Vacationing on a budget can be stressful. You want to find something that the whole family wants to do, but won’t break the bank. Luckily for you, West Michigan is full of free and frugal fun. Take a trip into the great outdoors, visit one of West Michigan’s museums, or see a world-renowned artist perform, all while pinching those pennies. No matter your interest, you’re sure to find something here that will fit any budget!
Free & Frugal in Southern West Michigan
Arcadia Brewing Company offers low-cost brewery tours of their facility in Kalamazoo every Saturday and Sunday. Tours cost $5 and include a logo pint glass, samples, and discounted pints after the tour. Kids are allowed on these tours for free, but won’t receive a pint glass or samples.
The Heritage Museum and Cultural Center in St. Joseph specializes in showcasing the history of the local community. It brings the past and present together in a way that’s fascinating for children, teens, and adults. They also offer free admission to the first floor of the Inner Lighthouse during regularly scheduled “Open Hours” at the St. Joseph Lighthouse. Adjacent to the Silver Beach Carousel, the Silver Beach Amusement Park Museum is free to visit. You can check out a detailed model of the Silver Beach Amusement Park that includes the attractions, sounds, and aromas from the park when it was up and running (1892-1971).
In South Haven, and you’ll find the Liberty Hyde Bailey Museum and the Historical Association of South Haven. The Bailey Museum is located in the birthplace and childhood home of America’s “Father of Modern Horticulture,” Liberty Hyde Bailey Jr. It is a museum, National Historic Site, garden, park, and educational outreach center. The Historical Association of South Haven has its home in the old Hartman School Building in South Haven. Visit them to view their current exhibits and learn more about South Haven’s history. Walk through history at no charge when you visit the W.K. Kellogg Manor House in Hickory Corners, which was built in the 1920s by cereal magnate W.K. Kellogg. The home overlooks Gull Lake, and offers free self-guided tours, but you’ll want to call ahead and make a reservation.
Step back in time and watch movies on the big screen at the historic Tibbits Opera House in Coldwater, with their Classic Film Series every month from October to May. These free double-features are held one Saturday evening a month, with films ranging from mysteries and sci-fi to old westerns. Looking to plan more frugal family fun? The Popcorn Theatre at Tibbits will introduce your kids to live theatre with a professional children’s theatre show, popcorn, juice, and even the chance to meet the actors afterwards for autographs and pictures. All of this for the low price of $9 per ticket, when the Tibbits Popcorn Theatre runs this summer.
The recently opened White Trail at Virtue Cider in Fennville is nearly five miles of manicured pathways, making them perfect for a walk, snowshoeing, or cross-country skiing. Virtue Cider is open all winter long, with production tours available Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Visit their website for more information and information on how to book in advance.
Enjoy free activities and events in Battle Creek! The Kingman Museum is open on Saturdays and Sundays, and offers free admission. Stop by and check out the museum, or head to the planetarium for their $2 shows. On February 3rd, the Leila Arboretum is hosting Festivus, their free annual event, which features cardboard sled races. Plan a trip to the area, and see what you can do on your budget!
Hastings is a budget-conscious art lover’s delight. Downtown Hastings is home to a free year-round outdoor sculpture exhibit and tour, and local musicians perform free concerts in the summer. The Thornapple Plaza, adjacent to Downtown Hastings and the Riverwalk Trail, hosts Hastings Live!, a free outdoor summer concert series from June through August. Bring your blanket, lawn chairs, and a picnic basket and enjoy some of the best local and regional talent, all absolutely free!
Free & Frugal in Central West Michigan
Atwater Brewing Company in Grand Rapids has a lunch box special that is hard to beat! Offered weekdays from 11am to 3pm, these $10 lunches include your choice of an Atwater sandwich or personal pizza with a side salad or fries. You can even add on a tier one Atwater beer for only $2. This is the way to get your lunch fix in Grand Rapids!
Plan a day in Mt. Pleasant without spending too much. Start off by heading to one of the area’s art galleries and cultural centers. Many of these spots are free or offer free admission to kids. After spending some time inside, hit the hills and sled at one of the area’s many parks. This combination of indoor enlightenment and outdoor fun will be a hit with your family.
A unique mix of culture and history awaits you at the Tri-Cities Historical Museum, located in Grand Haven. The museum is made up of two separate sites, both located in Grand Haven’s beautiful and historic downtown, with free admission at both sites. Take the short drive over to Coopersville, where the Coopersville Area Historical Museum offers free admission (donations accepted), and the Coopersville Farm Museum offers a Free Kids Day the last Saturday of each month.
Your entire trip to Muskegon could come in way under budget with their array of free and frugal activities. The Lakeshore Museum Center offers free admission to residents, with admission for non-residents costing only $3, while the Muskegon Museum of Art offers free guided tours every Thursday from 4pm to 8pm. The area’s bike trail system, public parks, and beaches are perfect for outdoor enthusiasts looking for a four-season adventure. There’s also free entertainment aplenty, with movies aboard the USS LST 393 Veterans Museum and live music at the Montague Band Shell and McGraft Park throughout the summer.
Bring the whole family to Holland area for a fee and frugal vacation. The Critter Barn in Zeeland is open Mondays through Sundays, where you and your family can browse the farm, take a tour, and feed the animals. Even more outdoor fun can be had during any season at the area’s many parks.
Beat the winter blues with a family fun trip to the Holland Museum! Here, you can grab a special hands-on “Meet Me at the Museum” backpack, filled with activities designed to get kids moving through the galleries while completing kid-friendly challenges and activities. The backpack is free to check out with paid museum admission, and is appropriate for children ages 3 to 8 years old.
You’ll find more local history at no charge at the Pentwater Historical Society Museum, but check the hours before you go as it’s only open during the summer and fall months.
Mac Wood’s Dune Rides in Silver Lake has been taking guests out on the dunes for over 85 years, and now has a free museum set up on site. At the museum you can check out some of their old vehicles, including a 1934 Ford Scooter, a 1960 Studebaker Scooter, and a 1968 International Scooter.
You can relive the days of the lighthouse keepers at a number of lighthouses along the shoreline for free as well. Tour the lower quarters at Big Sable Point Lighthouse in Ludington, and view a free video to learn about its history.
Free & Frugal in Northern West Michigan
You can tour the first floor of Mission Point Lighthouse and its historic keeper office at no charge during your visit to Traverse City. While you’re in the area, head over to Suttons Bay to visit the Education Center and Museum at the Inland Seas Education Association. They have invasive species exhibits, fish and turtle tanks, and a touch tank to let you get up close with the marine life.
At Northern Latitudes Distillery in Lake Leelanau, you’ll find free fun for the kids. Kids receive a free pop and pretzels, which they can enjoy while they play in the kids area. Adults can enjoy a distillery tasting, without worrying about bored kids!
Many amenities in the Petoskey area are either free or nearly free throughout the year. Guests can enjoy a multitude of beautiful hiking trails, bird watching locales, spectacular bike paths, beaches, and more throughout Petoskey’s great outdoors. Head inside any day, Monday through Friday, all year round for a free tour (with samples!) at Kilwin’s Chocolate Kitchen. Maple Moon Sugarbush offers free tours of the maple syrup making process seasonally, and at the sensational Lyric Theatre in Harbor Springs, Saturday family favorites cost a mere twenty-five cents. With so much to do and see, your packed scheduled won’t come with a bigger budget!
Heading north of the Mackinac Bridge into the UP will bring you to the Fort de Buade Museum in historic downtown St. Ignace, which specializes in Native American and regional history. It features the area’s largest collection of authentic Indian and military artifacts (nearly 2,500 items) from the pre-contact period and the eras of French and British occupation, all the way to the time of the early American settlers. Admission and tours at the museum and art exhibit space are free, although donations are greatly appreciated.
The Charlevoix area has various museums, art centers, and outdoor nature areas that are free of charge. The area’s public library has plenty to do, whether you want to read, take a class, or participate in kids activities. Afterwards, head outside and stroll along the shores of Lake Michigan to see if you can find a Petoskey stone before doing a walking or driving tour of the famous mushroom houses. Plan your trip to Charlevoix without breaking the bank.
Visit the free sledding hills in Sault Ste. Marie during the winter! You have to bring your own equipment, but the thrill is still the same. You can also sled by the riverfront on Historic Water Street at Brady Park, giving you another hill to conquer.
Free & Frugal 2018
The St. Joseph area is hosting two free events that are perfect for the whole family. From February 2nd to 4th, the 14th Annual Magical Ice Fest brings winter fun for the entire family. Watch carvers magically turn frozen blocks into works of art, or take part in the SnowBiz Scavenger Hunt. The fun continues in Lake Bluff Park with Light Up the Bluff, where over one million lights transform the park into a winter wonderland. The lights will remain on through February 15th, so you have plenty of time to bring you loved ones to this spectacle.
Between now and March 31st, 2018, kids eat free at Bay Pointe Inn‘s Terrace Grille. You’ll receive one kids meal per adult entree purchased. Enjoy the view of Gun Lake in Shelbyville, as you dine well within your budget.
Seven Steps Up in Spring Lake is hosting an Open Mic on the first Monday of each month from February to May. This event is free to attend and open to the public. If you think you have what it takes to perform yourself, sign up and get on stage! Musician of all ages, skill levels, and genres are welcome.
This year’s Frozen in Time event is all superhero themed! Shops along Grand Haven’s downtown area will have your favorite superheroes as live mannequins in their storefront windows on February 10th from 2pm to 3pm. These are voted on by the public, meaning that you can help determine who has the best display! Despite the cold theme, the downtown area’s snowmelt system means that the sidewalks will be clear of snow, making it easy to stroll and shop even on the snowiest of days!
Spend time in the great outdoors (for free!) in Ludington. The Lantern-lit Skiing and Snowshoe Walks in Ludington State Parks are February 3rd and 17th from 6pm to 8pm. Visitors can bring cross-country skis or snowshoes to ski or walk an easy, one-mile groomed trail lit by oil lanterns that begins at the Warming Shelter. Enjoy a campfire at either end to warm up while you sip on a hot beverage. Also at Ludington State Park is a series of Guided Snowshoe Hike on February 3rd, 10th, and 17th. These hour and a half long snowshoe hikes highlight the park’s nature and history. The park has 40 pairs of snowshoes to loan for free on a first-come, first-served basis for each event.
Enjoy free fishing weekend in Mecosta County at one of the area’s lakes and streams on February 17th and 18th. On these two days, you and your family can fish without a license at over a hundred bodies of water in Mecosta County. In addition, the DNR will waive the regular recreation passport entry fee that grants vehicles access to Michigan’s 103 state park and recreation areas.
Visit Manistee County for the free Moonlit Cross-Country Skiing event on the Big M Trail on February 24th. Skiers head out independently on the trails or can hang out by the bonfire or in the heated shelter and enjoy desserts and hot chocolate. While there aren’t lights on the trails, the trails will be visible if the moon is out. A headlamp is advised if it is cloudy.
Traverse City is the place to be if you’re looking to stretch your dollar. Traverse City Restaurant Week is your chance to experience the culinary delights of Traverse City at an even more affordable price! Restaurants will offer three-course meals for $25 or $35 per person from February 25th to March 3rd. If you’re looking to learn how to ski or snowboard, Shanty Creek Resorts offers their Super Sunday deal every Sunday through March 18th. For only $29 per person, Super Sundays include a lift ticket, rental equipment, and station-by-station group lesson. Stay well within your budget, while still getting the most out of your Traverse City vacation.