10 Places you’ll take your kid for ‘free’ ‘fun’ this summer

With 10 weeks of bored children ahead of you and no plans for a lavish vacation, you’ll probably find yourself at some of these places this summer.

When my own daughter was younger, I was a master at sussing out free stuff for us to do to keep her occupied and my sanity intact. The problem is, there’s a finite number of quality activities to do on the cheap; eventually you’ll end up scraping the bottom of the barrel of “free” “fun” and do things that are technically neither.

Now my daughter’s older and she has access to the freest, funnest thing there is: getting the hell out of the house. During the summer I just hand her some sunscreen, roller skates and an ice-pop and lock the door behind her. There’s no need to magic it up.

But if your kids are a little younger, you may want to stem the tide of whiny I’m boreds without dropping a grand or more on vacation. This is especially true for those of us who live in the southwest, where 106 degree F weather will quickly make the park and public pool very unappealing. Lucky for you, I have a whole stash of ideas that are just barely mediocre. You’re welcome!

1. The pet store


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This one was my tried and true. At the time, we couldn’t afford an aquarium trip so we settled for the next best thing: tanks of neons and suckerfish, most of them sickly and lethargic. Oh well, it’s as good a time as any to introduce the concept of mortality as it pertains to Nemo and company.

2. The bookstore


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You know which one. It rhymes with Shmarnes and Shmoble and has a children’s section with a big train table that’s provided for child patrons for the duration of their parent’s shopping trip. Or the duration of an entire afternoon. The one downside is that this will spark an insatiable hunger in your child for all things Thomas branded, but especially the items priced above $50.

3. Ikea


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If there’s no space in Småland, at least a trip through the convoluted nightmarish labyrinth of this store will wear your children out both physically and emotionally.

4. That one outdoor mall with a water feature that smells like pee


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You could go to an actual sprinkler park, or you could suck it up and take your kids to the one in the courtyard that no one uses just because they’re “above splashing around in urine.” Whatever, it’s sterile.

5. That other pet store


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Once the cashier at “Pets Pets Pets” gets hip to your game and sick of your face, you’re going to need to mix it up by heading to the “Everything Pets” across town.

6. The shoulder of the highway to take pictures with that guy in the dirty Scooby-Doo costume spinning a sign that says “We Buy Gold”


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I was once a costumed performer in a theme park during the summer, and it is a terrible, terrible, terrible job. Load up a cooler full of bottled water and make the pawn shop rounds for a little quid pro quo.

7. A toy store


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This one is just for when you’re getting desperate, because while the siren song of industrial-sized air conditioners is strong, you might have to deal with a meltdown when your kids realize you won’t actually be buying anything. Think of it as a really loud character-building exercise.

8. That one indoor mall with a plastic playground that also smells like pee


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Just so you can check “Leave the f***ing house” off of your list.

9. The grocery store


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Free samples, baby.

10. Rat city, or any variation thereof


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Every city has a place where local wildlife likes to gather. For us it was behind a strip mall near the fry oil dumpsters where tons of noisy grackles gathered to peck at dirty fried detritus. I hated it, but my kid always asked to go “see the birdies.” Perhaps your child is more into raccoons or cockroaches. I don’t judge.

More summer fun

Summer festivals you should be planning for right now
Summer 2015 movies we can’t wait to see — ranked
Classic summer vacation ideas


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