There’s nothing a Florida mom hates more.
Except maybe multiple days of rain.
Where you’re stuck between the four walls of your house.
And the kids ask for a snack every 15 minutes.
And your efforts to give them something healthy like fruit are promptly rejected.
And whines for lollipops and cookies quickly escalate to full-blown, kicking and screaming nuclear meltdowns.
Then they completely rearrange your pantry looking for said cookies and lollipops (which you’ve already hidden in your bedroom closet).
Then they pull all the toilet paper off the rolls.
And rip the feathers out of your pillows.
And fling dirty underwear all over your kitchen counters.
Until you break down and throw an entire pint of ice cream at them along with the iPad, curl into the fetal position in the next room and try to drown out the sounds of the “Daddy Finger” song with some ugly crying.
If so, then you don’t need this guide. You NEEEEEEED this guide.
We’ve rounded up the best free or cheap indoor fun in the Sarasota/Bradenton area and put it right here in one place. From storytimes and open gym to music classes and bounce houses, there’s something for children of all ages, from newborns to big kids.
For this guide, we’ve defined “cheap” as activities that cost $10 or less per person. Some of these activities only happen once per week, but not to worry, we’ve got every day of the week covered.
So the next time it rains, or you just want to beat the heat, pull up this list and take your pick!
On Wednesdays and Saturdays at 11:00am, the Barnes & Noble in Sarasota offers a free Storytime with reading, singing and activities. Check their calendar to find out which book titles they’ll be reading on specific dates.
This Aussie-themed indoor inflatable party and play center offers multiple bounce houses, slides and even an inflated dodgeball/basketball court where little ones can burn off energy. There’s also a separate area set aside for toddlers that includes soft blocks and play houses. Monday through Friday children ages 2-4 only pay $8.00 and children ages 5-13 are $10.00. Prices on Saturdays, Sundays and Holidays are a bit higher. Bouncing children 1 and under are just $4.00. Non-bouncing kids and adults are free.
There are two bowling alleys in Sarasota that offer varying rates on games, depending on the day and time. The cheapest options for each are listed below:
- AMF Bowling – Sunday Funday is your best bet for cheap bowling. After 6pm on Sundays, bowling is just $2.50 per game and $2.50 for shoes. The next most affordable option is bowling anytime Monday – Thursday or before 4:00pm on Fridays for just $4.09 per game (shoes not included).
- Sarasota Lanes – Sunday is cheapest here too. From 8:00am – 5:00pm, you pay just $1.75 per game. But there’s limited lane availability due to tournament competitions, so call ahead for current status. Shoe rental is just $2.50 for kids 10 and under, or $4.25 for ages 11 and up. After that, games on Monday, Tuesday and Friday from 1:00 – 5:00pm are just $4.25 per game.
Forty Carrots is a family center and preschool that’s dedicated to parenting education and childhood development. They offer two free programs throughout the week:
- Welcome to our World – This free drop-in class is for parents and infants from birth to 7 months on Wednesdays from 11:00am – 12:00pm. Your babies explore developmentally appropriate toys while you ask parenting educators about navigating the newborn phase. No registration required.
- Partners in Play – These free drop-in classes for mobile babies to 5-year-olds take place at various Sarasota and Manatee County libraries throughout the week. You’ll enjoy uninterrupted play with your child as you navigate stations filled with Play-Doh, cars and trucks, building blocks and more. Classes are wrapped up with group sing and dance-a-longs. No registration is required, although only the first 12 families who get a ticket from the children’s librarian are allowed to participate, so get there early!
View their calendar for specific dates and times for all classes.
Each of the four Home Depot locations in the Sarasota/Bradenton area offer a free kids workshop on the first Saturday of each month. Pre-register your child online, then drop in anytime from 9:00am – 12:00pm and they’ll receive a DIY kit, workshop apron, commemorative pin and certificate of achievement.
Click here to find the Home Depot nearest you, as well as the workshops available.
Lakewood Ranch Medical Center offers two free parenting classes. You don’t need to live in Lakewood Ranch or to have given birth at Lakewood Ranch Medical Center in order to participate.
- Little Nippers – This free, informal gathering for moms of newborns to mobile babies happens every Wednesday from 11:30am – 1:00pm. A nurse and lactation consultant, as well as other moms, offer support and suggestions for all of your parenting questions. A light lunch is also provided free of charge. No reservation required.
- Postpartum Adjustment Support Group – This group is for women who find the adjustment to motherhood more difficult than anticipated. Share, listen, laugh and cry with other moms and a Postpartum Adjustment Support specialist. Babies and toddlers up to age 3 are welcome. This group meets on Thursdays from 9:30 – 11:00am.
I often take my 3-year-old son to Learning Express Toys off University Parkway just to let him play with the train sets, play kitchens and other toys on display at the back of the store. This is free fun, as long as you can get your kid out of the store without buying anything!
The Learning Express also offers Storytime every Tuesday at 11:00am, Craft Time every Thursday at 11:00am and Special Events every Saturday at 11:00am, like character visits with Belle from Beauty and the Beast or Marshall from Paw Patrol, Pokemon Trading or Fidget Spinner Competitions. Click here to visit their store page, where you can view a PDF of their current calendar of events.
Both Sarasota and Manatee County have multiple libraries that your family can visit. Most include an area in the children’s section with toys, puzzles and interactive computer games. Your kids can play and explore, while you pick out some books and DVDs to enjoy later at home. We love visiting the Selby Library on First Street in Downtown Sarasota because of the awesome fish tank arch that leads to the children’s area, their large selection of books and a contained toddler area with lots of blocks, cars and animal toys.
Plus, the libraries put on plenty of events throughout the week and on Saturdays for kids and teens including Storytime, Preschool Music and Exercise, Craft Clubs, Teen Game Nights, even Coding and STEM classes – how cool is that?!
View the Sarasota County Summer 2017 Youth Activities Guide or Manatee County Summer 2017 Youth Program Guide for a full schedule of events. Many are free, although some require registration due to limited seating.
- Play Area – On the lower level of the mall, near Dillard’s, there’s an indoor play area sponsored by Lakewood Ranch Medical Center. Soft and squishy play pieces such as an Ambulance, Nurse Shark and Doctor Ray provide plenty of sliding, climbing and jumping opportunities for kids. There’s even an enormous stethoscope that makes heartbeat noises when kids step on it. Insider Tip: This play area is closed every day at 2:00pm for cleaning, so avoid that hour.
- Summer Fun Club – Every Thursday from 10:00am – 12:00pm this summer, UTC will host free children’s activities, crafts, music and more in the lower level, Dillard’s court area. The first event kicks off Thursday, June 15th with a Hawaiian Luau Party complete with grass skirts, lei making and hula dancing. See the UTC events page for more details.
Michael’s Arts and Craft store has two kids class options on the cheap:
- Kid’s Club – Held every Saturday from 10:00am – 12:00pm, where children ages 3 and up can discover the educational and developmental benefits of crafting, while you shop the store. You pay just $2.00 per child for the craft supplies.
- Camp Creativity – On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 10:00am – 12:00pm in June and July, children ages 3 and up make new crafts based around weekly themes like Ocean Adventures, Princesses & Friends, Safari Creatures and more. The cost is $5.00 per child per session, or $12.00 for three sessions.
View Michael’s Class Calendar for more specifics.
- Lakewood Ranch Cinemas – Movie tickets are just $5.50 for children and $8.00 for adults, all day, every day at Lakewood Ranch Cinemas. Insider’s Tip: These theaters are very small, so arrive early to ensure you get tickets and decent seats otherwise you’ll be craning your neck in the front row!
- Parkway 8 Cinemas – All shows starting before 6:00pm are just $2.00 per person. Shows after 6:00pm are $2.50 per person. They typically have at least one family friendly movie playing in their lineup. Insider’s Tip: If you hear people talking about the “dollar theater” in Sarasota, this is it.
- Regal Cinemas Summer Movie Express – The Regal Hollywood Stadium 20 in Sarasota and the Regal Oakmont 8 in Bradenton are both participating in the Summer Movie Express. Family fun movies will play on Tuesdays and Wednesdays the whole summer at 10:00am and admission is just $1.00 per person. Movies include Kung Fu Panda: 3, Trolls, Monster Trucks, The Secret Life of Pets, Sing and more. Two movies are available for you to choose from each day. To see which movies are playing each week, view their full schedule. Regular ticket prices at the Regal Sarasota are just $6.00 per person for standard showings, $8.00 per person for 3D showings.
Gulf Coast Music Therapy offers two music classes at Swim Gym of Lakewood Ranch on Thursdays from 9:15 – 9:45am and 10:00 – 10:30am. Kiddos of all ages will be led by a music therapist as they sing and dance to the music of guitars, drums and rhythm instruments. Activities help develop coordination, motor and communication skills. Your first class is always free, and after that you can buy a $40.00 punch card that’s good for 4 classes at $10.00 each. Insider’s Note: There will be no class on June 14th.
Many gymnastics clubs set aside open gym time during the week where kids of various ages can enjoy non-structured free time in the gym, exploring the equipment. Here are a few you might want to check out:
- Acro Fit – This gym offers a number of walk-in classes for kiddos. Family Play Time is available Tues/Wed/Thurs from 10:30 – 11:15am for children ages 5 and under and is $5.00 per child. Parents will help their children bounce, run, swing, sing and dance their way across the floor. There’s also a Homeschool class option for homeschooled children ages 4-11 on Wednesdays from 2:30 – 3:30pm for $10 per child. A Tumble Class for ages 8 and up takes place on Fridays from 5:30 – 6:30 and is also $10 per class.
- Kids Super Gym – Morning drop-in classes are available on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10:00am – 11:00am for children 18 months to 4 years old and are $10.00 per class. You can also purchase a punch card of 5 classes for $50 and the 6th class is free.
- Lakewood Ranch Gymnastics – Fill out the form on their home page to get a free pass to open gym (one coupon good per family). After that, kids 18 months to 18 years old can participate in Daytime Open Gym on Wednesdays from 11:00am – 12:00pm for just $7.00. An Evening Open Gym option is also available on Saturdays from 6:30 – 8:30pm for a slightly higher fee of $10.00 for members/$12.00 for non-members.
- South Florida Gymnastics – Open gym is available on Fridays from 7:00 – 9:00pm for kids ages 5 and up for $10.00. There’s also a Homeschool Open Gym option for children in the homeschool community on Fridays from 12:30 – 2:30pm for kids ages 5 and up for $10.00.
- YMCA Frank G. Berlin, Sr Branch – Open gym is available on Fridays from 5:00 – 7:00pm for kids ages 6 and up for $10.00. You don’t need to be a YMCA member to participate!
Pet Store or Local Animal Shelter
Our favorite is the Petco across from the UTC mall. In fact, when my son was younger, we used to call it “the zoo.” There, he can see fish, birds, reptiles, ferrets, hamsters, guinea pigs, cats and dogs. Many people bring their own animals to the store and are perfectly willing to allow kids to pet their furry friends. Pet stores and shelters will often let you take larger animals like cats and dogs that are up for adoption into private rooms where you can play with them. Just be careful that neither you or your child gets attached, or you might be bringing home a new member of the family!
The John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art has a number of free family programs:
- Museum of Art Mondays – Receive free admission to the Museum of Art, plus participate in a special art-making program connected to the works of art you’ll find in the galleries. Drop in anytime between 11:00am and 2:00pm to create your own work of art.
- Art Making – On Thursday nights from 5:00 – 8:00pm in the Visitor’s Pavilion, the Children’s Welcome Center is transformed into an art studio for the evening. Children can explore different materials, textures and tools to create their own unique art piece for free. The museum provides the materials, simply drop in anytime during that three hour timeframe to participate.
- ROAR! Ringling Order of Art Readers – The Ringling’s free family story time for toddlers and preschoolers takes place on Fridays at 10:30am. Children will hear a story, then participate in an accompanying activity. Registration is not required.
Check out The Ringling’s Family Program Page for full schedule and more details.
A bright, colorful Play Space near Sears is filled with large puzzles and animal characters so kids can exercise their minds and bodies. And a Family Lounge near the food court features toys, TV programs, private nursing areas and baby changing stations.
If All Else Fails – Play in the Rain!
Slap some rain boots on the kids (or water shoes and a swim suit), send them outside and let them frolic in the downpour! As long as there’s no lightening, of course.