41 FREE summer break activities for kids, families in Raleigh, Triangle
Posted June 5
Updated June 11
Summer break is here! And so is Go Ask Mom to help you make this summer one to remember. Our Summer Break Toolbox lists all kinds of activities to keep kids and families busy. And we'll be regularly updating it throughout the summer with more details about summer fun.
Today, we're focusing on 41 absolutely free summer activities. Read on for details about summer activities that won't break the bank!
1. N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences
Sure, we might be starting with an obvious one. Admission to the natural sciences museum in downtown Raleigh is always free. Walk through, attend a daily program and check out the Natural World Investigate Lab, Micro World Investigate Lab, Window on Animal Health and the Naturalist Center. Plus: Admission is free to the museum's special summer exhibit, Race: Are We So Different. (But you will need to get a free ticket before you enter, which you can do online).
2. N.C. Museum of History
Just across the plaza from the natural sciences museum, admission is free to the state history museum in downtown Raleigh and includes the kid-friendly sports hall of fame; the Story of North Carolina; Discover Your Governors, designed just for kids; the Tar Heel Junior Historian Association Discovery Gallery, also built just for kids; and the new exhibit, North Carolina and World War I.
3. N.C. Museum of Art
Admission is free to our amazing state art museum in west Raleigh. Wander the galleries and then explore the beautiful Museum Park. Pack a picnic! The museum offers occasional free programs for families - and all ages - including Pop-Up Art. One is scheduled at noon, July 23.
4. Great Slides
Speaking of the N.C. Museum of Art, it's home to one of the region's top slides - "Pigcasso" - a pig-themed play piece that's great for young kids. It tops the list of our top five slides in the region (three are free).
5. Summer Movies
Theaters, museums, parks, libraries and other venues offer free (and cheap) movies during the summer. Our free and cheap movie database lists them all.
6. Summer Reading Programs
Libraries across the region have summer reading programs, which often include free programs for kids of all ages, along with prizes and other opportunities to encourage kids to keep a book in hand all summer.
7. Go Ask Mom Events at North Hills
I know, shameless plug. But we have fun and free events at North Hills from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., June 16 and 10 a.m. to noon, July 11. You'll find music, crafts, games, animals, trucks and more. Hope to see you there!
8. Morehead Planetarium and Science Center's Science Live! shows
You'll need to pay for the planetarium shows, but Morehead Planetarium in Chapel Hill also offers free and fantastic Science Live! shows. Presenters conduct really fun experiments, often with the help of assistants from the audience. Shows are scheduled on the weekends and all summer.
9. Spraygrounds and Swimming Pools
Our public pool database lists all of the pools that are open to the general public around here. Most require a small fee, but there are some free places to cool off, including the sprayground at Jack Smith Park in Cary, the new sprayground in Wake Forest (when it opens in July) and all of the pools and spraygrounds in Durham. (If you're a Fuquay-Varina resident, the sprayground there is free too, but you'll need to pay a small fee if you live out of town).
10. Summer Bowling
11. Spinning Tops at Ackland Art Museum
Take a spin on the giant spinning tops on the front terrace of Ackland Art Museum on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill. The interactive art installation, called Los Trompos, is designed by Mexican designers Héctor Esrawe and Ignacio Cadena and inspired by spinning tops, the children’s toys that are popular around the world. They are open and free daily through mid-September. While you're there, take a walk through the museum. Admission is free!
Two baby goats, Felix and Leroy, joined the other goats and chickens at Historic Oak View County Park in Wake County. They are free to see. While you're there, check out the visitor's center (which has some fun activities for young kids) and explore the grounds.
13. Annie Louise Wilkerson MD Nature Preserve
The beautiful Raleigh nature preserve has a shady natural playground for kids, some great kid-friendly hikes (we like the Hidden Rocks trail) and "explorer backpacks," which you can check out for free and include binoculars, compass and even a kite.
The north Raleigh indoor play spot opened last fall and offers free indoor play. For a small charge, there are arts activities and books to buy, along with a coffee and snack shop and opportunities for birthday parties and play dates. But, if you want to just drop in for drop-in play, it's free! Best for babies to preschoolers.
15. Vacation Bible School
These church programs are a summer tradition for many families and are offered during the day, in the evening or on weekends, depending on the church. We list more than two dozen Vacation Bible Schools in the Triangle area.
There are so many nature preserves, state parks and other beautiful outdoor spots around here. We list lots of family-friendly hikes on our Family Hike Favorites page.
18. Historic Sites
19. Garden Visit
Pack a picnic and plan a day exploring and running around one of the region's beautiful gardens. At Duke Gardens, be sure to check out the Charlotte Brody Discovery Garden where you'll see chickens and demonstration gardens. At the N.C. Botanical Garden in Chapel Hill, check out the Wonder Garden for kids and families. The shady Japanese garden is a favorite for my kids at JC Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh. And the Raleigh Rose Garden is always beautiful.
20. Outdoor Concerts
A great way to spread out (with a picnic again) and take in some free tunes. WRAL.com's Out & About section lists the big ones (not all are free).
Young kids, who love anything to do with big vehicles, might just want to ride the R-Line, a free circulator service that runs around downtown all day. Buses run every 15 minutes and will get you to Marbles Kids Museum and the state museums in downtown Raleigh. They run 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., Monday through Wednesday; 7 a.m. to 2:15 a.m., Thursday through Saturday; and 1 p.m. to 8 p.m., Sunday.
22. RDU Observation Park
23. Greystone Recreation Center
Greystone, part of the city of Raleigh's park system, offers free play on its indoor playground in north Raleigh and has special summer hours.
24. City of Raleigh Museum
Learn about the history of the City of Oaks at the City of Raleigh Museum on Fayetteville Street in downtown Raleigh. Admission is free. For young children, the museum offers free monthly storytimes at 10:30 a.m. on the first Tuesday of the month.
Speaking of storytimes, local bookstores also offer free programs for kids. Here's the rundown (just be sure to call ahead before you go as special events can force schedule changes):
- Quail Ridge Books, Raleigh, 10:30 a.m., Mondays
- Read With Me, Raleigh, 10:30 a.m., Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and 11 a.m., Saturdays (An optional craft is $5 per person).
- Regulator Bookshop, Durham, 10:15 a.m., Wednesdays
- Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, 10:30 a.m., Thursdays
- Barnes & Noble, various times
26. Prairie Ridge Ecostation
And speaking of storytimes, Prairie Ridge Ecostation, the outdoor learning lab of the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences in west Raleigh, offers free nature stories at 10:30 a.m., Thursdays, in its outdoor nature playspace, which is great for play any time.
27. Carolina Basketball Museum
We're Virginia fans at my house, but my family had a great time exploring the free Carolina Basketball Museum, which sits next to the Smith Center. You'll find lots of memorabilia, along with fun, interactive pieces that kids will enjoy.
28. Farmers' Markets
So, if you buy something, this isn't a free activity. But, you have to buy food anyway - and it's fun to browse the fresh produce and other edibles found at the markets around here. WRAL.com's Out & About section has a list.
29. Go Fishing
The state's Tackle Loaner Program is designed for new or novice anglers. At participating parks, you can pick up a tackle loaner ID card and check out a rod and reel. When you return the borrowed rods and reels to the park office, kids under age 16 will get a free mini-tackle box with hooks, bobbers, sinkers and a stringer. Participating locations include those in Durham, Orange and Wake counties.
30. Hunt Library at N.C. State
Called the "Library of the Future," the James B. Hunt Jr. Library on Centennial Campus at N.C. State in Raleigh is a marvel of design and technology and, of course, books. On the first floor, take a gander at the amazing bookBot, which holds more than 1.5 million books in 18,000 metal bins. It's essentially a giant robot librarian, pulling selected books. From there, go to the second floor and check out the Emerging Issues Commons where you'll find giant tablets and surface tables to present all kinds of information about North Carolina. From there, you can explore the rest of the building. It's free to tour. It's not free to get some Howling Cow ice cream in the shop on the first floor, but it's well worth your dollars.
31. Talking Tree Trail
Part of the N.C. Forest Service, the state has seven educational state forests, including two in the Triangle area - Clemmons State Educational Forest in Johnston County and Jordan Lake State Educational Forest near Apex. In both spots, you'll find great talking tree trails. These are short hikes along natural paths where hikers can press buttons on wooden posts to turn on recordings about various trees that you're seeing along the way. It's a different kind of twist on a hike and keeps kids moving from one tree to the next.
32. Nasher Creates
The Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University offers free arts programs for all ages on select mornings throughout the summer. The programs are free with admission - which is free for kids 15 and under (and $5 for adults).
33. Skate Parks
34. A Sight to Behold
At Hillsborough's Riverwalk downtown entrance is A Sight to Behold, a sculpture made of sticks that is big enough to walk through. Unveiled a couple of years ago, the piece is created by internationally acclaimed sculptor Patrick Dougherty. (You may have seen some of his other pieces at the N.C. Zoo and the Museum of Life and Science). This one lives up to its name. The domed structure, made Southern sugar maple, sweetgum and elm saplings, is definitely a sight to behold.
35. Pedestrian Bridge
Kids love going over the pedestrian bridges over Interstate 40 next to The Streets at Southpoint and U.S. 1/64 in Cary to watch the vehicles zooming below and wave at them. The I-40 bridge connects Southpoint and Homestead Market along the American Tobacco Trail. The Cary bridge links two great playgrounds - Kids Together and McDonald Woods.
Morehead Planetarium offers free monthly skywatching sessions at Jordan Lake with big telescopes and help from Morehead educators and members of the Chapel Hill Astronomical & Observational Society.
37. Raleigh Fire Museum
Open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., on the second Saturday of each month, the Raleigh Fire Museum features a collection of artifacts and images representing more than 150 years of firefighting in Raleigh, according to the website. Then, bake some cookies and take them to your neighborhood fire station.
38. N.C. State Parks Passport Program
Pick up a passport at an N.C. State Park and work on collecting stamps for each park you visit.
40. Learn Skills
Of course, summer doesn't have to be all fun and games. At my house, it's also the time to learn skills like cleaning toilets, doing laundry, cooking dinner and more. Lifehacker.com has a list of age appropriate chores.
41. Be Bored
I end all of Go Ask Mom's activity lists with this reminder: It's OK for the kids to be bored. In fact, I'm already prepping my kids for more than a few hours of absolute boredom. Life is full of boring moments. The better you're able to handle them - and find something to keep you busy - the better off you'll be in life. So, get them used to being bored. They'll be fine. And, if they keep complaining, just offer to teach them how do tackle some kind of chore. I'm always surprised how quicklymy kids find something else to do.