The Cheapskate Parent’s Guide to Summer in Philly

Summer fun doesn’t need to break the bank. 26 free (or nearly free) ways to entertain the kids this summer.

The Oval summer pop-up on the Parkway. Photograph by Albert Yee

Discover a garden.

The best way to experience Stoneleigh, Villanova’s new 42-acre public garden, is with a picnic on the Great Lawn.

Go classical.

The Philadelphia Orchestra’s last free show of the year will be at Fishtown’s Penn Treaty Park, complete with food trucks and family activities. July 21st.

Find a new bike trail.

Duke Farms, just north of Princeton, has miles of wide, paved, shaded paths ideal for a family spin, with plenty of destinations (lakes, an orchid house) along the way.

Philadelphia Museum of Art’s summer Art Splash program. Photograph courtesy of Philadelphia Museum of Art/Elizabeth Leitzell

Get creative.

It’s hard to believe the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s summer Art Splash program is free for kids 12 and under. (Bonus: Adults can pay what they wish on the first Sunday of the month or Wednesday evenings.) Daily activities include gallery tours, story times, crafts and music.

Honk a horn.

West Chester’s Touch a Truck has all sorts of vehicles, helicopters and boats for kids to climb in, plus face painting and clowns. Parking is $3. August 12th at the Chester County Government Services Building.

Take a staycation.

The PECO Multicultural Series celebrates the cultures of India, the Caribbean, Africa and more, with performances, vendors and food. Throughout the summer at Penn’s Landing.

Play on the river.

On Saturdays at Bartram’s Garden, kayak and rowboat rentals are gratis. And on the last Wednesday of every month, there’s free sunset fishing, with rods, bait and instructions.

The Oval’s sandbox. Photograph by Albert Yee

Play in a giant sandbox.

Eakins Oval, in the shadow of the Art Museum, is once again morphing into The Oval, with a water mister, a ribbon garden and a sandbox. Most nights, there are food trucks, too. July 20th through August 19th.

Keep rolling.

Finally, the internet is giving us something good: Find your closest lanes on (options include Devon, Maple Shade and Wildwood), register, and your children can bowl free all summer.

Build something.

Your local Home Depot hosts workshops where kids can construct mini boats, fishing games, cars and more, one Saturday each month. (Just don’t blame us when you come home with a drill.)

See an outdoor movie.

Mount Airy residents pick which flicks will show at the Moonlight Movie series, hosted at various playgrounds on Fridays. (Also find food trucks and a book swap.) The Schuylkill Banks has options for teens (Black Panther) and toddlers (Moana), plus free snacks for early birds.

See an indoor movie.

On Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 10 a.m., the Regal Cinemas in Oaks, Warrington and Quakertown show faves like Trolls and Boss Baby for just one dollar. Through August.

Smith Memorial Playground & Playhouse. Photograph courtesy of R. Kennedy/GPTMC

Do the best playground.

Smith Memorial Playground & Playhouse is worth a visit at least once a year. Go early or late (they’re open till 7 p.m. on weekends) to be first in line for the big slide.

Listen to music outside.

The Young People’s Concert Series at the Mann has live music from artists in cool costumes from around the world. Even the parking is free. July 11th and August 1st.

Be a firefighter.

At Fireman’s Hall Museum in Old City, kids can get up close to antique fire trucks and learn all about Ben Franklin’s vision for a safer city. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

Walk the dog.

Sundays are always free at Woodmere Art Museum in Chestnut Hill, but on July 8th, pets are invited to tour the grounds and outdoor sculptures, too.

Eat lots of pie.

Bluegrass and Blueberries Festival says it all, and it’s a Peddler’s Village tradition. Admission is free, but expect to fork something over for food. July 14th and 15th.

Cool off in the city.

There’s a good reason to visit City Hall: the giant Dilworth Park splash ground’s delightful leaping sprays. Over in Manayunk, Venice Island has mists and jets plus basketball courts and concerts.

Cool off in the ’burbs.

Bell Tavern Park in Downingtown has a splash pad where water gets sprayed out of two giant red and blue sprinkler poles, while massive Montgomery Township Spray Park in Montgomeryville has sections for bigs and littles as well as shade.

Play indoors.

On the first Wednesday night of the month, the Please Touch Museum is only $2 a person.

Float a boat.

Set a sailboat (or a rubber duck) free in the pool at Sister Cities Park. On Mondays and Wednesdays, folks from the library, Parks & Rec and more lead activities.

Kids Castle. Photograph by Jauhien Sasnou

Act like a royal.

The eight-story (!) wooden Kids Castle in Doylestown’s Central Park has lookouts, a medieval swing bridge, a pirate ship, and more places to make believe.

Sneak in some learning.

There’s a “PopUpPlay” program every Sunday at 11:30 a.m. at Spruce Street Harbor Park. Themes include water science, civic engagement, building and movement.

» See also: Three Itineraries for a Fun Family Day This Summer

Published as “Know-It-All Guide: Cheap Tricks” in the July 2018 issue of Philadelphia magazine.