outfit the whole family for tennis, but soccer or basketball are inexpensive.

The Beach

If you’re lucky enough to have a beach nearby, you have a cheap place to spend warm summer days. Some beaches require paid parking or day passes, but this is a minor expense for some fun in the sun, sand, and water.

While you’re at the beach:

  • Walk the shoreline and collect rocks or shells (but be aware of local laws—some areas have restrictions on shell collection and such).
  • Play volleyball or frisbee.
  • Go swimming.
  • Spend some time lounging in the sun.

Your Local Community

Whether you live in a quiet, small town or a bustling city, there’s bound to be something to do during the summertime. Find out what’s going on in your community by going to the visitor or community center, or the library.

Here are some things you might find enjoyable in your community:

  • The library: From music to book readings, libraries often host special events, and most are free to the public (or its members). Check the website to see the calendar of events. You’ll find stuff that’s fun for the whole family. While you’re there, take home a book to read on the deck.
  • The farmer’s market: Nearly every community has a weekend (or weekday) farmer’s market. It’s free to walk through, and you might even get to sample some fresh produce and homemade food items. Bring some cash to buy in-season produce to take with you on your picnic. Find out if your farmer’s market offers music or food trucks, and then make a family day out of it.

If you explore your town like you’re a tourist, you’re bound to find little spots you never knew about.

Local Arts and Entertainment

People watching a movie in a park.
Biserka Stojanovic/Shutterstock

One of the many great things about summer is that there are often free events going on around town. Before you get discouraged that there’s nothing to keep your kids entertained or to enjoy on a first date, take a look at the events section in your local newspaper.

Here are some arts and entertainment events you might find where you live:

  • Concerts or movies in the park: Some city parks offer free live music or movies.
  • Free movie night at the theater: Find out if your local theater has a free or discounted family movie night. If they don’t, consider taking the kids to a matinee. You’ll save money on the tickets, and because they’re off school, you get the best rates (and sometimes better seats).
  • Sporting events: See if the high school or local college has games scheduled, or if you have a major or minor league park in your area. Find out if there are kids’ nights at the sports park and save some money on tickets. For local high school games, you can usually get in free or very cheap.
  • Check out a museum: Do some research on your local museums and find out when the free admission days are. Summer is a great time to take the whole family even if it’s more crowded. You might also be able to find discounted tickets for museums and other tourist attractions online.
  • Check out local arts festivals: Some have free admission, and you can browse the arts and crafts without spending a dime. There are also music festivals, but these usually have a cover charge.

Your Backyard

Sometimes, you can have the most fun right in your backyard. Instead of spending money to gas up the car to go on an adventure, enjoy and explore your outdoor space.

Here are some things you can do at home to have some inexpensive fun:

  • Go camping: You don’t have to rent a plot at a park—set up the tent in your yard. It’s a great way to let the kids go camping on their own if you’re not into it.
  • Have a picnic: A fun, simple way to get outside. Not only are you guaranteed an available space to enjoy your food, but you also don’t have to worry about finding a parking space (or paying for one). Grill out and invite some friends over to enjoy the food and fresh air.
  • Play in the water: If you don’t have a pool, invest in a cheap sprinkler you can hook up to the hose. This will provide hours of fun for the kids.
  • Plant a garden: Not only is it fun, but you get fresh fruit, vegetables, and flowers out of the deal. If you have kids, you can teach them how to grow their own food, and they can help with planting, pulling weeds, and harvesting.
  • Play games or sports: For around $20, you can purchase a multigame collection for your yard that includes horseshoes, badminton, lawn darts, and volleyball. You can also find ring toss games, and croquet or giant chess sets. Search online for the best deals and turn your backyard into a fun summer haven for all ages.

Summer doesn’t have to be filled with expensive activities or trips deferred because you don’t have time. There’s plenty to do around your town or right in your own yard.

Yvonne Glasgow Yvonne Glasgow
Yvonne Glasgow has been a professional writer for almost two decades. Yvonne has worked for nutritionists, start-ups, dating companies, SEO firms, newspapers, board game companies, and much more as a writer and editor. She's also a published poet and a short story writer. Read Full Bio »

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