Whatever you may think of Minnesota’s winters, our summers are hard to beat! After spending months indoors surviving the cold, Minnesotans sure know how to get outside and enjoy the warm weather.
Summer is the perfect opportunity to have some major family fun! As we were working to create our intentional family culture, we decided fun needed to be a big part of our family’s culture. Why? Read this post on three reasons family needs to have fun together. I also share a FREE printable with 80 free family events in Minneapolis-St. Paul!
Summer days can get loooooong with the kids home all day, every day. But that extra time also means we have more opportunities to create lifelong memories as a family.
I’ve compiled a list of 12 of our favorite free, outdoor summer family activities in the Twin Cities – one for each week of summer vacation!
1. Minneapolis Music and Movies
Minneapolis hosts free music and movies every night of the summer from Memorial Day through Labor Day! They present live, outdoor concerts that vary from Swing, Folk, Rock, Bluegrass, and Classical at five different venues throughout the city. Movies run nightly Monday-Saturday and rotate between 30 different venues. (Note: Not all movies are family-friendly; check the schedule ahead of time).
Our favorite place to catch outdoor concerts is at the Harriet Island Bandshell. We get pack a dinner & blanket and get there early to walk along the lake, play at the playground, and eat a picnic dinner before enjoying the concert.
2. Flint Hills International Children’s Festival
This Children’s Festival typically runs the first weekend in June and is hosted by the Ordway in St. Paul. Performance artists from around the world present music, theater, and art the entire family will enjoy. All outdoor performances and children’s activities are free, and there are some indoor, ticketed events at the Ordway and Landmark Center. Kids can play, create and dance throughout the festival.
Visit Ordway’s website or follow Flint Hills Family Festival on Facebook.
3. Community Festivals
It’s pretty much impossible for me to pass up a community event! Sometimes we’re innocently driving through the metro and pass a community event (music festival, pow-wow/wacipi, fire station open house), and I somehow convince my dear husband to stop so we can join in the fun!
I just love seeing people from all different backgrounds & demographics all come together to celebrate. Community events remind me that we are all more alike than different, and I love the atmosphere of unity.
Throughout the summer, several metro cities celebrate with their own festivals & fairs. These weeks are filled with family-friendly activities such as parades, expos, art fairs, fun runs, and outdoor movies.
Examples of community festivals include:
4. Twin Cities River Rats Waterski Show
Every Thursday night throughout the summer, the Twin Cities River Rats perform a waterski show on the Mississippi River. Grab a picnic dinner and gather on the river bank along West River Road in Minneapolis for an evening of fun, free entertainment.
5. Minneapolis Aquatennial
Typically the third week in July, Minneapolis Aquatennial is filled with family friendly activities. Dubbed the Best Days of Summer, activities include the Torchlight Parade and also the 5th Best Fireworks Display in the US.
For all the details and schedule of events, visit the Aquatennial website.
6. Outdoor Concerts & Free Admission at Minnesota History Center
Did you know the Minnesota History Center is free on Tuesday nights from 3-8 pm? The History Center is one of our favorite places in the metro and this free option is available year-round.
Every Tuesday night in July, the History Center has a free outdoor concert on their lawn. Come early to explore the History Center and then enjoy a picnic dinner & outdoor concert on the lawn.
If you can, make it a full-day activity by touring the Minnesota State Capitol during the day before heading over to the History Center!
7. Nature Centers
One of our favorite activities is to explore in nature. There’s something about going into nature that makes stress & hectic schedules melt away. Nature walks & exploration is important for kids to learn observation skills, biology & ecology, and environmental understanding.
In addition to interpretive centers (where kids can see live animals and learn indoors), many nature centers now have nature play areas. In these play areas, kids can experiment and build using sticks, dirt, water, and rocks. Our kids have built bridges, forts, tents, dams, moats, castles, rivers — the list goes on & on.
Check your local area for nature centers. Our favorites – all of which have a nature play area – include:
8. Fourth of July Celebrations
Minnesota loooooves Fourth of July celebrations! What’s better than parades, time on the lake, and fireworks? If you’re not away at the cabin, there’s still plenty to do in the Twin Cities to celebrate freedom!
9. Minnehaha Falls
There are several parking lots, and some are pay lots. We typically park in a free Wabun Picnic Area parking lot and walk over to the bottom of the falls. We hike the trails up to the main falls and explore the upper falls, then go back down to wade in the river. When we return to the Wabun Picnic Area, there’s a changing area and a zero-entry wading pool with fountains for the kids to play in. There’s a playground, too!
10. Three Rivers Park District
Parks, playgrounds, disc golf, swimming, picnics, kayaks, biking, geocaching – Minnesota at its finest! Three Rivers Park District has 27,000 acres of parks & trails throughout the metro. Most areas are free, but some require paid entry and payment for events/activities. Some of our favorite locations include Elm Creek Park Reserve, Coon Rapids Dam, French Regional Park, and Baker Park Reserve.
Find all locations & activities on the Three Rivers Park District website.
11. Minneapolis Sculpture Garden (and Walker Free First Saturdays)
Can a Minnesota summer be complete without visiting the giant cherry & spoon?
The Minneapolis Sculpture Garden is a great place to spend an hour or two exploring art. There’s a picnic area and mini golf (for a fee) to add to the fun!
If you’d like to make it a full day event, consider going to a Walker Free First Saturday. The Walker Art Museum offers free admission the first Saturday of each month, and they provide themed kid-friendly activities throughout the museum.
12. Splash Pads
Beat the heat at a local splash pad! These zero-entry water play areas are a great way to stay cool without the having to deal with sand everrrrrrrrywhere from a beach.
Many splash pads are free but some do charge a small amount; check with your local splash pad before visiting.
Our favorite splash pad is at Andrews Park in Champlin. There’s plenty of seating, a large covered picnic pavilion, concessions, and they have bathrooms and changing rooms very close to the splash pad. There’s also a playground that kids can visit to dry off!
For a complete list of area splash pads, visit Family Fun Twin Cities’ post on Twin Cities splash pads.
There it is – a free family fun day for every week of summer! Who’s ready for the best summer ever?