By Arlene LaBoy
Taking a day-trip to Orlando with the family is a wonderful way to reset, recharge, and refuel. The change of scenery does wonders for our mood, and the kids will love getting to visit some new places for the day. While prices from attractions for a family can easily add up, there are fun and creative ways to enjoy The City Beautiful and all it has to offer for free. From outdoor movies, to live entertainment, to some of our most scenic parks and gardens, we’ve compiled a list of activities for your family to partake in, free of charge!
Parks & Gardens
We are lucky to not be too far from a number of beaches, but we also have a gem of a little “beach” right in our backyard. Dinky Dock is located in Winter Park off Lake Virginia. The 1.56-acre park is open year-round from 8am to dusk, and also features a fishing pier, park benches, picnic tables, grills, restrooms and a swimming area.
In addition to being a wonderful place for a stroll, there are various monthly events at Cranes Roost that won’t cost you a dime. Sunset Cinema takes place on the second Saturday of select months at 8pm. This free movie showing is family-friendly, and chairs are allowed, but pets and coolers are not. There are upcoming showings in May and June. Rhythms at the Roost is the free concert series hosted by the park. There will be food and beverages available for purchase, but no coolers, glass or pets are allowed. Concerts occur periodically and are posted on their event calendar.
Summer is the perfect time to check out Leu Gardens, as they offer a free day every month! Admission is waived on the following dates: June 4th, July 2nd, August 6th, and September 3rd. In addition to Mary Jane’s Rose Garden and the wonderful butterfly garden, the Leu House Museum offers tours every half hour from 10-3:30pm. There are no free entry days in May.
This lakefront public garden is located on the shore of Lake Maitland and is a true Winter Park Gem. Visitors can enjoy its beauty 7 days a week, from 8am-dusk.
This beautiful botanical garden is open every day 7:30am-dusk and is always free. It’s a wonderful place to spend an afternoon walking around enjoying the many sights, including the butterfly garden and Camellia garden.
This park was previously the Orlando Naval Training Center and was home to thousands of service personnel, or “Blue Jackets”, hence the name. Blue Jacket Park has a nice playground, a beautiful fountain, and offers plenty of areas to walk or jog at any time of day.
Open daily from 9am-6pm, admission is free and you can see over 600 plant species and eight natural ecosystems along with approximately 3 miles of walking or biking trails. Nature trails take you through different plant communities, and you’ll also find secluded tables and benches for when it’s time for a break. Leashed pets are welcome. Guided tours available for a small fee, usually $3 per person and last between 1-3 hours depending on the size of the group.
The Mennello Museum of Art offers free admission every Second Sunday. Visitors not only get to admire the museum’s gallery but also receive free docent tours and a free miniature fine art project to take part in. Each month’s Family Fun Day’s theme differs depending on the current exhibitions.
Music At The Casa: Casa Feliz Historic Home Museum & Venue
This stunning and historic piece of Winter Park history is open to the public Sunday from 12-3pm. In addition to touring the home and learning about its significance, guests can also enjoy live music ranging from jazz to folk. The musical group changes each week. Casa Feliz is also open to the public Tuesdays & Thursdays between 10-12pm.
Downtown Sanford turns into a community block party once a month, filled with food trucks, live music, and more. Events are held on the second Thursday of each month, each with a different fun theme.
The Sanford Art Walk is another great event held in Downtown Sanford, so if you’re interested in taking the family to a different part of Orlando, this is where you need to be! Held on the third Saturday of the month, the art walk gives you the opportunity to see all the creativity this city has to offer and how local artists interpret that month’s theme. Have an eye for art? Vote on your favorite piece while at the Welcome Center, and don’t forget to pick up a map of participating venues for your stroll.
This free sidewalk festival occurs monthly and features over 70 local artisans as well as local small businesses showcasing their products.
This monthly event features over 20 local business and artisans selling everything from jewelry, paintings, and photography. Guests will also enjoy a variety of food trucks and live music. Held on the second Friday of each month from 6-9pm in Lake Concord Park.
Food Truck Friday is held every second Friday of each month from 5-9pm. May’s event will take place at Lakeside Park and will also include live entertainment from DJ Joe Magic.
This laid-back market is home to some of the city’s best eats. There are a variety of local food vendors including craft coffee, organic juices and smoothies, critically acclaimed cookies, and Orlando local’s favorite ramen. The courtyard is a great place to hang out and you can catch live performances from local musicians Saturdays from 2-5pm.
While visiting theme parks are typically on the agenda for Orlando visitors, your family can still enjoy the Disney feel without breaking the bank on tickets. Disney Springs provides a large outdoor area to explore complete with shops, eateries, a bowling alley, a movie theatre, and don’t forget the Lego Store. On weekends, live performers showcase their talents for visitors to enjoy.
Although it’s located in the more touristy area of Orlando, Old Town has a variety of shops, activities and events that are family friendly. Every Saturday there is a classic car show, Saturday Nite Car Cruise, which showcases cars older than 1987. Cars start lining up at 1pm, and at 8:30pm they’ll start heading down Main Street. The event is free and also features live entertainment on Trophy Row Stage at 7pm. Sunday nights are Family Movie Nights, with a different free and family-friendly movie being screened at 7pm.
This quarter-mile strip of shops, eateries and nightlife is another way to enjoy the feel of a theme park without the price. During non-peak times, you should be able to park on the property for free without a dining reservation. Evening visitors will score a nice vantage point on the Magic Kingdom fireworks.
Similar to Disney’s Boardwalk and Disney Springs, this entertainment complex contains a myriad of shops, dining, a movie theatre and more. Free parking is available after 6pm except during Halloween Horror Nights.
Typically held on the second Thursday of the month in Winter Park’s beautiful Central Park, these free movies are always family friendly. Bring blankets and some fun eats to complete your movie night.
Lake Eola is one of Orlando’s gems for a variety of reasons, and when summer arrives MoviEola is added to the list! The East Lawn (between Washington St. and Central Blvd. by the playground) becomes the setting for a monthly outdoor movie. The park also hosts pre-movie activities, and there will be food and drinks available for purchase. Bring chairs and blankets and enjoy the show!