“Kids get two free games of bowling every day of the week all summer long.”
  • “Kids get two free games of bowling every day of the week all summer long.”
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Volunteering, Spanish lessons, parties with friends and cousins — we’ve done our best to keep the kids busy this summer. But the lure of the couch abides. Social director Kelly needed to find some cheap or free activities to get us through these last few weeks of summer.

“Our family has been loving the Kids Bowl Free program,” said our friend Chris. “Just register your family and the kids get two free games of bowling every day of the week all summer long at certain bowling alleys. Just pay for shoe rental. We’re going so often that we bought our own shoes [kidsbowlfree.com; 866-798-4502].”

“Secretly slip in some art education,” smiled Nancy. “The Museum of Contemporary Art is free for anyone under the age of 25” and free for all on the third Thursday of every month from 5 to 7 p.m. General admission is $10 (La Jolla and downtown; mcasd.org; 858-454-3541). “Go check out the sculpture garden. My people love it. Then, you sly mama, the next week you bring your kids into the Timken Museum of Art in Balboa Park [timkenmuseum.org; 619-239-5548]. It’s also free.”

“The Balboa Park Carousel brings the kid out of the whole family,” said Jan ($2 a ride). “It’s a 1910 carousel, nearly all original, even has the grab-the-brass-ring game [balboapark.org; 619-239-0512].”

“Our children have been enjoying the sailing lessons from San Diego Yacht Club Junior Sailing [sdyc.org; 619-758-6320],” said Suzie. “They offer different sessions, depending on level.” Nonmembers pay $660 for a ten-day introduction to sailing for six- to nine-year-olds, and classes run from 8:30 a.m. to noon. Sounds fun, but it’s a bit too much moolah for the Kelly family this summer.

Just the right amount of shekels is the 15-minute San Diego–Coronado Ferry ride ($4.25 each way; sdhe.com), which leaves from the Broadway Pier, convention center, and Coronado ferry landing. “You can bring your bike for free,” explained Tom, “so once you land at Coronado, you can bike around Coronado or over to the beach.”

Our friend Shane is a train enthusiast. Naturally, his suggestion was “the Pacific Southwest Railway Museum at the Campo Depot. It has loads of railroad equipment on display. At least once a year, our family enjoys the [Golden State vintage diesel electric] locomotive ride, which goes from Campo down to the border tunnel [$15 adults, $5 children for a one-hour Golden State ride; sdrm.org; 619-478-9937].”

“Our summers always include visits to the Chula Vista Nature Center [now called the Living Coast Discovery Center],” offered Grace. “The hubby loves the native plant gardens, the kids love the pool where they can touch rays and sharks, and I love the birds, especially the owls. And through the summer they have an exhibit called Washed Ashore. Art made from debris that has washed up on land. It sounds gross, but it’s cool [$14 adults, $9 children; thelivingcoast.org; 619-409-5900].”

“Concerts in the park are a sign that summer is here,” announced Jill. “They’re free and all over the city. We’ve enjoyed the Sunday concerts at Spreckels Park in Coronado [coronadoconcert.com], and also the Summer Concert in the Park series at Lake Poway and Old Poway Park [poway.org; 858-668-4576].”

Jen touted the Sunday Summers at Six concerts at Harry Griffen Park in La Mesa. “The city of La Mesa turns 100 this year, so the concert series is all music from each of the ten decades of the century,” she offered. “The concerts are in an amphitheater cut into the hillside, perfect for a picnic dinner [cityoflamesa.com].”

“With the London Olympics just around the corner, you should take a tour of the Olympic Training Facility in Chula Vista,” suggested Pam. “Tours are free, and there’s a self-guided or one-hour guided tours [teamusa.org; 619-656-1500].”

“A cheap alternative to Knott’s Berry Farm Soak City is the Cameron Family YMCA in Santee,” suggested Paul. “They have a pool with a four-story water slide, perfect for cooling down on hot summer afternoons [nonresidents, $5; residents, $3; eastcounty.ymca.org].”

“San Diego is full of beautiful parks, but we like Louis Stelzer Park in Lakeside,” stated Bernice. “It costs $3 to park, has lovely hiking trails around it, several play structures, and lots of mature live oak trees. After rainy season, it has a little stream running through it. Look it up. You’ll feel like you’ve gone camping but without all the packing up.”

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