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!
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 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.
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 where there are also animals to feed and pet.
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, you can take a tour of the Lighthouse Keeper’s cottage for free!
11. The Mast Center at Redondo runs great programs all summer long in conjunction with the FREE lunch program. Stop by for crafts and activities with the folks from the Mast who are some of the most passionate folks around when it comes to learning about the Sound.
12. American Lake in Lakewood offers FREE swimming lessons in the summer. Just show up with your kiddos and the lifeguards will direct you where to go (times vary).
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 all the best hikes near Mt. Rainier for kiddos!
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!
18. Explore one of our many state parks or a national park for FREE on one of the Fee Free Days. This summer, mark your calendar for August 25-28 for the free days.
18. 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.
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.
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!
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! At only $6 a person, this is an amazing summertime experience that will peak your child’s interest in the summertime sky.
24. Local libraries have a host of incredible quality programs all summer long. These are especially great on days that you want to beat the heat and have someone other than Mom keep the kids happy. At the Federal Way Library, they’re serving up FREE lunch, too! Make it a one stop shop!
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 and Rollin’ 253 in Tacoma.
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!
29. You can also opt for an Indoor Playground. Kids ages 10 month to 4 1/2 years old are invited to play at Kent’s Indoor Park on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, from 9:30 am – 11:00 am, for only $2.
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! Check out incredible artists like Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band, the Latin Grammy winning duo also nominated for 3 Emmy’s! People magazine called this album “The #1 COOLEST kids music!”
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’re working up our list of summer movies. Stay tuned!
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 9, catch the SummerFest in Lakewood. Celebrate the City of Lakewood’s 20th Birthday at this FREE all day festival with activities, food, entertainment, car show, Kids Zone and more!
36. If your family enjoys festivals featuring airplanes, you will definitely want to check out Wings and Wheels at the Tacoma Narrows Airport in Gig Harbor THIS Sunday, July 3, from 11:00am-4:00pm. Your plane lovers will love this event with a car show, live music and 3 hours of aerial demonstrations. You can also view the aircraft on the ground. Adult admission is $15, but it’s FREE for kids ages 5 and under.
37. Drive up to Seattle for any of the SeaFair events, through August 21. My family loves to check out the Torchlight Parade (July 30, 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.
39. The Kite Festival at Chambers Creek (Sunday, August 28, 10:00am-3:00pm) is fun for the whole family! Head down to the Central Meadow for an amazing day of kite demonstrations, family kit 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 our favorite happens to be Wright Park in Tacoma. The food is served up right at the spray ground, and in the past has include full meals from Subway!
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! I’ve been wanting to take the kids on an excursion to Shake, Shake, Shake in Tacoma. We might need to put that on our summer bucket list!
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.
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!
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