Updated on 05.15.09

10 Resources for Finding Free and Cheap Things to Do This Summer

Trent Hamm

Like many families, the schedule of our family changes drastically during the summer. My wife goes on hiatus from her job for a few months, our children are constantly at home, and I strive to rearrange my own work so that I can spend more time with them. Plus, the weather is beautiful, encouraging us to be outside.

Most summers, we load our summer scheduled down with all kinds of different activities – camping trips, visits to state parks, community festivals, and lots of other things.

But how do you find all of these things. Here are ten resources we use for finding great free/cheap things to do during the summer.

Community Festivals
Looking for city-wide festivals in your local community or in neighboring communities? Festivals.com is the best resource I’ve yet found for collecting listings of all of these festivals. While it doesn’t include everything, it does point out lots of interesting activities near your zip code all throughout the summer.

Music Festivals
Once you get beyond mega-festivals like Bonnaroo, there are a lot of music festivals all across the country, and many are surprisingly inexpensive (sometimes free). Such festivals are a great way to hear lots of interesting music and meet people who have similar interests.

National Parks
A national parks pass can be one of the best frugal investments around. National parks are wonderful places to explore, camp, hike, and enjoy. The stunning beauty and majesty of nature found within many of the parks is well worth visiting.

State Parks
If you want a even less expensive and more local alternative to national parks, try finding a great state park near your area. State parks offer very inexpensive camping options and plenty of interesting area to explore and enjoy.

Many libraries offer great summer programs of all kinds: reading groups, reading programs for kids, free film nights, and so on. Summertime is a great time to get in touch with the many interesting and free programs available right in your own town at the library.

Community Calendars
Just add your city and state to the above Google query to find the community calendar for your own town. Community calendars are loaded with interesting and enjoyable free events, from community dinners to farmer’s markets in your local area. It’s also worth searching for the community calendars of cities and towns adjacent to where you life.

Craft Fairs
If you enjoy crafting, craft fairs can be incredibly fun ways to spend a day or two. Most craft fairs are free to enter and often provide a way to sell or trade your craft products, as well as pick up interesting and useful supplies and also learn new techniques.

Natural Collections
Summertime is the perfect time to start a natural collection of your own. It gives you a great reason to start exploring the outdoors anywhere and everywhere, doesn’t cost a thing, and can provide the foundation of a lifelong passion. Start a notebook tracking the birds you find. Collect leaves or interesting rocks. Just explore the natural beauty around you.

Minor League Baseball
Most communities of any size have a minor league baseball team in the area – or has one at least somewhere nearby. Minor league baseball games are pure fun – much more frugal and much more laid back than major league games, often with wacky entertainment to boot. Minor league versions of any other sport are similar in their frugal fun, particularly minor league hockey, though it is rarely played in the summer.

Want a great free activity that you can spend lots of hours on, enjoy the outdoors, and feel good about yourself afterward? Few things can beat volunteering, and you can usually get the whole family involved.

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  1. Johanna says:

    Thank you for the links to the festival listing sites. When I lived in Chicago, a local restaurant (of all things) would distribute calendars of all the neighborhood festivals I never would have found out about otherwise, and I had some pretty great days out as a result. I’ve often wondered what hidden gems there might be in the area where I live now, but I’ve never really bothered to look very hard for them.

  2. Isaac says:

    Thank you for compiling these links. As a single father who doesn’t know many other single parents in my town, I find that doing activities like these will not only strengthen my relationship with my daughter but also might lead me to networking with other single parents in my town.

  3. Mary says:

    Thanks! With summer break quickly approaching, this will come in handy.
    We are big minor league baseball fans … free parking, seats in the very front for $8-$10 (we call these the “Ted Turner” seats, since you could always see the former Braves owner sitting in the very front during their games), and even giveaways. Teams’ Web sites have a link listing their promotions, so be sure to check those out for food and drink specials, giveaways like jerseys for kids, etc.

  4. Jackie says:

    This summer my sister and I are going to visit the five highest waterfalls in our state– all in state parks! We’re going to take my kids and pack picnics and show them more of our state, all without spending much money.

  5. Sonja J. says:


    I have to agree about the national and state parks. They are terrific resources.

    Also, as a PBS employee, I have to give a shameless plug for our upcoming program on the national parks, airing in the fall:



  6. Those are great sits to check out. Throughout the year I checkout various local sites to find many events all year round. Thanks for the share!

  7. Joan says:

    You should check out your local newspaper, too! I happen to be a community news editor, but I actually got into that position because I’ve lived in my town my whole life and was constantly using the paper to find things to do.

  8. Keith@bewealthygethappy says:

    Minor league baseball is one of my favorite summertime activities – it’s great to be able to sit behind home plate, get a hot dog and a drink, and be out less than $20 a person. I definitely recommend it as an outing for any baseball lover.

  9. socialpanic says:

    Cheap and free is underrated. My childhood summers were fraught with state fairs, pools, and local festivals.

  10. Baker @ ManVsDebt says:

    These are fantastic ideas and something my wife and I have been focusing on in the last year or so. The great thing about a lot of these ideas is that thye also get your outside and moving. It’s an amazing and healthy change of pace. Cheap and healthy!

  11. Ankit says:

    Great resource. Especially Volunteering one.

  12. MLR says:

    College sports are also a viable alternative to major league and minor league sports.

    Festivals are great, although are poorly advertised. Check out websites for: neighborhood councils, cities, counties, and states. On top of what Trent recommended.

  13. Craig says:

    The summer is the best because you can do anything outside and relax or be active, have a great time and do it for cheap if not for free. Having a picnic, playing ball, lying down listening to music are all things to do. Great lists and nice links for them. A lot of counties have free concerts to paid for buy the town, I used to go to those all the time, a lot of good cover bands played.

  14. Kate says:

    Re: minor league baseball. There’s a Kraft promotion this summer that gives 2 for 1 tickets if you bring in the wrapper from Kraft singles. Check out the Minor League baseball site for details.

  15. KC says:

    To add to the minor league baseball theme some teams will let you watch batting practice for free. I live in a Carolina League town (Hi A) and if I go about 3:30 I can see batting practice for the home team. The visitors start around 5 pm (both times are for a 7:00 game). Chances are if your minor league team is in a non-downtown location they will just have the gates open and you can go in and watch for free. For a real baseball fan that loves to be around the game this is a real treat.

  16. KC says:

    Also many teams run 2 for 1 specials or some other ticket specials. Seniors and young children also get discounts at some places. And in a lot of places that don’t sell out you can buy a cheap seat and pretty much sit anywhere you want.

    Some teams run specials like Thirsty Thursdays where you get cheaper drinks or food. Pay full price for a ticket but save on the goodies. In fact there are lots of specials this season – teams must be suffering somewhat from the recession.

  17. Great list! Our state offers a discounted season pass to our state parks– well worth looking into.

  18. Jennifer says:

    Thanks for the list! I use a lot of those same sites to find venues to sell my handcrafted pendants at. It’s amazing all the events you can find when you really look!

  19. Thanks for that list. I had no idea we had a local community calendar and it has so many things on it! When my kids were little, I remember making a calendar for the summer where we did one free thing every day. Those were some of our favorite memories. The kids still talk about the walks we took where we identified trees, flowers and birds. We also spent time picking berries and making jam. Can’t wait for that this year!

  20. GayleRN says:

    My favorite is to explore new hiking trails that are nearby. Lends variety to the exercise program. As a bonus I usually don’t see very many other people on the trails. Lately I discovered a township trailhead located behind the office supplies store. It follows a creek. I think I will explore that today. My other favorite is to go next to some body of water, which Michigan is full of, and sit and think. Not everything has to be frenetic activity.

  21. Joanna Matos says:

    Great links! When I checked our community calendar I saw Chipotle was giving away free Burritos all day today for their Grand Opening. Our family had a great meal and drinks all on the house. Also for anyone looking for a break from the heat, Regal Movie Theaters has a free family film festival in the summer. Check out http://www.regmovies.com for participating locations. Thanks for all of the tips and useful info.

  22. Lenore says:

    REALLY enjoyed this one, Trent, and added most of the links to my Favorites. Community theater, second-run movie houses, matinees and drive-ins can be refreshing alternatives to overpriced multiplex shows. Scouting for flea markets, yard sales, antique shops or thrift stores is a great way to “tour” any town, and you can always take a limited amount of cash or vow to look without buying. Open houses are fun if you like that sort of thing, and sometimes there are free cookies or other refreshments set out.

    We bought a secondhand porch swing a few weeks ago, and I love to just sit there and chill. With a magazine, a cold drink or one of my cats to cuddle, I feel very content and revitalized. Simple pleasures are the best, and they tend to be the moments we remember.

  23. Laura says:

    Just wanted to add one more idea for free summer fun…if you go on the following link, you can type in your state & zip to find free summer movies!http://www.regmovies.com/nowshowing/familyfilmfestivalschedule.aspx

  24. JT says:

    I would add the Sierra Club – their website has links to local chapters and most have free guided group hikes throughout the week at local parks and recreation areas. Great way to meet new people, get exercise (they have hikes for all levels and abilities), and its free – you don’t even have to be a member.

  25. Georgia says:

    I would like to also say check colleges for other than just sports. We went to a program at a community college about 45 miles from home as a group of “older kids.” We heard the Sweet Adeline’s and a magnificent barbershop large group. It cost us $5.00 each and they had scads of cookies and the best “hot” hot chocolate around.

    Also, my daughter attended a university about 60 miles from here in a medium sized town. They had plays, music, sports, and activities that could be enjoyed by all and were free or low cost. Try it, you’ll like it.

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