Friends & Family

10 Cheap (or Free!) Places to Take Your Kids


My kids like to get out of the house. Every day. They always want to be going somewhere, doing something. Boundless energy.

I envy them, really. They have not yet developed a sense of existential angst.

Anyhow, all this energy and optimism means that Mommy has to put down her Camus and chamomile and actually DO stuff.

But what to do?There are endless options, really, but most of them cost money. It’s far too easy to spend a fortune on kids’ entertainment, and it’s seriously not worth going broke for them to get a hand stamp and play with someone else’s toys.

But it is good to take them out sometimes. Break the monotony. Socialize them, maybe. 

Here are my kids’ favorite cheap (or free!) activities:

First Saturdays at Home Depot

My kids do this every month. They’ve built and painted simple toys, decorations, and even a homemade periscope–all for free! Each store handles the building classes differently (one of our local stores claims paint is too messy so we go to the other one, because painting is the best part) so check the store schedule or ask an associate for details.

Free Day at the Museum

Around here, it’s First Thursdays. Tons of museums participate, but they all have different hours during which admission is free. My kids’ favorite is the Burke Museum in Seattle–though we haven’t yet visited since the remodel!

The Pet Store

Birds, fish, hamsters–the pet store is like a miniature zoo, and there’s no fee for admission!

Festivals and Markets

We usually visit our local farmer’s market with a short shopping list (corn, zucchini, what-have-you) and allow each of our kids a small budget to buy a treat. They love browsing the booths and seeing the people.

Indoor Playgrounds

You can find these at your local community center–at least, you can in the Seattle area. They’re usually open in the fall and winter, when the weather is too rough to play on the swings and slide. Mostly, these are designed for kids five and under and are filled with little kid toys and small plastic slides, gym mats, etc.

Open Play at the Gymnastics Club

Even if you don’t take classes, most gymnastics clubs have open play hours for different age groups–often during the lunch hour. It’s usually just a few dollars for an hour of fun!

Story Time at the Bookstore

It’s free, it’s fun, and if you’re lucky you might get to browse the grown-up section, too. Plus, many bookstores have train tables or other open play areas for kids once the reading is over.

Story Time (and other events) at the Library

These are usually geared toward babies and toddlers, but our local library has events for older kids, too, like robotics demonstrations and other STEM activities. Check your library’s schedule–you might be surprised how much they offer!

Anywhere with Fish

Seriously–if there’s a fish tank, my kids are there. The library, the waiting room at the dentist’s or doctor’s office–they don’t even realize where they are if they can zen out with Dory and Nemo.


As a grown-up, I find lots of reasons not to go to the park. Mostly, it’s the weather. It’s raining or it’s recently rained (we do live near Seattle), it’s cold outside–or if it’s not cold outside, it will be crowded. But the thing is, the playground is always fun for the kids. Clothes can be changed, equipment can be wiped down, mittens can be worn. Crowds just mean more friends to be made. Snow makes the slide more fun and makes for softer landings. Playing outside is just plain good for them (and you!) so go to the friggin’ playground!


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