You don’t need to drain your bank account to have a good time with your kids in the Emerald City. 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 absolutely free!) the next time you’re anxious for an adventure. Read on for the deets!

photo: KidsQuest Children’s Museum

1. Read Our Lips: Free Story Times Every Day of the Week (except Sunday) through the Seattle Public Library and the King County Library System as well as the University Book Store locations in Seattle and Mill Creek, Island Books on Mercer Island, Barnes & Noble in Bellevue, the Frye Art Museum and Elliott Bay Book Company.

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, Vios‘ two locations in Ravenna and Capitol Hill and Wunderkind in Northeast Seattle to Firehouse Coffee in Ballard, Green Bean Coffeehouse in Greenwood, Dubsea Coffee in West Seattle and popular Eastside spots like the Issaquah Coffee Company, SoulFood CoffeeHouse in Redmond and Third Place Commons in Lake Forest Park, 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 the tykes to PlayHappy Cafe in Lynnwood (discounted multi-visit play passes are available).

photo: Anna R. via Yelp

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 and Northgate Mall, 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 parent’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. On the first Thursday of the month, take advantage of free Toy Boat Building at Cama Beach and free tours aboard the Virginia V and Tugboat Arthur Foss. On weekends beginning in April, the Center brings out ten beautifully crafted wooden boats for passers-by to test out on the South Lake Union Boat Pond from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. ($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 to boat watching and the always-awesome fish ladder, you and your little sailors can explore the botanical garden and the Visitor’s Center which doubles as a hands-on nautical museum on the second floor.

photo: Jennifer D. via Yelp

5. Drop-in Play Times. If you have a kid under five, you’ve probably logged a few hours at one of the many Seattle Community Centers drop-in play times. But did you know that as of last January, you can get the crazies out just about any day of the week for free? That’s right! Most community center drop-in programs are free. Another bonus is the Mount Baker’s Pied Piper series (Oct.-Mar.) and the Kindiependent Kids Rock Series (Dec.-Mar.). Kids can enjoy magicians, popular kindie bands, puppet shows, performing pigs and more silliness for as little as $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 an absolute 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. Psst…be sure to keep an eye on their website for special events like the annual springtime Sheep Shearing and fall Farm Fair.

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 your significant other 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 and Michael’s.  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 always-fun 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 $10.50-11.50 a pop (kids under one are free), it’s worth every penny. Or hit the Pacific Science Center and take in the many exhibits and the Just for Tots area designed for the littlest scientists. Kids under age three are free and discounted admission rates are available for active duty, retiree, reservist and Department of Defense employees and their families. Psst! Walk across the street to The Gates Foundation Discovery Center. Admission is always free Tues.-Sat during regular hours.

photo: Kristina Moy

9. Visit the Animals. Furry and feathery 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, meet the resident animals at Farrel-McWhirter Farm Park, look for ducks and turtles at Golden Gardens Park in the little pond by the bridge (psst…don’t forget to visit the awesome playground while you’re there), grab a pair of binoculars and head to Discovery Park to look for more than 270 species of birds (and check out the new playground) or stop by your neighborhood pet shop. Petco 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), the newly 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. 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. and KidsQuest Children’s Museum is always free for the one and under crowd. You can also score free museum passes (yes, we said free!) through the Seattle Public Library. The Museum of Flight is free on the first Thursday of the month from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. and kids 4 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 and the Children’s Museum of Tacoma is pay as you will, with extended hours on the third Thursday of the month. Here are other free museum days to put on your calendar. You can’t beat that!

photo: Rachael Brandon

Did we miss your favorite free or cheap things to do with your kids? Tell us in the comments below! 

—Kristina Moy

Feature photo courtesy of KidsQuest Children’s Museum.

ADVERTISEMENT

RELATED STORIES: 

Go Wild! Your Insider’s Guide to Woodland Park Zoo

Blossoming Out: 6 Places to See Spectacular Spring Blooms

8 Fantastic Places to See & Touch Fish

10 Petting Farms & Zoos to Spend an Afternoon

A Must-Visit Farm in the Heart of Bellevue