How to enjoy free fun for the family by bike this summer

Bike parking at the Midland Library in east Portland. (Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

Hooray for summer! The weather is warming up this week, the kids are out of school, and the bikes are ready to ride. I’m so excited to rack up some bike miles this summer, visit favorite parks and go on new adventures. But there’s one thing that can make me hesitant to go out the door: a tight budget. Sometimes, it feels like leaving the house will lead to purchase temptations and added expenses – so many fun things to buy that we can’t currently afford.

After a few years of limited funds, I am learning how to find the fun for free. And in Portland and surrounding areas, there is free family fun in abundance, if you know where to look. 

Behold, my list of places and events that offer free fun by bike…

Pedalpalooza: Most group rides are free in all themes and various locations. Absolutely fantastic. Go find a ride, and have some fun. More info here.

Sunday Parkways: I’m amazed at how many genuinely free activities there are for kids, from skateboarding and roller skating, to soccer and circus play. There are even free bike tune-ups, if you need that. More info here.

Portland’s Summer Free for All Lunch & Play: This is one of our favorite summer treats. Free lunches are served to all kids ages 18 and under, no questions asked, no income or other requirements, and frequently the lunch service is paired with some kind of fun programming. Check out the website for lunch locations at a park near you, and when you might be able to join in free activities with partners like the Rose City Rollers, Friends of Baseball, and Exploratory Nature Walks. More info here.

Portland Opera a la Cart: This is our family’s summertime favorite. We love opera, and this is a great way to get a taste of it in a laid-back, outdoor, family-friendly setting. Portland opera singers will travel around the city to bring live opera to parks and various venues. We’ll be hearing them in Hillsboro at the La Strada dei Pastelli chalk art festival (which has free viewing of amazing chalk art and a variety of free kid activities). More info here.

Farmer’s Market: Usually, a farmer’s market is expensive for our family, but we have happily discovered a great little program for kids that gives participating kids $3 to spend at the market, after completing a fun learning activity. My kids eagerly pool their resources to purchase cartons of fruit and snap peas to share. They have a similar program at the Lents International Market. There are also SNAP Matching programs at participating farmer’s markets, so if you have an EBT card, check out the way you can get $10-$20 matched for spending that same amount at the farmer’s market. There are also “Food Hero” programs for kids at the King Farmers Market and Kenton Farmers Market in Portland. More info here.

Public Libraries: Go ahead and borrow as many books as you can fit in your panniers. Also, consult your librarian for free programs at your library and in your neighborhood. We recently discovered that our community runs free track meet events for kids every Wednesday in July. You might be surprised at the free programming available to you, just a short bike ride away. 

Many public libraries offer more than books: See if your library has a “Library of Things” and check out toys, board games, telescopes, cameras, cooking equipment, and musical instruments. While you’re at it, get a recipe book and a few music CDs and you are set up for lots of fun! Some libraries also have a “makerspace” with tools, machines and free materials for crafting and creating, from sewing machines to 3D printers. Check out makerspaces at the Rockwood Library in east Portland, or the Brookwood and Shute Park libraries in Hillsboro, and one for teens in West Linn.

Little Free Libraries: Want more books for free? You might already know the little free libraries in your neighborhood, but you can make a longer bike adventure and find new free book libraries using this app. Maybe your kiddo can plan a route with the most free libraries along it. I find these book stations to be endlessly exciting and a great consolation for outings where have $0 to spend. Perhaps we’ve ridden past the toy store and craft market and filled our eyes with treasures unaffordable…and then we can swing by a little free library and every kid can get a book to keep. Of course, we return the favor when we have books we are finished with. It’s a treasure for us and an opportunity to share with others.

Buy Nothing Groups and the Free Sharing Economy: Is there something you wish you had but can’t afford? Maybe you are looking for a slip-n-slide or kiddie pool or craft supplies. And maybe you have toys your kids have outgrown that you can pass on. There are various local groups that give away items to neighbors for free. I’m a latecomer to the sharing economy, but have recently used my local Buy Nothing (on Facebook) through which I have been blessed by strangers with items as varied as a baby bouncer, composter, headband, and gardening books. This can be a great way to get free toys and treasures for your kiddos, riding your bike to pick them up, and also sorting through your own stuff for what you can give away. 

Shakespeare in the Park: Original Practice Shakespeare Festival (OPS Fest)  performs a unique version of Shakespeare in parks throughout Portland, all summer long, for free! This incredibly inclusive company doesn’t rehearse, so there’s a good deal of improv and hilarity involved. Performances are outside and kids are welcome, so go ahead and drop by for a bit of free theater fun. Don’t be intimidated about taking the kids to Shakespeare. You can drop in or leave whenever, and you are welcome to bring your own picnic feast to enjoy as you watch.


Don’t let a tight budget discourage you. All you need is your bike, and it’s your ticket to a lot of free summertime fun. Do you have a favorite freebie I missed? Please tell us about it in the comments.

Shannon Johnson (Family Biking Columnist)

Shannon Johnson (Family Biking Columnist)

Shannon is a 36-year-old mom of  five who lives in downtown Hillsboro. Her column appears weekly. Contact her via shannon4bikeportland@gmail.com

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John D.
John D.
9 months ago

Great post, thank you!

Just want to add to your library points. If you live in Multnomah, Washington, Clackamas, or Clark counties, you can sign up for library cards in any of those counties.

Also, the libraries have passes you can borrow to go to some of the local museums, gardens, and other cultural institutions in the area. Another good, low cost, thing to do.

rainbike
rainbike
9 months ago

Three cheers for the libraries! Fun for kiddos and adults.

Joseph E
Joseph E
9 months ago

Upcoming kid-friend bike rides in July, for younger kids to ride their bikes, including two Kidical Mass rides on the 1st (This Saturday!) and the 29th:

July 1st Kidical Mass PDX SE ride – Westmoreland Park Playground – 10am – https://www.shift2bikes.org/calendar/event-17326

July 8th NE Kids Water Play Ride – at Vestal (NE 82nd): https://www.shift2bikes.org/calendar/event-16922

July 15 Oak Grove Festival Ride – Milwaukie Bay Park https://www.shift2bikes.org/calendar/event-16606

July 15 Aw Biscuits: The Bluey Ride – Willamette Park (SW) https://www.shift2bikes.org/calendar/event-16872

July 15 Foster Powell Family Ride – Essex Park (SE)
https://www.shift2bikes.org/calendar/event-17317

July 16 Look ma, No Pedals! – Woodlawn Park https://www.shift2bikes.org/calendar/event-17071

July 16 Sander’s Playground to Creek Kids Ride – in Sellwood (SE) : https://www.shift2bikes.org/calendar/event-17171

July 23rd Splish Splash ride – Jamison Square (NW): https://www.shift2bikes.org/calendar/event-17061

July 29th Kidical Mass PDX NE ride and Movie Musical Sing-A-Long – Alberta Park at 1pm: https://www.shift2bikes.org/calendar/event-17349

July 30th Moms, Dads and Splash Pads – Peninsula Park (N): https://www.shift2bikes.org/calendar/event-17205 – though it’s a long route

Every Monday – for smaller kids who need a short loop in a par – the Slide Ride in Creston Park (SE) by Olive and Dingo https://www.shift2bikes.org/calendar/event-16891

There are also other events listed as “Family Friendly” on the calendar – check for the tag, though not all of them are good for kids to ride themselves