Keeping kids happy and busy during summer vacation doesn’t have to be expensive. I’ve put together a complete guide to 20 free or cheap summer activities in Jacksonville for your family. Weeks of fun for little or no cost appropriate for kids at any age! Share your go-to activities in the comments below!
Keep in mind that for many of the discounted programs below, additional discounts or coupons are not accepted. Check websites for current or new updates.
1. Kids Bowl Free, Beach Bowl– Each registered child receives 2 daily bowling games FREE all summer long! If your child wears a preschool size 11 or higher they must rent shoes for $3.50 per shoe rental. Value, over $500.00 per child!
2. Summer Movie Express, $1 Movies at Regal Cinema, Beach Blvd. Or Avenues Mall – For just $1.00 per person, you can enjoy summer favorites on the big screen! Despicable Me 2, Walking with Dinosaurs and so much more! Movies start at 10:00 am and are shown on Tuesdays and Wednesdays only. Not only is the movie ticket just right, a portion of the proceeds goes to the Will Rogers Institute.
3. Dollar Slice Pizza, All Day Thursdays at Bruccis on Hodges, How does $1.00 for a huge slice of delicious pizza sound? Fantastico! At this price, we usually bring a friend or two to join in on the fun!
4. MOSH, $5.00 Fridays. There’s always something new going on at the Museum of Science and History. All summer long, admission on Fridays is just $5.00 per person. That’s half-off per adult! You’ll also enjoy extended hours.
5. Hike & Picnic at Jacksonville Baldwin Rail Trail– Get out and enjoy nature and fresh air. There are over 14 miles of paved trail At Baldwin Rail Trail. Along the way, you may spot some local wildlife like songbirds, hawks, wild turkey, or white-tailed deer. The paths are also bike friendly. Don’t forget to pack a picnic lunch as there are picnic tables available.
6. Visit a Park – Jacksonville has the largest urban park system in the country with more than 80,000 acres of parks. There are 10 state and national parks, a national preserve, and an arboretum.
7. Cecil Aquatic Center – Take the kids to Cecil Aquatic Center for some indoor swimming. Enjoy an Olympic-size pool and a smaller pool for younger kids. Swimming lessons, family swim time and more also available. Cost is just $1.00 per family member.
8. Summer Literacy Youth Programs at Jacksonville Public Libraries. JPL have a wonderful summer literacy reading program that is free. Exploring all the new books available at the library always seems so much more fun than reading books at home. With a library card, children can also play educational games on the library computers. Story time usually includes an arts or crafts activity too. You can also check with your local Books-a-Million to see if and when they host their weekly story time. Free!
9.Castaway Island Preserve Nature Trail– This is a great, self-guided trail to do with young children as it is only .4 miles long and offers fun animal tracks along the way for children to try and identify. You’ll also learn about local wildlife and their habitats. You can also canoe, fish, or visit the observation deck while you there. Free.
10. Play dates. Inviting friends from school or the neighborhood over for an afternoon is a great way to mix up the dynamics at home. I stick to one play date a week to keep things manageable. Kids will keep themselves busy for hours on a playdate. Sometimes I’ll let the kids make their own pizza for lunch. Free!
11. Vacation Bible School. Check with your local churches for their summer vacation bible school programs. Some programs are free for church members or at most, $20.00 per child. Programs usually run the whole week and are from 9am-12pm. We usually do two in a summer.
12. Lemonade stand. My daughter loves having a lemonade stand on a hot summer day. We set up right near the pool in our neighborhood. Materials may run you about $5.00 dollars but you’ll make that back plus more on most days. Materials, postboard, lemons, sugar, paper cups, ice, container for the lemonade.
13. Visit a Krispy Kreme. What’s better than a Glazed Hot-n-Ready donut? Skipping the drive thru and watching the donuts being made. Visiting a Krispy Kreme is like visiting a donut factory. We saw donut making in the works and the kids each received a fun baker’s hats.
14. Visit a Farmers Market. The farmers market is a great place to buy fresh fruits and veggies, desserts, or enjoy the art of local artists. You never know what you will find each week. You can also eat a pretty inexpensive lunch at the market.
15. Backyard Water Balloon fight. Remember doing this as a child? Hours of fun for less than $2.00. Fill a cooler with water balloons and pair up teams. Great idea for a playdate too.
16. Plant vegetables or flowers. – Planting seeds, watering your plants, taking care of them- what a great way to teach your kids how to care for something and stay involved outside. You can also end the gardening with sprinkle time with the hose.
17. Bug Collecting Contest- Reuse some empty spaghetti sauce jars and set the time to 30 to 60 minutes. The person that collects the most different species of bugs, wins! Bonus, let the kids search the net to identify the species of bugs they caught and create a log.
18. Fishing – Gone fishing! We love to fish. There is so much water in and around Jacksonville you’re most likely minutes away to hours of fun. There’s a small initial investment of buying junior or kid sized fishing poles, but once you have your gear, the cost to fish is your time and some bait. Usually a half-pound of shrimp runs you about $2.50 to $3.00 and will be more than enough for the whole family to enjoy a few hours. Tip, cut your shrimp in half. If you want to fish on a pier you can try Jacksonville Beach Fishing Pier for a small fee.
19.The Timucuan Preserve – Timucuan Preserve is over 46,000 acres of FREE fun. Visitors will learn much about Florida’s cultural history and our unique ecosystem. Visitors can talk with park rangers, visit the visitor centers, take a hike (or several), explore historic sites like Kingsley Plantation, go to the beach, take a ride on a segway, go horseback riding or kayaking, fishing, and more! Read the Day in the Park Guide for ideas on how to spend your time at the Preserve.
20. Go for a Bike Ride – A family bike ride as the sunsets is a great way to end a hot summer day in Jacksonville. Need some motivation? Ride your bike to get some frozen yogurt or a sweet treat somewhere nearby. Be sure to wear safety helmets.
Watch the First Coast News segment that aired live on First Coast Living on June 24th!