Affordable Things to Do With Kids This Summer
The dog days of summer are upon us, and by now, there’s a pretty good chance your kiddos are getting a bit bored. Keeping them occupied during the long, hot days can seem like a daunting task, but sending them to day camp or heading out on a last-minute vacation can be a costly solution, especially if you have multiple children. Luckily, many places in and around the greater Sacramento area feel your pain, and offer low- and no-cost events and activities to keep the boredom at bay. Following are a few ideas.
Spray Parks & Water Slides
Beat the heat this summer and take the kiddos to cool off at one of the many (free!) spray parks around Sacramento. Most spray parks operate through Labor Day, though the hours vary. The city of Sacramento has a dozen spray parks, as well as Swanston Splash Park and Seely Park in the Arden-Arcade area and Freedom Park in North Highlands. Splash pads are also found at parks in Folsom, Rocklin, El Dorado Hills, Elk Grove and West Sacramento, among others. The Fountains at Roseville also has a splash pad, plus a playground and train rides too!
If your kids need a little more oompf in their water play, check out one of several expansive public aquatic complexes in the greater Sacramento area, all of which are a fraction of the cost of the big-name amusement parks. The Steve Miklos Aquatic Center in Folsom has an in-pool playground, inflatables and water slides for just $7. In Elk Grove, the Wackford Aquatic Complex also has a play structure and water slides, as well as an inflatable obstacle course, and the Elk Grove Aquatic Center has spray features, waterslides and a lazy river.
The Sacramento Public Library is hosting a Summer Explorer Program designed for kids of all ages. The events are held at public parks throughout the Sacramento area and are free to join. There will be hands-on activities like making a sun print or planting a seed, plus mobile play areas.
Although some area libraries are only hosting virtual storytimes due to Covid-19, many others have resumed in-person readings for young children. The Folsom Public Library hosts summer storytimes for kids ages 2–6 at various times throughout the week, as does the El Dorado County Library and Roseville libraries.
What’s better than watching a movie under the stars? Watching a movie under the stars for free, of course! There are several options for free outdoor movies in Sacramento this summer, including Movies at the Fort in Midtown, screening Up on Aug. 14 (free reservations required); Natomas at Nite, screening Rava and the Last Dragon on Aug. 13; Free Movie Fridays in Rocklin, screening Onward on Aug. 20. Another affordable option for outdoor movies is the West Wind Sacramento Drive-In. Tuesday is Family Fun Night, and admission is only $5.75 per adult and $2 per kid 5–11.
Studio Movie Grill in Rocklin also has discounted movies through its Children’s Summer Series. Admission is $6, and includes a small drink and popcorn. Movies include How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, Trolls World Tour, The Croods: A New Age, Abominable, Madagascar and The Grinch. Start times vary, but they are the first showing of the day
Skateboarding is not a crime, so take the kids to one of Sacramento’s free public skate parks so they can ollie and grind their way through summer. Elk Grove also has skate parks, as does Roseville, El Dorado Hills and Folsom. Many of these parks aren’t just for skateboarders; you can also bring a scooter and some have areas for bikes.
With the exception of parking fees, hikes in the greater Sacramento area are totally free. Some great options for kids include the Davis Arboretum, a flat, mellow trail that follows Putah Creek, Effie Yeaw Nature Center Preserve, which has interpretive trails along the American River, and the Placer Nature Center, with a five-acre preserve near Auburn. If your kiddos loves wildlife, they’ll love the easy hikes through the wetlands of the Cosumnes River Preserve or the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, home to thousands of species of birds.
The greater Sacramento area certainly has its share of world-class museums, but if you’re looking for a budget-friendly option there are plenty of smaller museums as well. The Roseville Utility Exploration Center, with free admission, gives kids an inside look at utility systems and ways to save energy and water. Also free is the California State Capitol Museum, which has historic rooms, artwork and exhibits on the state’s history. The Old Sacramento Schoolhouse Museum is also free, and depicts life as a 19th-century student in California. The Sojourner Truth African Heritage Museum is free for kids under 12, and showcases the African American experience and culture through art — it also has hands-on activities for kids. In Auburn, the Gold Rush Museum, with its stamp mill and indoor panning stream, is also free. The Effie Yeaw Nature Center is also free, but donations are requested and there is a $5 parking fee.
Some Sacramento-area parks have returned to hosting free outdoor concerts this summer! Spots to check out include Fair Oaks Park, which has events scheduled for July 29, Aug. 26 and Sept. 30; Roseville Music in the Park, Aug. 8, Aug. 29 and Sept. 12; Roseville Concerts on the Square, Aug. 21 and Sept. 18; Summer Concerts at the Gazebo in Winters, July 29; Hot Summer Nights in Elk Grove, Fridays in August; and Summer Concerts in Community Park in El Dorado Hills, Aug. 20 and Sept. 18.