How to Discover Fun and Free Activities for the Whole Family

by Pamela Santangelo on August 2, 2011

Having a fun filled day with the kids away from the house doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. With a little planning, you can have a full day of play that will only cost you some gas money.

Some of my suggestions may not be easily applied if you live in a more secluded area, but for those of us in urbania these nuggets will be golden for you.

  1. Look up area newspapers: Most area newspapers have a calendar of events on their website that is free to access. These frequently have listings of different events nearly every weekend (if not every day) that are children appropriate.
  2. Social Media: Listen to what your friends are saying. Many post their plans for the coming weekend and can lend many ideas for you. If they aren’t posting, ask. Request ideas from them.

    This last weekend we took our brood to the Paddle To Swinomish. I would not have known how cool of an experience this would be had it not been for a connection on Facebook who was volunteering for the event. It was an opportunity to see over 30 native American tribes gather together and perform their custom songs and dances. These various groups traveled by canoe to the reservation and these canoes were quite a sight to be seen. Not only was the entertainment value very cool, we also were treated to a free meal as the tribe was offering free breakfast and dinner to all who came. There were vendors and some booths providing crafts for kids. While this may not be a once in a lifetime experience, the likelihood of this type of event coming back to our area, especially while my children are still little, is highly unlikely.

  3. Classes / Workshops: When you visit a business that you like, ask if they have classes. You would be surprised at how many offer some sort of event, even if only occasionally. Take the time to google (I use this as a verb – sorry for the graminators out there) craft supply stores, food co-op’s, camping/outdoor stores, etc. Some workshops may have a fee to cover cost of materials; many do not. Last year I took our daughter to a healthy lunch class. She thought it was great! Samples were provided for all the food ideas they offered. She got to eat a bunch of new things and we learned of a few really cool ideas that we use often, such as baked nori sheets, yum yum.
  4. Get on the list: While I don’t want to add to my email inbox any more than the next person, some small local businesses may send out an occasional email newsletter containing area events that they support.
  5. Chamber of Commerce: You don’t have to be a business owner to utilize the area Chamber of Commerce. Their sole purpose is to make the area businesses and activities accessible to the public they serve. While some chambers are better than others, many do their best with the resources they have. Nearly every community has a Chamber of Commerce, and frequently their calendar of events will be different from that of an area newspaper. Here is a directly to find a chamber near you.
  6. Pacific Science Center

  7. Museums: Now this suggestion doesn’t entirely fit with my no cost concept; however, if you watch carefully, many museums will offer “free to the public days.” This is a great way to first experience that facility and see if you would like to have a membership. Once you do have a membership, it frequently comes with some very cool options, such as previews to new exhibits, special hours, discounts on food (if available within), etc.
  8. Experience area culture: In many communities there is something special that comprises that community. Sometimes the only way to learn of this is via the museum (as mentioned previously), but often the businesses themselves in the old downtown districts can tell their own story. I live in a smaller community and throughout the downtown district there are chainsaw wood carvings that represent the days when this town was a booming logging community. Not far from us is Bellingham, where there is a large number of stunning parks and in their downtown district you can get lost in the beautiful architecture and the fabulous little shops you can browse.
  9. Raser State Park

  10. Back to nature: In our family we love nature. Before children, my husband and I would visit a state park nearly every weekend and try to hike often. Those days have passed, but hopefully they will resurface soon for us. We do still try to do something outdoor related as often as we can, when weather is decent. When I was 8 months pregnant with our son, I took my daughter to an area state park. I let her be the explorer and I allowed her to pick our path. We saw stunning views and had a great time, until we were lost. No we weren’t really, but to a 4 year old I’m sure it seemed like it. Luckily I have a very good directional sense and I got us back safely, as the entire time I was making a mental note of what trail we were on and coming from. I would not, however, recommend this when you are 8 months pregnant as my husband was not too pleased with me. It reminded him of the time I went into a national forest with 5% power left in my cell phone and I was temporarily misplaced. (Yup, I did get a little lost that time.) I saw an amazing waterfall and a gorgeous picturesque lake. Though I did find my way back to the car, it took me a few hours.
  11. School: Sometimes the area school districts will have a fun activity that is advertised to the children, but are still open to the public. In our area there was a science night that I stumbled upon. I only knew about it because of the reader board, later I learned that they post these events on the school district website as well. I took my daughter inside and the event was specifically geared towards little kids to learn some very basic science concepts, such as cause and effect. She had a blast! Two years later she still asks when the next one is.
  12. What is your season: Take into consideration the time of year and the corresponding weather. There are many activities or businesses that are only seasonal. For instance, presently the berry farms and orchards are open in my area. Many have a different rate for “pick your own” compared to already harvested produce. You and your kids can have a grand time looking for berries, then taking your bounty home for some good eating. In the fall, pumpkin patches offer their own brand of fun. An area pumpkin farm offers wagon rides (though not the same when pulled by a tractor instead of a horse, but the kids enjoyed it nonetheless.)

    In the summer, flea markets pop up like poppies. If we attend a flea market, we’ll give our daughter ten dollars and allow her the opportunity to find a treasure on her own. This has an added bonus of encouraging her to think through her purchase and practice her math skills.

  13. Event centers or Universities: This may not apply to every one, but if you are within close driving distance to a large event center or university, keep an eye out, or sign up, for their events newsletter. There are a range of events that are hosted at these types of facilities. Last year I wanted very badly to make it to the gem fair where kids could polish rocks and have various hands on activities. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it and I don’t remember why.

    We are only an hour or so drive, depending on traffic, from Seattle. Frequently events are held in the Seattle Center (I think every weekend). Last year we happened to be there during the Tibet Festival. We didn’t plan it, but it was sheer awesome.

I hope this lists inspires you to become creative in seeking out activities that will create lasting memories for you and your children. If you have additional ideas on free or inexpensive activities away from the house, I would love to hear from you!


{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Terrie August 3, 2011 at 5:02 pm

Check with local parks departments, too. They often have low cost, sometimes free, classes or events in our local communities.

We always kept a tote bag in the trunk of the car filled with picnic supplies. It had a plastic tablecloth, wet wipes, paper plates & plate holders, inexpensive metal silverware (plastic utensils can be difficult for small ones to use – you can purchase this at the second-hand store), plastic cups, napkins, matches, insect repellent, foil, can opener, plastic bags for garbage, and a flashlight. This allowed us to stop on a whim for a picnic if we were out and about with the children. We could run into a local grocery store, pick up a few items and head back out to the local park. We made use of it often.


Pamela August 3, 2011 at 5:35 pm

Thank you so much for your comment Terrie. It’s funny you mentioned the parks department, I thought of that after I posted this article. Great suggestions all around.



Erika Miller/Babalu Baby August 3, 2011 at 5:10 am

Ps Your son is growing so fast and quite the little cutie!


Pamela August 3, 2011 at 5:50 am

Why thank you! 🙂



Erika Miller/Babalu Baby August 3, 2011 at 5:08 am

Great post Pamela! A buffet of fun ideas. There are some fabulous playgrounds that we ocassionally visit too, one in Camano Island, the other up in Lynden. They are both community built/ sponsored playgrounds with donated time and labor. They are both big play areas with swings, tree houses etc.. Can’t think of the names but easily searchable on the net I believe . I also love a few Weekly E- Newsletters called Daily Candy and Red Tricycle. Lots of great fun activities and adventures for little ones, including cheap meals out with kids, etc.

I think your blog is great! Keep up the interesting posts!



Pamela August 3, 2011 at 5:49 am

Thank you so much for taking the time to comment Erika. I love your suggestions. I hadn’t heard of those two e-newsletters. I checked out your website and it is beautiful; I hope it is a success for you.



Erika Miller/Babalu Baby August 4, 2011 at 3:15 am

Thank you so much Pamela. I’d def love to connect with you sometime and catch up. It’s been awhile! Where does the time go?


Adam August 2, 2011 at 5:29 pm

Great article Pam, I really like the idea about museums you mentioned in #6 I hadn’t really thought about it but after looking around I realize that quite a few in the Atlanta area are offering “Back to school” type deals, where the prices are pretty deeply discounted, not free but definitely more reasonable than the typical $30+ admission prices.

I also think the point about the Chamber of commerce is very important, many people don’t realize small businesses will put out huge sums of money to partake in or sponsor events to promote their own branding. These types of events can be free or very cheap to consumers as they are designed to get people involved in what that business is all about.

I’ve also do the Flea market thing, down here in the south flea markets are huge. Especially in the more rural areas and often times have some really nifty stuff.

Keep up the great writing!


Pamela August 2, 2011 at 6:23 pm

Thank you so much Adam, I really appreciate your comment. As I said be sure to watch and even ask the area museums if they have a community free day. These types of events are usually sponsored by an area business for their own brand recognition and they can be a huge draw for people who may not want to pay the admission price.



Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: