You don’t need to break the piggy bank to have a good time with your kids. If you’re tired of shelling out big bucks for movie tickets or indoor parks that only hold your crew’s attention for a short time, try these family activities that are both fun and cheap (or free!) the next time you’re anxious for an adventure.

1. Read Our Lips: FREE story times every day of the week (except Sunday) through Seattle Public Library, King Library System and Mockingbird Books as well as the University Book Store locations in Renton and Mill Creek and Island Books on Mercer Island. Here are more story time picks.

2. Kid-Friendly Coffee Shops. Hot coffee or tea and a slew of new-to-you toys make for a perfect outing any day of the week. From Sip and Ship in Ballard and Greenwood, the The Village Bean in Bothell, Vios‘ two locations in Ravenna and Capitol Hill and the new Wunderkind Seattle Cafe in Northeast Seattle to Firehouse Coffee in Ballard, Green Bean Coffeehouse in Greenwood, Dubsea Coffee in West Seattle and these Eastside hot spots, there are a plethora of indoor havens that will keep parents and kids happy, all for the price of a cuppa Joe. Psst! If you want to splurge, take your tots to PlayHappy Cafe in Lynnwood (discounted multi-visit play passes are available) or drop by Umbrella Tree’s Open Play Mon.-Sat. during regular business hours. While you enjoy a latte or item off the menu, kids 5 and under will enjoy a range of toys and an art table ($5/child; $4/sibling; non-crawlers free).

third place books pic

photo: Chelsea Lin

3. FREE Play Areas. With the Kids Cove in Bellevue Square, the Pirate Ship at Bothell Country Village, the covered play area at U Village, and the kids play area at Westfield Southcenter, shopping mall’s aren’t just about spending money, they’ve evolved into entertainment complexes. Psst! University Village offers a weekly Tuesday Playday program with free activities, crafts and story times for the under 5 set and Crossroads Mall has free games and entertainment for the whole family on the second Saturday of the month from 5 p.m.-9 p.m.

4. The Center for Wooden Boats just might be a broke mom’s best friend. Kids love wandering the docks, getting up close and personal with tugboats, canoes and sailboats (not to mention the seaplanes taking off nearby). If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a free Sunday Public Sail or the bi-monthly free Tugboat Storytime aboard the historic tugboat Arthur Foss (11 a.m.-noon). On the first Thursday of the month, take advantage of free Toy Boat Building from 3 p.m.-5 p.m. and free tours aboard the Virginia V and Tugboat Arthur Foss from noon-5 p.m. On weekends between 11 a.m.-2 p.m., the Center brings out ten beautifully crafted wooden boats for passers-by to test out on the South Lake Union Boat Pond ($5 suggested donation). Race ‘em, time ‘em, let them float leisurely along. Any way your littlest mate plays will be time well spent on the water. The spray park at Lake Union Park is another splashtastic way to spend a sunny day here. Pack a swimsuit and some sunscreen for this added maritime adventure. And speaking of maritime adventures, kids love visiting 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).

Wooden Boat pond South Lake Union

photo: Allison Sutcliffe

5. Drop-in Playtimes. If you have a kid under five, you’ve probably logged a few hours at one of the many Seattle Community Centers drop-in playtimes. For roughly $3 you can get the crazies out just about any day of the week. Another bonus is the once a month (Oct.-Apr.) kids entertainment programs at the Phinney Ridge Community Center (called Ridge Romp), the Mount Baker’s Pied Piper series (Oct.-Mar.) and the Kindiependent Kids Rock Series (Dec.-Apr.). Kids can enjoy magicians, popular kindie bands, puppet shows, performing pigs and more silliness for only $5.

6. Kelsey Creek Farm. 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!

kelsey creek farm

photo: Kristina Moy

7. Get Crafty! When you’ve spent all week-long doing activities with the kids, it’s kind of nice to hand them off to daddy for a Saturday morning adventure. We suggest craft sessions that range from free to $5 such as the ones at Lakeshore Learning in Bellevue and the Bellevue Arts Museum to ones at Seattle ReCreative, Michael’s and these other popular spots.  Make room on the fridge!

8. Seattle Center. 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 fountain, play at the new Artists at Play playground and emote on the stage. If you really want to hit a home run, take the bus to the Seattle Center and your kids will look at you with a newfound appreciation and awe. Bonus: If the stock market rallied and you’re feeling flush, spring for some tix to the Seattle Children’s Museum. At $7.25-8.25 a pop (kiddos under 1 are free), it’s worth every penny. Psst! Walk across the street to The Gates Foundation Visitor Center. Admission is always free Tues.-Sat during regular hours.


photo: Natalia Dotto Photography 

9. Visit the animals. Furry creatures are a pretty safe bet for a fun day out with toddlers and you don’t need to drop any money to get your animal fix. Visit the horses at Woodinville stables, check out the four-legged beasts at Magnuson Dog Park or these kid-friendly dog parks, visit with the animals at Farrel-McWhirter Farm Park or stop by your neighborhood pet shop. Psst! Petco on 45th is a great place to visit with fishies, birdies, mice and other small creatures.

10. Explore a museum. 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. Fortunately, we’ve found some great museums that offer times for free admission for the Littles (and they have wonderful toddler play spaces within them). Some of our favorites include the Burke Museum on the UW campus (kiddos love the dinosaur exhibit), KidsQuest Children’s Museum in Factoria, the Museum of Flight next to Boeing Field and MOHAI on South Lake Union. The Burke Museum is generally free for ages 4 and younger, but on the third Thursday of the month it’s free for all ages and is open until 8 p.m. KidsQuest Children’s Museum is $1 for all ages on the third Thursday of the month from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. and free during the weekdays for the one and under crowd. You can also score two free passes to KidsQuest through the King County Library System or take advantage of free Low Sensory Evenings once a month for children with special needs and their families. The Museum of Flight is free on the first Thursday of the month from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. and kids 4 years and younger are always free. MOHAI is also free on the first Thursday of the month from 10 a.m.-8 p.m. and kids under 14 are always free. Here are other free museum days to put on your calendar. You can’t beat that!

KidsQuest's Early Childhood Classes start September 23rd!

photo: Merrill Images

Did we miss your favorite free or cheap thing to do with your kids? Let us know in the Comments below.

— Kristina Moy