We know…kids are expensive, so we’ve put together the top FREE places you can visit all year long.

Museum of Natural History

The Museum of Natural History at the University of Michigan is a museum must. The recently renovated museum offers three stories of breath-taking exhibits featuring life-size dinosaur fossils, natural life and a planetarium. All of the exhibits have hands-on components featuring textures or touch-screens, making it a fun experience for kids and a less stressful experience for parents. The museum is open Tuesdays thru Sunday from 10am to 4pm. Parking is available in the Palmer Structure (200 Palmer Drive, Ann Arbor, MI 48109) and parking is free in Ann Arbor on Sunday.

Belle Isle Aquarium & Conservatory

Enjoy a tropical escape in the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory! The oldest conservatory in the country features a Palm House,  Tropical House, Cactus House, a sunken Fernery, and Show House. It’s also a beautiful background for some family photos and fun to explore. The Conservatory is open Wednesday through Sunday from 10am to 5pm.

Designed by famed architect, Albert Kahn, the over 100 year old Aquarium is the oldest in the county. Although it is relatively small, it is fun to explore – you definitely want to see the ‘Finding Nemo’ inspired exhibit and say hi to Mr. Ray. The aquarium is open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 10am to 4pm.

NOTE: A Michigan State Parks vehicle recreation pass is required to drive on Belle Isle. It costs $12 annually and may already be on your car tabs. You can park and walk onto the island for free.

Indoor Playspace

When you need to get out the house with the kids but need to be inside, here are places that have cool playscapes that are open to the public and free to use. They are great places to sit back relax, catch up with old friends or make new ones.  Check each location for open play hours.

When you are looking for cool outdoor playgrounds in metro Detroit, here are the top 25 parks.

Farm Animal Fun

A trip to a farm can make for a great day! A free farm visit is even better. Say hi to animals and pack a picnic for more al fresco fun. Here are a few metro Detroit options:

  • MSU Tollgate Farm (Novi) is home to horses, cows, goats and chickens. Kids will have fun exploring the children’s garden that includes an observation desk, maze and water feature.
  • Calder Farms (Carleton) offers a look at real life farm life. See how cows, sheep, chickens and other animals live and if you’re up for a treat, stop by the farm store for ice cream and other treats.
  • Kensington Farm Center (Milford) requires a Huron-Clinton Metroparks pass but you can get one for free from your library with the Michigan Activity Pass. Once you’re in the park the Farm Center is free to explore.Take in the sights, smells and sounds of life on the farm and see live farm animals like chickens, sheep, cattle and draft horses.
  • Wolcott Mill Farm Center (Ray) requires a Huron-Clinton Metroparks pass but you can get one for free from your library with the Michigan Activity Pass. The working farm is the only public farm with all six heritage breeds of dairy cows, in addition to horses, sheep, goats, donkeys, and chickens. There’s also a cool barn themed playground.

Nature Centers

Learn something new about nature and explore the great outdoors – all for free! at these local nature centers.

  • The E. L. Johnson Nature Center (Bloomfield Hills) is a beautifully natural, forty-acre site that offers visitors myriad visual pleasures and a plethora of learning opportunities. The Visitor Center and classrooms, feature interactive educational exhibits and seasonal displays that provide a wealth of information.
  • The Farmington Hills Nature Center highlights interpretive exhibits reflecting our natural world such as a life-sized animal habitat, a backyard habitat bird viewing area, native fish aquariums, a nature library and activity table as well as a hands-on touch table and Discovery Cove.
  • The Burgess-Shadbush Nature Center (Shelby Township) provides nature-related experiences and activities to help visitors of all ages develop and rekindle an awareness and appreciation for the natural world around them.
  • Satisfy your curiosity about the natural world at the Sterling Heights Nature Center. Live reptiles and amphibians are displayed along with mounted birds and mammals found in Sterling Heights. Touch tables give children a hands-on chance to investigate nature.
  • Indian Springs’ Environmental Discovery Center is a gateway into the complexity and beauty of prairies, wetlands and woods and offers families the opportunity to experience nature learning activities – including a cool viewing area under the pond. When you’re done inside, stop by the front desk to check out a nature backpack for outdoor adventures. Each pack is loaded full of things to use around the park to help you identify Michigan’s natural wildlife. Please note: a Huron-Clinton Metroparks vehicle pass is required to enter to park but you can get one for free from your library with the Michigan Activity Pass.

Detroit Institute of Art

Rich in history and culture and FREE to tri-county residents – the Detroit Institute of Arts is the perfect place to spend time with kids. Explore the galleries, find inspiration AND create your own art. Drawing in the Galleries and Drop-In Workshops are regularly offered by the museum and a great way to enjoy hands-on fun for free.

Photo Credit: 2/42 Community Church, Ann Arbor