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25 Free Summer Outings and Activities for Seattle-Area Families

Best free summer adventures for families around Seattle, the Eastside and South Sound

Nancy Chaney

Published on: June 21, 2022

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 finally 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. 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 bring your pooch and explore a nearby island’s trails.

2. Someday (soon?) it will be hot. On the next toasty day, gather up your crew for a frolic at a spray park or fountain. They’re free, fun and all over town.

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 characters? Tiptoe quietly through the woods to spot sweet gnomes along a gnome trail or find fanciful fairies along a fairy trail.

Two young kids crouch over and inspect a fairy house on the Pine Lake fairy trail in Sammamish, Washington, near Seattle, among best free summer activities for Seattle kids and families
Inspecting a fairy house along the Pine Lake 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 accepted 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).

Close-up view of a mom and a child eating s'mores they are camping in their backyard and having fun during a Seattle summer
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 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!

9. Enjoy a free outdoor concert or show in almost every town around 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 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 summer activities Seattle kids and families
Awesome, updated Owen Beach has reopened just in time for summer. Credit: JiaYing Grygiel

12. A popular local beach got a makeover and recently reopened. Dip your toes in the bay, climb on the whale sculpture and slide on the giant epic slides nearby!

13. Free theater in the park perfectly accommodates wiggly kids. Try StoryBook Theater’s great shows for the littles, or, for an intro to Shakespeare, turn up for Backyard Bard.

14. Visit the phenomenal Seattle Children’s PlayGarden, one of the most special parks in Seattle. It’s an innovative public playground designed to let kids of all abilities take risks and explore, and features a garden, chicken coop, planter truck, musical sculpture and more.

Kids play on a driftwood stump on Jetty Island, a summer beach destination in Everett, Washington, near Seattle, best free activities Seattle kids and families
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: still, a pretty amazing bargain.

16. Lighthouses are magical for kids. Try the Browns Point Lighthouse in Tacoma, with free tours on 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. Try the free nature challenge app, Agents of Discovery, also available at other Tacoma 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. 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.

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 family hike in Tacoma 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. Of all of the new playgrounds we’ve covered, one ultra-awesome playground has elicited the biggest reactions, from gasps of delight to heavy-duty bribes to finally go home. You might check it out if you haven’t already.

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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