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Best free family activities in the US

Let’s face it, family vacationing is fun, but the costs can add up quickly! So if you are looking for some free fun on your family get-away, we’ve got the ticket. Here are our top 10 picks for the best free activities for the kids in the US.

Al’s Popcorn Factory Tour

What better way to spend the day than at a popcorn factory! In operation in Columbus for the last 20 years, the factory has been making popcorn by way of a special hand-crafted process in a variety of flavors including Cookies & Cream, Pizza, Bubblegum, and everybody’s favorite, Jelly Bean. (Sounds crazy, right?) Tours are available by appointment, and they begin with a short, entertaining video explaining how the gourmet popcorn is made, and – the best part – it ends free samples and a question and answer session. 1500 Bethel Road, Columbus, OH 43220. (800) 396-7010 Monday -Saturday 11 a.m.-7 p.m.

Seaport Village, San Diego

Seaport Village is a breathtaking outdoor marketplace that boasts 54 shops, four fine dining waterfront restaurants and 13 eateries. But it’s so much more than that! The 14-acre waterfront facility features four miles of cobblestone pathways surrounded by beautiful ponds and fountains, relaxing landscaping and live musical entertainment — including blues and jazz. Street performers and artisans abound, especially on the weekends. 849 W Harbor Drive, San Diego, CA 92101. Hours: Daily 10 a.m.-9 p.m.

The Port of Houston Authority

The Port of Houston Authority offers free public boat tours by reservation, which must be made at least one day in advance, aboard the M/V Sam Houston, a spacious, air-conditioned vessel that holds up to 90 passengers with comfortable seating. The trip is a 90-minute ride through the Houston Ship Channel. Kids and adults alike will delight in seeing international cargo vessels coming and going, plus get a glimpse of what’s going on in the Turning Basin Terminal. Tour times: Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday 10 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.; Thursday 2:30. Closed Mondays and holidays.

Busch Gardens, Tampa Bay

Celebrating the opening of it new Sesame Street Safari of Fun attraction, Busch Garden is offering free passes to children ages five and younger. This exclusive online offer is for Florida residents only, valid for unlimited admission — with no blackout dates — through December 31, 2010. The new attraction features kid-size rides, water fun, shows and adventures that celebrate the spirit of Africa. Kids will have the chance to meet some Sesame Street characters – like Big Bird and Bert and Ernie — up close and personal! To take advantage of the Preschool Pass, simply register at The preschool pass does not include parking or adult admission. Adult ticket prices are $74.95 at the gate for one day or purchase a Fun Card online for $64.95 and enjoy unlimited admission through December 31, 2010.
10165 N McKinley Dr. Tampa, FL 33612. 888-800-5447. Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m.

San Antonio River Walk

One of the city’s largest tourist attractions is located right along the banks of the San Antonio River. Located one story below street level, this River Walk allows guests to enjoy scenery, shops, galleries, restaurants, clubs and special events with every step. Extending approximately 2 ½ miles, the San Antonio River Walk boasts lush landscapes, pathways, waterfalls and relaxing outdoor patios. An in-development project, slated for completion in 2014, will extend the River Walk from two to 13 miles and connect San Antonio’s missions with cultural districts and museums. Not feeling light on your feet? Grab a river taxi and cruise the River Walk via the water! Countless festivals, parades, concerts and other activities take place on the San Antonio River Walk throughout the year.
Commerce St., San Antonio, TX 78205. Hours: open; Admission: free.

Jelly Belly Factory Tours, Fairfield

Enjoy a sweet experience at the Jelly Belly Factory in Fairfield with a free tour of the factory! Visitors can step behind the scenes to learn how the famous Jelly Belly jellybeans are made. A 40-minute guided walking tours begin once every 10-15 minutes, but be warned that during peak times such as holidays and summer seasons, wait times for a tour could span up to an hour or longer. The factory is fully functional during the week, but if you find yourself visiting on a weekend day, you can view video monitors that show the jellybean action in.. well, action!
1 Jelly Belly Lane, Fairfield, CA 94533. Hours: Daily 9 a.m.-4 p.m.; Admission: Free.

National Maritime Museum

At the National Maritime Museum, visitors can climb aboard ships and historic vessels, and check out hands-on exhibits, ships, videos and tours that offer insight and education into the nautical world of both past and present. Below-deck tours of a ferryboat, sail demonstrations, and small and craft collection tours get visitors up close and personal with featured vessels. Don’t miss guided historic waterfront walking tours and programs that are geared just for the kids. The Small Boat Shop on Hyde Street Pier offers visitors the chance to talk directly with the boat builders themselves. Monthly events, musical concerts and monthly sea chantey sing-a-longs aboard ships are also available at this San Francisco Maritime experience.
499 Jefferson St., San Francisco, CA. Hours: Open daily 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m.; Admission: Free.

McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park

All aboard! The McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park, located in the heart of Scottsdale, Arizona, is an incredible railroad experience. Take a ride on the Paradise and Pacific Railroad as well as an antique carousel. Check out the shops and railroad museum, play in one of the spacious playgrounds, or just relax in the grass under a tree or in one of the park’s picnic ramadas. Don’t miss the free summer concerts, as well as some of the great holiday events.
7301 E. Indian Bend Rd., Scottsdale, AZ 85250. Hours: Sun up to sun down, every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas; Admission: Free; train ride and carousel extra.

Lincoln Park Zoo

As one of the country’s last remaining free admission zoos, Lincoln Park Zoo is also America’s most historic zoo. This conservation haven nestled in the heart of Chicago operates one of the most significant zoo-based conservation and science programs in the nation. Don’t miss the zoo’s newest feature, the Pritzker Family Children’s Zoo, which features North American wildlife. Four large outdoor exhibits feature black bears, red wolves, beaver and river otters. Kids will love the animal habitats, interactive elements and educational activities. Developed in consultation with child- development specialists and teachers, the Children’s Zoo encourages curiosity and excitement and helps children connect with nature so they can develop a deeper understanding about wildlife.
Lincoln Park, Fullerton Pkwy Exit off Lake Shore Drive; Hours: April-May 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Weekends 10 a.m.-6:30 p.m., Memorial Day-Labor Day Weekdays 10 a.m.-5 p.m., September-October 10 a.m.-5 p.m., November-March 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m.; Admission: Free.

Fernbank Science Center

Part of the Dekalb County School System, The Fernbank Science Center is located at the edge of the 65-acre Fernbank Forest in Atlanta, Georgia. The plot of land was originally quartered off for conservation purposes and the Science Center has morphed that mission into one of conservation and education. Enjoy a breathtaking rose garden, speak to one of the specialists that are on-hand to answer questions about local flora, and take in a planetarium with shows at an extra cost. Much of the center is located outside, so check out the local weather report before planning your trip.?156 Heaton Park Drive, Atlanta, GA 30307. Hours: Exhibit Hall: Monday-Wednesday 12 p.m. – 5 p.m.; Thursday-Friday 12 p.m.-5 p.m. Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Fernbank Forest: Monday-Friday: 2 p.m.-5 p.m.; Saturday: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission: Free.

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