Where families can beat the heat and cool off in Champaign-Urbana for free
Stay cool with free air-conditioned adventures in Champaign-Urbana that your kids will love
Do you need a place to to cool off the kids — but you’re sticking to a budget? Going beyond the traditional indoor playgrounds, we’ve added some obvious and not-so-obvious ideas here.
Local Libraries with Play Spaces
We love our local libraries. There are plenty of fun things to do at the Urbana Free Library (think pretend area plus games, puzzles and more) and of course the Champaign Public Library. Remember your kids can get some computer time at the library, too. Our kids think the library computers are to be treated like school devices, not like the electronics they use for fun at home. Visit the libraries in smaller towns nearby as a fun “field trip,” even if you can’t check out books. Some of our favorites are the Tolono Public Library, Mahomet Public Library and Allerton Public Library in Monticello.
Indoor Movies for Kids
While there are options for free movies all summer long in outdoor venues, the best bet for free indoor movies is at the Savoy 16 on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 10 a.m.
Let the kids run off energy at Lincoln Square
There isn’t a playground here, but kids can still keep busy exploring this indoor Urbana mall. Getting a free piece of fruit at Common Ground Food Co-Op is a highlight. Or, rummage at the I.D.E.A. store. Also: wide open indoor space means great indoor photos!
Head to campus
We mentioned the museums, but one of our favorite places to explore is the Illini Union. Kids love the fish tank in the lobby. Downstairs, enjoy the bowling alley and games. There’s also the food court. It could be as cheap (or expensive) as you want. After you cool off, you’ll want to check out 13 Things to Do on Campus this Summer (which is mostly outside activities).
This might be one harder to hit just right, but it’s air conditioned and a short drive from town, so it will constitute an outing nonetheless. Time it so you can watch the planes take off. This outing is a little tricky due to security regulations, but the airport is a public — and air-conditioned — place that can be a great field trip for little ones.
Ride the Bus
Speaking of transportation, take a trip around town on our very cool CUMTD buses. OK, this isn’t exactly free — grownups pay $1 per trip, but children who are 46 inches or shorter in height ride free when accompanied by a fare-paying passenger. If your kids aren’t used to riding the bus, this is a great treat. Go to the Illinois Terminal in downtown Champaign and look at all the sculptures there; time your visit with an Amtrak train, if your kids are into that. We even have a post on making it a family date on the MTD.
Get Ice Cream
So while ice cream isn’t free, it can be a cheap and sometimes air-conditioned outing for your family, depending on which location you choose. Check out our Ice Cream Trail map and pick a fun new (indoor) location to explore as a family.
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