44 Free or Nearly Free Things For Families to do in Chicago’s Western Suburbs This Summer

Tuesday, Jul 19th, 2016 by

Are you ready to hear about some some free (or nearly) fun aimed at families? Now that we’re halfway through summer, I bet your wallet is feeling a bit light. Summer can be expensive. Paying to get into the pool, registering the kids for summer camp or childcare, eating out on the go, and of course vacations — it all adds up!


So here here are some ways to have fun on the cheap, including a number of indoor options for rainy or super-hot days. Have suggestions to share? Please put them in the comments section! 


Free Fun for Families in Chicago's Western Suburbs During Summer 2016
  1. Visit a free splash park, such as Festival Park in Elgin, Prairie Point Splash Playground in Oswego, Dragonfly Landing in Lisle, Towne Center Park in Shorewood, Blue Heron Park Sprayground or Leiseberg Park Spray Playground, both in Bartlett, McCaslin Park in West Chicago. TOTAL COST: Free! 
  2. Take advantage of special Twilight Swim rates at area pools. To make the most of your time, get to the front desk at least a few minutes before the special rate kicks in — Swanson Pool, for instance, usually has a line of people waiting to get into its Twilight Swim session. TOTAL COST: Varies per family and pool 
  3. Rent a paddleboat or peddleboat. The cost is $10 per half-hour in Naperville and Batavia. TOTAL COST: $10
  4. If you’re up for a drive into Chicago, we had an awesome time at 31st Street Beach a couple years back. Admission is free to the beach, you can pay to park in a nearby garage (it cost us $9) or street parking is even cheaper. Bring your own food to avoid the concessions! TOTAL COST: Varies by parking
  5. Take advantage of the lovely weather to go to an outdoor storytime. TOTAL COST: Free!
  6. Pack a picnic and spend a morning, afternoon or evening at Pottawatomie Park in St. Charles: There are two playgrounds for the kids, plus a little creek area right by the Fox River where kids can get wet and jump from rock to rock. There’s a free native plant demonstration garden, too, and a concession stand where you can get some ice cream treats. If you have more money to spend, the River View Miniature Golf Course has 18 holes. TOTAL COST: Free! (Minus the ice cream or miniature golf)  
  7. Watch a free movie under the stars at one of the numerous parks offering them this summer. Here’s a guide on where and when to find them in 2016. TOTAL COST: Free! 
  8. Head to a nearby suburb and check out a Great Park that’s new to your family. Here’s a list of parks that offer both shade and bathrooms. A new favorite of ours is SEBA Park in South Elgin.
  9. Hold your breath while your kids climb all over the tanks at Cantigny Park in Wheaton. Pack a change of clothes if your kids want to run through the fountains. On Tuesdays, the “History Connections”  program offers free fun for kids ages 3 through 10. On Thursdays, there is a “History Alive!” free program also from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. in the First Division Museum. TOTAL COST: $5 per car on weekdays, $10 per car on weekends
  10. Pack a picnic and set up shop near the buffalo at Fermi National Accelerator Lab in Batavia. Admission is free. TOTAL COST: Free! 
  11. Grab your bug spray, a blanket and lawn chairs for a free outdoor musical concert. Here’s a guide to where to find them in 2016. TOTAL COST: Free! 
  12. The Morton Arboretum offers special “Thursday Family Nights” through Aug. 25, during which the Children’s Garden stays open until 8 p.m. and there is often free entertainment for kids. (Upcoming shows include ScribbleMonsters and Little Miss Ann.) Admission is just $5 for non-members after 4:30 p.m. on these nights. TOTAL COST: Varies per family  
  13. For a spot that’s a bit more “natural” than your average sprayground, splash around in Water Wonders in North Aurora. Have the kids wear their water shoes. It’s free and open daily. TOTAL COST: Free! 
  14. Hawks Hollow Nature Playground at Geneva’s Peck Farm Park has won awards for playground design. Once you visit, you’ll see why! Have the kids wear a bathing suit or bring a change of clothes if they want to get wet in the fountains and “creek.” TOTAL COST: Free! 
  15. Lippold Park in North Aurora has a large, nature-themed playground with a “treehouse” feel and a boardwalk path winding through a pond and wetlands to the banks of the Fox River.  TOTAL COST: Free! 
  16. There are plenty of museums in Chicago and the suburbs that offer free admission, either on special “community days” or certain times or days each week. Find all the info here. TOTAL COST: Free!
  17. Check out a Museum Adventure Pass from your local library to visit a museum for free or with discounted admission. TOTAL COST: Varies
  18. Go back in time at Kline Creek Farm in West Chicago and visit with pigs, chickens, horses and sheep. This summer, it is offering an 1890s-themed Children’s Story Hour on Mondays at 10 a.m. as well as opportunities a couple times a week for kids to learn about farm chores more than a century ago. Admission is always free, but note that the farm is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. TOTAL COST: Free!
  19. Take a tour around Cosley Zoo in Wheaton. The “Discovery Station” programs are offered daily in the summer at 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. You can help feed the ducks at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., or the chickens at 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. (Feed is $1 per serving.) Eco-Exploration Backpack Tours are available too, at $3 per pack. Admission to the zoo is free for kids, non-resident adults pay $5. TOTAL COST: $5 per adult (Minus the extras)  
  20. Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago is free and open 365 days a year. Our friends at Little Lake County have some ideas on how to snag cheap parking in the city. TOTAL COST: Parking varies 
  21. Spend a couple hours at Phillips Park Zoo in Aurora. Pack a picnic and let your kids play in the shade on the playgrounds near the zoo’s exit. There’s a splash pad in front of the zoo’s entrance, so pack swimsuits or a change of clothes, too! TOTAL COST: Free!
  22. Visit the butterfly house at Geneva’s Peck Farm Park Interpretative Center (suggested $5 donation per family) and then let the kids run wild at the new-and-popular Hawks Hollow Nature Playground, where admission is free. TOTAL COST: $5 donation 
  23. Commune with the rescued animals at Willowbrook Wildife Center in Glen Ellyn. Admission is free. TOTAL COST: Free!
  24. Check out the horses, sheep and pigs at Primrose Farm in St. Charles. It has a great tire swing, too. Admission is free, programs cost extra. TOTAL COST: Free!
  25. Randall Oaks Barnyard Zoo is West Dundee is straight out of Charlotte’s web. Non-residents pay $4 admission, children under 2 are free. TOTAL COST: Varies per family size
  26. Volkening Heritage Farm at Spring Valley, located in Schaumburg, takes you back to when the town was a rural German farm community. You can visit the livestock and soak in the 1880s atmosphere with games, chores and costumed interpreters. TOTAL COST: Free!
  27. Sign your children up for the Kids Bowl Free program. TOTAL COST: Free!
  28. Sign your child up for the Kids Skate Free program, with the nearest participating rink being the Aurora Skate Center in Aurora. TOTAL COST: Skate rental 
  29. The Pinstripes locations in South Barrington and Oak Brook offer “Kids Club Bowling” every weekday from 10 a.m. to noon in which kids bowl for $3 per hour with a $3 shoe rental and adults are free. TOTAL COST: Varies per family size
  30. Visit Hickory Knolls Nature Center in St. Charles to check out the wigwam, canoe and Peter the Rabbit. If your family has a dog, there’s a dog park near the parking lot. Admission is free. The nature center is closed on Mondays. TOTAL COST: Free!
  31. Attend one of the cheap, family-friendly daytime movie series. Three kids and an adult can attend the ones at Charlestowne 18 in St. Charles, Goodrich Quality Theatres in Oswego and Batavia, and Studio Movie Grill in Wheaton, and the Cinemark Tinseltown USA in North Aurora for $10 total or less. (Not counting popcorn, of course!) TOTAL COST: Varies per group size 
  32. Take a hike along the Fox River at the Red Oak Nature Center in North Aurora and then check out the cool exhibits in the center itself.  Admission is free, and the center also offers lots of wonderful free programs. TOTAL COST: Free!
  33. Make a morning or afternoon in the LeRoy Oakes Forest Preserve in St. Charles, including a trip to cool off inside the Creek Bend Nature Center at LeRoy Oakes Forest Preserve in St. Charles. It’s run by the Kane County Forest Preserve District, and admission is free. The nature center is open to the public Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. If the kids wear their water shoes, they can play in the creek down the hill. TOTAL COST: Free! 
  34. The Go West Calendar is filled with indoor library storytimes, and if they’re on our calendar, they don’t require advance registration or that you be a resident of that library district. Several libraries are great for play too .. the downtown Aurora library and the downtown Elgin library offer a craft-of-the-day in their craft space. TOTAL COST: Free!
  35. Visit the Aurora Regional Fire Museum in downtown Aurora, which just this summer opened up a Children’s Discovery Room perfect for your little wanna-be firefighter. TOTAL COST: Donation 
  36. You can enjoy both indoors and outdoors at the Knoch Knolls Nature Center in Naperville. Admission is free. TOTAL COST: Free! 
  37. There’s a fair or festival (or both) scheduled every week from now until Sept. 11. Most of them have free admission and offer free entertainment and free children’s activities. You might have to dive into the schedule to plan your day – and keep the kids away from the carnival and too many concessions – but you can have fun on the cheap at these events with some advance planning and discipline! TOTAL COST: Varies per activity 
  38. On those nights when it’s just too hot to cook, give yourself a break with help from the Go West Kids Eat Free Guide. TOTAL COST: Varies per order 
  39. Ice cream makes everything more fun! So combine a family walk or bike ride or trip to a park with a trip to a new-to-you ice cream shop. Here are some of our favorites. TOTAL COST: Varies 
  40. Visit a farmer’s market with your kids. Kids will have fun browsing the produce and asking questions of farmers. Some offer music or special activities. The Harvest Market in downtown Elgin on Thursdays, for instance, has a free kids program featuring a scavenger hunt and emphasis on healthy eating. Find info here. TOTAL COST: Free! 
  41. Head south to see the Chicago Bears in training camp in Bourbonnais, starting July 28. Admission is free. Get all the details here. TOTAL COST: Free! (plus gas) 
  42. If you don’t mind a drive, and have kids on the younger side, the Discovery Zone at Deicke Park in Huntley still amazes me. Despite looking like something you’d have to pay to enter, it is a public park, and admission is free. Stop at Huntley’s Dairy Mart on the way home for a frozen treat. TOTAL COST: Free! (Minus the ice cream)  
  43. The Fox River Trolley Museum is a neat place to spend an afternoon. It is open on Saturdays through Sept. 3 from 11 a.m to 5 p.m. and Sundays through Oct. 30 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets are $5 for an adult, $2 for children ages 3 through 11. Additional trips are just $1. TOTAL COST: Varies per family 
  44. Kids ride free on Metra through Labor Day this summer, and there are plenty of towns nearby for exploring after you disembark. Here’s a Family Guide to Elmhurst, which is on the same Union Pacific-West line that serves Geneva, Elburn, Wheaton and West Chicago. TOTAL COST: Varies per family and destination 

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