School’s out for summer! And while your little scholar is thrilled, you might be worried how you’re going to spend all that glorious time—without trashing your house or depleting your bank account. But don’t fret, Seattle parents. We’ve put together a list of the best free (or nearly free) summer activities to keep the excitement high and your wallet full.
photo: Rachel Ebeling
1. Hit up a spray park in your ‘hood or visit an Eastside splash pad, complete with squirty sea anemones, water canyons and sensor-activated sprayers. Or check out the South Sound’s splash pad scene. It’s loaded with cool accessories!
2. Take advantage of the warm weather, fresh air and long days to visit an Eastside or Seattle park with delish lunch spots nearby. Do your lil’ daredevils like to slide? Hit one of our favorite parks with slides or explore a park you may not even know existed.
3. Walk, ride, scoot or paddle around Green Lake. Make it a day outing by visiting one of the many eateries around the lake and splashing around in the awesome wading pool. Psst! The wading pool is located across the street from Ben & Jerry’s… just in case you need a little enticement to get the Littles out of the water.
photo: Allison Sutcliffe
4. Take your crew on a hike! Show your little adventurers what Stevens Pass or Snoqualmie Pass looks like sans snow; check out Snoqualmie Falls and it’s surrounding trails; or take an easy waterfall hike. The Emerald City also offers several urban hikes the whole fam with love. Psst… don’t miss the free park days (Aug. 25 & Sept. 30). No Discovery Pass needed!
5. Do-Re-Me your way over to a free summer concert. Consider: Summer Concerts at the Locks, the University Village Sounds of Summer Concert Series, the Out to Lunch Summer Concert Series at various locations in downtown Seattle, Concerts at the Mural, Kirkland Summer Concerts, Kirkland Evening Concerts, Concerts on the Green in Issaquah, Sammamish Concerts in the Park and the Everett Children’s Concert Series.
photo: Hirni Pathak via Flickr
6. Go fly a kite, literally! The city has a wealth of picture perfect spots to throw caution (and a kite) to the wind.
7. The Center for Wooden Boats just might be a broke parent’s best friend. Wander the docks and get up close and personal with tugboats, canoes and sailboats (not to mention the seaplanes taking off nearby). Go on a Sunday and catch a free Public Sail or the bi-monthly free Tugboat Story Time aboard the historic tugboat Arthur Foss (second and fourth Saturdays from 11 a.m.-11:30 a.m.). Better yet, take advantage of free Toy Boat Building from 3 p.m.-5 p.m. on the first Thursday of the month as well as free tours aboard the Virginia V and Tugboat Arthur Foss. Psst! MOHAI, next to Lake Union Park, is free from 10 a.m.-8 p.m. on the first Thursday of the month.
8. Giddy-up to one of our favorite petting farms and let your mini-me pet, prance and preen with the animals.
photo: Chris W. via Yelp
9. Thrill your four-legged friend by taking him or her to a dog park that is also kid-friendly. Psst! You don’t need a dog to visit and seeing the pups frolicking with their pals will lift everyone’s spirits.
10. Pack a picnic lunch and a bag of snacks, load your kid crew in the car and take an easy summer day trip.
12. Head north and venture to Jetty Island for the day. Psst.. don’t forget your sand buckets!
13. Got a fourth grader? Score a free park pass for the whole family to use this summer!
14. Ride the Link Light Rail between the UW and Capitol Hill, take the South Lake Union Streetcar or consider a simple bus ride. Psst! Hop on your local metro bus and ride to lunch, the library or to visit mom, dad or grandma at their office.
15. Pretend you’re traveling with the Grey’s Anatomy crew and relish a ferry ride to Bainbridge, Vashon or Kingston. Or stay within the city limits and take a water taxi ride between downtown Seattle and West Seattle and explore the sites on each side.
16. Even your everyday local park can seem new if you pack lunch or dinner. Check out one of these top Seattle spots to picnic and play well into the evening.
17. Visit one of city’s farmers markets or check out Pike Place Market’s new MarketFront and score some (relatively cheap) fresh fruits, veggies and flowers or pick up unique items like hemp necklaces or dream catchers. Extra points if you gather inspiration from the crafts and figure out how to make your own at home.
photo: Helen Walker Green
18. Cast your lines at one of our favorite fishing holes. Kids 14 & under do not need a fishing license in the state of Washington.
19. Visit the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks. In addition boat watching and the always-awesome fish ladder, explore the botanical garden and the Visitor’s Center which doubles as a hands-on nautical museum (on the second floor) or catch a free concert on Saturdays and Sundays from 2 p.m.-3 p.m. through Labor Day.
20. Summertime and festivals go hand-in-hand. Take your crew to some of our favorite summer festivals which all offer free admission.
photo: Kristina Moy
21. If “Old McDonald” is one of the songs in your musical repertoire these days, a trip to Kelsey Creek Farm in Bellevue is a must. Kids love visiting with the cows, horses, bunnies, chickens, sheep, pigs and more at this fab (free) farm in the heart of Bellevue. The playground is the perfect size for toddlers with swings, seesaws and climbing toys. Plus, walking trails wind through the park, over the creek and by the pastures. Pack a picnic lunch and make a day of it!
22. The Emerald City is bursting with wild and wacky sights. See how many you can spot in a day.
23. There’s a reason the Seattle Center is one of the top visitor destinations – it’s a blast! And you don’t have to spend a dime to keep the kiddies engaged. Let them wander around the sculpture garden, create cool sounds at the Sonic Bloom solar-powered art installation, run around the International Fountain, play at the Artists at Play playground and emote on the stage. Psst! Walk across the street to The Gates Foundation Visitor Center. Admission is always free during regular hours.
photo: Kristina Moy
24. Tired of your local spray park or wading pool? Head out in search of our city’s best urban fountains. Psst! Be sure to pack your kiddo’s suit and towel.
25. Take your crew to Georgetown to explore our area’s only Trailer Park Mall.
26. Sample some of Seattle’s best places to eat… all at once! The Bite of Seattle is a summer fave and admission is always free.
photo: Magnuson Movie Series
27. Grab your blankets and movie snacks—summer in the city means an array of family screenings under the stars.
28. While hiking Mt. Si should be reserved for an adult-only day date, Little Si is the perfect challenge for kids who are up to more than a leisurely nature stroll.
29. Prime tide pool season is here. Take your budding marine biologists on a family tide pooling adventure to look for sea stars, moon snails and other creatures.
30. Ride scooters or bikes through the mile-long tunnel that goes from Sam Smith Park in Mt. Baker to the I-90 lid. Then turn around and come back and play at the playground.
31. Grab a curbside seat along 4th Ave. to see a magnificent summer parade make its way through downtown Seattle.
32. Pack a picnic lunch and hit the trails of Tiger Mountain.
33. During Seafair Fleet Week, tour the ships for free and meet the sailors who operate them.
photo: Kristina Moy
The Great Indoors
34. Remember what you used to do during summer vaca? Gather your crew and head out in search of penny candy – give ‘em one dollar each and see who can get the most for their pennies.
35. Skedaddle to another zip code and visit a library. Or participate in Seattle Public Library’s free Summer of Learning program, offering crafts, games, science and more. On the Eastside? The King County Library’s 2017 Reading Program is loaded with awesomeness (think free concerts, magic shows and musical productions).
photo: Maggie Edelman
37. Rain, schmain. Head to one of our favorite indoor pools when the skies are unforgiving or when the temps are just too hot to be outside.
38. Museums and toddlers can be hit or miss, so it’s hard to cough up admission fees for the wee ones when a melt down and early exit are a distinct possibility. Lucky for us, many museums in our area offer free admission on the first Thursday of the month or discounted evenings. Some of our favorites include the Burke Museum on the UW campus (kiddos love the dinosaur exhibit), the new and improved KidsQuest Children’s Museum in Bellevue, the Museum of Flight next to Boeing Field, MOHAI on South Lake Union and the Children’s Museum of Tacoma.
photo: Rachael Brandon
39. Catch a kid-friendly flick at Bellevue’s Lincoln Square ($5 for 10 movies or $1 per show) or the Regal Summer Movie Express ($1 Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 10 a.m.). If nighttime is more your style, hit up West Seattle’s free outdoor movies on Saturday night or venture to Shilshole Bay Marina and catch an outdoor flick for free.
40. Budding builders will enjoy co-creating during a free class at Home Depot (usually on the first Saturday of the month). Psst… all kids get to keep their craft, receive a FREE certificate of achievement, a workshop apron and a commemorative pin while supplies last
41. Don’t feel like cooking? Kids can dine for FREE at several Seattle-area restaurants.
42. There will be plenty of glue and glitter action going on at the free classes and projects at crafty locales like Ben Franklin in Redmond, the Creativity Place in Bothell, Seattle ReCreative in Greenwood and various Michaels locations as well as learning stores like Lakeshore Learning in Bellevue.
43. Learn about the stars with a free monthly “star party” at Greenlake or Paramount Park in Shoreline, with the Seattle Astronomical Society.
44. Got an art obsessed kid? Venture to MOHAI or SAM on one of their free days, generally the first Thursday of the month. Psst… many of our area’s art museums offer free admission to kids under 12. And, Bank of America customers can get in free – find out more.
Home Is Where the Heart Is
45. Pitch a tent and build a fire – in your own backyard! Half the fun of camping is being in the tent and roasting s’mores, so keep it close to home. Psst… you don’t even have to sleep in the tent—just play a game or have a picnic inside.
46. Bust out the old-school board games like Clue, Chinese Checkers, Parcheesi and Twister for the Littles or classic card games like Rummy or Cribbage for the older sibs in your crew.
47. Make an indoor or outdoor scavenger hunt or relay race (if you’ve got a team of racers). Who can find the most rubber bands, green rocks, bird feathers, marbles and orange flowers—ready, set, go!
photo: Leah Singer
48. Make a lemonade stand. Have your budding entrepreneur make a sign, craft the lemonade, set out cups, and of course, man the stand!
49. Get a variety of paint brushes and have the Littles paint with water (think rocks, driveways, sidewalks). It’s free fun and no cleanup. Hot digity dog!
50. Write a letter to a pen pal. With actual paper and ink!
Whatever you do, don’t let this summer slip away – get out and soak it all up!
What’s your family’s favorite free summer activities? Tell us in the comments below and we’ll add them to our list.
— Kristina Moy & Jennifer B. Davis