Are you looking for a summer experience you won’t forget?
You don’t have to break the bank for a good time. We’ve come up with 100 activities to help you make the most of your summer — and best of all, they’re free. Keeping in mind that COVID considerations will vary depending on your location or preference, our summer bucket list includes options that can be virtual, too.
100 Free Summer Activities
Summer fun doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a suntanned leg. Here are 100 free summer activities for kids, parents, friends and more. From camping to coding, use our list to make this summer the best — and most affordable — one ever.
The Great Outdoors
There’s a wealth of free outdoor summer activities — as long as the weather cooperates!
1. Parks: Whether you live in a small town or a big city, chances are there’s a free park nearby ready for you to stop by and enjoy for the afternoon. The National Park Service has some fun ideas about adding to the adventure by mapping your visits.
2. Picnics: Make a couple of nut butter and jelly sandwiches, or spend a morning deviling up some eggs. Then pack your picnic basket (or any bag will do), grab a blanket and enjoy dining al fresco. Everything tastes better outside.
3. Hiking: Parks, lakes and other nature areas often have marked hiking trails. They also usually designate the trail’s skill level and provide options for novice hikers as well as experienced ones. Make sure to wear comfortable, sturdy shoes — and bring the bug spray! Before you head out, check your local parks department website or the National Park Service website to make sure you know about closures or schedule changes.
4. Playgrounds: Play areas and slides are great places for kids to run and play, but they’re fun for adults too! Set up a play date, take the kids to the playground, or go after sunset with someone special and swing side-by-side.
5. Swimming: There are ways to swim for free in the summer. See if local pools offer free summer swim days, or check out the beaches, lakes and swimming holes in your area. The YMCA Swim for Life program offers free lessons based on income.
6. Kite-flying: As Mary Poppins put it: Let’s go fly a kite! If you don’t already have one, it’s pretty easy to make your own from things you probably have around the house like a garbage bag, sticks, and string.
7. Stargazing: Looking at the stars is always free, so find a cloudless night and download a free astronomy app to help you identify what you’re seeing. While you’re gazing skyward, track the location of the International Space Station with a free app, and check when it will be visible in your area.
8. Camping: Before you start planning your trip, check out our guide to camping on a budget. Look for free campsites in your area and then pack the car with tents and marshmallows!
9. Backyard camping: Where better to pitch your tent than in your own backyard? I went backyard camping as a kid, and it was a fun way to experience the thrill of sleeping outdoors. Plus, it’s a campsite you don’t have to pay for!
10. “Seek” out nature: Download the free Seek app from iNaturalist and spend time exploring living things outdoors. The live image-recognition feature searches through a catalog of millions of crowdsourced nature observations so you can instantly identify species of plants, insects, birds and other living things. You can even earn badges with Seek’s monthly challenges. Just be sure to watch where you’re going when using this app — it is mesmerizing, like a nature focused Pokémon Go.
11. Gardening or hydroponics: Start seeds in the summer for fall crops. Plant seeds or cuttings in the backyard and watch them grow. Online seed swaps offer free options if you already have seeds laying around. If not, some public libraries have free seed libraries, which help keep heirloom seeds growing for new generations. Hydroponics are a fun way to grow plants indoors if dirt is not available. Grow an avocado from an avocado pit or green onions from the bulb end.
12. Crowdsourced treasure hunt: Geocaching is fun for the whole family and a great chance to spend time outdoors. Download the free app or access the site from an internet browser, choose your cache, and set off on an adventure. When you find the treasure — often a toy or some other token — you can take it and leave your own. This is a great opportunity to get creative with handmade crafts or swap out small toys your kids no longer want.
Arts and Entertainment
Check out these free summer arts and entertainment activities to keep busy.
13. Virtual performances: When the pandemic forced many performing arts groups to cancel or postpone in-person events, plenty of them moved online. Even with restrictions easing (fingers crossed) many of these events are continuing. Check out Lincoln Center at Home for free dance, film and theater offerings. Also, check your local theater’s website for free streaming of live performances.
14. Outdoor movies: Many towns and cities have free summer outdoor movies. Bring a blanket and get there early to claim your spot!
15. Free movies: Outdoor movies aren’t the only way to see free flicks this summer. Did you know you can get free movies from your local library?
16. Outdoor theater: Whether it’s Shakespeare in the Park or a summer musical, plenty of cities offer free outdoor theater while the weather’s warm. Check with your local parks department.
17. Summer concerts: Free outdoor summer concerts are starting up again. Check out the schedule of events on your community calendar or event space.
18. Free museum tickets: Nearly all museums offer free admission days, so figure out when you can go for free and enjoy an afternoon spent in air-conditioned comfort. Some museums may have occupancy limits, so you may need to register on the museum’s website for dated ticket entry — meaning you can only go on your scheduled day. So plan ahead.
19. Bookstore author nights: Bookstores regularly invite authors to give readings from their newest books. Has your local bookstore gone to virtual events? You can always grab a blanket and sit under the stars with your smartphone or tablet.
20. Public lectures: Many communities have free public lecture series, so see what’s being presented in your area, whether in person or online. You could learn about anything from aardvarks to zydeco. College and university campuses often encourage community attendance at free lecture series where you can hear from scholars and special guests.
Summer Activities in Your Community
Once you start looking, you might be surprised how many free things are available in your community. Check out your local chamber of commerce website, recreation center website and event listings and you’ll get lots of ideas like these.
21. Community events: Check your local newspaper website or community calendar for free community events like runs, festivals and garden tours. Some have moved online, meaning you can participate from anywhere.
22. Volunteering: Your favorite local organizations need volunteers — perhaps now more than ever. You can even use volunteering as an opportunity to learn a new skill. For instance, the Smithsonian needs digital volunteers willing to learn how to transcribe so they can help make historical documents more easily accessible. Volunteering is also a great way to give back — and yes, it’s free!
23. Virtual tourism: Maybe you’re still skittish about long-distance travel, or maybe your budget is keeping you closer to home. Either way, you can still explore distant places — including space — by taking one of these virtual field trips.
24. Hometown tourism: If a friend or relative visited your town or city, what special sights would you show that person? Why not explore those places yourself?
25. Next-town-over tourism: Are you a little bored with your hometown? Take a bike or car ride to the next town over and play tourist. See what free parks and exciting vistas it has to offer!
26. Window shopping: Just because you don’t want to spend money doesn’t mean you can’t have the fun of shopping. Window-shopping is a great way to explore a new neighborhood. You have to have really good self-control, though — no impulse buys! Snap some photos instead to collect ideas for a special treat or to hint around about a birthday gift.
27. Farmers markets: Here’s another free activity that requires just a little self-control: visiting a farmers market. You can spend your time people-watching while enjoying a little local culture and trying out the free samples. Lots of markets have live entertainment, too.
28. Meetup groups: Meetup.com gives you the opportunity to connect with other community members who share similar interests, from orienteering to knitting. Some groups might meet in places that cost money, such as coffee shops, so look for groups that meet virtually or in free spaces.
29. Public library: How could we get this far without mentioning the library? Your public library has a wealth of free books, movies, music and games for you and your family to enjoy. If your library isn’t open for visits, try free library apps like Hoopla and Overdrive.
30. Tour the local fire station: Many fire stations offer free tours to local residents. Get a group together for some educational fun and be sure to call ahead! Get a group together for some educational fun and be sure to call ahead!
You’re great just the way you are, but if you want to level up your life, these free ideas can help.
31. Morning pages: Fans of Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way” are already familiar with the idea of waking up every morning and writing three pages about whatever’s on your mind. It helps you process emotions, explore ideas or even write short fiction. It’s also absolutely free.
32. Gratitude journal: Write your morning pages as soon as you get up. Then, at the end of the day, write down three things in your gratitude journal. These can be three things you’re grateful for or just three happy memories from the day.
33. Walk 10,000 steps: If you’re looking to improve your general health, start by walking. Aim for a 10,000-step-per-day goal, which is about five miles. If you don’t already have a pedometer, use a free pedometer app to track your steps — or just walk around a park or a track for about an hour.
34. Couch to 5K: Ready for something a little more intense? Try spending your summer going from couch to 5K — that’s a 5K run, of course. The Couch to 5K program helps beginner runners slowly work their way up to a 5K run by steadily increasing the distance run every day.
35. 7-minute workout: The New York Times’ 7-Minute Workout is another great — and free — way to stay fit. All the exercises are designed to be performed at home with no special equipment. Push up and crunch your way to physical fitness, in just seven minutes per day.
36. Declutter your home: Whether you use the KonMari method or make it up as you go along, taking the time to declutter will leave your home feeling refreshed and you feeling re-energized. Trust us — you’ll be glad you took the time to clear out those old papers and even make some money off those old clothes.
37. Refresh your home’s look. If you’re getting tired of the look of your surroundings, we have tips from home decorators for refreshing your home — and they don’t cost a dime.
38. Read all the books on your nightstand: If you’re anything like us, your nightstand has at least five half-finished books stacked on it. Finish them, and then put them away! Make it fun by setting up a free account to track and review your summer reads on Goodreads.com. You can also enter to win free books through the Goodreads Giveaways program.
39. Learn a new hobby: Always wanted to know how to draw? Or to impress with your singing voice, even outside the shower? With the help of free online tutorials, you can learn anything from juggling to origami, all with items you already have around the house.
40. Get in tune with the moon: The moon phases are powerful enough to alter tide levels in the ocean, plus they are beautiful to observe in the night sky. Learn about the phases and use them ato mark months off your calendar, rather than the same old weekly grind!
Summer Activities for the Family
Round up the kids, grandkids, aunts, uncles and cousins for these free summer activity ideas.
41. Family dinner: How often does the entire family sit down to eat dinner together — and how often does that dinner last for more than 10 minutes? Use summer’s more relaxed schedule to plan regular family meals where you not only eat together, but also share conversation and enjoy each other’s company.
42. Tell Your Day: How can you make these family dinners memorable? Try the “tell your day” technique, where each family member goes around and shares the story of his or her day. If you need additional inspiration, ask everyone to share one good thing and one challenge from their day.
43. Family cooking projects: Make these family meals even more special by inviting kids to help cook. Whether you’re making cool, sweet treats like Popsicles or passing down your secret spaghetti sauce recipe, you’ll be making both food and memories in the kitchen.
44. Chronicle family history: Do you have a record of your family’s history? How far back can you track grandparents, great-grandparents and extended relatives? Write down family stories and interview relatives to learn more about your family and its many generations. Design a stylish — and free — family tree on Canva.com.
45. Make a time capsule: Look to the future by making a time capsule. Let kids choose what they want to include, from school photos to a list of favorite toys. Then bury the time capsule in the backyard or put it away somewhere safe so it can be found by future generations — or you can dig it up when your kids become adults!
46. Family book club: Choose a family-friendly book for everyone to read and discuss together.
47. Family movie club: Organize weekly family movie nights. Let everyone take a turn each week picking a free movie from the library or on your streaming service.
48. Family game night: Was it Mr. Green in the library with the revolver? Who can build the Longest Road? Family game nights are great ways to spend time together without spending money. Popular games include fun with railroads (Ticket to Ride), the craving-inducing Sushi Go Party! and dangerous cats (Exploding Kittens), which can often be checked out for free at your local library.
49. The longest picture in the world: In Beverly Cleary’s “Ramona and her Father,” the Quimby father and daughter work together to draw the longest picture in the world. Replicate Ramona’s adventure with your kids, using crayons or markers to create your own longest picture as a family.
50. Family slumber party: Grab your jammies and your sleeping bags and have a family slumber party in the living room.
51. Reconnect with relatives: Set up chat sessions with relatives you don’t see very often, or introduce your kids to their second cousins! For grandparents who live far away, consider setting up a weekly or twice-monthly session to keep in touch and get to know each other a little better.
52. Yes Day: Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s “Yes Day” is about how parents can create magic for their children by simply agreeing to say yes to every request for one full day. Yes, you can eat ice cream for breakfast. Yes, you can have another hour of screen time. Parents might want to set some ground rules, of course, but a Yes Day for anything that doesn’t cost money just might become the most memorable day of the year!
53. Family band: Whether your kids have a year or two of piano lessons under their belt or they’re still learning how to play the recorder, have fun spending an afternoon together singing and recording your family’s favorite songs. Don’t forget to send the recording to Grandma — she’s going to love it.
54. Shakespeare in the backyard: Work with your kids to stage a play or put on a talent show in the backyard. Use toys and dress-up clothes as props and costumes, and invite friends to come over and see the show! Free learning activities from Folger.edu can help kids — and parents — get excited about Shakespeare.
55. Family sports day: Play parents-vs.-kids basketball, show your kids how to play HORSE, mark off a baseball diamond in the backyard or teach your kids the many “rules” of Calvinball.
56. Craft time: Turn cardboard, milk cartons, K-cups and other recyclable goods into fun family craft projects. If you need inspiration, here’s a list of 1,000 recycled craft ideas, from placemats to space ships.
57. Parent date night: Leave the kids with grandparents or arrange a free babysitting swap. Then go out for a much-needed date night, doing free summer activities like stargazing, going to an outdoor concert or having a picnic.
58. One-on-one kid dates: Take each of your kids out for a special one-on-one “date.” Do free, fun summer activities like hanging out at the playground or visiting a museum.
59. Rock and bowl: Bowling can be expensive, but many bowling alleys offer free bowling nights for kids. Parents can keep score and rock out to the music while cheering on the budding pro bowlers. Check with your local bowling alley!
60. Visit a factory: Take a factory tour to learn how stuff is made. Many companies offer free admission.
Summer Activities for Kids
These free kids’ programs are perfect for encouraging them to stretch their minds.
61. Barnes & Noble summer reading: If your kids love reading, they can earn a free book by signing up for the Barnes & Noble Summer Reading program, reading eight books and journaling about them. If your kids are already big readers, you may need ideas on how to get free books for kids.
62. Virtual zoo: Zoos in your area may offer special pricing or even free admission on certain days. But you can also take free virtual tours of zoos near and far. The San Diego Zoo offers webcam video of its residents in action along with activities and games to keep your little animal lovers entertained.
63. TD Bank Wow Zone: Got a would-be stock market whiz on your hands? Let them try out their skills — without risking real money — on TD Bank’s Virtual Stock Market. Kids can learn basic terms and compete against other players, starting with $100,000 of virtual money to trade on more than 25,000 stocks.
64. Pizza Hut Camp Book It!: A lot of us remember participating in BookIt! as children. It’s still around, and Pizza Hut is offering a free summer reading challenge — and the opportunity to win coupons for free pizza — to young readers.
65. Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge: Let your kids join a community of readers with the Scholastic Summer Reading Program. They’ll attend weekly author events, play book-based games and win virtual prizes.
66. Michael’s Camp Creatology: If you have basic craft supplies like paper, scissors, paint, yarn and pipe cleaners, you can choose from free online workshops for kids.
67. Home Depot Virtual Field Trips for Plants: If your kids caught the gardening bug, Home Depot offers free virtual field trips about growing plants.
68. Scavenger hunt: Plan your own scavenger hunt or join a community hunt. Scavenger Hunts encourage curiosity and observation skills. The best part? They can even be planned indoors as a rainy day activity, too.
Summer Activities for You and Your Friends
Be the hero of your social circle when you suggest these free summer activities to do with your friends.
69. Babysitting swap: Exchange free babysitting with a friend. You’ll watch their kids one night, and they’ll watch yours another night. Or extend the fun by starting a summer camp co-op.
70. Clothing swap: Whether it’s in person or virtually, have your friends bring out their gently worn clothes and enjoy swapping your way into new favorite outfits.
71. Toy swap: Have your friends drop off their gently worn toys to swap for the toys your kids no longer use.
72. Jam session: Invite your musically inclined friends online or in your backyard for an evening jam session.
73. Game night: Invite a few friends over to play the board games you loved as a child such as Chutes and Ladders, Parcheesi, Jenga, Yahtzee, and Trouble.
74. Hang out: You don’t always have to plan an event for your friends. Just invite them to come over and hang out! It’s easy and free.
75. Break a Record: Do you have competitive friends? Work together to break a world record. You’ll need to read through existing records and find your niche, then apply and wait for acceptance. Once accepted, you’re on your way to record-breaking summer fun.
Virtually Stretch Your Mind
Fire up the computer, tablet or smartphone to check out these online freebies.
77. Project Gutenberg: Get free access to nearly every public domain book through Project Gutenberg. You can even read Project Gutenberg books on your Kindle, your ebook reader, or the free Kindle app.
78. Free audiobooks: Prefer your books in audio form? LibriVox offers free audio versions of public domain books, read by volunteers. (Yes, you can volunteer to record LibriVox books too! It’s one more free, fun summer activity.) Or use one of these free apps to download free audiobooks, movies, TV shows and more from your library.
79. JayIsGames: Like games? JayIsGames features the best browser and computer games out there, from RPGs to locked room games to interactive novels. A few games are pay-to-play, but the majority are free.
80. Free streaming video: Watch hours of TV shows and movies with free video streaming apps that let you check out your favorite shows for free.
81. Learn a new language: Summer is a great time to begin learning a new language. We’ve got eight free language-learning tools to help you get started.
82. Make movies: Have you always wanted to make a short film or start a vlog? You probably have all the tools you need already on your laptop.
83. Record music: Your laptop also probably has most of what you need to record music — all you have to do is come up with the hit song! Record your songs and sell them through Bandcamp, or check out our other ideas for making money with music.
84. Start a blog: Everyone has a story to tell, why not share yours with the world? Set up a free blog and start writing.
85. Laugh (or gasp) at YouTube’s best web series: YouTube has plenty of great original web series, from kid-friendly to adult. Kid-friendly options include “Millie and Lou” and “Tab Time.” Adult series range from family-friendly “Heartland” to more suspenseful fare such as nostalgic true crime series “Unsolved Mysteries.”
86. Binge-watch your favorite TV show: Whether you’re a fan of “The Office” or you’re more into “The Handmaid’s Tale,” summer is the time for binge-watching your favorite TV shows. Much anticipated new shows include “Obi-Wan Kenobi” and “Ms. Marvel.” “Stranger Things” and “Peaky Blinders,” all back this summer with new seasons.
87. Apple workshops: Apple moved its previously in-person workshops online during the pandemic. Sign up for a free session and learn how to edit video on a Mac, make music with Garageband and more.
88. Explore a new personal finance topic. Sure, you can always zone out on the latest true-crime podcast. But why not brush up on your personal finance knowledge by tuning in to one of these personal finance podcasts?
Saving, Earning and Managing Money
If you have some spare time, check out these ways to save money, earn money or do some of that planning you’ve been putting off.
90. Get paid to play video games: Despite what your parents told you, playing video games may not be a waste of your summer after all. In fact, we found seven ways to get paid for playing video games.
91. Have a yard sale: A classic summer activity that combines decluttering with earning cash — and you can do it outdoors. What could be better? We’ve got 11 tips to make your yard sale a huge success.
93. Start a coin jar: Get the whole family involved in saving by setting up a coin jar and encouraging everyone to drop in their change. Add extra motivation by creating a family goal, such as a day at the water park, and taping the goal to the jar.
94. Update your resume: When’s the last time you updated your resume? For better or worse, it’s something you can do for free on a summer day when you’ve got time on your hands. If you’re not sure where to start, check out this step-by-step guide for writing a resume.
95. Update your LinkedIn profile: While you’re updating your resume, you might as well update your LinkedIn profile. When’s the last time you added new skills or asked for a recommendation?
96. Make a five-year plan: Where do you want to be in five years? Take a summer afternoon to sit down and think about your goals and dreams — as well as what you need to do to get there.
97. Get out of debt: If one of your goals is to get out of debt, you can start working on that right now. If tackling all your debt at once seems overwhelming, think smaller, like paying off debt you accumulated while in quarantine.
98. Make money without a 9-to-5 job: Want to earn a little extra money to pay down debt or plan for next year’s summer vacation? We came up with 53 creative ways to make money that don’t involve a 9-to-5 job, so you can still enjoy your summer. And if you’re looking for a way to make more money from the comfort of home, check out our job portal. We post new work-from-home job opportunities every weekday.
99. Get Paid for Your Secret Talent: If it feels like the job market is a little too tight for your taste, consider making a few bucks off your special talent.
100. Start Planning for Fall Expenses: The last free thing you want to do this summer? Start planning for fall. Whether you’re budgeting for back-to-school or thinking about college and retirement costs, taking time to plan now will mean saving money in the long run — and thinking ahead is always free.
Writers Nicole Dieker, Tiffany Wendeln Connors and Veronica Matthews contributed to this story.