Budget Friendly Fun in West Michigan

Exploring West Michigan doesn’t have to break the bank. From fun family outings to special events, you’ll find a number of wallet-friendly ideas to entertain any budget. Take a trip to the great outdoors, visit museums and art centers, enjoy live music, and so much more. 

Be sure to check out the events calendar for even more ideas to help plan your next West Michigan adventure.  

West Michigan Areas to Enjoy on a Budget

The Mt. Pleasant area offers free and frugal fun, every season, for you to enjoy. Enjoy playing in the parks, spend time outdoors along the Chippewa River, or have some winter sledding fun. If you prefer indoor activities, there are a number of free art exhibitions and galleries, museums, and recreation centers.  

Greater Lansing is the perfect family destination that won’t strain the budget. Michigan’s State Capitol Building is open for free tours Monday-Saturday. This historical building is not only beautiful, but is where Michigan laws are made. Michigan History Museum, just a few blocks away from the Capitol, has three floors of interactive exhibits and offers free admission on Sundays. Visit the MSU 4-H Children’s Garden in season to visit Peter Rabbit’s garden and a giant spider web, or stroll over Monet’s bridge and see the lily pads. Jump on the musical notes. Get lost in the Secret Garden maze. The only fee is the parking. Eli & Edythe Broad Art Museum Family Days occur on the first Saturday of the month with a fun, artistic activity. The museum is free and open to the public seven days a week. For more, check out the 25 FREE things to do in Greater Lansing blog post from the Greater Lansing CVB.

Visit Marshall for some frugal family fun! Spend a day (or more) in Marshall without breaking the bank. Be sure to make time for the American Museum of Magic, celebrating the contributions and life stories of magicians from around the globe. See treasures from Houdini, Thurston Kellar, and Michigan’s own Blackstone, among hundreds of others. Select days also include shows by local magicians. Admission to the American Museum of Magic is just $5 for adults, $3.50 for children.

With a number of free events in area parks, nature centers, and libraries, Holland offers families lots of money-saving fun! 

Free & Frugal Outdoor Fun

You will find year-round free outdoor fun in Marshall. Ketchum Park includes “Kids Kingdom,” a huge playground area with a castle theme for lots of climbing and exploring. The Brooks Nature Area, at over 180 acres, offers two miles of trails, restored native prairies, wetlands, 300+ year-old trees, wildlife viewing and lake overlooks. The Marshall Riverwalk, along the Kalamazoo River, consists of elevated boardwalk and paved pathways, plus canoe and kayak launches. Marshall, with its National Historic Landmark District status, is home to over 800 historically significant homes and buildings. The National Park Service calls Marshall “the best virtual textbook of 19th Century American architecture in the country.” Stop in the Welcome Center for a free self-guided walking tour map which takes you through commercial and residential districts and past over 50 historic markers, plaques, and monuments.  

Considered an outdoor museum, Historic Bridge Park in Battle Creek has five truss bridges that have been restored and moved to a park that’s next to the Kalamazoo River. It’s a popular place to hang out in Battle Creek, with a playground, kayak launch, and access to the Calhoun County Trailway. You’ll see people with bikes and fishing poles and cameras. In the summer, people float by on kayaks and rafts.

Enjoy family fun on the farm at Critter Barn in Zeeland. Hug a rabbit, milk a goat, visit the kitty corral, find chicken eggs, or bottle feed a calf. General admission is by pay-what-you-can donation.

There are plenty of fun and free things to do in downtown Hastings all year round. Throughout the year art lovers can enjoy a self-guided tour of over 20 outdoor sculptures on display downtown. June through August, the Thornapple Plaza plays host to free concerts, featuring the best local and regional talent at 7:30 pm every Wednesday and Friday evening. The Barry County Courthouse lawn is the site of the summer Fridays at the Fountain free noontime summer concert series. The Hastings Spray Plaza hosts a free children’s summer music and entertainment series each Thursday at 11:00 am from June through August. If outdoor adventure is more your family’s style, the Hastings Riverwalk Trail hugs the banks of the Thornapple River for three miles; it’s a paved trail suitable for walking and biking all ages and fitness levels. For more adventurous families, Hammond Hill Multi-Use Trail offers more than seven miles of year-round trails. The trail winds through forested hills and rolling meadows offering opportunities for hiking, snow shoeing, cross country skiing, hiking, fat tire, and mountain biking, and more, depending on the season. There is also a disc golf and an orienteering course in the park. Families don’t have to have a lot of money to have fun in Hastings!

Looking for frugal, winter recreation? Ludington is an ideal snowshoe destination! The Ludington State Park offers trails, spectacular views of dunes and waterways, and lantern-lit events. The Nordhouse Dunes Recreation Area is another place to explore, with views of Lake Michigan, wooded forest and sand dunes. *A recreation passport is required to enter the state park.

Looking for a good deal on the slopes this winter? Want to learn to ski but think it’s too expensive? Head to Northern Michigan’s Shanty Creek Resort, just 30 miles from Traverse City, to take advantage of Super Sundays. Get a lift ticket, rental equipment, and a lesson for just $33. Shanty Creek’s Super Sunday program (February 2nd, 9th, and 23rd) is open to all ages to learn to ski. Check in at the Ski School registration desk, get your gear, and head to the new Magic Carpet beginner area for a lesson before hitting the slopes.

Free things to do in the Grayling area include playgrounds, great places for birdwatching, disc golf courses, biking and hiking trails, cross-country skiing, and public kayak and canoe launches in area rivers and lakes. With a Michigan Recreation Passport, you have access to the Hartwick Pines State Park and the events and activities held in the park. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources periodically offers free kids fishing weekends. You’ll find over 300 geocaches within 25 miles of Grayling, a fun treasure-hunting activity using GPS.

Kids 15 years and younger receive a $25-$40 discounted youth rate on Keweenaw Adventure Company‘s Lake Superior sea kayak day trips. Kid rates on mountain bike rentals are available, too. Cross off many of your bucket list items all in one magical place. Journey north over the Mighty Mac to find yourself in the purest of Pure Michigan, where you can save a buck or two, too. 

With more than 250 inches of annual snowfall, Mother Nature provides endless free family adventures in the Keweenaw. Check out these twelve no-cost snowshoe experiences in Michigan’s Copper Country. During the summer, the Keweenaw’s 125 miles of Lake Superior shorelines offer family-friendly beach fun. Looking for a little more “thrill” to your family time? Try out Copper Harbor’s IMBA’s Silver Ride Center for some world-class mountain biking and epic memory making.

Museums, Planetariums, and More! 

A day in South Haven can be inexpensive and fun! One way to enjoy the most fun at low cost is to attend an annual summer festival and enjoy all of the activities they have to offer. In addition, pack a cooler and spend a day at one of South Haven’s sandy beaches, where you can hunt for sea glass along the shoreline! Then, head over to Kid’s Corner playground for a playful romp at this large play area. Climb the Van Buren dune at the Van Buren State Park. Bring your bicycles (or rent them) and your walking shoes and spend some time on the Kal-Haven or the Van Buren trails. Drive to a nearby u-pick farm and enjoy picking blueberries, raspberries, and apples for a sweet and healthy treat. Visit the Michigan Maritime Museum and the Liberty Hyde Bailey Museum and learn about the Great Lakes and agriculture. Watch a movie and grab an ice cream cone for the perfect way to end the day!

Located inside the beautiful trails of Leila Arboretum, the Kingman Museum is a hidden treasure in Southwest Michigan, housing an extensive natural history collection, three floors of exhibits, and Digistar Planetarium. A local landmark in Battle Creek for over 80 years, Kingman Museum works to provide a universal place of hands-on learning for the surrounding community with interactive exhibits featuring Michigan habitats, the human body, dinosaurs, and outer space. Enjoy free admission, scavenger hunts for all ages, and $2 planetarium tickets Saturdays and Sundays 10:00 am-4:00 pm.

Krasl Art Center (KAC) in St. Joseph is proud to offer many free and fun art activities and events for families at the Benton Harbor Public Library during Family Nights from 5:00 pm – 6:30 pm on the 2nd Wednesday of every month, or at KAC for Family Days on the 2nd Saturday of every month, 11:00 am – 12:30 pm. Adults and children work together on fun art activities and enjoy light snacks in these fun and family-focused events. 

Art lovers can enjoy the many galleries of the Holland Area, including spending time at the Holland Area Arts Council, where you’ll not only view art on display but can take part in a number of classes, programs, and special events for artists of all ages. 

The Holland Museum is open the second Monday of every month with free admission for all visitors from 4:00 pm-8:00 pm. February’s free day is Monday, February 10th.

Visit Muskegon and go on a free exploration of the stars and the evolution of the Universe at the planetarium Tuesdays and Thursdays through February 27th. On February 25th, enjoy the Grand Valley Faculty Brass Quintet during the “Feeding the Soul of the City” concert series, half-hour lunchtime concerts that feature a variety of musical styles, predominantly classical, jazz, and folk/Celtic. Held in the historic St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in downtown Muskegon, the concerts are free and open to the public and light refreshments are provided. You’re also welcome to bring a lunch to enjoy before or during the concert.

Do you love history? Look no further! The Ramsdell Regional Center for the Arts in Manistee offers historic tours of the building for just $5 per person. Plan to spend an hour and meet with one of the local volunteers to tell you about the history of the Ramsdell, who has performed in it, and what sorts of ghosts still lurk in the building. Call the Ramsdell at 231-398-9770 to set up your tour.

Upcoming Events & Festivals

Saugatuck Center for the Arts presents HUMANAE PROJECT, a special exhibition of portraits that reveal the diverse beauty of human colors, open through March 7th, with free admission. The SCA will be hosting a free reception and concert on February 28th including a gallery viewing, cash bar, and concert by The Reminders. 

With February arriving, so does one of Mecosta County’s favorite annual events: The Festival of the Arts! The Festival of the Arts is an annual series of entertainment, educational, and cultural events offered daily throughout February in Big Rapids. Through a partnership between Ferris State University and the Big Rapids community, the festival features a variety of art, film, and music presentations, as well as interactive workshops and contests. Come join the community to beat the winter blues with a month-long celebration of art, music, dance, literature, and more! Some events being held this month include a Murder Mystery Dessert Theatre, the Brown Bag Lunch Series every Friday, and an intimate theater presentation of “The Realization of Emily Linder.” Admission to most events is free, however, some events require advanced registration or ticket purchase. All events are posted on the Mecosta County C.V.B. Community Calendar

Also with February comes one of the bigger Michigan DNR events happening throughout the state: Free Fishing Weekend! On February 15th and 16th everyone, residents and non-residents alike, can fish without a license, though all other fishing regulations still apply. 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. Enjoy the weekend in Mecosta County this year at one of the area’s 100+ lakes and streams. Need help finding a regulated piece of land that allows public fishing? No problem, just check out the Michigan Lake Finder for Mecosta County. If this weekend draws your interest towards fishing and you happen to be in Mecosta County, check out the Fishing in Mecosta County for more area fishing information. 

February 8th from 10:00 am–3:00 pm, come to the Muskegon Museum of Art for the free family fun day, “Sculptit Super Saturday!” Imagine it, plan it, sculpt it! Explore the art of making this Super Saturday as you create your own sculpture in the classroom 11:00 am – 2:00 pm. Bring your knitting or crochet project to the Muskegon Museum of Art Knitting Circle on Thursday, February 27th, 5:00 pm-8:00 pm. Draw inspiration from their latest exhibitions, “Excellence in Fibers V” and “The Art of Making.” Light refreshments and soft music will be provided. This event is free and open to the public. 

Enjoy a special presentation, “Mushrooms, Oh My!” at the Liberty Hyde Bailey Museum in South Haven, February 8th, 10:00 am-11:30 am. This presentation will introduce the fungi world, reveal the role of fungi in gardening and soil restoration, mushroom cultivation for the farm-to-table market, simple cultivation for the home horticulturist, and the culinary and nutritional uses of various mushrooms. Presenter Chris Swinson, owner of Mycophile’s Garden, has been growing, foraging, and arranging mushrooms and other wild foods since 2014. After the presentation, Chris will have fresh mushrooms, grow kits, and cultivation supplies available, and will be happy to answer any mushroom questions you may have. The presentation is free for Museum Members, $5 for Non Members.

Join Grand Haven on Saturday, February 22nd, from 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm for the annual, free “Frozen in Time” live mannequin event. This year’s theme is “Nursery Rhymes” and participating stores will have live mannequins in their window displays portraying their favorite nursery rhyme characters. Vote for your favorites and register to win prizes. Most of all, have some great free and frugal fun and wander downtown Grand Haven.

Build Your Way Around Town, the month-long Lego festival in St. Joseph dedicated to young builders, runs from February 28th – March 25th. Krasl Art Center will host four workshops on March 21st, including Lego Skyscraper Building and Lego Stop-Motion Animation. Workshops are free and open to the public, but advanced registration is required, with limited seats. Sign up today!

Movie fans can look for the 10th annual Coastline Children’s Film Festival, a 10-day event from March 13 – 22 that brings quality, independent films and animations for children & young adults to Berrien County. These films are presented on the big screen and bring shared theatrical experiences to families and the community. Krasl Art Center in St. Joseph is just one of the venues in 2020. Titles and dates can be found on the KAC event calendar.

Mark your calendar for the Cereal Festival in Battle Creek! Saturday, June 13th, grab a free bowl of cereal and sit at the World’s Longest Breakfast Table. There’s entertainment throughout the day, including a parade, music, and activities for kids. Get your photo with Tony the Tiger or Sugar Bear. Battle Creek celebrates being the “Cereal City” each year with this festival, honoring where the Kellogg Brothers invented Corn Flakes and C.W. Post started his cereal empire.