From beaches to farmlands, from Boardwalk Hall to baby pandas, visitors will find an eclectic variety of free things to do on the East Coast this summer. So come visit the MidAtlantic states, from New Jersey to Virginia, to get a free sample of the history, culture, and family fun waiting for you there!
Best Free Fun Things to Do On The East Coast
“East coast girls are hip, I really dig the styles they wear.”
That’s what the Beach Boys sang about us back in the 60’s. But more than being admired for our hip style, 21st-century east coast moms can be admired for their ingenuity – especially when it comes to finding free fun things for our kids to do.
Yes, I know that travel can be expensive. Dig a little deeper, and you can uncover a treasure cove of free fun things to do on the east coast. From my home state of New Jersey in the north to the southern tip of old Virginia, these are the coolest – and cheapest – attractions around this summer.
Free Fun Things to do in New Jersey
Let’s start with my home state – and let’s start on the beach. Around here, as soon as school closes, ‘tis the season for sand and surf. Unfortunately, most of our sandy shores by the Atlantic come with a cost, in the form of beach tags. But the beaches in the Wildwoods and in Atlantic City are still free. Bring your sunscreen, but leave the wallet at home.
You don’t have to gamble to win in Atlantic City. Once you’re done at the beach (did I mention it’s free?), head up to the boardwalk to see the Boardwalk Hall 3D light show. Actually, there are three shows, alternating every half hour beginning at 8 p.m. The shows, featuring live-action footage, pulsating light displays and surround sound, are projected right onto Boardwalk Hall. You can even see them from the beach! So after catching rays all day, stick around for a free show – or stay for all three!
My kids love a trip to the Cape May County Zoo. And I love what a trip like that does for my budget because the zoo and adjoining playground are all free. Seriously, we drop a fortune to visit the nearest big city zoo (yeah, I’m looking at you, Philly), and this one is every bit as enjoyable as that one.
The array of animals – from lions to giraffes and from black bear to bison – is impressive for a mid-sized zoo. I am particularly impressed by the series of wooden bridges and decks, allowing you to look out at the animals roaming the acreage with the least amount of intrusion. Bring a lunch and eat at the clean, well-kept picnic areas while the kids play on the playground. What more can you ask? Oh, and parking’s free too
Find out about more free fun things to do in New Jersey.
Free Fun Things to Do in Delaware
Right across the bridge from NJ, Delaware is relatively small. But our first state has some pretty big offerings in the way of free family fun. One of my favorite things to do in DE is search for treasure. Of course, I mean geocaching. The Delaware Geocaching Trail includes a total of 69 locations throughout the state’s three counties. For each trip, you download a passport which will lead you on a GPS-guided tour to 24 sites – eight in each county. Once your passport is completed, head back to the Delaware Tourism Office to claim your treasure. And all it will cost you is a tank of gas!
A more traditional introduction to Delaware Wildlife is offered by the DuPont Environmental Education Center. They offer a variety of free educational programs year-round, including Saturday Lunch with Live Animals and a marsh exploration adventure called Netting in the Marsh, where kids are able to “net” the marsh’s critters and creatures for closer observation.
Free Fun Things to Do in Maryland
One of my favorite things to do in Maryland is always free. I love walking around Baltimore Harbor, checking out the people, watching the ships sail in to dock, enjoying the sun setting over the water. But it isn’t as easy to get away on the cheap if my progeny are with me. After all, there’s the lure of that beautiful (but not cheap) National Aquarium across the harbor….
Fortunately, some fun things to do in Maryland come without a hefty price tag. One of the simplest –and best – ways to spend time with the kids is to take them to one of the outdoor movies that have become a tradition in Maryland neighborhoods. There are a variety of movies offered at various locations throughout the state in July and August. Just check the web site for where and when, pop some corn and grab the cooler. What can be better than Jurassic World by the Potomac, or introducing your tweens to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, part of the American Visionary Art Museum’s Flicks from the Hill? Oh, right….FREE!
But if you’re looking for a back to nature experience, I’d recommend you head back to the inner harbor. Stargazing at the Maryland Science Center is offered for free every Friday evening. Venus and Mars look closer than ever through the observatory’s refracting telescope. This is one way to find out what you’re missing when you look up at the summer sky!
Free Fun Things to Do in Washington D.C.
It’s hard to narrow down a favorite free attraction in our nation’s capital, because so much is free in D.C.! As the country’s showcase, the city is full of historic and cultural attractions and exhibits. You just have to invest some time! From the various Smithsonian museums to the Washington Monument, you’ll find something for everyone – and every budget – in D.C.
But right now, I’d have to give a shout out to the National Air and Space Museum. Always a fan favorite, the museum celebrates its 40th anniversary on July 1. That’s the day they’ll open their newly renovated Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall. New to the hall are a wind tunnel, a lunar module whose twin was left in space after Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made the first moonwalk, and a studio module of Star Trek’s Enterprise.
There are new arrivals at The National Zoo, too – including the zoo’s first baby sea lion in 32 years, which was born in late June. Last year’s summer arrival, the panda cub Bei Bei, will be celebrating a first birthday come August – and has increased in adorableness as well as size. Next up: a new baby orangutan is expected in September. See? There’s always something new at the zoo – and you can check it all out for free.
Animals not your thing? There are plenty of other free things to do in Washington D.C.
Free Fun Things to Do in Virginia
I think Virginia is one of the east coast’s best vacation spots. I mean, you got history (think Williamsburg), you got beaches (Virginia Beach) and you got theme parks (Kings Dominion, Busch Gardens). But “best” often adds up to “expensive.” Can you get to know Virginia, without forgetting your budget?
As you can guess, the answer is of course! Like the rest of the east coast, Virginia has plenty of free fun offerings. One of my favorites in the summer is the Family Great Adventure Series on the oceanfront at Virginia Beach. This may seem like a typical “free movie on the beach” setup (and there’s a lot to love, just about that!). But don’t be fooled. This is a movie with more – a little hands-on adventure accompanies every film.
For example, families will work as teams to follow a map to an ancient ruin. Here they’ll take part in an archeological dig – all as a build up to that night’s feature, National Treasure: Book of Secrets. Or be assigned a super power and compete with other “super heroes” before a showing of Big Hero 6.
The series is part of Beach Street U.S.A., Virginia Beach’s nightly oceanfront entertainment throughout the summer. So, after movie night, plan to catch some of the concerts, parades, festivals and fun being offered every night until Labor Day.
And who knew you could be down on the farm – in Virginia? Check out Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon, Virginia, where you step back in time to a working farm circa 1920-50. You can take a wagon ride, pet baby goats, and explore the corn cob and the chicken coop. Sure, it’s educational, as you learn about the agriculture of the mid-20th century. But it’s so much fun, you’ll learn in spite of yourself.
Find other free fun things to do in Virginia.
What are your favorite free and fun things to do on the East Coast? Share with us in the comment section below.