Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. When the start of a new school year is creeping up, it is not uncommon to feel the last days of summer slip through your fingers so much faster than they should. Parents and kids alike feel as though time is running out but often can’t think of how best to spend it. Often we miss the opportunities and activities going on in our own back yard. It doesn’t help that all the ‘fun’ activities tend to be a little… $$$. So, to help make the most of the last days of summer, here a few good things to do in Palm Beach County on budget.
Free Summer Activities for Kids through The Palm Beach County Library
I know, I know, I know. All this library talk is probably going to get old sooner or later, if it hasn’t already.
But really, the Palm Beach County Library system has a pretty extensive offering of camps and activities, not to mention just plain old shelves upon shelves of my favorite thing on earth – books. Especially for kids and younger teens, and particularly in summer when temperatures frequently reach scorching highs, an air-conditioned library really is a great way to spend a summer afternoon.
Check out your local branch to see what activities or events they have planned for that week. And take a look at the locally offered classes too. I know my library never offered “Welcome to Durmstrang-Transfiguration: Release Your Inner Monster” when I was a kid. Or how about ‘National Ice Cream Month Tasting’ or ‘Anime Club’? You will be surprised at what you can find.
Sugar Sand Park
Hands down this is the best pick for where to spend a day with zero planning or cost. Kids complaining they’re bored? Not sure what to do? Throw them in the car and get down to Sugar Sand.
Located in Boca Raton, it’s in the South end of Palm Beach County, but well worth a half-hour plus drive if you’re coming from Lake Worth or even further. The outdoor park is massive with plenty of fun stuff to do. Park yourself in the shaded area by the entrance or follow along (if you can keep up) as the kids go down slides, climb across the spiders’ webs, dig up dinosaur bones, race a cheetah, or go on a space flight in the rocket chair. The park is constantly adding new exhibits and playgrounds!
There’s also the free Science Explorium inside (donations suggested) which is constantly changing and updating as well. It is also advised to come wearing your swimsuit, as there is a splash and play area in the front by the giant wooden head (it’ll make sense when you get there). The park did add a second entrance on the side, which makes it more important to keep track of the younger ones who might be inclined to wander off, but older kids can generally roam as they will while you camp out in the shade with a book or a baby or both.
Pack some snacks if you have time, or just grab something from Publix on the way there as on-site food is limited to pretty much vending machines. Hit the science center BEFORE the splash pad (wet bathing suit + air conditioning = not fun). But there is plenty going on to keep everyone in the family entertained for hours.
South Florida has no shortage of parks and wildlife centers, but Gumbo Limbo was always the top pick. The relatively small nature center is more of a starting point than anything else, and mostly just houses the front desk, bathrooms, and gift shop. The main attractions are in the back. Beyond the butterfly gardens and little sandy pits holding box, turtles are a massively renovated marine center with tanks containing everything from rescued sea turtles to manta rays, to sharks! The animals change depending on rescue and release schedules, but you can track their animals online and attend a sea turtle release or check out the newest addition.
Behind that is a several mile long boardwalk winding through the trees. You can follow the boardwalk to Red Reef West Park for a picnic, or just climb the famous wood tower where you can see the ocean lapping away on one side and the Intracoastal winding past on the other.
The park has historically been free, though a donation is recommended. The boardwalk is mostly shaded, but it can get muggy, spiders or other insects are not uncommon under the hand rails, and it is best to check ahead as the boardwalk can be prone to closure for renovation particularly after storms. But on a day with nice weather, it’s a great chance to take in some of Florida’s natural habitat the way it was before people ever got here.
Common on weekends or on select dates throughout the county in fall, there are several that actually exist all year round. While older kids will probably suspect that they are secretly on a shopping trip, younger kids will generally be enthralled with all the new sights and sounds and things to look at or touch or climb on.
Places like Bedners, The Girls, and The Boys have live animals, full-sized farm equipment, and plenty of other cool things to keep kids engaged while you enjoy the scenery and maybe snag a few groceries while you’re at it. Want to keep the older kids and pre-teens engaged? The variety of ice creams, smoothies, or candy available for purchase at each location usually does the trick.
Puttin’ Around – Delray Beach
Sure sure, mini-golf is mini-golf, right? Well, maybe it used to be. The number of mini-golf courses available in Palm Beach County is enough to make anyone think they’re all the same, but a few stand out.
Puttin’ Around is hands down my favorite for several reasons. The park has a variety of beautiful plants and gardens surrounding the course, which make you feel like you are in a tropical escape while providing plenty of shade. They have an air-conditioned clubhouse where you are free to hang out, play some pinball, or even grab some lunch at a really reasonable price and an adult beverage if you so choose. This makes a big difference on hotter days when you can duck inside in between rounds to cool off. And the price – At $11 for 18 holes and $16 for 36, it’s priced at about the same rate as a movie ticket only instead of sitting in a dark theater not talking to each other, you’ll actually get a chance to spend time together and not just next to each other.
Palm Beach Zoo – Roar and Pour
These events go on into the school year but, really, are a great way to cap off the summer. The last Saturday of every month the Palm Beach Zoo offers extended hours and is open from 4:30 – 9 for themed evenings.
The added activities and live music located by the fountain and pavilion area make it great for families, and the cooler evening hours are a lot more family-friendly than the midday sun. The animals appreciate it too, making for a much more active experience! Zoo members get in for half price and events happen about once a month, so if the zoo is something your family enjoys, it might be worth looking into an annual pass. Otherwise, Roar and Pour admission is $12 for kids and $17 for adults.
Additionally, August 5th is the last Safari Nights event – a similar evening out at the zoo, Safari Nights are more little kid-friendly with activities, face painting, and an impressive lights show by the splash pad.
South Florida Adventure Pass
If you didn’t cash in on this deal earlier in the summer, there’s still plenty of time to rake in the fun! 5 different attractions, parks, and recreation centers have joined forces to create an unlimited admissions summer pass, $50 per adult and $40 per child.
While that might be a little on the steep side if you are looking to spend then this is a pretty reasonable purchase. If a family of four uses the pass at more than two attractions the tickets will pay for themselves. The passes are good through the end of September, so take Saturdays as your day for a family outing and you’ll have plenty to keep you busy into the next school year. The parks include; Butterfly World, Young at Art Museum, Flamingo Gardens, Sawgrass Recreation Park, and Unlimited Roller Skating at Extreme Action Park. Each venue offers a different experience and has its own extra activities taking place, but double-check that your passes are good during site-specific events.
Rapids Water Park
Definitely not the place to go if you have younger kids or for those who may not reach the height requirements, but always worth a splash for families with older kids!
Keep a lookout online for special rates or discount days to help keep costs low as regular ticket rates do run between $45-50. The park does offer ‘Sunset Specials’ which are essentially half-priced tickets available for the last 2-3 hours of the day (Specific times available online). These are a great option for families that have never gone before and just want to check the park out without spending the whole day there or those with younger children who really won’t do more than two hours anyway.
If you are NOT one of those groups, however, I strongly recommend that you bite the bullet to pay the full fare, go on a weekday and get there AS SOON AS THEY OPEN. Bring snacks or a packed lunch if possible, and take advantage of the first few hours of the day when lines for water slides are still relatively short and crowds are minimal. Even better if you go on a cloudy/rainy day with 0% chance of thunderstorms as the weather will keep most tourists at bay and you’ll pretty much have the run of the park to yourself!
While not something I would recommend to make a habit out of, I happen to think that Rapids can make an excellent way to end the summer
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