Climb to the top of a building
While many of the larger, privately owned buildings in big cities will charge you a significant fee to get a view from the observation deck, there are a number of government-owned buildings operated by the park service that are great values.
Live near the Big Apple? How about a climb to the top of the Statue of Liberty
, the admission is free, but the ferry will cost $34 and you will need to reserve a pass to the crown early in the day, since space up there is limited. Another great national symbol is the St. Louis Arch
, the Gateway to the West, and it’s only $30 for a family of four to go to the top. Another iconic symbol of the country, the Washington Monument
is free to go to the top, but tickets are handed out daily on a first come, first served basis, so get there early.
It doesn’t matter where you live, there is always a “tallest building” there. Check with the owners to see if your family can have rooftop access for a different view of your town, and bring a map to see how many other spots you can see from the top!
Have a picnic out in nature
Pack up the kids and the dog, a blanket and the coolers and enjoy a day at the beach, at the foot of a mountain or in a park. Studies have shown that kids don’t get outside nearly as much as they should and all of us can use a little fresh air.
One of the best values in our country is our state and national parks
and many of us don’t even realize we live near them. Admission varies, but day passes into the parks are well under $50 per vehicle and the National Park Service even offers a guide to free admission days at your local park
. Add to your family’s knowledge of your area’s native plants and animals by purchasing a book and having a little scavenger hunt to see who can identify the most wildlife during a hike. Take the opportunity to try a few healthy snack recipes
. Don’t forget the sunscreen and camera!
Take a drive to a drive-in theater
Most of us have memories of our parents taking us to the drive-in theater when we were kids. If you thought they were a thing of the past, think again. Drive-in movie enthusiasts around the country have kept the tradition alive and at last count, there were more than 400 drive ins left in the U.S. There may be one in your area. Drive-ins are not only fun for the whole family (they are also dog friendly), they are the best value.
The Galaxy Drive-In
in Ennis, Texas costs just $18 for a family of four; the Boulevard Drive-In
in Kansas City, Kan. will accommodate your family for $16; the 61 Drive-In
in Maquoketa, Iowa costs $22; the Motor Vu in Dallas, Oregon goes for $20; and Bengie’s Drive-In
, in Baltimore costs $26 for a family of four. Head out for a night of movies and nature under the stars.
Investigate a science center
If your child shows an interest in science or if you want to show them that science can be fun, science centers are one of the hidden treasures of most cities. Children and parents can take part in various forms of “research” through interactive exhibits that resemble more of a day at the arcade than at school. Most large cities and even some small towns have science centers. One of the largest in the Midwest is the St. Louis Science Center and Planetarium, which has over 700 exhibits and – the best part – general admission is free. The Omnimax Theatre costs an extra $34 for a family of four.
If your child is into the stars, you can hit an observatory on a starry night such as the Griffith Observatory
outside of Los Angeles. There are also several CSI-themed exhibits at science centers, such as the one at the Detroit Science Center
which a family can visit for $50.
Read your way through your local library
If you haven’t been in a library in a long time, now is the chance to take the opportunity to reacquaint yourself with the library and show your children what the place has to offer. You may be surprised how high-tech libraries have become. Public libraries aren’t all about the books these days, but also offer kids the opportunity to work and play on computers, listen to music and watch videos. Many libraries have free family days and family film nights, which allows families to spend time together for free.
If you have little ones, libraries typically offer story times in the summer for you and your child and also have book clubs for tweens and teens. Studies show many children lose the skills they acquired during the last school year over the summer. You can help ensure that doesn’t happen while making reading a fun adventure by holding a contest in the family to see who can read the most books during the summer.
Go on a safari at your local zoo
There is simply no better way for parents to teach children about animals than taking them to the zoo. Most of the best zoos in the country are now cageless and have habitat areas similar to what the animals would have in the wild, if much smaller.
A zoo visit can be used to give your child a clear picture of nature and what needs to be preserved for the future of these animals and the planet as a whole. A family of four can gain access to many of the top zoos in the country for under $50. The Omaha Zoo in Nebraska will cost a family of four $45 and the Houston Zoo, $40. The National Zoo in Washington, D.C., run by the Smithsonian Institute, is free.
If there is no zoo or it is too expensive for your family in your area, think about taking your child to a working farm or petting zoo, which are typically much less expensive and sometimes completely free. Children will still have the opportunity to see and can even touch animals and also learn where their food comes from!
Take a ride at the county or state fair
Remember those carnival rides, games, pie eating contests and cotton candy of our youth? Your children can experience all of those things as well at your local county and state fairs. Fairs are typically held toward the end of the summer – just when you think you can’t come up with any more ideas to keep the little ones entertained – and typically have affordable admission rates (county fairs may even be free for residents).
You’ll have to purchase game and tickets for rides once inside, and $30 worth of tickets will typically get your kids on a lot of rides. There are also plenty of activities to do for free such as visiting the animal and craft exhibits. Some fairs offer side shows like concerts, demolition derbies, rodeos and fireworks displays, though these may cost something extra. Even the larger fairs, such as The Big E, which combines several state fairs in New England, offer affordable admission for families ($50 for a family of four).
However you choose to spend your leisure time this summer, these low-cost options can give you options for pretty much any weekend. If you have any ideas on cheap ways to keep your kids entertained, let us know in the comments section below or on our lively Facebook page
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