Wednesday, May 12, 2010

28 Free or Cheap Family Fun Activities in New England This Summer

Wow, almost halfway through May... it is time to list my favorite free and cheap activities for families in New England this summer. The first thing I wanted to mention is already coming up on May 22 and that is a fantastic free event at the Hatch Shell in Boston: EarthFest will be held from 11:00am to 5:00 pm at the DCR's Hatch Memorial Shell in Boston. Presented by Whole Foods Market and free to the public, Radio 92.9 EarthFest will once again be a celebration for the Earth showcasing environmentally friendly products, groups, and activities. Radio 92.9 EarthFest will also feature an all-star musical line-up, an interactive family area and more. With musicians like Collective Soul, Gin Blossoms, Marcy Playground and family friendly artists Ben Rudnick and Friends, Black Diamonds, Debbie and Friends, there is something for the whole family. I can't wait to go to this one!

And a few more free/ nearly free summer activities:

#1 Regal Cinemas provides 9 weeks of free movies throughout the summer. The movies play at 10am Tuesday and Wednesday at select Regal movie theaters (in NH, it's Hooksett and Newington) Check out the site for theaters near you.

#2 Kids Bowl Free offers kids 2 free games of bowling every day during the summer. (Participating centers in NH are Keene and Manchester) This can be a great deal when you have a minivan full of kids like I do. Check out their website for centers near you.

#3 Probably my most favorite summer free event in New England is L.L.Bean’s 12th Annual Summer In The Park Series in Freeport, Maine. There’s music for everyone–from jazz to folk and indie and rock. Best of all, events are FREE FREE FREE. I have taken my girls to see Dan Zanes here in the past and I can tell you nothing beats watching your kids shake their bootie while the sun is shining in a nice park. This year you can catch Joshua Radin, Ingrid Michaelson, Tift Merritt and many more. I would advise to arrive early since Freeport is notorious for horrendous parking accommodations and the park is fairly small. There is a full listing on the LL Bean site.

#4 If you have a Bank of America ATM, credit or check card, you can get into hundreds of museums around the country absolutely free! (It includes The Currier Museum in Manchester and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston) If you have a Bank of America card, you really should check out their website to find a museum near you.

#4 Prescott Park Arts Festival offers lots of activities from June through October. Although it is all free, there is a $5-$8 suggested donation. They have everything from Kids Fests to Food Festivals to concerts to art shows. Here's the website for more info.

#5 If you plan on going to the seacoast beaches a lot over the summer, you might want to check out the state parks website that offers discounted parking passes for the summer.

#6 Did you know that local libraries offer passes for free admission to local attractions? You check out the passes just like you would a book and return it within 3 days. Our Concord Library has passes to Christa McAuliffe Planetarium, Currier Museum of Art, Canterbury Shaker Village, Aviation History Museum of NH, The Fells and more. The library usually only has a couple of sets of passes for each venue so you want to call first thing in the morning to see if they are available and reserve them.

#7 The Currier Museum in Manchester offers 'Family Saturdays' every second Saturday of the month, 11 am – 2 pm Spend some quality family time at the Currier, participate in hands-on art activities, go on a guided family gallery walk (11:30 am), visit the new Discovery Gallery, or use a family gallery guide. Each Family Saturday will focus on a different theme. Museum admission is free from 10 am to 12 pm.

#8 The Children's Museum & Theater in Portland, Maine has a program on the first Friday night of each month from 5-8pm. Admission on First Friday night is $1 per person (members and children under age one are free). I have not visited this museum yet, but we do plan on it this summer when we make a trip to Maine to visit Acadia's namesake. If you have older children, you can participate in Portland's First Friday Art Walk, which had free admission to dozens of art establishments throughout the city from 5-8pm.

#9 Target is sponsoring some free museum admissions- although in New England they only have museums in Boston, Massachusetts: The Institute of Contemporary Art- Target Free Thursday Nights Free every Thursday, 5–9 p.m. Boston Children's Museum- Target $1 Friday Nights, $1 Admission every Friday, 5–9 p.m. More info here.

For 3 weekends over the summer, 100's of national parks are waiving entrance fees. This includes Acadia NP in Maine and many others. That could be anywhere from a $20- $40 savings!

And In New Hampshire:
• Hampton Beach Sand Sculpting Competition: June 13-38. Just go check out the amazing sand sculptures.
• Cathedral of the Pines: Rindge, NH. Explore the extraordinary sanctuary grounds, meditate in outdoor chapels and gardens, and learn the history.
• Weirs Beach Drive-In Theater: $17 for 2 adults and 2 children to see TWO movies. Way better than sitting in a cramped theater and the kids will love it. Be warned, they only accept cash.
• Milford Drive-In Theater: $20 per car.
• New Hampshire has a lot of gorgeous waterfalls. Some of them require no hiking and some offer a quick dip in some crystal clear water. Kids really love to watch waterfalls and play around in the water.
• Pick your own fruits and vegetables. This site has a great, comprehensive list of a lot of pick-your-own farms. My kids love to do this, we can go from June through October and pick everything from berries to apples to pumpkins. And most farms usually have a nice playground to amuse the kids for even longer. Our favorite here in Concord is Apple Hill Farm.
• Swimming: Try either Echo lake. The Echo Lake in Franconia Notch is our favorite. We have taken Ariana there since she was 2 years old and she loves it. The great part is that is so near great hikes. Colby's favorite is to hike up to Artists Bluff and then swim in the lake for awhile. The hike offers great views yet is easy enough for a toddler to complete.
The Echo Lake State Park in North Conway can get busy with tourists, but it is a nice, refreshing dip which also offers some hikes up to ledges above.
Fisher Cats Baseball: What a great family activity that is inexpensive yet the kids love it. July 5th is the Atlas Fireworks show which adds a whole new excitement to the game.

In Maine:
• Portland Observatory Tours: Guided tours of the only remaining historic maritime signal tower in the United States offer spectacular views of Portland, Casco Bay, Back Cove and Mt. Washington.
• The Wiggly Bridge Footpath: Route 103, York Harbor. This bridge is the smallest suspension bridge in the world. This is a nice site that is not overrun by tourists and offers a nice easy stroll through the woods.
• Acadia National Park: (Yes, this is Acadia's namesake.) I think the is possibly the nicest park in New England. It offers great hiking, biking, horseback riding, a Naturalist Program, a lake for canoeing or swimming and sooo much more. I really recommend Acadia to any family looking to enjoy the great outdoors.

In Massachusetts:
• Boston Freedom Trail: The Freedom Trail is a 2.5 mile red-brick walking trail that leads you to 16 nationally significant historic sites, every one an authentic American treasure.
Boston Common Frog Pond: Oldest park in the US. Free spray pool to cool off and a great area for a family picnic. Great way to start off the Freedom Trail.
• Free Friday Flicks at the Boston Hatch Shell: (No schedule posted yet.) Just show up at sundown with your blanket or chair and enjoy.

• Franklin Park Zoo: First Saturday of each month 1/2 off admission. Our family of 5 could get in for $20. Although, we have not yet visited, so I cannot give an accurate review of the zoo.
• Walden Pond State Reservation: Concord, MA. See what moved Henry David Thoreau and have a nice picnic and dip in the pond. The cost is just a $5 parking fee.
• The Butterfly Place: Westford, MA. We've never been, but my girls really want to go.
• Forest Park & Zoo: Springfield, MA. Take a train ride through and enjoy the wildlife.

Any ideas for me to add????


  1. I'm down for the 22nd! I think that would be fun. Plus Natey loved playing with your girls at LZ's! I had no clue about the BofA card thing! We are goingt ohit up the children's museum here the first weekend in June!

  2. Check out the Montshire Museum in Norwich, VT. THey have nice hiking trails surrounding the museum, and its a very hands-on kids museum (my 3 year old loves it, and it is great for older kids too!) They even have adult-geared exhibits from time to time. If you don't mind the drive, its well worth it, and inexpensive admission fee.

  3. Thanks for the Museum & Theatre shout-out! Our $1 First Fridays are a great option and so much fun. We hope you can visit this summer, the shipyard is the best place to play when it is nice outside!

  4. Great site! You missed one event that's definitely worth exploring...the Prescott Park Arts Festival in Portsmouth. Even at the suggested donation ($5...but only suggested), it's a steal and a perfect night out for the family.

    The musical this year is Peter Pan and they have great concerts (Judy Collins!) and Kids Festivals, a Fairy House tour and more.

    Held in Prescott Park, there are tons of kids, places to run around, make friends.

    Definitely a "must do" tradition that's been around since the 70s.

  5. Thanks for posting this!! I am planning to take the boys to the children's museum tomorrow now I can take them for free!! (thank you Bof A)

    I wish we were free on the 22nd - that does sound like fun!! But the boys school has a fundraising event at that day (which should also be fun!!)

    Do you want to plan a play date for the butterfly place on a Tues Thurs or Fri? Pick a date and we can do that!! I know my boys would like it (and I can't seem to pick a date for hiking yet...I think I'm scared to walk that much :)

  6. oh and one more to add. Fridays in the summer the providence children's museum is free from 5 - 8. (we took advatage of this a lot last summer) Its not every single friday but they have the dates on their website.

  7. You forgot Vermont!

    -Ben and Jerry's Factory
    -Montshire Museum
    -Ethan Allen Park
    -The Shelburne Museum
    -Ferry rides on Lake Champlain (on foot or by car)
    -The ECHO Center (great for kids!)
    -Morgan Horse Farm/Museum
    -Shelburne Farms
    -Discovery Museum

  8. Came across a site I thought you might enjoy...

    Take care!

  9. Thanks for posting these great ideas! New England has tons of great fun for kids and families. More are listed here:

  10. Thanks for posting these great ideas! New England has tons of great fun for kids and families. More are listed here: