Summer Steals: Family Fun For Under $20

CHARLOTTE – Keeping the whole family entertained for the summer can be daunting, not to mention pricey!  Never fear: The Mint Hill Times has compiled an extensive list of activities you can enjoy with your family all across the Charlotte area without breaking the bank.  Each of these summer “steals” can be enjoyed for $20 or less by a family of four, and many are even free!

Kids Skate Free

Where: Kate’s Skate Indian Trail – 14500 E Independence Blvd, Indian Trail

adult helping child to rollerskate
Sign up for Kids Skate Free and receive two free skate passes for every child in your family all summer long.

When: Tuesday, Wednesday & Friday 1:00 pm – 8:00 pm; Thursday 1:00 pm – 6:00 pm; Sunday 1:00 pm – 3:00 pm
Cost: Free! Skate rental is an additional $5 per person.
Essential Info: Sign up at and receive two free roller skating sessions per week for each child under 12 in your family.  Parents are required to accompany children, but they do not pay if they are not skating.
Tips: To make sure this steal doesn’t turn into a splurge, you’ll want to be aware that Kids Skate Free passes only include admission; they do not include skate rental ($5), “skate mates” ($5) or admission to the play gym ($3).  Parents who wish to skate with their kids will pay regular admission ($10) and skate rental fees ($5).  Families with young children or novice skaters might want to consider Kate’s weekly “Stroll & Roll.”  Between 10:00 am and 12:00 pm on Wednesdays, admission is just $5, and that includes skate rental, skate mates and use of the play gym.  Children of all ages are welcome to bring their own skates, scooters, push toys or strollers – anything that rolls!  Non-rolling parents get in free during “Stroll & Roll.”

Kids Bowl Free

child about to release bowling ball
Sign up for Kids Bowl Free to bowl two free games per day at Sports Connection all summer long

Where: Sports Connection Ballantyne – 11611 Ardrey Kell Rd, Charlotte
When: Monday – Thursday 10:00 am – 7:00 pm; Friday 10:00 am – 5:00 pm
Cost: Free! Shoe rental is an additional $4.25 per person.
Essential Info: Sign up at and receive two free games a day for each child in your family all summer long from May through September!
Tips: Additional locations are available in Concord, Gastonia, Huntersville and Pineville.  If your family loves to bowl together, consider adding a family pass.  For $39.99, four named adults can also receive two free games a day all summer long.  Bowling at Sports Connection will run you $10 a game or $40 an hour, so although it’s a bit of a splurge, the family pass has the potential to pay for itself in one outing.  After signing up for the Kids Bowl Free program, you’ll likely receive an email offering you a small discount on the Family Pass.  Note that everyone – kids and adults – are required to wear bowling shoes, which are not included with the Kids Bowl Free Pass.
If you’re heading down to Sports Connection to use your Kids Bowl Free passes, consider a stop at the Blakeney Shopping Center.  Located at the intersection of Ardrey Kell and Rea Roads, the shopping center is home to a playground and splash pad.  The Splash Pad is free to use and open 9:00 am – 9:00 pm daily from Memorial day to Labor Day.  Shoes are recommended, and adult supervision is required. 

Poppy’s Summer Movie Magic at Stone Theaters

child and adult eating popcorn in a movie theater
Stone Theaters offers $1 kids movies on Tuesdays and Wednesdays

Where: Redstone 14 – Indian Land, SC & Sun Valley 14 – Indian Trail, NC
When: Every Tuesday and Wednesday at 10:00 am from July 8 – August 18
Cost: $1 for kids ages 3-12; kids under 3 and adults are free!  Kid-sized drinks and popcorn are also $1 each.
Essential Info: Tickets can be purchased at the box office; doors open at 9:00 am.  Arrive early to guarantee you get tickets and seats!  View the full schedule of movies at
Tips: Cinemark and Regal theaters have offered similar programs in past summers.  Unfortunately, the closest participating Cinemark theater this year is the Cinemark Tinseltown USA in Salisbury, and Regal was unable to provide information about their 2022 program.

Crooked Creek Park & Splash Pad
Where: 5900 Oakwood Trail, Indian Trail
When: daily 9:00 am – 7:00 pm from May 21 through September 11
Cost: Free!
Essential Info: The splash pad is closed on Tuesdays for routine maintenance, but it’s often completed in time to open later in the day.  Visit Crooked Creek’s social media for information on Tuesdays and other splash-pad related news.
Tips: In addition to the splash pad, Crooked Creek park boasts multiple playgrounds, disc golf, mountain biking and hiking trails, outdoor fitness equipment, outdoor games and more.  With restrooms and shaded picnic areas, it’s the perfect place to spend a whole day!  

First Ward Park & Splash Pad

ninja climber
The “ninja” climber is a popular attraction at First Ward Park

Where: 301 E. 7th Street, Charlotte
When: park open 6:00 am – 8:00 pm daily
Cost: Free!
Essential Info: This 4-acre park located between East 7th, 9th and Brevard Streets just east of the light rail tracks is home to a splash pad and popular spherical climbing structure.
Tips: First Ward Park is located across the street from Imaginon, a one-of-a kind youth destination ranked by as the number one children’s library in the United States.  Imaginon is open Monday – Thursday from 9:00 am – 8:00 pm; Friday and Saturday from 9:00 am – 5:00 pm; and Sundays from 1:00 pm – 5:00 pm, and it is free to visit.  Avoid the hassle of driving uptown by parking at one of the 11 LYNX Park & Ride locations and riding the light rail in.  If you’re parking at the JW Clay or University City Blvd Stations, purchase a day pass to avoid paying an additional fee for parking.  For more information about LYNX fees, parking and schedules, visit

Village Park

two children standing in front of a red train
The Rotary Express Train at Village Park is just $1.50 per person.

Where: 700 West C Street, Kannapolis
When: park open daily from dawn until dusk; train, carousel and splash pad open 10:00 am – 7:00 pm Monday – Saturday and 12:00 pm – 6:00 pm Sunday
Cost: $1.50 per person each for the train, carousel and splash pad
Essential Info: Village Park is a bit of a drive from Mint Hill or Waxhaw, but it offers several low-cost and unique attractions you won’t find at any other local park.  Enjoy a ride on the Rotary Express Train and the only double-decker carousel in North Carolina, and beat the heat with a trip to the splash pad.  At just $1.50, you can enjoy everything the park has to offer for just $4.50 per person.  Note that the splash pad is open daily through mid-August and weekends only through Labor Day.
Tips: Village Park frequently hosts movies and concerts in the park on summer evenings.  Visit for the City of Kannapolis’ full summer event schedule.

Stevens Creek Nature Preserve

group of children and adults playing with kinetic sand
Steven’s Creek’s Nature Center is open daily with late hours on Wednesdays.

Where: 15700 Thompson Road, Mint Hill
When: Nature Preserve open daily from sun up to sun down; Nature Center open Monday – Saturday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm with late hours on Wednesday (closing at 8:00) & Sundays from 1:00 pm – 5:00 pm.  Registration is open now for programming in June, July and August.
Cost: The Nature Preserve and Center are always free; some Parks & Rec programming is free while some has a small fee
Essential Info: In addition to 3.5 miles of hiking trails and a brand new interactive nature center, Stevens Creek offers a variety of fun summer programming for all ages.  Programming ranges from free/drop in to paid/registered, and summer highlights include Adult Archery and Target Sports, Breakfast with the Hummingbirds, Memory Wire Bracelets, Nature CLUE, Sweep Netting in the Prairie, and Up Close with Microscopes.  To view all available programming, visit
Tips: If Stevens Creek is a long drive for you, check out what’s available in your neck of the woods!  From spray grounds to skate parks, Mecklenburg County Parks & Rec offers so many ways to have fun “on the cheap” this summer.  Visit to browse what’s going on at all Parks & Rec facilities.

Airport Overlook

two children watching a plane take off
Watch planes take off at the Airport Overlook

Where: 7300 Airport Overlook Drive, Charlotte
When: 8:00 am – 10:00 pm daily
Cost: Free!
Essential Info: Located off Old Dowd Road, the CLT Airport Overlook offers a close-up, unobstructed look at planes as they take off and land against the backdrop of the Charlotte skyline.  Charlotte-Douglas International is actually one of only a few airports in the country to maintain a public viewing area.
Tips: The planes are quite loud, so consider bringing noise-dampening headphones for sound-sensitive little ones.  Many groups bring a picnic lunch or dinner to the Airport Overlook.  During the summer months, food trucks and food carts frequent the park.  An updated schedule was not available as of mid-May, but check back with their website for more info:

Wednesday Night Live
Where: The Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, The Mint Museum (both locations), and the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African American Arts + Culture
When: Wednesday nights from 5:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Cost: Free!
Essential Info: Every Wednesday night, you can enjoy free admission to three of Charlotte’s most popular museums as part of Levine Center for the Arts’ Wednesday Night Live program.  Currently, the program is set to continue through August of 2022.
Tips: Live entertainment or programming is featured at one of the four participating institutions each week.  This special programming includes everything from Brazilian dance and spoken-word artists to film screenings.  Visit the museums’ websites for more information about live entertainment and special programming.

Schiele Museum of Natural History
Where: 1500 East Garrison Blvd, GastoniaWhen: second Tuesday and fourth Friday each month from 12:00 pm – 4:00 pm
Cost: Free!
Essential Info: With $6 admission for kids and $7 admission for adults, the Schiele is by no means a budget-breaker, but the costs can add up for a large family.  Thanks to the support of Duke Energy, the Schiele is able to offer free admission twice a month.  You do not need to reserve tickets for free museum admission.
Tips: Duke Energy also graciously supports free planetarium programs quarterly.  Planetarium tickets can be reserved online a week prior to the show, and reservations are encouraged due to limited space. For more information, visit

Free Museums
There are several Charlotte-area museums you can visit for free very day of the year and others that offer special deals on admission on select days or nights.

The President James K. Polk Historic Site located at 12031 Lancaster Highway in Pineville, NC, is open Tuesday – Saturday from 9:00 – 5:00.  Tours are offered Saturdays at 11:00 and 2:00.  Museum admission is always free, and tours are $2 for adults, 1$ for children (5-12) and seniors (62+).  Home to the birthplace of the USA’s 11th president, the Historic Site boasts a museum with exhibits on life in Mecklenburg County during Polk’s time, a short film on Polk’s life and time in office, and guided tours of the historic cabins on the grounds. Learn more at 

The McColl Center for Art + Innovation is a nationally-acclaimed artist residency and contemporary arts hub in uptown Charlotte where artists and the people who care about them converge, connect and thrive.  It is free and open to the public during gallery hours for those who wish to build community, connect with artists and experience the creative process.  Current gallery hours are Wednesday – Friday from 11:00 am – 6:00 pm and Saturday – Sunday from 12:00 pm – 5:00 pm.  Summer exhibit information will be posted soon on their website:

The Gaston County Museum located at 131 West Main Street on the historic Dallas Courthouse Square in Dallas, NC, is a repository of the art and history of Gaston County and its surrounding regions.  Venture out back to the Carriage House or across the street to the Depot Art Gallery or to the Kessel History Center located inside the Historic Loray Hill.  The Gaston County Museum is open Tuesday – Friday from 10:00 am – 5:00 pm and Saturday from 10:00 am – 3:00 pm.  For more information, visit

The Museum of the Alphabet located in Waxhaw, NC, is dedicated to everything language-related from a replica of the Rosetta stone to seeing how your name would look in Klingon.  It is open Monday – Saturday from 9:00 am – 4:00 pm, and it is free to the public.  For more information, visit

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