Married, married with children or singles dating we all need some good ideas on low cost or free dates. These could involve just you or bring along the children and make it a family event. Either way we all need a cheap night out once in a while. If you’re saving for a wedding or need a great date night to pop the question here are 20 outstanding ideas. Consider this your guaranteed guide to getting the most out of the happiest months of the year. Oh, and put away your wallet—you won’t need it here.
Story by Redbook
- CELEBRATE THE NATIONAL PARK SERVICE’S 99TH BIRTHDAY.
Just not with a birthday cake with 99 candles—that could cause a forest fire. Instead, enjoy a ton of special events that are happening across the country as the NPS counts down to its centennial
- START A NEIGHBORHOOD BOOK SHARE.
Consider adding to the 26,000-plus Little Free Library book exchanges all over the world: They usually consist of a shelf or two set up in a park or on a local street so folks can take a book and leave another. Build one out of an old cabinet, mailbox, or suitcase (there are even ones made out of nonworking microwaves!). Then, register it at littlefreelibrary.org to be included on a worldwide map.
- WEAR OUT THE KIDS.
Pry them away from the boob tube and get them rolling— literally. The Kids Skate Free and Kids Bowl Free programs give children passes to roller rinks and bowling alleys across the country. (Visit
- TAKE A SCENIC BIKE RIDE.
Spin class may burn calories, but the sight of your classmate’s sweaty butt is hardly awe-inspiring. Find much better views on traillink.com, an easy-to-navigate resource for hundreds of great bike routes, plus trails for hiking, birding, and more.
- GET THE BEST PICTURE ON SUNNY DAYS.
The sun is shining, your pals are smiling, and your pictures look… terrible! To get great shots on bright days, try this trick from pro photographer Amy Postle: Turn on your flash. “Sounds strange, but the flash will fill in the harsh shadows and even out the lighting on faces,” she says.
- WATCH SUMMER’S JUICIEST TV SHOW.
If you aren’t already hooked on UnReal, what have you been doing with yourself? The new Lifetime scripted drama follows the shameless behind-the-scenes manipulation at a Bachelor-like TV show— and it was created by a former Bachelor staffer. Oh no she didn’t!
- LOOK UP—WAY UP.
There’s a stunning post-dinner show right in your neighborhood every night. And it’s absolutely full of stars. At skymaps.com, you can download a monthly skyscape that shows what you can see with the naked eye, binoculars, and a telescope. Plus, it lists times for events like meteor showers and a visible Venus.
- PRESS FLOWERS IN MINUTES.
Sticking them in a book for a week is so 20th century. Lindsay Weirich, a.k.a. The Frugal Crafter, has a fun and fast method: Zap them in the microwave. Arrange petals inside a folded sheet of paper, place paper towels above and below it, then top it off with a heavy plate. On medium power, nuke for 30 seconds, check it, and add another 30 seconds, up to two minutes. Pop your little piece of summer in a frame or get your kids some glue to make cards for Grandma.
- CELEBRATE NATIONAL HOT DOG DAY.
Get one for $1 at participating 7-Elevens on July 23, or use the day as an excuse to wiener up at home. And, on July 25: A festival in Frankfort, IN , offers a 5K run before you stuff yourself, and the West Virginia Hot Dog Festival has a wiener dog race, because of course.
- DIP INTO AN AMAZING BOOK.
Proof that family drama and forbidden love aren’t just the stuff of trashy beach reads: Each of the stories in Mia Alvar’s debut collection, In the Country, is beautiful and totally compelling. (Why is a local doctor so kind to an outcast woman and her son? It’s not the reason you think.)
- HAVE A REEL-Y RELAXING TIME.
“Fishing is a great way to decompress—our schedules are jammed with work and school, but this is one time you shouldn’t rush,” says Debbie Hanson, a blogger for takemefishing.org, part of the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation. Sounds to us like yoga that can end with a meal! Start by fishing from land (better for bathroom breaks, Hanson notes): “In freshwater, the bass or bluegill will be hanging out in the weed lines. In fresh or saltwater, large-game fish tend to congregate close to bridges or submerged logs because that’s where the prey is. Just cast your line parallel to the shore,” she says. Find more tips, plus places to fish, at takemefishing.org.
- HIT THE FAIRS.
Maybe you’ve been to your own county fair, but how about taking it a little farther afield this year? Discover a whole new world of tractor pulls and pie-eating contests via state-specific sites like nysfair.org(listing 49 fairs in New York) and cafairs.com (78 in California!), or check out countyfairgrounds.net for nationwide info on fairs, car shows, cook-offs, and hot air balloon festivals. If you’re fine with skipping the food on a stick, artfaircalendar.com tracks arts and crafts shows across the country.
- BUILD A BETTER SAND CASTLE.
Here’s how award-winning Florida sand sculptors Bill and Marianne Knight (a.k.a. The Sand Lovers) say to make a sturdy structure: Cut the bottom off a bucket, turn it over, and pack wet sand in super-tight. Pull off the pail and get building. And don’t worry—once your kids see the enormous castle that can be constructed this way, they’ll stop whining that you broke their bucket. To watch the pros knock your flip-flops off with their creations, check out sandsculptingevents.com for a calendar of competitive events.
- BECOME A “CITIZEN SCIENTIST”.
All you’ve got to do is sit on your lawn and count fireflies (cocktail optional). The Museum of Science in Boston and Tufts University use the data from people all over the country to track where fireflies live and how they may be affected by light pollution and other environmental changes. Just skip the jars, please: The point of this project is to keep those buggers alive. Learn more atlegacy.mos.org/fireflywatch/getting_involved.
- DISCOVER A LOCAL SWIMMING HOLE.
For 19 years, swimmingholes.org has been cataloging the best little tucked-away spots for a dunk in the United States and Canada. They’re up to 1,600— grab a towel and go.
- DO YOU ON JULY 19.
In 2014 it was the happiest non-holiday day of the whole year, according to a Gallup poll. Give yourself permission to do something you love, even if (especially if!) what you love is to nap.
- START A FAMILY BOOK CLUB.
Chat about the new kids’ novel Circus Mirandus, suggests Betsy Bird, youth materials specialist at the New York Public Library. Kids will love the boy’s quest to help his grandfather by finding a powerful magician in a mysterious circus, guarded by an invisible tiger. You’ll love the chance to believe in magic again.
- SAY CHEERS.
Tours of breweries and wineries are often cheap (or free) and can include samples. Happily, 75 percent of U.S. adults live within 10 miles of a brewery, says the Brewers Association. Craftbeer.com keeps tabs on them, while americaswinetrails.com provides a list of wineries in a whopping 48 states.
- GET THE CHILLS.
It won’t just be the movie theater’s arctic AC that gives you goose bumps when you see the new thrillerThe Gift. Jason Bateman plays a man dealing with a stalkerish former classmate—but just wait until his wife starts to question why this guy has it out for her husband.
- FLY YOUR KITE HIGHER.
The key to getting serious air is to work with a buddy, says Rachel Sanchez of Kitty Hawk Kites: “You hold the string, letting out 20 to 30 feet, while they release the kite.” See huge kites flying—and make your own more petite ones—at both the Wright Kite Festival in Kill Devil Hills, NC (July 18 and 19), and theBerkeley Kite Festival in California (July 25 and 26).