70 Free Things to Do in America's Most Popular Cities

Free Things To Do in America's Cities

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Free Things To Do in America's Cities
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For the (Free) Fun of It

Whether you're on vacation or you just want to learn more about the city you live in, there are many free activities and events to take advantage of all over the United States. From West Coast sunset vistas to South Beach architecture, grab a camera and create memories without spending a dime in these 60 popular cities. 

Petroglyph National Monument in Albuquerque, NM
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Petroglyphs in Albuquerque, New Mexico

In the northwest part of Albuquerque lies Petroglyph National Monument. It's one of the largest petroglyph sites in the U.S., and you can enter and hike it for free. There are over 20,000 images carved into the volcanic rock by Native Americans and Spanish settlers centuries ago.  

Biograph Theater in Chicago, IL
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Gangster Haunts in Chicago

For those of us who are a little morbid, there are many gangster-related spots to see in Chicago. The Biograph Theater is on the National Register of Historic Places because it's where John Dillinger was shot in an alley in 1934. Drive by Al Capone's south side home at 7244 Prairie Ave., where Capone moved his family in 1923. 

Louisville Nature Center in Louisville, KY
Cable Car Museum in San Francisco, CA
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Cable Car Museum in San Francisco

The old cable cars climbing San Francisco's hills are one of the city's most iconic symbols. Learn all about their history and technology at the Cable Car Museum. It's located in a functioning cable car barn in the Nob Hill neighborhood and houses historic photos, mechanical displays, vintage cable cars, and a gift shop.

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National Elk Refuge in Jackson Hole, WY
Floating in Lake Powell.

Tubing in Phoenix

Though the price can add up with tube rentals and bus rides, tubing is free on the Salt River just outside Phoenix if you bring your own tubes. There's a free parking lot as well, you'll just have to walk a bit farther. It's a popular way to cool off in the desert sun.

Related: The Most Beautiful River in Every State

Brewery Open For Business

Breweries and Hiking in Milwaukee

Milwaukee has a long history of breweries, and that tradition continues to this day. Head to the Bavarian Bierhaus for a free tour of the production area and the stories behind their various brews. While beer flights come at a price, going on the tour earns you a discount. Work off those calories with a hike along a ravine on the Seven Bridges Trail in Grant Park, where you'll end up on the beach. 

Bluebird Cafe
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Live Music in Nashville, Tennessee

Nashville is nicknamed Music City for a reason. There are countless spots where you can catch live music with no tickets or cover charges, like the famous Bluebird Cafe. Explore the Honky Tonk Highway, a section of Broadway Street downtown that houses countless bars and music venues that never charge a cover.

Related: Bucket-List Destinations for Music Lovers

Watching Mexican Free-Tailed Bats at Waugh Drive Bridge in Houston, TX

Bat Viewing in Houston

Houston is home to a large bat population. One of the best sites to view a colony is the Waugh Drive Bridge where a viewing platform has been built. The Mexican free-tailed bats spend the day under the bridge, then come out nightly to feed on insects. Head to the bridge around dusk to watch the colony take flight.

Portland Head Light in Portland, ME
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Lighthouse Viewing in Portland, Maine

Just south of Portland, on Casco Bay, is the Portland Head Light, one of the most photographed lighthouses in the country. It's located in Fort Williams Park, where you can picnic, hike, and view the whitewashed lighthouse all year round.

Related: 18 Spectacular Lighthouses Across America

Waterfalls at Falls Park in Sioux Falls, SD
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Waterfalls in Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Visit the waterfalls that are the city's namesake at Falls Park, located right in the middle of the city. The 123-acre park offers breathless views of the falls, along with a visitor center, bike paths, a farmers market, and picnic areas.

Related: Beyond Niagara: Beautiful Waterfalls in All 50 States

The Battery in Charleston, South Carolina

The Battery in Charleston, South Carolina

The Battery is an underrated, gorgeous, historic lookout that's free and not to be missed. Antebellum mansions dot the shoreline, from which tourists can see the Sullivan's Island Lighthouse and Fort Sumter. Another don't-miss: White Point Garden, where visitors can look for the pirate statue among the war heroes and try to identify which Revolutionary War cannon is the fake once dragged in by pranksters.

Independence Hall in Philadelphia, PA
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Independence Hall in Philadelphia

The birth of America happened in Philadelphia, so prepare to learn (and get a timed ticket for entry) at Independence Hall. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were both signed in this building. Head across the street to the Liberty Bell Center (another timed ticket) and see the bell's famous crack for yourself.

Related: 24 Bucket-List Places to Take Your Kids

The Tattered Cover
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Brooklyn Bridge Park in New York City, NY
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Parks and Boardwalks in New York City

Of course you know about Central Park, but check out Brooklyn Bridge Park, which was created only a few years ago. You'll get some unique views of the most iconic bridge in the state. If you still feel like strolling, head to the famed Coney Island boardwalk to do a little people watching or explore the High Line.

Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Indianapolis, IN

Monuments and Cultural Trails in Indianapolis

Though many people don't know it, the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in the heart of downtown houses a free civil war museum. Climb the stairs to the top of the monument for fantastic city views. To take in more monuments and attractions, head down the 8-mile long Indianapolis Cultural Trail.

Cleveland Museum of Art in Cleveland, OH
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Free Museums in Cleveland

The Cleveland Museum of Art is always free. It houses and permanent collection of modern art masters like Picasso, Pollock, and Warhol. Face coverings are recommended but not required. For something a bit different, check to see if the Cleveland Police Museum is open. There, you can learn about policing in the 19th century and see exhibits like motorcycle and canine units. 

Pearl Harbor and U.S.S. Arizona Memorial, Honolulu, Hawaii

Beaches and Monuments in Honolulu

Really a string of many separate beaches, Waikiki is a must-see for any visitors to Honolulu. Then pay your respects to the 1,102 sailors that died at the Pearl Harbor and U.S.S. Arizona Memorial, which is free to enter. (Note: The Arizona Memorial Program, a 45-minute presentation which includes a ride to and from the memorial, requires a reservation.)

Related: The Best of Hawaii on a Budget

Harvard University Campus in Cambridge, MA
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Parks and Universities in Boston

Visit America's oldest park, Boston Common. It was founded in 1634 and continues its history of free speech and public assembly. Then take a free walking tour of Harvard. Tours are led by current Harvard students and include Harvard Yard and the university's history. 

Jacksonville Arboretum
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Nature and Factory Tours in Jacksonville, Florida

The Jacksonville Arboretum & Gardens offers 126 acres of natural beauty and includes a 2-acre lake as well as seven different trails. For more family-friendly fun, head to Sally Corp., where they make animatronic creatures for amusement parks, attractions and museums around the world (entry by reservation only).

Barrackville Covered Bridge
Barrackville Covered Bridge by Phil (CC BY-NC-SA)

Covered Bridges in Fairmont, West Virginia

West Virginia has 17 picturesque covered bridges, and many of them are clustered around Fairmont. The Barrackville Bridge is located just out of town, was built in 1853, and was spared in the Civil War by a local couple who argued with a general who ordered it burned down. 

Johnson Victrola Museum in Dover, DE

Sound Recording History in Dover, Delaware

Eldridge Reeves Johnson founded the Victor Talking Machine Co. in 1901. He was a native of Dover, and you can learn about him, his company, and the history of sound recording at the Johnson Victrola Museum

Gold & Silver Pawn Shop

Pawn Shops and Concerts in Las Vegas

Everyone knows there are a ton of things to see and experience for free on the Strip, but head closer to downtown for family-friendly activities. On the east end of Fremont Street is the Downtown Container Park, which has shopping, dining, and most notably free concerts and family-friendly movie screenings often. And on your way downtown, stop at the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop, made famous by the TV show "Pawn Stars."

Related: 36 Free and Cheap Things to Do in Las Vegas

Pike Place Market in Seattle, WA

Pike Place Market in Seattle

Pike Place Market is one of Seattle's top tourist attractions, and with good reason. You could spend all day roaming around the market, looking at fishmongers, cheese shops, fruit vendors, and buskers. There's also a crafts market with more than 200 booths, and three floors of collectibles shops selling everything from comics to antiques.

The U.S. Botanic Garden in the District of Columbia
Wikimedia Commons

U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C.

George Washington's vision of the capital included this botanical garden, in operation since 1820. The National Garden features plants native to the mid-Atlantic, a butterfly garden, and a First Ladies Water Garden. A plant library contains 65,000 species, including medicinal and carnivorous plants, orchids, cacti, bromeliads, ferns, and exotic plants confiscated at the nation's borders.

Mill Ends Park in Portland, OR
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Polar Opposites in Portland, Oregon

The world's smallest park, Mill Ends Park, is really just a forgotten hole in the middle of a street median. But a journalist took a liking to it in the 1960s and turned it into a creative, playful spot for art and festivities. It's on the opposite end of the size spectrum from Powell's Books, the world's largest independent bookstore. It takes up a full city block.

Related33 Idyllic Parks That Bring Nature to the City

St. Louis Zoo in St. Louis, MO

Animals and Science Center in St. Louis

The St. Louis Zoo has 603 animal species on 90 acres, and is always free (reservations are required). Located right across the street from the zoo is the free St. Louis Science Center (timed entry reservations are also required), where you can explore exhibits on things like gravity and King Tut. The two attractions make for an unforgettable free day. 

Elizabeth Park Conservancy
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Smell the Roses in Hartford, Connecticut

America's oldest public rose garden is located in Hartford. The Elizabeth Park Conservancy opened in 1897 and spans 103 acres today with various gardens, pond house, tennis courts, softball fields, and greenhouses.

Pioneer Memorial Museum in Salt Lake City
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Pioneer Museum in Salt Lake City

The Pioneer Memorial Museum in Salt Lake City is dedicated to preserving the history of the first settlers who founded the city in 1847. It houses the world's largest collection of artifacts on one subject, along with a history department for genealogical and family research. 

Zuma Beach in Malibu, Los Angeles, CA

Hit the Beach in Los Angeles

Head to the Venice Beach boardwalk for ultimate people watching amongst little bohemian shops and private mansions, plus famous Muscle Beach. For more serious sunbathers, head to Zuma Beach in Malibu, where every beach is public.

Related: The 20 Best Beaches on the West Coast

Old Beach Farmer's Market

Festivals and Farmers Markets in Virginia Beach, Virginia

It's no surprise that most of the activities and events in Virginia Beach center around the beach. That includes the Old Beach Farmers Market, where you can browse rows of local produce, meat, dairy, and other food products.  

Sanders Chocolate Factory

Architecture and Candy in Detroit

Tour Detroit's acclaimed Main Library on a free docent-led walking tour. Tours last about one hour and highlight the architectural details of the Cass Gilbert-designed building. For something even sweeter, take the guided tour at the Sanders Chocolate factory, which includes delicious chocolate samples. 

Grant's Tomb in New York City, NY

Grant's Tomb in New York City

The largest mausoleum in the United States is located in Harlem. The General Ulysses S. Grant National Memorial houses the remains of our 18th president and his wife, Julia. Take time to reflect on the memorial's simple quote: Let us have peace.

Texas State Capitol

State Capitol and Gutenberg Bible in Austin, Texas

Whether you're from Texas or not, you'll probably learn something new on a tour (available on a limited basis) of the Texas State Capitol in Austin. Tours are free and are conducted Monday through Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Then head to the University of Texas to visit the Harry Ransom Center, where you can see an original Gutenberg Bible.

Des Moines Art Center in Des Moines, IA
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Art Museum in Des Moines, Iowa

Des Moines' main art museum, the Des Moines Art Center, has free admission all the time (though required advance tickets). It's collection is comprised of mostly contemporary art, which is displayed through three buildings. Don't forget to check out the grounds, including a reflecting pond and modern sculpture works.

JFK Memorial in Dallas, TX

JFK Memorial in Dallas

Pay homage to one of America's most inspiring presidents at the John F. Kennedy Memorial in Dallas. The memorial was dedicated in 1970 and its architecture symbolizes JFK's spirit. Just a short walk away is Dealey Plaza, the site of the assassination in 1963, where a smaller memorial sits. 

Graceland, Tennessee

Graceland and Duck March in Memphis, Tennessee

Though it's not cheap to enter Graceland, you can enter the meditation garden and pay your respects at Elvis' grave every day between 7:30 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. Later in the day, head to the Peabody Hotel to watch the resident ducks march into the lobby fountain, a tradition that's been going on for decades.

Related: Elvis' Pet Chimp Wasn't the Only Unusual Thing About Graceland

Tampa Firefighters Museum, Tampa, Florida
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Firefighters Museum in Tampa, Florida

Located in a 1911 building in downtown Tampa, the Tampa Firefighters Museum serves as a tribute to those who have served as firefighters in the city. Visitors can learn about the history of firefighting, the Tampa Fire Department, and fire safety and prevention. The museum is open by appointment only from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

I-10 | The Alamo
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The Alamo in San Antonio

Remember the Alamo with a free visit (reservations required) to the Alamo Church and its grounds. Then head to the Japanese Tea Garden for a relaxing escape. Meditate under the pagoda or watch the koi in the pond. 

U.S. Mint, Philadelphia
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Tour a U.S. Mint in Philadelphia

After recreating the famous scenes from "Rocky," head to the U.S. Mint in Philly. The U.S. Mint has tours that are free, self-guided, and take about 45 minutes. You'll see the coining operations floor and the press used to strike America's first coins in 1792.

Beach Sunset in San Diego, CA
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Beaches and Sunsets in San Diego

San Diego has 17 miles of coastline, which makes for a lot of beaches. Swim, surf, play volleyball or sunbathe at any one of them. They've all got great views, but for the best sunset viewing spot, head to La Jolla Cove with its sandstone cliffs.

Related: 55 Surprising Facts About America's Beaches

Edgar Allan Poe's Grave in Baltimore, MD

Inner Harbor and Edgar Allan Poe's Grave in Baltimore

Poetry fans will want to visit the graves of Edgar Allan Poe and his wife, Virginia, in Westminster Hall Cemetery. For something less macabre, take a stroll around the Inner Harbor area, which is filled with shops, attractions, restaurants and activities for kids and adults.  

Salmon Viewing on Ship Creek in Anchorage, AK
Alaska Department of Fish and Game

Salmon Viewing and Disc Golf in Anchorage, Alaska

The Ship Creek wildlife viewing area is a natural salmon run, which also attracts many different types of seabirds looking for a quick meal. For a little fun, bring your Frisbee and head to one of Anchorage's half dozen disc golf courses. You can't beat a mountain view when you're golfing. 

Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California
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Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco

There are a number of ways to take in the Golden Gate Bridge. Head to the Bridge Plaza visitor's center at the south end of the bridge to take in the view and learn the bridge's history. Pedestrians are allowed to walk the bridge's full 1.7-mile span for views of the city and Alcatraz. 

RDU Airport Observation Park, Raleigh, North Carolina
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Plane-Watching in Raleigh, North Carolina

The Raleigh-Durham International Airport has an outdoor observation deck set up near the air traffic control tower with views of the runways. They pipe in the communications between the pilots and air traffic control on loud speakers, and even have bathrooms if your kids want to stay the entire afternoon.

Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, IL

See the Animals in Chicago

The Lincoln Park Zoo is one of the last major city zoos to remain free to the public, 365 days a year. If you head over in winter, seeing the penguins and polar bears enjoying the snow might make you hate winter a little less yourself. Currently face covering are required inside animal exhibits. 

National Mall in Washington, D.C.
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Walk the Mall in Washington, D.C.

If you've never been to Washington, D.C., then the first thing you need to do when you get there is walk the National Mall, the area between the United States Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial. There are countless free things to see, including the Washington Monument, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Korean Veterans Memorial, and the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool.

Related: 24 Free or Cheap Things to Do in Washington, D.C.

Barber Park
Barber Park by Kenneth Freeman (CC BY-SA)

Fishing and Tubing in Boise, Idaho

Barber Park in Boise serves as a one-stop shop for all kinds of outdoor activities. You can go fishing in the stocked Boise River, or you can tube down it. Bring your own tube and there's no rental fee.

Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles
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Scenic Vistas in Los Angeles

Hike around the 160-acre Runyon Canyon for some of the best views of LA (and potentially some celebs working out). If that's a little too much activity for you, check out the grounds of the Griffith Observatory instead — the observatory itself is one of the country's most iconic architectural landmarks — especially at night when the lights of the city twinkle below you. 

Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art in Oklahoma City, OK
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Art Museum in Oklahoma City

The Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art at the University of Oklahoma is always free, thanks to a gift from the university's athletic department in 2012. The museum's collective features over 17,000 objects, including notable collections of French impressionism and American Southwest art.

Chelsea Art Galleries in New York City, NY

Chelsea Art Galleries in New York City

Sure, NYC is filled with world-class museums, but they're also pretty expensive to get into. Head to the Chelsea neighborhood where a number of modern art galleries are free to visit, like Gagosian Gallery. It's always nice to support young, local artists.

Lafayette Cemetery in New Orleans, LA
Navy Pier, Chicago

Navy Pier in Chicago

Navy Pier is a huge tourist attraction full of chain restaurants, kitschy souvenirs, and street performers, and it’s free to visit. During the summer, the pier is home to fireworks displays on Wednesday and Saturday nights. 

Tomb of Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site in Atlanta, GA
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Aerial View of Florida Everglades
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Birds and Alligators in Orlando, Florida

If you're vacationing in Orlando, you and your wallet may be feeling the Disney burnout. Head to the Black Hammock on Lake Jessup for free live alligator and bird exhibits. It's adjacent to the Black Hammock Wilderness area, where osprey and alligators nest.  

Rimrock, Billings, Montana
Rimrock, Billings, Montana by Jason Pitcher (CC BY-NC-ND)

Hiking With a View in Billings, Montana

Billings is surrounded by geological sandstone formations called the Rimrocks, and most of them have hiking trails. Once you hike to the top of one of the cliffs, break out your camera for sweeping views of Billings. 

Allegheny Observatory in Pittsburgh, PA
Wikimedia Commons

Stargazing in Pittsburgh

The Allegheny Observatory located at the University of Pittsburgh offers free tours during the summer months. You'll see a short video, get a tour of a facility, and end at the Fitz-Clark refractor where you'll be able to see celestial objects, weather permitting.

Susan M. McLane Audubon Center in Concord, NH

Audubon Center in Concord, New Hampshire

The Susan M. McLane Audubon Center offers hiking trails, education programs, picnic areas and a gift shop. Most importantly, though, are the raptor mews, which house a bald eagle, red tailed hawk, falcons, and owls. Visit anytime between dawn and dusk for free.

Spirit of Nebraska's Wilderness and Pioneer Courage Park in Omaha, NE
First National Campus

Sculpture Parks in Omaha, Nebraska

Six city blocks of downtown Omaha have been turned into sculpture parks with more than 100 bronze sculptures. The sculptures at the Spirit of Nebraska's Wilderness and Pioneer Courage Park depict the story of the first pioneers to settle in the area.

The Mall of America, Minnesota
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Mega Mall in Minneapolis, Minnesota

Malls can be great fun even if you're not planning to spend money, and the biggest mall of all is in Minneapolis. The Mall of America has over 500 stores for window shopping, plus a full amusement park, aquarium, flight simulation center and movie theater. Even if you don't spend any money, there's plenty of great people — and roller coaster — watching.

Related: Cheap Must-See Attractions in All 50 States

White Sand with People and Aqua Umbrellas and Chairs and Turquoise Ocean in South Beach, Miami, Florida

Beaches and Architecture in Miami

Miami has plenty of beautiful beaches to sun on. Choose South Beach for a vibrant party atmosphere and proximity to the art deco buildings Collins Avenue is known for. Once the sun goes down, take in the neon-lined architecture in SoBe. 

James K. Polk Memorial State Historic Site, Charlotte, North Carolina
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Historical Sites and Gardens in Charlotte, North Carolina

James K. Polk, 11th president of the U.S., was born just southwest of Charlotte. Free 30-minute tours are offered of the restored homestead at the James K. Polk Memorial State Historic Site. Then visit the outdoor gardens and McMillan Greenhouse at the free Botanical Gardens at the University of North Carolina - Charlotte.

Great Plains Nature Center in Wichita, KS

Nature Center in Wichita, Kansas

A cooperative effort by three government agencies, the Great Plains Nature Center in Wichita offers exhibits and educational programming to teach kids and adults about wildlife and nature in Kansas. Both indoor and outdoor exhibits are always free.

Parks and Art Cars in Houston

Parks and Art Cars in Houston

Discovery Green is a 12-acre urban park with dog runs, kayaking, art displays and activities for all ages. For something a little more quirky, head to the Art Car Museum (by appointment only), which is dedicated to art forms that are rarely acknowledged by other art institutions, like working art cars and outsider art.

Related: 21 Great Car Museums and Car Shows Worth the Drive

Greater Newark Conservancy in Newark, NJ
Greater Newark Conservancy

Explore Nature in Newark, New Jersey

Escape the hustle and bustle of the city while never leaving downtown at the Greater Newark Conservancy. Two buildings and outdoor gardens and ponds serve as an environmental classroom for all ages.

Civil Rights District in Birmingham, AL
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Civil Rights District in Birmingham, Alabama

Birmingham was central to the Civil Rights movement in the U.S. You can visit most spots where famous clashes occurred in the Civil Rights District, and learn about what happened and why. Signs, monuments, and statues line the district, explaining the people and events that made the movement

Roger Williams Park Providence Rhode Island
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Roger Williams Park

At more than 400 acres, there's plenty to explore at the Roger Williams Park. In addition to several walking trails, the park is home to historical sites like the Williams family cemetery, a bike park, and playground. On the first Saturday of the month, Providence residents enjoy free admission to the park's museum, planetarium, and botanical gardens, too. 

State Capitol of Arkansas in Little Rock, AR
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State Capitol Building in Little Rock, Arkansas

The State Capitol of Arkansas offers free guided tours on weekdays until 3 p.m. The building, which was completed in 1915, contains a rotunda with a stained glass seal of the state, exhibits on the history of the state, and 10-foot tall bronze doors purchased from Tiffany's.

Governor's Mansion in Jackson, Mississippi

Governor's Mansion in Jackson, Mississippi

The State Capitol of Mississippi is home to the second-oldest continuously occupied governor's mansion in the U.S. It was first occupied in 1842 and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1975. Visitors can tour the historic section of the mansion for free Tuesday through Thursday mornings.  

Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills
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Window Shopping in Los Angeles

Just because those designer handbags are out of your budget doesn't mean you can't window shop on LA's many shopping streets. Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills is best known for its cameo in "Pretty Woman" and its high prices. Head to the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica for something a little more down to earth. 

Related: The Best of California for Budget Vacations