As the temperatures rise and inflation persists, we have all felt the pressure to tighten our wallets while finding creative ways to keep cool. As prices for everyday goods increase, we are making up the expense by cutting things like entertainment from the budget. Fortunately, there are a variety of events, activities and recreational opportunities in our area that are low in cost or completely free. Whether you are trying to keep a gaggle of kids entertained or are just looking for inexpensive summer activities with friends, we have assembled a list of northern Illinois’s gems. 

1. Music

Good music is a perfect summer evening staple. Concert tickets are notoriously expensive, but enjoying quality music does not have to empty the wallet. In Aurora, Two Brothers Roundhouse hosts talented musicians and bands; most of them free. The money saved on tickets can go towards trying Two Brothers Roundhouse’s beer and stellar menu.

Earthmover Credit Union is a proud sponsor of the Fox Valley Park District’s Live and Uncorked. This Thursday night music series features unique bands on the sprawling grounds of Blackberry Farm. Watch the sun set and sit under the stars while listening to Semple, Hillbilly Rockstarz, Hollywood Swinging or Billy Elton. Tickets are only $8!

Many of the festivals included later in this article have free music, too. 


2. Free Museums and Zoos

Always wanted to go to more museums, but didn’t like the cost? Many museums host free days throughout the summer, like the Aurora Regional Fire Museum. Additionally, public libraries usually have museum passes for you to check out, allowing you to explore a whole variety of museums for free. The Oswego Public Library has information here on checking out museum passes, including the museums where they apply, such as the Children’s Museum in Oak Lawn, the Brookfield Zoo or the Naper Settlement in DuPage county. Check out your local library’s website and they’ll likely offer this service. Admission is free at Aurora’s Philips Park Zoo.

If you’re looking for an adventure in the Windy City, Chicago museums also have free days throughout the year. View the out-of-this-world exhibits at the Adler Planetarium, join sea creatures in the watery depths of the Shedd Aquarium or take in the grandeur of the Art Institute of Chicago. Certain museums are even free year-round, such as the Museum of Contemporary Photography and the Chicago Cultural Center. It doesn’t have to be a financial drain to get kids (or adults) in an engaging and educational environment. 


3. Festivals & Parks

Community festivals are synonymous with summer, and fortunately for us there are a lot of them in the area. Yorkville Riverfest takes place July 15-16 and will feature music, food, games, craft beer tasting and even a cardboard boat race down the Fox River. Plainfield is hosting their own Fest July 15-17 with food trucks, music, craft and business vendor show, petting zoo, classic car show and more.

Cantigny Park in Wheaton is more than just an average park. Between the museum, outdoor exhibits, visitor’s center, multiple gardens, café, golf course and more, there is plenty of explore. The Alebrijes: Creatures of a Dream World exhibit, running from June to October, is a beautiful tribute to Mexican culture. These outdoor sculptures form a wonderland of imagination and creativity. Cantigny Park offers free days on the first Wednesday of the month.

If you’re looking for more of a rustic outdoor adventure, go off the beaten path and visit one of these nature preserves for a scenic (and free) hike or picnic: the Richard Young Forest Preserve in Yorkville, Oakhurst Forest Preserve in Aurora or the Big Rock Forest Preserve. There are likely plenty available in your nearby area, if any of these are not convenient. 


4. Movie Deals

Everyone loves a good moviegoing experience. If you’re looking to treat yourself to the ultimate summer occasion, try the Route 34 Drive-In Theatre located in Earlville. While this isn’t free ($10 for adults, $7 for children), visiting a drive-in theatre is an unbeatable summer experience. 

Want to see a free movie? Libraries offer free viewings; check out the movie lineup at the Yorkville Public Library. Other places offer free move nights, particularly showing popular recent releases. Geneva hosts outdoor movie nights, and they are far from the only ones.

This only scratches the surface of low-cost summer events. Check out your local parks and recreation department, city site, news calendar or local library for similar low-cost events.