By Donna Gehrke-White
Many have complained that Broward offers few free and cheap activities for families. But we found 10 gems that are either free or extremely low-cost. Consider oceanfront paradises, nature preserves and a horse farm now in a county park – all to enjoy for free.
And you can see the stars – the kind in the sky – for free Saturday evenings at a Cooper City observatory.
So get out and enjoy!
A walk by the beach
The Hollywood Beach Broadwalk is more than two miles of ocean vistas and old-time stores, good enough for USA Today to declare it one of the top 10 nostalgic promenades in the country. You can skate, walk, run or bike along the wide lane. One of the broadwalk’s endearing traits is that it offers room for all. The neighboring white sand beach provides plenty of room for both indolent sun worshippers and the active who want to play volleyball, practice yoga or build sandcastles. There are spots on the broadwalk to picnic or you can eat at an outdoor café. The broadwalk is open seven days a week from sunrise to sundown. For more information call the Hollywood Office of Tourism 954-921-3478.
Enjoy the ocean
The John U. Lloyd State Park, 6503 N. Ocean Dr. in Dania Beach offers breathtaking views of the ocean – what tourists pay thousands of dollars to fly in to see. But park visitors pay only $6 for parking. You can eat on the beach or even grill at the picnic table area. You can surf fish or swim in the ocean. There are also two boat ramps at the park so you can bring your boat. The park is open 365 days a year from 8 a.m. to sundown. For information call 954-923-2833.
Free visit with nature
You can see Fort Lauderdale’s high rises from a 68-foot-tall observation tower. But you are a world away amid the mangroves and subtropical forests in the 1,500 acres of the Anne Kolb Nature Center, 751 Sheridan St., at West Park Lake in Hollywood. The center offers ecological exhibits and a 3,500-gallon aquarium. Outside there are several trails to West Lake and the mangroves. Some lead to bird feeding and prime fishing spots on the Intracoastal. Visitors rave about seeing wildlife, from a raccoon to crocodiles and alligators. The center is free during the week, $1.50 for each person 6 and up on the weekends or $8 maximum per car of visitors. It is open daily from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Call 954-926-2480.
Bass Pro Shops in Dania Beach has become a tourist spot throughout the United States and its Dania Beach store at 200 Gulf Stream Way, is no exception: It offers nearly four acres of sights, from an indoor waterfall to an aquarium to a shooting range. Remember it costs nothing to look, and the store often organizes free activities for children and families. The store is open seven days a week, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday. On Sunday it opens from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. 954-929-7710.
Free visit to horses (and a park)
Tradewinds Park, 3600 W. Sample Rd., in Coconut Creek offers a look back to an easier time, when Broward still had farms. You can visit the park’s educational farm and its farmhouse museum. The park literally was once Tradewinds Farm. It raised horses. What may be the most touching: The horses now help the handicapped. They are housed in bright-red stables. You can go on horse rides on the park’s many trails. The park also has hiking trails and fishing lakes throughout its 627 acres. It is open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. with hours extended to 7:30 p.m. during Daylight Savings Time. It’s free during the week; $1.50 per person on weekends. Call 954-357-8870.
Starry, starry night view for free
The South Florida Amateur Astronomers Association shows you the beauty of space when the Fox Astronomical Observatory is opened to the public free of charge on Saturdays from sunset to midnight at Markham Park, 16001 W State Road 84, in Sunrise. Volunteers will show you how to stargaze in the observatory as well as how to set up and align your own telescope. They’ll teach about the beauty of the stars and what to look for. For information call the park at 954-389-7000.
Cheap fun in the fast lane
Now is your time to show your kids how to bike in the fast lane. The Brian Piccolo Park Velodrome, 9501 Sheridan St. in Cooper City, opens its professional bike racing complex to the public in the afternoons and evenings during the week and all day during the weekends unless there is a race going on. Cost during the day is $4 per adult; $2 for those 17 and under. The evening rate is a flat fee of $5 per person. But you can also get monthly passes for as little as $20. The track is open 3:15 to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday; 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday and 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Sunday. Call 954-437-2626 for more information.
Free visit with the wild things
Marsh rabbits scurry away in the grasslands while largemouth bass and snapping turtles swim serenely in the pristine clear water. A lone eagle flies overhead, joining hawks, herons and egrets. The 420 acres of the Chapel Trail Park Nature Preserve, 19800 Sheridan St., in far western Pembroke Pines resembles Everglades National Park – but without the fees. It’s a free oasis in Broward County. The city of Pembroke Pines built an almost third of a mile boardwalk for visitors to tour the preserve. They can rest in the shade of huts built along the trail. On Saturday morning, visitors can rent canoes for $7 an hour or $15 for the entire 8:30 to 12:30 p.m. The preserve is open seven days a week from 7:30 a.m. to dusk. Call 954-435-6520 for more information.
Water park for less
Fans say Paradise Cove in C.B. Smith Park, 900 N. Flamingo Rd. in Pembroke Pines is aptly named. It offers full-day fun with 350-foot water slides, a 400-foot tube ride and a children’s playground. The best news is that it costs a fraction of what commercial water parks charge: $8.50 per person; children under 1 are free. After 3 p.m. the price goes down to $5.50. On weekends there is also a $1.50 parking fee. You can also hike around the park’s 80 acres of lakes or rent paddle boats or canoes. The water park is open 9:30 a.m. to 5:20 p.m., seven days a week. Call the park for more information 954-357-5170.
Swamp walk for free
Everglades Holiday Park, 21940 Griffin Rd., just west of Weston, is a throwback to an earlier era when wetlands were, well, swamps. Its rustic general store and the neighboring trailer-filled campground are a testimony to those grittier, less politically correct times. So are its unspoiled open grasslands. They all hark back to when the U.S. army Corps of Engineers had not arrived to dam up the River of Grass. On weekends, the park fills up with motorcyclists whose colorful attire alone makes it a popular tourist site. You can eat on the picnic tables that overlook the waters where you can also take an airboat ride. Entering and walking around the park is free. 954-434-8111.
Donna, a mother of two, has won state and national awards for her writing. She has worked for The Sun-Sentinel, The Miami Herald, The Associated Press and personal finance websites.
Have you found other great free and cheap places to take your kids in Broward County? Share your suggestions in a comment. If we find out about enough places, we’ll write another story, on readers’ favorite free and cheap fun for families.