There are plenty of free, fun activities in beautiful Milwaukee during the summer.
There are plenty of free, fun activities in beautiful Milwaukee during the summer. (Photo: Erik Ljung)

A quick guide to free family summer fun

The days are finally getting warmer, school will be out soon and we can almost smell the barbecues drifting through the air. Everyone in the family is excited to kick back, relax and enjoy the long summer days and balmy summer nights.

But after a few weeks, you’ve gone to the same two playgrounds over and over again, and playing in the yard is starting to feel claustrophobic. Carefree laughter has turned to whining, and the long summer days seem, well, long.

You’d like to take your children on an exciting excursion and give them a change of scenery, but you don’t want to spend a fortune.

Fear not! Milwaukee is full of free family-friendly events and activities to keep your kids on their toes this summer without spending a dime.

1. Be entertained at Kidzdays at the Marcus Center. Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from June 18 through Aug. 15 from 10 to 11 a.m., the Marcus Center offers live, interactive, performing arts programming completely free on their outdoor shaded stage. Partners include First Stage Theater, Rick Allen Magic Show, Milwaukee Public Library, Betty Brinn Children's Museum, Trinity Irish Dancers, Milwaukee Ballet, Wehr Nature Center, and Lucky's African Drumming. Click here for details.

2. Take advantage of scheduled free days. Some of Milwaukee’s most popular attractions offer free days for county residents. You just have to know when they are:

  • Milwaukee Art Museum: Free admission first Thursday of each month.
  • The Domes: Free admission Mondays from 9 a.m. to noon (excluding major holidays).
  • Milwaukee Public Museum: Free general admission on Mondays.
  • Brinn Children’s Museum: Free admission third Thursday of every month 5-8 p.m.

3. Visit your local library – Milwaukee Public Libraries offer free summer entertainment at several locations including jugglers, local kids music, live animals, jujutsu and much more! They also offer weekly story times at many locations. Click here for the summer events schedule for families. North Shore Library in Glendale, St. Francis Public Library and Whitefish Bay Public Library also offer free family-friendly events this summer.

4. Feed the animals at the Urban Ecology Center. You’ll be amazed at the Urban Ecology Center’s calendar of free outdoor activities for kids. For example, every Saturday at 1 p.m. kids can help the staff feed turtles, frogs, and other reptiles at their Riverside and Menomonee Valley locations. The UEC also offers early morning bird walks, science clubs and special events like "Bat Day." Click here to see a calendar of events.

5. Enjoy live music: Every night of the week, Milwaukee County Parks offer free concerts with family-friendly atmospheres. So pack up a picnic and head out!

Mondays: Musical Mondays in Lake Park (July 1-Aug. 26) – Begins at 6:30 p.m.

Tuesdays: Chill on the Hill in Bay View, Humboldt Park (June 4-Aug. 27) – Begins at 6 p.m.

​Wednesdays: Wonderful Wednesdays in Lake Park, specifically designed for kids! (June 26-July 31) – Begins at 6:30 p.m.

Thursdays: Jazz in the Park in Cathedral Square (June 6-Sept. 5) – Begins at 6 p.m.

Click here for OnMilwaukee.com's guide to free summer music.

6. Go plane-spotting. If your kids shout "plane" every time one passes overhead, the Airport Observation Area will be a dream come true (or a headache-inducer!). Onlookers flock to this parking lot on the 1200 block of East Layton Avenue to get an up-close look and hear the roar of the massive jet planes as they come and go. Tune into 88.5 to hear aircraft communication. You can pick up some Culver's custard down the road, sit out on the car hood and make a night of it!

7. Plan a Beach Day Switcharoo. Although Bradford Beach is perhaps the most popular of all, the Milwaukee area is home to many other beaches that offer playgrounds, picnic areas and breathtaking views of our favorite lake.

Check out our guide to Milwaukee area beaches and choose your own adventure!

8. Check out Nature Nights at the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center. By day, the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center offers family-friendly programming at a low price. And this summer, they are offering select evening programming to members completely free; non-members pay a small fee, usually under $10, though a year of family membership is only $60. On Wednesday evenings May 15-June 19 from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., you're invited to get beak-to-beak with a furry avian friend. Hawks, falcons and eagles will each make an appearance on a rotating basis. On Thursdays May 16-June 20 from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., join them for a guided nature hike through the summer twilight. Look and listen for owls and other wildlife at this enchanted time of the evening.

Find out more about these programs here.

9. Spend a day at Bayshore Towne Center. Splash around in the fountain area and cool off inside at the Playshore play area adjacent to the food court. Don't miss Safety Days on June 1 for a free look inside police cars and fire engines, free mini-train rides and special appearances by ​"McGruff" the Crime Dog, "Sparky" the Fire Dog, "Ashes" The Fire Safety Dog, "Bango" from the Milwaukee Bucks, "Roscoe" from the Milwaukee Admirals, "Flash the Fire Dog" "Eddie the Gun Safety Eagle" and "Daren the DARE Lion."

10. Find a Little Free Library. Little Free Libraries have been popping up all over Milwaukee, and there's probably one or two near you. The concept is simple - anyone can construct a box for books and install it anywhere they like. The signs say "Take a book, leave a book," and that's just what you should do! It's kind of like a treasure hunt, and you're sure to find something the kids will love. Find a Little Free Library on Google Maps.

11. Geocache at Havenwoods State Forest. Visit the Nature Center at Havenwoods State Forest to borrow navigation devices, binoculars and a nifty Smokey the Bear hat completely free. Guided family hikes take place on the first Saturday of each month at 10 a.m., but you can stop by anytime. Don’t miss the live reptiles in the main lobby, the Nature Library upstairs, and the additional free family programming on the second and third Saturday of each month. Find out more here.

12. Stop by a Family Drop-in or Storytime in Lake Park. The Samson Family Resource Center in COA’s Riverwest Center (909 E. North Ave.) hosts Family Drop-ins every Tuesday and Thursday morning and Storytime in Lake Park every Wednesday morning. Family Drop-ins provide free play, snacks and hands-on experiences through art, science, music and storytelling. Find out more here.

13. Keep up with the family-friendly calendars on MiltownMoms.com. All starred events are free!

What have we missed? Leave a comment with your idea for free family fun this summer!

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