Updated for 2017
When you’ve got all summer long to keep the kiddos having fun, things can get pricy. We’re here to help! Try out all kinds of these things for FREE or nearly FREE all summer long. Put them on your summer bucket list, write them on your calendar, or gather friends to do something fun!
PS If you like this post, we think you’ll LOVE the weekend lists we put up on the home page every Friday (there’s one there now)! You can also sign up for our weekly newsletter!
1. We’ve got a huge list of places to cool off in the summer sun. Try out one of many South Sound spraygrounds, fountains, splash pads or pools from Auburn to Olympia!
2. If something a little more outdoorsy is more your speed, try out an area lake that’s great for swimming! We’ve got a huge list of Great Lakes for Swimming in the South Sound.
3. Explore one of the Best Beaches for Kids in the South Puget Sound. One of our family favs is Dash Point City Park. There is fishing pier, a little playground, sandy beach that turns rocky, and beautiful sunsets that you can only get in the PNW.
4. Kiddos can stay busy for a very long time by playing in the sand. Choose from one of the Best South Sound Beaches with Sand, or make a day of it and drive to the ocean!
5. Explore the beach at low tide and find all kinds of critters and sea life. Seattle Aquarium beach naturalists will be at various South Sound beaches throughout the summer to help us all learn more about the amazing marine life that surrounds Puget Sound and what we can do to make sure it’s around for generations to come. The link has info. on similar programs from Harbor WildWatch, Metro Parks Tacoma, and the South Sound Estuary Association. There is one near you no matter where you live around here!
6. Go fishing! Keep summer days easy with fishing at a local pier or river. You can even stop by Jim’s U-Fish in Spanaway if you want more of a sure thing! There are also animals to feed and pet here. This one can add up a bit, but readers have said it’s loads of fun.
7. Try one of Five Fun Swimming Pools for South Sound Kids. One of our favs is Kandle Pool in Tacoma, which has the first wave pool in Pierce County. There’s also a shallow tot pool and sprayground. Admission is FREE for ages 4 and under. All Tacoma pools will be FREE on the 4th of July.
8. If you rather stay out of the sun and get wet indoors, we’ve got a great list of Cool Indoor Pools in the South Sound just for kids! Entrance to the Covington Pool for a family is only $13.50 and kiddos under age 4 are FREE.
9. Splash and explore at the Mashell River in Eatonville. It’s great for kiddos who are a little bigger. And, my kids never seem to tire of skipping rocks.
10. Have you visited the Brown’s Point Lighthouse? You can opt to stay dry here or take a dip in the Sound. If you go on a Saturday afternoon from 1-4PM, you can take a tour of the Lighthouse Keeper’s cottage for free!
11. The Mast Center at Redondo is such a treasure! It’s a small aquarium with touch tanks, and it’s totally FREE to visit. 10-2 every Saturday, and they also have some special open times in the summer months. More about that soon!
12. American Lake in Lakewood hosts FREE water safety classes in the summer. This is a partnership with the YMCA and the City of Lakewood and includes basics like floating and treading water. This year, you can catch them on July 14th, 17th, 20th, and 29th, or August 4th, 13th, or 18th from 4-6PM. This is primarily intended for children, and it repeats-so think of it as a one time safety lesson/water introduction; not a replacement for lessons.
13. Try a new to you playground. Here’s our list of Best South Sound Playgrounds.
14. What little transportation lover doesn’t want to Touch a Truck?! Explore some of the biggest trucks around that service your community. Get all the details on upcoming events in our South Sound Touch a Truck Roundup.
15. One of our favorite things to do in the South Sound is explore a nature trail. Here’s our list of Ten South Sound Nature Walks Perfect for Young Hikers. Hylebos Wetlands in Federal Way is a great first start!
16. If you’re ready to explore an actual hike, you can’t go wrong with Mt. Rainier. We’ve wrangled some of the best hikes near Mt. Rainier for kiddos!
If you actually go in the park, you will have to pay for a pass unless you go on a FREE day! For hikes outside the park the pass you’ll need varies, so do check on that. Got someone who just finished 4th grade? You can go to national parks for FREE through August!
17. Are your littles not yet ready for hiking or nature trails? Try one of the beautiful South Sound Stroller Friendly Trails. If you’ve got one with a bike and one in the stroller, try out the Puyallup Foothills Trail, which is wide enough for all of you!
19. Have you tried geocaching yet? There are some great caches in Pt Defiance, with some easily discovered near the Rose Garden area. Or, take a hike where you can find some that are slightly more difficult. Want something less high tech? Get in on the painted rock craze and you’ll be creating and hunting for painted rocks at area parks in no time. So much fun!
20. Now that it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places, a visit to the Puyallup Fish Hatchery should be on your summer agenda! Explore the Educational Center (by appointment), take a walk around the hatchery, and even stroll the grounds into Clark Creek’s Park.
Free Your Mind
21. Sign up for a Library Summer Reading Program, where your kiddos can avoid the summer slide and win cool prizes, too! When you go in to sign up be sure to get a list of all the awesome programs being offered for FREE and mark some on your calendar so you don’t forget! You might also want to check out special summer story hours at the Seymour Conservatory and the Job Carr Cabin Museum.
22. Hit up a museum for free! There are FREE days during each month at area Tacoma and Seattle museums. Or, go on your own schedule by checking out a pass from your library.
23. Catch an excellent planetarium show at Pierce College that’s just for kids! Shows are just 6.00 for ages 3-12 and FREE for everyone else. What a great time of year to get interested in star gazing-especially this summer with the eclipse coming!
24. For only $3/parking you can explore the beautiful Nisqually Wildlife Refuge near Olympia. Kids will have extra fun becoming Junior Wildlife Refuge Managers while you’re here.
25. Do your kiddos enjoy getting dirty in the garden? How about signing them up for FREE gardening classes with the Pierce County Master Gardeners in Puyallup. These programs are FREE and include a short story time, lesson and activities. Programs are designed for children ages 3-11.
Get the Wiggles Out
26. Need a place for your kids to play a game that won’t make a mess in your house? Sign them up for Kids Bowl FREE all summer long!
27. Alternate the bowling with skating! Kids can skate FREE all summer long, too at Skate Tiffany’s in Puyallup.
Beat the Heat Indoors
28. No AC at home? Getting cranky with the stickiness of summer? Hit up one of the many South Sound Mall Play Areas. Meet up with friends and make it extra fun! Unless you do some shopping, it’s always Free to play!
29. You can also opt for an Indoor Playground. We suggest investing in the unlimited play pass from WiggleWorks. Yes, it will cost you upfront, but if you go enough you can get each visit down to just a couple of bucks (or less). Challenge accepted!
30. Want something more Mom friendly? Grab a latte at one of the Five Kid Friendly Coffee Shops in the South Sound.
31. Catch a cheap movie! Regal Summer Movie Express is offering $1 movies on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings this summer.
Catch a Show
32. There are all kinds of FREE Summer Concerts and Shows for Kids in the South Sound all summer long! One coming right up is the popular Kindie Rock group Recess Monkey in Lacey!
33. Want something a little more magical? Enjoy the sights and thrills of magician Jeff Evans! He brings the magic of science alive to kids in a way that’s engaging, entertaining and FUN! Check out the schedule of FREE shows all summer long featuring Jeff!
34. Nothing says summer like FREE outdoor movies under the stars! We’ve got a HUGE list of Outdoor Summer Movies in the South Sound just for you and your kiddos!
Visit a Fair or Festival
35. There is an awesome variety of festivals around the South Sound all summer long. You could go to a different one each weekend. Coming up soon on July 8, catch the SummerFest in Lakewood. It’s a FREE all day festival with activities, food, entertainment, car show, Kids Zone and more!
Olympia Harbor Days over Labor Day weekend is full of low cost fun for the whole family. Watch tugboat races, try your hand at a remote controlled tugboat, stop by one of the many activity booths, and much more!
You’ll need to look at the whole list-there are so many to choose from!
36.The Pierce County Fair is in Graham Thursday-Sunday, August 10-13 This small fair has lots of animals on display and is an annual celebration of rural life. Don’t tell on us, but we think it’s a great, down-home alternative to the, “Big one,” and you can spend less, too! Another option is the Thurston County Fair the week before.
37. Drive up to Seattle for any of the SeaFair events. My family loves to check out the Torchlight Parade (July 29, 7:30pm), featuring awesome local celebrities such as Sounders & Seahawks players, 100 parade units, lots of pirates, cultural demonstrations, and the giant helium balloons.
38. For awesome fireworks on the 4th of July, check out the Tacoma Freedom Fair . A full day affair featuring a fireworks spectacular, Freedom Fair Air Show, and fun on Ruston Way featuring an airshow, food, vendors, exhibits, rides. This is a big PARTY, which culminates in a huge fireworks show over Puget Sound. We have more fireworks options here!
39. The Kite Festival at Chambers Creek (Saturday 10:00am-3:00pm) is fun for the whole family! Head down to the Central Meadow for an amazing day of kite demonstrations, family kite flying, face painting, and more! The first 250 kids will have an opportunity to make their own kites!
Take a Day Trip
40. Hop in the car for a day trip! There is so much variety all within 3 hours driving distance of Tacoma, including Leavenworth, Port Townsend, and Snoqualmie Falls!
41. Head to Seattle for the day! The kids will get a kick out of the simple pleasures such as exploring Pike Place Market, the Gum Wall, and the Olympic Sculpture Park. Also worth a visit is the Ballard Locks, where kids will be mesmerized by boats passing through the locks or viewing the salmon in the fish ladder.
42. Kids can eat FREE lunches all summer long at locations all across the Puget Sound. Find the location nearest you at USDA Summer Food Rocks site. These are usually offered at local parks and schools. Schools seem to be really slow on updating this for 2017, so if you can’t find a location near you, call your district office!
43. All year long, there are lots of places where kids can eat FREE in the South Sound with a paying adult or through a rewards program.
44. While this isn’t free, getting ice cream is a cheap outing that your kiddos will LOVE. Hit up one of our Reader’s Favorite Ice Cream Spots in the South Sound! Don’t miss Ice Cream Social if you’re near Tacoma!
45. Summer fun should always include some berry picking! Be sure to put this one on the calendar because it always seems to sneak up on us with everything else going on all summer. For where to get the best berries, head to our South Sound Berry Picking Guide.
South Sound Pride
46. If you haven’t been to Cabela’s in Lacey or Bass Pro Shop in Tacoma, summer is the perfect opportunity. How can you resist a free excursion with a description like this: the 185,000-square-foot retail showroom is an educational and entertainment attraction, featuring a decor of museum-quality animal displays, huge aquariums and trophy animals interacting in realistic re-creations of their natural habitats. Bass Pro Shop boasts a 12,000-gallon freshwater aquarium, 3-D diorama of a running waterfall with mountain lion, big horn sheep, and mountain goats against a backdrop mural of Mount Rainier, not to mention the unique bowling alley!
47. Got a kid who is into military history? Visit the McChord Air Museum for FREE, Wednesday-Friday, 12:00pm-4:00pm, and as of April 2016 open to the public. There are specific document requirements for gaining access to the base, so be sure to check those out before promising your kiddos this one!
48. Kitsap Live Steamers invites you to Port Orchard on the 2nd and 4th Saturday of each month through October to ride a miniature steam train for FREE (donations are welcome).
49. Have you been to the new Point Ruston? The Playground on the Waterwalk is made to look like a large ferry, and kiddos can pretend they are charting their own course across the Sound. You’ll also want to check out the Grand Plaza Sprayground, open from noon-10pm, daily. This is more of a splashpad for littles, but it’s free and even has a light show at dusk. Read our full review on the spray ground with tips from the folks at Point Ruston on parking and bathrooms.
50. Visit Daddy or Mommy at work for lunch! This can be a fun way for the kids to see what Daddy or Mommy does, and also break up the long workday! Find a nearby park to make it a fuller trip, and explore the area. There may even be other family members who would enjoy a visit like this from your kiddos!
If all else fails, a good old fashioned slip n slide from Target is always fun!
Need still More ideas?
You can find even more fun in our complete summer guide! We’ll also have our awesome weekend round ups every Friday all summer long plus more playground reviews, hike reports, and outing ideas the rest of the week! We’d love to see you every day!
PS If you liked this post, we think you’ll Love Our Emails