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25 Free Summer Outings and Activities for Seattle-Area Families

Best free summer adventures for families around Seattle and beyond

Nancy Chaney

Published on: July 03, 2023

Kids wade in shallow water at Carkeek Park in Seattle during a low tide free and cheap summer adventures for Seattle-area kids and families
Kids wade during low tide at Seattle's Carkeek Park. Credit: Nancy Chaney

Summer is here! To fuel your summertime adventures without breaking the bank, we’ve rounded up a tidy list of activities and outings around Seattle and Puget Sound that cost nothing or next to nothing. That’s right: We’re talking free things to do in Seattle!

Before the kids go feral or you’ve lost your, um, cool for the third or tenth time, consult this list and get your crew out of the house! Happy summer!

Fill your Seattle-area summer days for free

1. Take a hike! Kids often need extra enticements to get out for a nature stroll. Pack the good snacks and hike to a ghost town, trek to a “prize” or try these hikes with a short drive and big views.

2. Last year we had weeks and weeks of June-uary. This year it’s hot-hot already! To keep cool, gather up your crew for a frolic at a spray park or a splash in a wading pool. They’re free, fun and all over town. For older swimmers, dive in at Seattle-area swimming lakes.

3. We’ve got some extra-low tides this summer. Call up our low-tide scavenger hunt list for what to look for, then head to a Puget Sound beach to meet up with a naturalist and learn more about your finds. Step carefully to preserve all the critters normally hidden under the sea.

4. Do your kids love magical creatures? Tiptoe quietly through the woods to spot sweet fairy homes along the trail. This summer the fairies have taken up residence at Beaver Lake Park! (Last summer the fairies lived at Pine Lake Park.)

Two kids crouch over and inspect a fairy house on the Pine Lake fairy trail in Sammamish, Washington, near Seattle, among best free things to do in Seattle with kids
Inspecting a fairy house along the Fairy Trail. Credit: Vicky McDonald

5. All aboard! Railroad fan families have two chances to ride the mini trains this summer. Catch a ride with Kitsap Live Steamers in Port Orchard, or hop aboard the Great Northern Cascade Railway in Skykomish. Donations are appreciated at both spots if you feel like contributing.

6. Sleep under the stars during a hassle-free backyard campout. An at-home campout incorporates many of the best aspects of camping (um, s’mores) and skips several less savory ones (packing, driving, remembering to make a reservation nine months ago).

A mom and a child eating s’mores they are camping in their backyard, an easy free thing to do in Seattle with kids
Don’t skip the s’mores on your backyard campout.

7. Get rolling on two wheels! Practice pedaling skills on kid-friendly bike paths around Seattle and the Eastside, or on bike paths around the South Sound. Or ride as a family along Lake Washington, mostly away from cars, during this summer’s Bicycle Weekends.

8. Let your kids take their bicycling skills to the next level on awesome pump tracks in local parks. They’re like a roller coaster on a bike and your kids will love them.

Kids ride the pump track at Bellingham’s newer Waypoint Park among fun free things to do in Seattle this summer
Have a ball on the pump track at Bellingham’s Waypoint Park. Credit: Mary Chaney

9. Enjoy a free outdoor concert or show in almost every town up and down Puget Sound! Pack a picnic and spread out a blanket for free family summer entertainment.

10. Slip into the AC of a museum on a hot afternoon. The super kid-friendly Harbor History Museum and White River Valley Museum are always free. For other museums, check out our guide to visiting favorite Seattle-area museums for free.

11. Pick berries! Of course you have to pay to pick at U-pick berry farms (also fun), but during a Northwest summer you can also forage for wild berries, such as tart, tiny red huckleberries and fat, juicy (and invasive, blergh) Himalayan blackberries.

A child plays on the orca whale sculpture play structure at newly reopened Owen Beach in Tacoma’s Point Defiance Park best free things to do in Seattle with kids this summer
Play by the water at updated Owen Beach. Credit: JiaYing Grygiel

12. Play at a park that includes an iconic symbol of life in the Pacific Northwest: an orca, a salmon, a ferry or Mount Rainier!

13. Free theater in the park perfectly accommodates wiggly kids. And luckily, for kids and grown-ups alike, you don’t really have to completely understand what’s happening to enjoy free Shakespeare in the Park.

14. How about a secretly educational free summer activity? Story walks and story trails combine two fantastic things for kids: reading and time outdoors. On a story walk, follow the pages of a book along a pathway, reading a little of the tale at each stop.

Kids play on a driftwood stump on Jetty Island, a summer beach destination in Everett, Washington, near Seattle, best free things to do in seattle in summer
Go for a beach day on Jetty Island. Credit: Elisa Murray

15. Plan a beach day at one of Puget Sound’s best beaches, Jetty Island, open July 5–Sept. 5. This 2-mile oasis features sand and mudflats, driftwood and marshland grasses, and — best of all — shallow warm water. While visiting the island is free, you do need to reserve ferry tickets for $3 per person on weekdays and $5 per person on weekends: still, a pretty amazing bargain.

16. Lighthouses are magical for kids. Try the Browns Point Lighthouse in Tacoma, with free tours on select Saturdays. Play around Point Robinson Lighthouse, on a 10-acre shoreline park on Maury Island or at Mukilteo Lighthouse Park, near the Mukilteo–Clinton ferry landing. Over on the Kitsap Peninsula, visit the delightfully named Point No Point Lighthouse, the oldest on Puget Sound.

17. Take your critter-loving kids to Kelsey Creek Farm in Bellevue or Farrel-McWhirter Farm Park in Redmond for free-admission up-close time with farm animals. These parks also have playgrounds and trails for all-day fun.

18. Tacoma Nature Center is a 70-acre wetland habitat right in the heart of the city. It has a great play area and trails, and offers free family nature walks right on its own trails and at many other city parks.

A young smiling boy runs through a tunnel at Discovery Bay play area at Tacoma Nature Center
Find the nature-themed Discovery Bay play area at the Tacoma Nature Center. Credit: Devon Hammer

19. This sweet summer activity is part craft project, part nature scavenger hunt and part random act of kindness. Make, search for or hide painted rocks.

20. Calling all Agents of Discovery! Puget Sound Explorer 5.0 needs you to complete missions in a dizzying array of local parks and public spaces. Download the free Agents of Discovery app, then choose a mission in a park near you and get going!

21. Go fish! Kids ages 14 and younger do not need a fishing license to fish in Washington lakes. Adults do need a fishing license (and there are a few rules to check on first), but give it a go with our guide to fishing with kids around Seattle.

22. For reluctant hikers, try a different landscape. An epic urban family hike in offers sky-high views and thrills, and an urban hike around a lake offers a new view of the heart of Seattle.

23. A unique Seattle garden park promises a feeling of zen for grown-up visitors, while kids will probably go nuts for the cool bridges, hidden pathways, ponds and enchanting Fera Fera Forest. If you like it, we’ve got lots more secret gardens to explore.

A small girl cross a stone bridge at Seattle’s Kubota Garden with her dad following behind
Enchanting Kubota Garden in South Seattle. Credit: Godfrey Guerzon

24. You’ve got to plan ahead a little — and wear a life jacket, of course — but play your cards right and you and your crew will be tootling around Lake Union in a row boat, borrowed for free, from The Center for Wooden Boats.

25. Seattle’s gigantic showpiece park can entertain for days. Play the day away — in the sand, by the giant tree, along the magical Wolf Tree Nature Trail — at Discovery Park.

Bonus: You can find free movies here and there, but spending a teeny bit of cash gets you into $1.50 or $2 summer movies, showing weekly at participating Regal and Cinemark theaters. Check out our guide to cheap summer flicks.

More summer fun around Seattle ...

Editor’s note: Elisa Murray contributed to this article.

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