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

Free Things To Do in America's Cities

Page Light Studios/shutterstock

Cheapism is editorially independent. We may earn a commission if you buy through links on our site.
Free Things To Do in America's Cities
Page Light Studios/shutterstock

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.

Related: 45 Freebies You Should Take Advantage Of

Petroglyph National Monument in Albuquerque, NM
Nagel Photography/shutterstock
Biograph Theater in Chicago, IL
Pamela Brick/shutterstock

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 1934. Drive by Al Capone's south side home at 7244 Prairie Ave., where Capone moved his family in 1923.

Related: 19 Virtual Tours of Famous Homes

Louisville Nature Center in Louisville, KY
Cable Car Museum in San Francisco, CA
zhu difeng/shutterstock

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.

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
Bluebird Cafe
George M./Yelp

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: 36 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
Sean Pavone/shutterstock

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
Steven Frame/shutterstock

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
Sean Pavone/shutterstock

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: 25 Bucket-List Places to Take Your Kids

The Tattered Cover
Keith H./Yelp
Brooklyn Bridge Park in New York City, NY
Elliotte Rusty Harold/shutterstock

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 with a free, timed-entry reservation.

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
Kenneth Sponsler/shutterstock

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 (currently closed due to the coronavirus) is open,. There, you can learn about policing in the 19th century and see exhibits like motorcycle and canine units.

Related: Beyond the Museum: Spectacular Outdoor Art You Can See for Free

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
Jannis Tobias Werner/shutterstock
Jacksonville Arboretum
Patricia L./Yelp

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.

Related: 27 Vintage Photos of Historic American Bridges

Johnson Victrola Museum in Dover, DE
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 (though the conservatory and bathrooms are closed), 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
Wikimedia Commons

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
Elizabeth Park Conservancy
Kathy X./Yelp

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
Shawn T./Yelp
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

Byron Bay Farmers Market, Byron Bay, New South Wales, Australia
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.

Related: 10 Sweet Chocolate Factory Tours With Free 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 4 p.m. Then head to the University of Texas to visit the Harry Ransom Center (open for research July 12, but currently closed to the public — check the website for updates), where you can see an original Gutenberg Bible or visit online.

Des Moines Art Center in Des Moines, IA
Joseph Sohm/shutterstock

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.

Related: 15 Awe-Inspiring Memorials and Other Places Honoring Our Vets

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
Angela T./Yelp

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
Dean Fikar/shutterstock
U.S. Mint, Philadelphia
Bethany E./Yelp

Tour a U.S. Mint in Philadelphia

After recreating the famous scenes from "Rocky," head to the U.S. Mint in Philly. The Philadelphia Mint is currently closed for tours, but check the website. When it reopens, 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
Eric Rubens/shutterstock

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. 

Related: Best Things to Do in Baltimore

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.

Related: Most Remote States in the U.S.

Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California
Rudy Balasko/shutterstock

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.

Related: The 50 Most Beautiful Views in the World

RDU Airport Observation Park, Raleigh, North Carolina
Michael P./Yelp

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. Though currently closed due to COVID-19, check the website for when it reopens. 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.
Sean Pavone/shutterstock

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
Sean Pavone/shutterstock

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.

Related: America's Most Iconic Buildings and Monuments

Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art in Oklahoma City, OK
Ken Wolter/shutterstock

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
Tomb of Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site in Atlanta, GA
Steven Frame/shutterstock
Aerial View of Florida Everglades
Robert DelVecchio - OcuDrone/istockphoto

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. 

Related: 26 Ways to Do Disney on a Budget

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.

Related: 21 Hiking Trails Around the World

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, though it is currently closed due to COVID-19 so check the website for updates. 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
IVY PHOTOS/shutterstock

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

South Beach in Miami, FL

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.

Related: 30 Free or Cheap Things to Do in Miami

James K. Polk Memorial State Historic Site, Charlotte, North Carolina
Erin A./Yelp

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
Wikimedia Commons
Stephen Hopkins Home in Providence, RI
Wikimedia Commons

Historic Home in Providence, Rhode Island

The 1707 home of Stephen Hopkins, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, has been turned into a small museum with guided tours. On the tour, you'll see the room where George Washington slept when he was a guest, the slaves' quarters, and countless antiques.

State Capitol of Arkansas in Little Rock, AR
W. Scott McGill/shutterstock

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 Friday mornings. Face coverings are required.

Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills
Gabriele Maltinti/shutterstock

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.