During the school year, I’m all about routines that help our days run smoothly. But when school lets out for the summer, I’m all about the lack of routine. Not having to worry about packing lunches or be anywhere at a specific time on most days is pretty luxurious. The kids actually have time to play with their toys, lounge around and read books, make a mess with crafts, build forts outside, and snack endlessly.
But if your house is anything like mine, you’ve likely heard “I’m bored” at least a few times by now. While there are many options for summer camps, staycations destinations like Mystic, the Beardsley Zoo, amusement parks, and more, those can certainly pack a punch on your wallet.
Luckily there are plenty of free or nearly free options.
Living along the shoreline and in the Connecticut River valley offers ample opportunities to get outside. Whether it’s a trip to a local park, a beach day at one of the town or state beaches, or a hike or bike ride on one of the many area trails, there is no shortage of outdoor fun. If you want to add to the feeling of summer nostalgia, bring a few dollars, and run for the ice cream truck when you hear its tunes.
Try living like a tourist in your own hometown by visiting its landmarks, the historical society, or the library. You can also window shop in your town center or pack a picnic to enjoy in one of your town’s parks or scenic areas.
Sometimes, though, you want to get out of the sun or expand the fun into the cooler nighttime hours. Luckily many towns offer opportunities to get gather in the community with free events like concerts. If taking in music is your scene, you can find a free local concert almost any night of the week, usually only a short drive away.
The local libraries are also a great resource for many sources of fun, including passes to some of the state’s parks and museums for free or a discounted price. Contact your local library or visit its website to see what is offered.
You can beat the heat at the movies and, even better, many national movie theater chains offer a series of summer movies for free or $1. There are several options throughout the shoreline area if you run into a rainy day or need a break from the sun.
Sadly, I’ve already seen back-to-school displays in stores and summer vacation is flying by. We plan on making the most of it (and not breaking the bank) by taking advantage of all of the opportunities our area has to offer. After all, this is the last summer my kids will ever be 6, 10, 12, and 16.
Regal Entertainment Group offers the Summer Movie Express at its Branford location on Tuesdays and Wednesdays through Wednesday, Aug. 9. Two movies are offered each week and admission is $1 per person. A portion of the proceeds benefits the Will Rogers Institute.
The Summer Kid Series is hosted by Marquee Cinemas at its Westbrook location. Two family friendly films are offered weekly on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 9:30 a.m. with free admission.
The Cinemark Summer Movie Clubhouse is a 10-week program showcasing recently released G and PG rated movies. The newly renovated North Haven Cinemark is taking part in the program on Wednesdays with showtimes at 9 a.m. Admission to the theater with its reclining lounger seats is $1.
And while it’s not on the shoreline, the Southington Drive-in is only a short drive away and it offers a unique experience as one of the only drive-in movie theaters in the state. The drive-in is actually owned by the Town of Southington and offers a mix of classic and new movies. The gates open at 6 p.m. and the show begins at sunset. The cost (payable in cash only) is $15 a carload or $2 for walk-in guests.
Last summer we discovered Madison Beach Hotel’s Summer Movie Festival, a free series of movies played on a big inflatable screen in a gorgeous settings. It quickly became one of our favorite summer activities. We’d head down early and hunt for snails and crabs on the rocks, search for shells, and watch the sunset over the water before settling in for the movie.
Most weeks, the staff also offered a movie-themed treat. The kids always enjoyed guessing what it might be based on the movie showing. There is also food and beverage service available while you enjoy the show.
Cinemark North Haven 14
550 Universal Drive
North Haven, CT
Regal Branford Stadium 12
325 East Main Street
995 Meriden-Waterbury Turnpike
315 Flatrock Place
Madison Beach Hotel
94 West Wharf Road
Tuesday/ Wednesday, July 4 & 5:
o Rock Dog / Angry Birds (Westbrook)
o Penguins of Madagascar & Secret Life of Pets (Branford)
Wednesday, July 5: Goosebumps (North Haven)
Saturday, July 8: Secret Life Of Pets (Southington Drive-In)
Tuesday, July 11: Pete’s Dragon (Madison Beach Hotel)
Wednesday, July 12: The Iron Giant (North Haven)
Tuesday/ Wednesday July 11 & 12
o Alvin & Chipmunks Road Chip / Secret Life of Pets (Westbrook)
o Sing / Kubo & Two Strings (Branford)
Saturday, July 15: Jurassic Park (Southington Drivein)
Tuesday, July 18: Queen of Katwe (Madison Beach Hotel)
Tuesday/ Wednesday July 18 & 19:
o Norm of the North / Kubo & the Two Strings (Westbrook)
o Ratchet & Clang / Spongebob Movie (Branford)
Wednesday, July 19: Hotel Transylvania 2 (North Haven)
Saturday, July 22: Moana (Southington Drive-In)
Tuesday, July 25: Surfs Up 2 Wavemania (Madison Beach Hotel)
Tuesday/ Wednesday, July 25 & 26:
o Storks / Peanuts Movie (Westbrook)
o Adventures of Tintin / Happy Feet Two (Branford)
Wednesday, July 26: Megamind (NH Cinemark, 9 a.m., $1)
Saturday, July 29: Dirty Dancing (Southington Drive-In)
Tuesday, Aug. 1: Wild Life (Madison Beach Hotel)
Tuesday/ Wednesday Aug. 1 & 2:
o Trolls / Sing (Westbrook)
o Cats & Dogs / Storks (Branford)
Wednesday, Aug. 2: Angry Birds Movie (North Haven)
Saturday, Aug. 5: Spaceballs (Southington Drive-In)
Tuesday, Aug. 8: Finding Dory (Madison Beach Hotel)
Tuesday/ Wednesday Aug. 8 & 9:
o Monster Trucks / The Wild Life (Westbrook)
o Lego Batman Movie (Branford)
Wednesday, Aug. 9: Sing (North Haven)
Saturday, Aug. 12: Storks (Southington Drive-In)
Tuesday, Aug. 15: Kubo and the Two Strings (Madison Beach Hotel)
Tuesday/ Wednesday Aug. 15 & 16:
• Lego Batman / Ice Age Collision Course (Westbrook)
Wednesday, Aug. 16: Secret Life of Pets (North Haven)
Saturday, Aug. 19: Goonies (Southington Drive-In)
Tuesday, Aug. 22: The BFG (Madison Beach Hotel)
Wednesday, Aug. 23: Lego Batman Movie (North Haven)
Saturday, Aug. 26: Peanuts Movie (Southington Drive-In)
Tuesday, Aug. 29: Beauty and the Beast-2017 (Madison Beach Hotel)
Wednesday, Aug. 30: Trolls (North Haven)
Saturday, Sept. 2: Trolls (Southington Drive-In)
• Tuesdays through Aug. 30 at 7 p.m.: North Haven Music Under the Stars, North Haven Green
• Wednesdays through Aug. 30 at 7:30 p.m.: Music on the Grassy Strip, Madison Beach Hotel
• Tuesdays and Wednesdays through Aug. 16 at 6:30 p.m.: Essex Summer Concert Series, rotating between Essex Village Green and Ivoryton Village Park
• Wednesdays through Aug. 23 at 7 p.m.: Old Saybrook Free Concert Series on the Old Saybrook Town Green
• Thursdays through Aug. 24 at 6:30 p.m.: Jazz on the Branford Green
• Thursdays through Aug. 17 at 6:30 p.m.: Deep River Summer Concerts Music & a Meal (locations vary)
• Thursdays through Aug. 17 at 6:30 p.m.: Clinton Chamber of Commerce Summer Concert Series at Vece Gazebo, Pierson School
• Fridays through Aug. 26: Westbrook Concerts on the Green
• Sundays through Sept. 3 at sunset: Smores on the Shore at Madison Beach Hotel
• Sundays through Aug. 27 at 6 p.m.: Concerts on the East Haven Green
• Sundays through Aug 28 at 6:30 p.m.: Guilford Parks & Rec Summer Concerts on the Guilford Green
• Sundays through Aug. 27 at 6 p.m.: Madison Beach & Recreation Summer Concert Series on the Madison Green