Plenty of free and low-cost ways to have fun in Champaign-Urbana this summer
In many ways, summer can be the most expensive time of the year for Champaign-Urbana families. Parents are looking for stuff for their kids to do that is fun, active, and won’t break the bank. So what’s a parent to do? We’ve got ideas.
We’ll be super honest, friends: this is a very different list than the ones we’ve put together in most years. This year is just …. different in so many ways. We don’t want to dwell on that – we want to give you some ideas that are relevant and timely. We’ve also waited a bit on this list, as we know that what’s available to do is changing rapidly in the days ahead.
Of course, some of these ideas are subject to change at any time – so always double check when in doubt.
Thank you to Empowered Learning for presenting this list. Parents are tasked with a tough job this summer — keeping their kids busy and active at home! Empowered Learning (formerly Illini Tutoring LLC) is partnering with parents this summer to help kids and teens stay engaged with learning. Students can enroll in Zoom tutoring programs and classes, filled with hands-on experiments and activities. In addition to one-on-one math and science tutoring programs, students can explore the science of cooking, natural history, neuroscience, and so much more! Empowered Learning’s instructional team helps students with diverse learning needs, with a special focus on helping students grow, learn, and become more independent during these challenging times. For more information, visit IlliniTutoring.com!
25 Ways to Have Summer Fun on a Budget in Champaign-Urbana (in no particular order)
1. Parks, Parks, Parks: Exploring new parks is CONSTANT entertainment for my kids. They love something new, and you could probably visit a new one almost every day of the summer! Check our online reviews. Don’t want to tempt your kids with a playground? Check out our list of parks without playgrounds. Oh, and bring your masks just in case.
2. Read books, get freebies: If your kids can read — or if you read to them — you can be eligible for freebies around the area, or prizes depending on the summer reading program.
3. Free outdoor and virtual concerts: Champaign-Urbana loves its free music, especially in the summer. There is some live music happening out there – as well as some virtual events too. We’ve listed them.
4. Events are picking up. Our calendar is getting more and more populated by the day. From garden walks to other creative events, don’t forget to look at the calendar to get inspiration for things to do (and we focus on free or cheap fun there)! Of course, use precautions: wear masks and social distance.
5. Enjoy a movie night with the Virginia Theatre. Enjoy a special movie night at home with some yummy movie theatre popcorn and candy from the Virginia Theatre. Available on Friday and Saturday nights through August 1.
6. Get a membership at Aikman Wildlife. If your family loves going on safari at Aikman Wildlife, it might be worth your while to get a yearlong pass to the the drive through animal park in Arcola. They’re on sale through June 26.
7. Play Footgolf. Is it soccer? Is it golf? It’s really a combination. This would seem to be the ultimate social distancing sport – it’s fun, family-friendly, and it will even get you a whole bunch of steps – if that’s your jam. Head out to Lake of the Woods golf course in Mahomet to try it out. See our Foot Golf review here. Tip: Save a $1 by bringing your own soccer ball.
8. Head to the zoo. Scovill Zoo in Decatur has reopened, and thankfully it will offer its Thursdays free promotion this summer; however reservations are required. Special reduced ticket pricing for the month of June will be $5.00 per person.
9. Go Creek Stomping: With most pools closed this summer, it’s time to get creative to find ways kids can get wet. The idea behind creek stomping is to get wet and enjoy nature – at the same time. And maybe even see some wildlife too. Bring some rain boots or water shoes. FREE; you just have to get there.
10. Outdoor art: We’ve got tons of wonderful outdoor art in Champaign-Urbana from sculpture to statues. We’ve even shown you where some of our favorites are, so there’s no excuse not to start exploring!
11. Eastern Illinois Baseball League to open: Missing baseball? Eastern Illinois Baseball is one of the oldest sports traditions in East Central Illinois and will play several weekends in July and August. A fully amateur league, it’s free to attend. Games are played in Buckley (north of Paxton). Find more info here.
12. Go on the Champaign-Urbana ice cream trail. Summer is the season for frozen treats. See how many you can tick off of our list. If you like food trails, we also have them for donuts, cheese curds, burgers, barbecue, and pizza.
13. Play miniature golf. The two 18-hole golf courses at Old Orchard Links in Savoy are now open. Here’s a tip: the more games you buy, the cheaper it is.
14. Visit Japan House, the Arboretum and IDEA Garden: One of the most beautiful areas in our midst and it’s right under our noses in Urbana. Japan House doesn’t need to be open to take in the beautiful Japanese gardens. And just next “door” is the Arboretum and the IDEA Garden, a living “laboratory” of beauty. Great place for family photos, too.
15. Learn to fish. While learn to fish programs may have been suspended this year, there are plenty of ways to get involved with fishing – and plenty of places to try it out. Learn what you need to do and how to get.
16. Pick your own fruit. Blueberry season launched this week; later on this summer, peaches and apples may be found in area orchards.
17. Farmers Market fun: Food shopping is a bit different these days. Although there aren’t kids activities this summer, it’s a good lesson to teach little ones where their food comes from – and interact with farmers and producers. See our list for places to go.
18. Visit Allerton Park: Named the most underrated tourist destination in the state of Illinois, we’re lucky enough to have this gem in our backyard. Entry is free; go hiking, check out the formal gardens, hunt for the sculptures, have a picnic.
19. Curtis Orchard: Could it almost be time for Curtis Orchard to open? Just a few more weeks. Picking season takes a little longer, but the goats will be out and the cider donuts will be in the oven. Opening day is July 20.
20. Kids Eat Free deals: Take the family for dinner and don’t worry about breaking any proverbial banks. (Note: some of these deals might not be in effect right now.) If you see a deal that we don’t have, let us know!
21. Family camping: Perhaps a vacation isn’t in your budget this year, and being mindful of social distancing is imperative. A great option is to to camping nearby. Camp sites can go as little as $10 a night. Need equipment? Borrow some from friends, or find a rental.
22. Check out Auto Racing in Farmer City: Dirt track auto racing is back in action at Farmer City Raceway. Events are Friday night, and kids 12 and under are free for general admission; adults are $12. There are also pit passes available for a fee.
23. Free Summer Meals for kids: Summer can be a prime time for kids to go hungry. Area locations are offering free lunches and some breakfasts for children 0-18, no questions asked.
24. Explore campus: Never set foot on the University of Illinois central campus? Don’t let another summer pass you by without taking your kids over there – SO. MUCH. TO. SEE. Don’t know where to go? Do a self-guided tour that’s a bit more formal. We have guides to hanging out on the Quad and favorite places to eat. Go in the evenings after 5, and there’s even plenty of places to park for free.
25. Go to the drive-in: One of the hottest summer activities this year is to go to the Harvest Moon Drive-in in Gibson City. Our on-a-budget tip: bring your own food. You have to pay $5 for the right, but it will save you money in the end. And just because you pay for the food pass doesn’t mean you’re banned from the snack counter!
26. Go on a float trip. It’s a heck of a lot cheaper than renting a boat! The folks at Kickapoo Adventures offer float trips starting at $12 for adults and $8 for kids.
How do you save money in the summer? We would love to hear your suggestions on our Facebook page! Make sure to sign up for our weekend planner email and get all the news about what’s happening over the weekend in Champaign-Urbana.