Ten Fun Frugal Family Summer Outings

The peaceful Japanese Garden at Nashville’s beautiful Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum of Art is picture perfect.

I’m always on the lookout for free or nearly free entertainment for our kids.

Here are several fun family friendly finds for summer break. While most of these are local to Middle Tennessee, some, like the Barnes and Noble summer reading program, can be found nationwide.

Barnes and Noble Summer Reading Program

This is a fun program for dowmloading a special passport to reading this summer for your child. After they read 8 books they receive one free, which is a great motivator to keep their nose in a book over the summer. This would be fun for weekly excursions to your local library and gives your child a mission to find their book of the week.

Belle Meade Plantation Book Club

We’ve not tried this, but Belle Meade Plantation offers a free book club divided into three reading levels for school age kids starting with 2nd graders. And, while not free, they offer several interesting summer camps. The equine and archeology camps sound great.

Regal Cinemas Free Family Film Festival

Every Tuesday and Wednesday at 10 a.m. Regal Cinemas will show family friendly flicks at no charge. Ahhh the sweet respite of air conditioning and buttered popcorn to get you recharged in the summer after getting toasty at the pool…what could be better? OK maybe air conditioning, buttered popcorn, AND a fountain drink AND Raisinettes?


Cheekwood, the gorgeous 55-acre mansion, art museum, and botanical gardens, always has free admission for kids ages 5 and younger. Admission for kids this summer during the Chihuly exhibit is $8, but you can easily spend hours roaming the grounds.

Think Little House on the Prairie Meets Flicka at the Ellington Agricultural Center where you can also visit with the horses from the mounted police patrol. If you’re really lucky, they’ll stick their tongue out at you (the horses, not the police).

Tennessee Agricultural Museum Summer Saturdays
We’ve taken our girls to this event in the past and it is always fun (although sometimes steamy hot.) With themes like Hold Your Horses! and Wild About Goats! you can’t go wrong.

Warner Park Nature Center

The Nature Center is a beautiful facility that has many free programs for kids who love to get up close and personal with nature. Check out their summer schedule. Fair warning, though, many of their programs tend to fill up quickly so make sure to call well in advance.

Nashville Scene Movies in the Park

Every Wednesday at sunset pack up the kids, pack up the picnic basket and blanket, and head down to the band shell at Centennial Park. We haven’t done this yet this summer, but I’d love to do this at least once.

City of Franklin Concert Series and Movies in the Park

The City of Franklin is hosting a series of outdoor concerts and movies this summer.

Free Bowling at Jaymar Family Entertainment Centers

Kids bowl free at three Middle Tennessee bowling lanes: Franklin, Tusculum, and Cumberland. Bowling is just one of those things you must do at least once with your kids. We get pretty competitive at our house! Although these are local lanes, most communities will have a summer special for families.

Downtown Nashville Library Marionette Shows

These have been big hits with my girls and are great if the weather is not conducive to outdoor play. On Fridays starting June 11 and continuing through July 26 Wishing Chair Productions presents The Stonecutter. Showtimes are at at 9:30, 10:30 and 11:30.

Although many of these events are local to Middle Tennessee, most city parks and libraries host free events for families all summer long. You might be surprised at all the free fun in your own backyard.

What are some of your favorite free or frugal summer outings?


  1. Susan says:

    We love to go to the park, the library, the bookstore… So far, our little one loves looking at all the different books, so that’s always a winner. We also have a farm that is part of our park district that’s open over the summer. We’ve also gone and watched little league games too. Even if we only spend an hour at these places, that’s an hour away from the tv!

  2. Rebecca at Toothwhale says:

    This is a good list. I’d like to do one of the Summer Saturdays at the Tennessee Agricultural Museum. That would be something different for us. I had plans to see at least one of the free Regal movies. Besides the marionette shows at the main library, there are a bunch of summer reading events at Nashville’s branch libraries throughout June — magic shows, music, fun science presentations, pirate parties, crafts, etc.
    .-= Rebecca at Toothwhale´s last blog ..Goodbye =-.

  3. Kel says:

    Thanks for sharing…I’ve been wanting to bring the girls up to the botanical gardens and stuff, but wasn’t sure how everything was faring after the flood. We’ll definitely be heading up that way soon! 🙂
    .-= Kel´s last blog ..Wordless Wednesday

  4. Suzanne says:

    I love the bowling idea, because it’s indoors with the lovely a.c.! 🙂 You had mentioned that the alleys in your post were local, but there is a national program called Kids Bowl Free. A number of bowling centers all around the country are participating, and the basic offer is that every registered kid gets two free games of bowling per day at a participating bowling center. It’s a pretty great deal!

  5. Geoff K says:

    Thanks for offering such great suggestions! We have many of the same types of activities here in Ohio that we enjoy – for example, a local theatre plays classic films all summer for a very low price, our symphony plays regular concerts in the park that we always enjoy, and there are tons of ethnic and cultural festivals that are completely free-of-charge. Summer’s the best time for cheap or free family-friendly entertainment!

  6. R Hicks says:

    These are good suggestions. Many museums are free and educational and the parks too. We like to take the kids to the Asheboro Zoo in NC at least once every summer. It costs a little but worth every penny.

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