70 Free Things to Do in America's Most Popular Cities
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 61 popular cities.
Everyone knows there's 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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Cleveland Museum of Art is always free. It houses and permanent collection of modern art masters like Picasso, Pollock, and Warhol. For something a bit different, head to the Cleveland Police Museum, where you can learn about policing in the 19th century and see exhibits like motorcycle and canine units.
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.
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 1934. Drive by Al Capone's south side home at 7244 Prairie Ave. where Capone moved his family in 1923.
Navy Pier is a huge tourist attraction full of chain restaurants, kitschy souvenirs, and street performers. But near the middle of the long pier is the Driehaus Museum of stained glass, which offers a quieter experience. It doesn't even have to be sunny outside, as almost all the windows are illuminated by artificial light.
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.
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.
Denver Skatepark is a huge complex of bowls, rails, and other obstacles for skateboarders of all abilities. Even if you don't skate, it's fun to watch those who know how to do it well. For something a little more mellow, check out locally owned Tattered Cover Book Store and browse its massive collection.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Milwaukee has a long history of breweries, and it's where Miller Brewing was formed. Head to the 155-year old brewery for a free tour of the production area and historic caves, plus free samples. 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.
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.
Examine Martin Luther King Jr.'s life and what he did for the civil rights movement in America at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site. The 35-acre site includes his birth home, monuments, landmarks and his tomb. From there, head to the Anne Frank Exhibit, a free museum about the young Jewish girl who lost her life in the Holocaust.
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.
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. You may even run into a free festival, concert, or fireworks thanks to Beach Street USA.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Des Moines' main art museum, the Des Moines Art Center, has free admission all the time. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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. You can tour the historic section of the mansion for free Tuesday through Friday mornings.