50 Fun and Frugal Summer Activities
Right before the summer months begin my inbox is always filled with emails encouraging me to sign my kids up for camps and activities to fill up their summer days. While a lot of them definitely sound fun, it’s just not in our budget to be able to sign our boys up for all those summer activities. As a single-income family we definitely have to do our best to find fun and frugal summer activities.
Living in Arizona, just going outside to play in the summer is not an option! Yet so many indoor activities cost too much to do all the time. So over the years I’ve definitely had to get creative and find as many frugal yet fun summer activities as I can. Today, I’m sharing the list with you! And if you have any to add I’d love to hear from you in the comments!
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Free or Low-Cost Summer Activities
- Local Park Challenge – grab a map of all your local parks and start exploring! Challenge your family to visit all of them, you may just find a new favorite!
- Library activities – every year our local libraries host programs for kids that have ranged from magic shows to wildlife presentations. Check you local library’s event calendar, and don’t forget to check libraries that are in nearby cities as well.
- Cabella’s or Bass Pro – spend a few hours exploring your local store. They often have fishing, archery, and target shooting for free. They may not be offered every day so call ahead first!
- Geocaching – have you tried geocaching yet? It’s like a huge outdoor scavenger hunt. Download the geocaching.com app, read my post on getting started with geocaching, and have fun! Just make sure to watch out for muggles (people who don’t know what geocaching is).
- Trade houses with a friend or relative – Maybe good friends that live an hour away would be up for trading houses for the weekend, giving both families a chance to explore a new town. If your friend or relative has a house with a pool, hot tub, trampoline, anything you don’t have at home, it’ll be even more fun! My parents leave each summer for their cabin up north, and we trade keeping an eye on their house for unlimited use of their hot tub!
- Arts and Craft Fairs – Summer is a popular time for arts and crafts fairs just about anywhere the weather is nice (so pretty much everywhere but Arizona). Take a stroll with the kids through a fair and explore different forms of art, get ideas for things you might make on your own, or maybe even catch an artist demonstrating his or her art!
- Lego Store – If you have a Lego store nearby, they offer free activities throughout the year like minifigure trading and building challenges. Check your local store for details.
- Volunteer – Find a volunteer opportunity that the whole family can enjoy. Perhaps serving dinner at a local homeless shelter or walking dogs for the Humane Society or another local rescue group.
- Rent movies from the library – When it’s just too hot to do anything else we like to find a movie or two that we’ve always wanted to see. You can make it even more fun with popcorn or a special treat!
- Lowes or Home Depot build – Lowes has Build and Grow and Home Depot has Kids Workshops once a month where kids can go and build (with a parent) various small wood projects. In the past my kids have build bird feeders, cars, pencil holders, and flower pot holders. Totally free! You just need to register in advance.
- RV or Boat Show – Even if you’re not really in the market, going to a boat or RV show can be a fun way to spend an afternoon. In my experience there is no sales pressure, you can walk in and out of boats/RVs to your heart’s delight, and it’s free and air conditioned!
- Shopping mall kids activities – Check your local mall web site for a list of kids activities this summer. They frequently host book readings, entertainment, and other fun things to draw shoppers to the mall in the summer.
- Camp in your backyard – Or your living room! It’s too hot for us to set up camp in our backyard but we have set up a tent in our living room! Break out the flashlights and sleeping bags, make s’mores over the gas oven range (or in the microwave), and let the kids stay up a little later!
- Hike new trails – Create a challenge for your family to see how many new trails you can hike this summer. Grab a map from your local parks and rec or search alltrails.com and get outside!
- Count birds in your backyard – How many different birds can you find? To help identify, try birding sites like Audubon.org or Merlin Bird ID. Not enough birds around? Try attracting some by doing the activity in #16!
- Build a bird feeder or house – Attract birds to your backyard and give them a meal or a home! Feeders and houses can easily be made out of materials you have lying around the house, like empty tin cans, milk jugs, or even popsicle sticks!
- Book store events – Barnes and Noble has monthly events like storytime and themed events like Lego or Harry Potter. Even locally owned book stores have children’s events to attract customers, so give them a call or check their web sites.
- Explore your neighborhood – even if you’ve lived in your neighborhood for years, there’s always something new to discover. Talk a walk, bike ride or drive. Wander into adjacent neighborhoods too! We love finding new walking paths and playgrounds.
- Summer Reading Challenge – Sign up for a summer reading challenge through your library or Barnes and Noble. Both usually offer a free book upon completion, and sometimes other goodies as well.
- Cook together – Find a fun new recipe that the whole family can make together. Whether you just make pizza from scratch or try making your own ice cream, cooking is a great way to spend time together as a family when it’s a stay-at-home type of day.
- Lego challenge – There are a lot of great Lego building challenges that you can find on the internet, or just make one up yourself. You can make it a competition to see who can build something the fastest, or most creatively, or just keep it friendly and low-key. If you’re not a Lego family, try using clay or wooden bricks instead.
- Farmer’s market – Explore a local farmer’s market and see how many new fruits or vegetables you can find. Maybe you’ll take a few home for your family cooking adventures!
- Explore a new library – We all tend to stick to the libraries that are closest to our house, but have you ever wandered into the next town, or maybe two towns over? I love seeing how different libraries can be, from a just basic book library to one with a coffee shop, or a cool play area for kids.
- Evening walks – Here in Arizona, after the sun goes down is one of the only times of day it can be tolerable to get outside. We enjoy taking walks as a family and seeing the neighborhood in a whole new “light.”
- City Recreation Buildings – Check with your local parks and recreation and you may find places you never knew about. For example our city has an Environmental Education Center that offers free classes, and a recreation building that offers free gym time for toddlers.
- Read-aloud challenge – Even when your kids are older, they benefit from having books read to them. Pick a theme, like adventure books, or a series that interests your kids and work your way through them this summer!
- Walk the grounds of local resorts – This is one of our favorite things to do. As long as you are on your best behavior, a local resort can be a fun place to just walk around and explore. Maybe you’ll even end up deciding it would be a good place for a staycation!
- Visit an airport – If you have a group, many airports have tours that they will take you on. Otherwise, we’ve had fun just parking nearby an airport and watching planes take off and land. Our city airport has a Sky Train that transports people from free parking areas to the airport. It’s free and fun to ride!
- Free 30 day trials – Try out a new activity like a martial arts studio, or get a free subscription to Netflix. There are many places that will offer a free 30 day trial, no strings attached, to try out their business.
- Family Game Night – Break out the board and card games! We’ve recently had a lot of fun with Uno Flip, Minecraft Card Game, and Pokemon Monopoly.
- IKEA play space – Not everyone has an IKEA in town, but if you do, they have a great free play area that you can drop your kids off at while you shop. No IKEA? See if there are similar stores with kid play areas, and even if you don’t need to shop at least you might enjoy coffee and some alone time!
- Take a walk around your local downtown – Explore new stores, take in the architecture, or even take a ride on a trolley. Every downtown has something different to offer!
- Free days at museums, aquariums, etc. – Many of our local museums participate in a “First Friday” event that offers free admission. Check out your local museum, zoo, aquarium, etc., web sites for special free or low-cost days. Don’t forget Groupon!
- City pools – Although we have our own pool in our backyard, we like going to our local city pools for a change of pace. Plus, they have fun things like lazy rivers and water slides! Entry only costs a few dollars and you can usually buy punch cards for the summer to save even more money.
- Bike ride to a local restaurant – Make your next meal out more interesting by changing up how you get there! And that extra calorie burn means you don’t have to feel bad about dessert.
- Craft class at Michael’s – While you shop, drop the kids off at a free or low-cost craft class inside the Michaels store.
- Plant a garden – There’s nothing like sneaking in a little learning to a fun activity. And kids who grow their own food are much more likely to eat it as well, so try planting some fun veggies! Check with local gardening clubs for free seeds.
- Find the cheapest activity on Groupon – Go to Groupon, choose the category Things to Do, then Kids Activities. Pick the cheapest activity you can find! Recently we scored super cheap passes to Urban Jungle, and the kids had a blast.
- Fireworks! This is the time of year that you can find inexpensive fireworks at the grocery store or at roadside stands. We love going out in the evening and lighting a few small fireworks, and teaching the boys how to be safe and responsible at the same time.
- Park and Recreation Classes – This is always one of my favorite places to find inexpensive classes for my boys. I check classes in both my city and neighboring cities as well.
- Go fishing – Always check the rules on fishing in local lakes, and be sure to have a valid fishing license if necessary. Rods designed for kids can make fishing more fun, and don’t forget a cooler for water and snacks.
- Summer Movie Series – every summer Harkins and AMC offer a summer movie series where you can buy a pass for under $10 that allows you to see one kid-friendly movie per week!
- Staycation – pick a local hotel with discounted summer rates and stay a night or two! You might not leave your city but you can certainly pretend while you enjoy the hotel amenities without the travel cost.
- Day trip – how can you get out and back on one tank of gas? How many places could you get to? Wouldn’t it be fun to find out?
- Enjoy a summer treat – Don’t toss those coupon mailers you get every week! Grab a coupon a take the kids for an ice cream, shaved ice, or gelato.
- Try a new restaurant – Yelp is a great resource for finding new restaurants in your area, or maybe you’ll discover one on that downtown walk you took from #31?
- U-Pick Fruits and Veggies – Chances are you have a rural area somewhere nearby, and if you do there may be a U-Pick farm too. They can be a great way to get low-cost fruits and veggies, and it’s great to show kids how produce grows!
- Kids activities at State and Regional Parks – check the websites of your state and regional parks for free or low-cost summer activities. I’ve found moonlight hikes, guided hikes, and even wildlife presentations all for free.
- Car Shows – Google “car show in my area” and find an indoor or outdoor show! It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, many local driver’s clubs will meet up with their cars in parking lots and have them on display for the public.
- Factory Tours – Just within our area we’ve been on free factory tours of a stuffed animal manufacturer, the Amazon warehouse, a chocolate company, an olive mill, and a dairy farm! Check out factorytourusa.com for tours in your area.
Whew! I hope this list keeps you and your kids busy this summer! What are your favorite fun and frugal summer activities?