9 Ideas for Planning a Fun Summer Vacation

Playing at the beach – free

Guest post from Tiffany of Don’t Waste the Crumbs

Summer is here!

We moms tend to dread those three words since planning activities for ten straight weeks can be overwhelming and seem expensive. But don’t let a budget ruin your family fun.

Here are some suggestions to help make your budget-friendly summer a little more fun:

1. Make going to the park a challenge.

Are the kids tired of the same swings and slides? Create a list of local parks and make it a point to visit one for each week that the kids will be off. Include state parks, beaches, playgrounds, hiking trails, and skate/bike parks for the kids that are beyond swings.

Create a chart to put on the fridge with simple graphics and let them rate the park with thumbs up or thumbs down. Maybe you’ll have a new favorite park when the summer is over!

2. Pretend to be a tourist.

Use a search engine and look up the “10 best things to do” in your city. If your list is relatively short, make it a point to do or visit everything! If your list is long, ask your kids to pick one or two activities that sound interesting to them.

Kids are much more likely to have more fun when they have a choice in the matter. You can even stretch “their” event into “their day” and let the child that chose the activity choose what to have for breakfast, lunch, and dinner!

Visiting Parks in San Francisco – free

3. Do a little legwork.

Call the event locations, ask your neighbors, email your local chamber of commerce and/or visit your library to see if discounted or free tickets are available for locals. Our local library offers free passes to the aquarium on the first of every month (to locals with a valid ID).

4. Borrow season or “with a friend” passes.

If your friend’s family enjoyed an attraction so much that they bought season passes, there’s a chance your family will enjoy the attraction, too. If your kids have a good time and want to go again, see if your budget will allow the price of season passes.

Most season passes pay for themselves in less than two visits and will last beyond the summer time frame. You can also team up with another family and be their “friend” on a take-a-friend day, or “suggest” season passes to family members as a birthday gift to the kids.

Season Passes to Local Amusement Park – passes were a family Christmas gift and free admittance for kids under 3

5. Don’t be afraid to ask for discounts.

As a local, I know I can park for free if I’m willing to walk a few blocks. I also know that walking a few blocks with a car full of kids and gear can be tiring.  Ask the parking attendants if locals get discounted parking, or if parking can be validated with certain establishments.

6. Set a budget for each event and have fun.

You’d be willing to splurge a little if you were truly on vacation, so loosen the reigns just a little bit. Save by packing a lunch or eating at home beforehand, but have fun with an ice cream treat afterward.

7. Mix it up for a day at home.

Take board games outside on a blanket or picnic table, spend the day “camping” in the backyard or create a scavenger hunt outside with their favorite toys. Allow the kids to get messy with chalk or finger paint.  Dress them in their swimsuits and turn on the sprinkler! Go for a nature walk and create a picture list of things to “find” along the way.

Watching the airplanes take off and land – free 

8. Check local movie theaters.

Local theaters often run a summer special where kids movies will play at the same time, the same day of the week. Tickets are usually inexpensive and this could be a great for rainy days, or when you need a break from the sun.

9. Send your kids to someone’s house for a day.

Team up with other moms and take turns planning a home activity each week that involves all the kids. This would give you a day off and the kids are still having fun while being supervised.

Don’t take on planning the whole summer at once. Start small by planning for one or two days each week. For example, make every Monday a park day and every Friday a field trip. Visit a new park each Monday and a new “event” each Friday and see where the fun leads you!

Tiffany is a full-time mom navigating the bumpy road of food, money and motherhood, while trying not to waste (or lose) crumbs along the way. She blogs about her experiences at Don’t Waste the Crumbs.

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  1. Jane says

    I live in San Francisco as well and love the library program for free family passes! We also take advantage of the free days for museums and the SF Zoo :)

  2. kj says

    Great tips! I have to admit though…the best part of summer is the lazy, hazy days of not seeing the inside of the van! :-) We go to the library and t-ball games, but we swim in our own pool we got at Walmart, the kids play outside on the swingset and in the sandbox, hide and seek and card games. I really don’t plan activities for most days. We just enjoy spur of the moment bike rides and playdates. :-)

  3. Helen says

    Host a water day in your backyard….every family brings a wading pool, sprinkler, or slip’n slide, water guns, bubble makers, or a snack tray. For minimal effort/cost, your backyard is turned into a mini water park for the day!

  4. amber says

    We have been trying out new parks in our city. I searched online last fall and learned there were so many.

    Your local library might have some fun programs. There are two we will be doing this summer. The first is welcome to kindergarten. Kids getting ready to start kindergarten get a free t-shirt, a book and lots of fun coupons. We did this a few years ago when my oldest started school. We were able to go to the zoo on a certain day. Our kindergarten got in free along with an adult. Since our youngest was three at the time she was free. So we only had to pay for one adult. The other program is a summer reading program. Once your child reads so many books they get a special bag with lots of fun coupons and tickets.

    Going to the farmers market is also lots of fun and educational.

    I think our favorite thing to do in the summer is going to yard sales.

  5. says

    My kids love doing the local summer library program because the last week is always free tickets to a neighboring towns amusement park. I can get in free with them as long as I don’t ride the rides, which is fine with me because I get motion sickness. So they ride all day for free while I stand at the exit of each ride waiting for them while catching up on a great summer read.

  6. karen r says

    We live in a rural area so some of these ideas just won’t work for us. But we do a lot of reading and art projects. We also spend time with our extended family.

    • says


      Do you have friends/family that live close to you, yet close to a bigger city? Perhaps you can be a tourist to their city and reduce lodging expenses by staying with friends/family. A few consecutive days of great activities can make just as great memories as days strewn throughout a summer. You can help contribute to their grocery budget, or create a basket filled with home-baked goods, or with even items from your stockpile to pamper your hostess as a thank-you gift for their hospitality.

  7. says

    We are taking advantage of free Junior Ranger programs at our local “park”–the Gateway Arch! They have a bunch of different programs and the kids love it. :)

  8. Liz says

    Not sure if this was already mentioned, but check your library for Story Hour/Craft Time for your toddlers and school-aged children. Free, and you won’t have to change your plans if it rains that day. 😛

  9. Cathy says

    We’re doing things a bit different this year and continuing to do light schoolwork on M-W-F this summer. We still have two days a week free for fun, but there are less days to fill up with activities when it’s so crazy hot out anyway. Then we can have more days off during the traditional “school year” and enjoy the parks and museums and all that when it’s less crowded and the weather is better.

  10. says

    Loved these ideas! This summer I’m pregnant with number 4. I knew I couldn’t handle a “free for all” summer so each day has a theme. Monday is Mission Monday to clean the house, Tuesday is Time Out Tuesday with friends to hit fun places around our city (yesterday was the butterfly exhibit at the Conservatory and park play and a picnic), Wednesday is Whatever Wednesday…a day at home to do whatever, Thursday is swim day at a friend’s house and Friday is Friend Friday to have over friends who don’t live in the neighborhood. So far it is working great and we have some really fun things planned for this summer (thank you Groupon and Living Social!!)

  11. Christine says

    love scavenger hunts for our outings, there are loads of ideas and lists online. let kids take photos of their finds and include in scrapbook later on.

    ***on the subject of photos i cannot stress enough the importance of backing up photos (any documents for that matter) to the cloud, disk or other device. we recently were broken into and my new laptop was taken. I had finally gotten off my duff and started to edit and organize photos. i lost 4yrs of my adopted son’s life story, plus all the photos of my precious foster kids and loved ones who have passed. i’m over losing the material things but it still hurts i lost these memories.

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