When school gets out, kids are thrilled with the prospect of a wide-open canvas of free days ready for the painting. And then, about two weeks in, the cries of, “Mom, I’m bored!” commence. Save yourself a headache and nip that moaning in the bud with Metro Parent’s top (cheap!) family fun adventures.
Whether you need a few spare ideas for the down days between out-of-town excursions or a bunch of new options for your frugal stay-cation, we’ve got you covered. And none of these adventures will break the bank. In fact, many are free. With a little advance planning and a well-packed lunch, you’ll be sitting (or running, jumping and swimming) pretty.
- Cost: $10/ages 13-plus, $8/kids ages 4-12, free/kids 3 and under, $8/students (with ID through Thursday)
- Address: 14900 Beck Road, Plymouth
- Hours: Dusk, June 10-Sept. 4, 2016
- Phone: 734-927-3284
- Cost: $9.25/ages 12-plus, $3.75/12 and under, free/5 and under
- Address: 10400 Ford Road, Dearborn
- Hours: Dusk, year-round
- Phone: 313-846-6910
Fill the van with pj-clad kids, popcorn, soft drinks, pillows and blankies, and off you go! You’ll still find a couple of these outdoor theaters in metro Detroit. The crown jewel is the Ford Drive-In with its five screens showing double features. The drive-in at Plymouth’s USA Hockey Arena also gives families more opportunities to take in a little affordable ’50s-style Americana.
- Cost: Recreation passport required: $11/year for Michigan vehicles, $5/year for Michigan motorcycles; fees/concessions and rentals
- Address: Belle Isle Park, 2 Inselruhe Ave., Detroit
- Hours: 5 a.m.-10 p.m. daily
- Phone: 844-235-5375
Do you realize all you are missing by NOT going to Belle Isle? The 985-acre park is the largest island park in the country. Enjoy the fishing piers, bicycle and nature trails, gorgeous water views, Dossin Great Lakes Museum, Belle Isle Aquarium, playscape, a half-mile-long staffed beach, picnic shelters, Belle Isle Zoo and Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory, for your young botany enthusiast. There’s truly something for everyone here. And you can’t beat the price.
- Cost: Free/admission for Wayne, Macomb and Oakland County residents. If outside tri-county area: $12.50/adults, $6/kids ages 6-17, $8/seniors, free/kids 5 and under, $7/college students (with valid school photo ID); fees/special exhibits and parking
- Address: 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit
- Hours: 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, closed Monday
- Phone: 313-833-7900
With so much to do and explore (and now free admission for tri-county residents), this stop is a must. Kids and adults who love art of any kind will find something to pique their interests here, with collections of everything from American art, art of Africa, Oceania and the Indigenous Americas and even European and contemporary art. Plus, check out special events, Family Sundays and workshops, too.
- Cost: Free/admission, fees/parking
- Address: 5401 Woodward Ave., Detroit
- Hours: 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, closed Monday
- Phone: 313-833-1805
Learn all about the history of this great city through special exhibitions and beloved permanent ones like the Gallery of Innovation, the Kid Rock Music Lab, Detroit: The Arsenal of Democracy and much more. The best part? You won’t break the bank to visit this museum – and it’s sure to be fun and teach your kids some interesting facts, too.
- Cost: $8/adults 13-61, $5/kids 3-12 and adults 62-plus, free/kids under 3
- Address: 315 E. Warren Ave., Detroit
- Hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 1-5 p.m. Sunday, closed Monday
- Phone: 313-494-5800
Not only will your kids learn a lot about African American history and culture at this midtown gem, but there are also fun children’s activities and story times, too. All its exhibitions are free with museum admission. Check out permanent and ongoing exhibitions like And Still We Rise: Our Journey Through African American History and Culture, Inspiring Minds: African Americans in Science and Technology and A is for Africa – plus ever-changing special exhibits rolling through.
- Cost: $10/car, nominal fees/programs
- Address: 2240 W. Buno Road, Milford
- Hours: 9 a.m.-6 p.m., daily
- Phone: 248-684-8632
Drag the kids from the smartphones for a day, filling their senses with the sights, sounds and – oh, yeah – smells of the farm. Kensington Metropark Farm Center is a standout, with a 150-year-old restored barn, chicken coop and a kids’ cottage. Meet pigs, cows and horses, too, and check out special summer programs.
- Cost: Ranges per person, depending on venue and age. Some are free for the little ones!
- Addresses: Vary
- Hours: Vary by venue
Southeast Michigan water parks are a prime way to whet that burning need to cool off. Chandler Park in Detroit also has oodles of spray fountains for wee ones. Or tackle a wicked water slide in Ypsilanti – or, if it gets too hot for ya, hit up the cool lazy river at Warren’s indoor community center. Check out our full list of the best picks in the region.
- Cost: $5-plus, depending on venue
- Addresses: Vary
- Hours: Vary by show
Can’t afford Broadway? Try your community theater. Kid fare rules the summer! Catch some great shows at these local spots.
Hart Plaza in Detroit
- Cost: Mostly free; some costs apply
- Address: 1 Nelson Mandela Drive, Detroit
- Hours: Vary by attraction
- Phone: 313-877-8057
Head to the waterfront for good food, great music and a special time in the D. Every year, Hart Plaza plays host to world-class events, like the annual Ford Fireworks June 27, 2016; Arab & Chaldean Festival July 30-31, 2016; Ribs-n-Soul R&B Jazz Festival Aug. 12-14, 2016 – and many more.
Volunteer for a Day
How about giving some sweat equity as a family project? The Greening of Detroit offers opportunities to plant trees and help beautify Detroit neighborhoods (check out their sites for planting dates). Contact an organization like United Way, too. There are lots of ways to keep busy and have fun, while instilling the value of volunteerism in your kids. Find even more charitable organizations to help out here.
There’s so much more across southeast Michigan your family can do at a low cost or for free. Find more summer adventures in our free downloadable guide 100 Days of Summer Family Activities and Attractions in Michigan.
This post was originally published in 2012 and has been updated for 2016.