If you’re like most people, you enjoy getting away from everything and spending time with your family. And you know it’s good for your sanity. But, one thing that may often hold you back is the issue of money.
After seeing pictures on social media, it feels like every vacation needs to be to some faraway place and cost thousands of dollars. What if your family could have just as much fun at a fraction of the cost?
Parents often think they need to spend a lot of money to make great memories. Don’t get me wrong, theme parks and cruises are incredibly fun.
Yet, children are still learning and maturing, which makes it easier for them to take pleasure in the little things in life. For example, my wife and I took our two kids to California for three days. One day we visited Legoland, which cost over $200 for everyone, and one day we spent the day at the beach for $0. As the kids reflected on our trip, they had just as many fond memories of the beach as they did at the theme park.
We have put together a list of 25 family-friendly activities for your next vacation that are free! Several of these activities will be dependent on the weather and the place you visit, but you should be able to find several new things to try. You will be amazed that these ideas will create as wonderful memories as a luxurious vacation!
- Visit local parks and playgrounds
- Go for a hike
- Play at the beach
- Go sledding and have a snowball fight
- Enjoy a local concert and other free local events
- Tour a factory
- Play at a splash pad
- See stars (observatory)
- Enjoy a sunset and/or sunrise
- Farmer’s market
- See historical sites and monuments
- Free nature centers or botanical gardens
- Create a scavenger hunt
- Create an obstacle course
- Visit a local library
- Walk around the downtown area
- Check out local shops
- Go bird watching
- Check out free museums
- See a wildlife refuge
- Enjoy an art district
- Take a tour of the capitol
- See an outdoor movie
- Play in rivers, lakes, waterfalls
- Specific activities for your destination
Visit Local Parks and Playgrounds
It’s no secret that most kids love going to the park. The only thing more exciting than going to the park is visiting a park they have never been to before.
Parks can provide hours of entertainment. Children are always excited by different playground equipment that can present new challenges. And some parks have sand to play in.
There are endless games you can play at the park. Here are just a few suggestions: tag, freeze tag, lava on the ground/floor, hide-and-seek, capture the flag, Frisbee, soccer, and more. Parks also provide a great place to do scavenger hunts and obstacle courses, which are two other ideas for free activities below.
Parks are also a great option because they can be found virtually anywhere. Most towns or larger neighborhoods have at least one little public park.
Go for a Hike
Some people hesitate when they think about hiking with kids, but a family hike doesn’t have to be a 10-mile trek up a mountain. If you’re near a hilly or mountainous area, there are usually opportunities for families of any age. For little kids, walking up a little hill might be a great start. Families with older kids can usually be more adventurous.
Hikes are great because they let the kids get out and explore nature. Besides just burning off energy, they present a great opportunity to see plant and animal wildlife. Picnics are another fun idea to make the hike even more memorable, but make sure to come prepared with a blanket, food, and drinks.
If you have a fourth grader, you can get into most national parks for free through their Every Kid Outdoors program. National parks present great hiking opportunities.
Play at the Beach
Many beaches are free to enjoy, and they can easily provide a full day of entertainment for both kids and adults. There is so much to do at the beach. Kids can play in the sand by building sandcastles, digging, and burying things. They can look for shells and wildlife. You can also play sports like football, Frisbee, volleyball, or bocce ball. Adults can sit back and relax while enjoying a good book.
Playing in the water is also incredibly fun. Some kids just enjoy the crashing waves, but you can also be more active and try boogie boarding or wakeboarding.
Go Sledding or Have a Snowball Fight
This next free family-friendly activity for your vacation will depend on the location. The weather will have to be right for winter activities, but sledding in a new area is always a blast. There are new hills and obstacles. You may also find new friends to sled with and challenge to a snowball fight.
There are other fun snow activities like making a snowman, snow fort, or snow maze. And don’t forget the snow angels! Most kids just love to get out and play in the snow!
Enjoy a Local Concert or Other Free Event
When the weather is nice, many cities offer free concerts or other family-friendly events on the weekends. As a parent, the quality might not be very high, but most kids will still enjoy the free music. Or you may stumble upon another fun event like a magician, puppet show, or fireworks show. This could be a great way to wind down one evening.
Tour a Factory
Certainly, many factory tours cost money, but there are actually quite a few that are free. Here is a list of 29 free factory tours around the United States. Before you go, make sure you check when the free tours are offered because most only offer tours at very specific times.
This is a great way for both adults and kids to learn something new. And you might get to try some free samples or come away with some free stuff!
Play at a Splash Pad
If you’re traveling to a warmer area, they may have some free splash pads. For example, the Phoenix, AZ, area has many fun splash pads that are open to the public. This is a great way to let the kids cool off and have fun in the water. Kids can often spend hours playing and is a great alternative to having to spend a lot of money to go swimming in a public pool.
See Stars (Observatory)
If you visit a more remote area, it’s fun to go outside at night and look at the stars. This isn’t something most people do regularly because of the busyness of life (work, school, activities). Vacation presents a great opportunity to slow down and enjoy the little things, and kids may be allowed to stay up later when there’s no school the next day.
Some places have free observatories where you can get a closer look at outer space, but you will have to see if there is one near the place you are staying.
Enjoy a Sunset and/or Sunrise
Similar to looking at stars, most of us rarely slow down enough to enjoy a sunrise or sunset. Vacation is a perfect time to do this.
Find a good lookout point, and just enjoy the beauty of God’s creation as the sun rises or sets. Every sunset is a little different depending on the clouds and location, so it’s sure to be a unique experience. And it could make for a great photo opportunity for your family!
Check Out a Farmer’s Market
Farmer’s markets are a fun place to get a feel for the local vibe. Every farmer’s market has its own unique flair and foods. For example, salsas, jams, and sauces will be different from one place to the next. Also, some farmer’s markets have food trucks that will allow you to taste some of the local cuisines. This is a nice and relaxing activity to do one morning before your other planned events.
See Historical Sites and Monuments
Seeing historical sites and monuments might not be the first thing that pops into your mind when you think of family-friendly activities, but they can be a great educational tool. And they are usually free!
Some places, like Washington D.C., have very large monuments or memorials commemorating major events such as memorials to remember fallen soldiers. But many smaller cities also have historical sites because every city has its own history.
Visit a Free Nature Center or Botanical Garden
It’s true that many botanical gardens require paid admission, but there are some that are completely free. Here are 12 larger botanical that are free, or there may be a smaller one near your vacation destination.
Nature centers are more prevalent than botanical gardens, and you can enjoy many of them at no cost. They are a fun place to walk around and see local plant and animal wildlife.
Create a Scavenger Hunt
Scavenger hunts take a little time and effort to pull off, but kids absolutely love them! You can create either indoor or outdoor hunts, depending on your destination. Look for animals, places, objects, or anything you want!
What makes this really fun is that in a new location, not even the adults may know where to find things! It’s a great way to explore a new area while also having fun. Use these scavenger hunt ideas to get you started, and you can create your own in no time.
Another way you can do a scavenger hunt without having to do the work is geocaching. Geocaching is like a treasure hunt where you look for caches, or hidden objects, using your GPS. You must first register online, and then use longitude and latitude coordinates to find small objects like keychains, ornaments, booklets, gadgets and even puzzles to be solved.
Create an Obstacle Course
This may sound difficult, and it may be with older kids. But with younger kids in the right place, this could be a great option! Just remember to keep it simple and safe.
You can use public parks and other less busy places to help you create your obstacle course. Think about using simple items like balls, logs, stumps, pool noodles, boxes, playground equipment, and more. Start easy and make it more complex as you go!
Visit a Local Library
Libraries are great because they can offer a break from being outside if the weather is too hot or too cold. Everyone knows that reading is important for children, so why not spend an hour or two checking out a library?
All libraries are unique, and they have places for you to sit down and enjoy a book. You are sure to find books that your library back home doesn’t carry. Some libraries also offer other services like story time or computers available for public use.
Walk Around the Downtown Area
Most cities, even smaller ones, have a downtown area where you can park and walk around. Exploring the downtown will give you a good feel of the history and culture of the area. There are often historic places and buildings you can see as well. Take some time to get a bite to eat, maybe purchase a souvenir, and learn some history!
Check Out Local Shops
When traveling to more populated cities, it can be easy to go to a mall because it gives you so many options in one place. And that may be another family activity you choose to do on your vacation because it’s also free. But, we recommend you intentionally visit locally-owned stores if possible for several reasons.
First, as a result of Covid and the few major retailers taking over the industry, local businesses are hurting. This is a way to help support them.
Second, you will probably find treasures in local stores that you may not find anywhere else. Save shopping at the big retailers for when you return home (or skip them altogether).
Go Bird Watching
Bird watching may be tricky with younger kids, but most kids enjoy seeing animals. It’s best if you bring a pair of binoculars and either a book about birds or make sure your phone has service to look up information about them. Don’t forget a nature/bird journal (you can make your own or purchase one), colored pencils, and a snack! Otherwise, this will end up being a very short activity.
While you’re watching for the birds, you can talk about the birds, look for feathers, and listen for bird calls. Here are a few other ideas for bird watching with kids.
Check Out Free Museums
Most museums required paid entry, but some are free! Here is a list of over 20 large museums that offer free admission. You can also research museums at your destination to see if you can see them at no charge.
As you know, museums are great for learning about history, culture, art, and more! This is a great way to discreetly include an educational element to your trip.
See a Wildlife Refuge
Many people don’t know much about wildlife refuges. What are they? Refuges are designated areas set aside to protect animals and nature. Here’s a map of the wildlife refuges in the U.S., but you might want to confirm admission is free before going.
This is a great activity because most of the refuges are free and offer fun ways to interact with wildlife. You can take pictures and go fishing if you have a permit. Some refuges may also do other activities like paddle boating or nature programs.
Enjoy an Art District
Certain downtown areas may have an art district, or you may happen upon an art event. It’s fascinating to see unique, beautiful pieces of art. The best part is that these are almost always free to walk around! Many districts often have great restaurants, music, and other fun activities on the weekends. This could be a fun, free vacation activity for your family if your kids are a little older.
Take a Tour of the Capitol
Most states offer free tours of their capitol building on select days and times. This can be a fun experience for kids because there is a sense of awe being in such a large and important building. It’s also great for adults as they can enjoy the incredible architecture and art while learning some local history.
See an Outdoor Movie
Some towns offer free outdoor movie nights on weekends during the summer. Most of the time the movies are family-friendly. Grab a blanket and some snacks, then enjoy a free night of entertainment under the stars!
Play in Rivers, Lakes, Waterfalls
Water activities can provide hours of entertainment during the summer months. Many state or national parks and other outdoor public places have water you can enjoy. Just make sure you come prepared with towels and extra clothes.
There are dozens of activities you can do in rivers and lakes such as fishing (if you have a permit), swimming, tubing, paddle boarding, playing sports, and more.
Specific Free Family-Friendly Activities at Your Vacation Destination
Before you leave, try searching on the internet for free activities at your destination for the dates you will be visiting. They may end up having some special event like a parade or celebration.
Enjoy More Time Away!
Now you know that you can take more time away without emptying the bank. Try some of these free family-friendly activities on your next vacation to have both a memory-filled and low-cost time away! These are just a few ideas to get you started, but you can get creative and come up with some of your own.
Most of the ideas above are safe for the entire family, but accidents can happen anywhere. Make sure your health insurance will protect you and your loved ones wherever you vacation. Some insurance plans don’t provide coverage when you cross state lines, and most plans won’t cover you if you travel to another country.
Good Neighbor Insurance wants to make sure you and your loved ones are protected. Check out two options for plans when you are traveling within the USA and several other plans when traveling internationally. Enjoy your next low-cost vacation!