Free Summer Events in All 50 States
Whether it sounds more appealing to stay cool indoors at an art gallery or head out for live music and fireworks, there are lots of free things to do all over the country this summer. This roundup features some of the best free events in each state and the District of Columbia.
The eighth annual Juneteenth Celebration of Freedom is coming to Little Rock on June 18 to celebrate the end of slavery with gospel, blues, RB, and soul music. For a quieter event, head to Mountain Pine's Free Fishing Weekend June 10-12, when residents and nonresidents get to fish Lake Ouachita without permits and take part in fish-themed programs and activities.
The reliably sunny weather makes it easy for Southern California cities to schedule outdoor dance parties and movie nights. The Santa Monica Pier's Twilight Concert series takes place at 7 p.m. every Thursday starting July 7, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's Jazz at LACMA is every Friday at 6 p.m. Cal State Northridge shows summer movies every Thursday at dusk, and Alfredo's Beach Club screens Moonlight Movies on the Beach at 8 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays in Long Beach.
On June 4, the regular admission fees of $6 to $8 will be waived at the Gold Coast Railroad Museum in Miami, where families can view vintage trains including the Ferdinand Magellan presidential railcar, which served Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, and Dwight D. Eisenhower. Mini-train rides are $2.50; 25-minute rides on historic trains are $6 to $12.
Kalakaua Avenue in Honolulu will be decked with flowers, horses, and floats for the 70th annual Floral Parade Sept. 24, with traditional long-skirted horse riders, floats made of Hawaiian flowers, hula dancers, marching bands, and dignitaries. The party really starts a week earlier with the annual Waikiki Hoolaulea, called Hawaii's largest block party.
The World Village Festival, a multicultural arts festival showcasing dance, music, storytelling, poetry, film, and food from around the globe, runs June 10-12 in Capitol Park in downtown Boise. Mexican, Basque, Native American, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Bosnian, African, North and South American, Middle Eastern, Indian, and Greek communities are all expected to take part.
Taste of Chicago, held every year since 1980, has been called the largest food festival in the world. In addition to hundreds of food vendors, there are rides and live music -- the lineup this year includes the Roots and Billy Idol. The festival is July 6-10 in Grant Park along Lake Michigan. Although admission is free, food and drink tickets come at a cost.
Cyclovia Topeka, planned for July 29-30, is the winner of the 2015 My Top Festival competition. It's a cycling event that includes a giant workout on the south lawn of the Kansas State Capitol, a health fair, an obstacle course, and a nighttime glow ride, as well as food trucks and a cycling-themed movie (because no one can work out all the time).
The French Market Creole Tomato Festival takes place June 11-12 this year in New Orleans, in what's called the nation's oldest marketplace. The festival features traditional Cajun and Creole cuisine, cooking demonstrations, live music, and a tomato parade (not to mention a tomato-eating contest). Although there's no admission fee, purchases at the festival support local farmers.
The Central Maine Egg Festival is a weeklong celebration of the breakfast staple featuring street dances, art shows, "Egglympics," and other fun events. It will be held July 11-16 in downtown Pittsfield, about 45 minutes from Augusta.
Harborfest returns to Boston's historic downtown and waterfront district July 1-4. Free events held during the 35-year-old festival include live performances, an outdoor movie screening, and educational programs and demonstrations. The festival wraps up as Boston's iconic Fourth of July fireworks burst overhead, visible from parts of Boston and Cambridge near the Charles River.
Detroit's River Days festival June 24-26 has attractions on land and water -- tall ships, jet-ski demos, and riverboat tours, as well as live music, sand sculptures, and children's activities. Admission is free on Friday (and $3 or $5 on Saturday and Sunday, depending on the time of entry).
Fair Saint Louis claims to be America's biggest birthday party. The city expects at least a quarter-million people to gather in Forest Park on Fourth of July weekend for fireworks and musical performances by the likes of Flo Rida and George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic. The event kicks off July 2 with the 134th Veiled Prophet Parade -- a reference to the original name of the event when it began in 1878.
June 3-5 is the 19th annual Taste of Omaha, a riverfront festival with more than 60 area restaurants setting up shop alongside rides and nine stages of entertainment and activities. The following weekend, June 10-12, the 42nd annual Omaha Summer Arts Festival features 135 artists, multicultural musical performances, and an interactive children's fair, as well as food vendors with Mexican, Greek, barbecue, and classic festival fare to feast on.
The 27th annual Hillsborough Balloon Festival & Fair brings fireworks, marching bands, food vendors, carnival rides, skydivers, and, of course, lots of hot-air balloons to Hillsborough, about 30 minutes from the state capital of Concord. It's set for July 7-10 this year.
Fort Lee's Arts & Music Fest on June 5 includes two stages of entertainment, juried Harley-Davidson Motorcycle and art shows, food and craft vendors, free activities for kids, and exhibits on Main Street. The township of Toms River is throwing a big street party called Summer in the Street on July 16 with live bands, rides, games, and dozens of food vendors and craft tables. Parking and admission are free.
The award-winning International Folk Art Market kicks off with a free community celebration July 7 featuring an artist procession and performance by Malian musician Mamadou Kelly. Patrons older than 16 must pay to get in to the rest of the event, which supports folk artists around the world.
BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn includes free dance, music, and spoken-word performances from May through mid-August, such as a show by Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings on June 8 in Prospect Park. On June 14, major museums will waive admission fees and host a 23-block party with bands and other live performances during the annual Museum Mile Festival. Museum hours are extended and entrance is free between 6 and 9 p.m. at Fifth Avenue institutions such as the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Cooper-Hewitt, and the Museum of the City of New York.
The Downtown Raleigh Movie Series is bringing popular '80s movies to an outdoor screen for Flashback Fridays between May 27 and July 1. The city is also the scene of the Downtown Food Truck Rodeo June 12 and Aug. 7. It will feature more than 50 food trucks from across the state, totaling a half-mile of vendors.
Giant puppets, floats, dancers, musicians, and stilt walkers and other costumed entertainers will take over University Circle in Cleveland for the Parade at the Circle & Circle Village on June 11, a 27-year tradition.
The Tualatin Crawfish Festival was originally put together in 1951 to clear an overabundance of the savory crustaceans from the Tualatin River. The annual event features cook-offs, eating contests, and stage shows celebrating crawfish. The first night, Aug. 5, is free (and admission is only $4 for adults Aug. 6-7). Up-and-coming local bands perform for free July 22-24 at the PDX Pop Now concert series in Portland, which includes a legendary bands-only basketball tournament.
The small town of Pageland is hosting a Watermelon Festival July 15-16 -- part of its (not unique) claim to be "Watermelon Capital of the World." The event has grown since 1951 to include a parade, beauty pageants, music, food, a car show, crafts, and, naturally, watermelon-eating and seed-spitting contests.
Bollywood Night at Discovery Green is a celebration of all things Indian, from sappy romantic movies to complex dance, June 17 at Houston's downtown park. In Fort Worth, stop by historic Stockyards Station on July 23 for the National Day of the American Cowboy, which includes a cattle drive, parade, and contests for rib eating, cow milking, and cow chip throwing.
Midway Swiss Days is a 75-year-old celebration of the state's Swiss culture. Over Labor Day weekend, some 100,000 people come to Midway's Main Street to enjoy traditional Swiss performances (including yodeling), horses, and a food smorgasbord with everything from scones and Swiss cheese sandwiches to Navajo tacos.
The 37th annual Middlebury Festival on the Green scheduled for July 10-16 in Middlebury Recreation Park celebrates summer with performances, food, and programs the whole family can enjoy. The capstone event is the Street Dance, featuring big-band selections by the 17-piece Vermont Jazz Ensemble.
Bite of Seattle, the city's premier food festival, returns July 17-19 with free entry. It features cooking demonstrations, wine tastings, and food samples and meals under $10 from more than 60 vendors cooking up all sorts of cuisines at the Seattle Center. There will also be a free screening of "Jurassic World" (star Chris Pratt is a local).
The Capital Lakes DragonFest draws hundreds to Madison annually to cheer on colorful 40-foot boats racing down the Wingra River and enjoy the festival around the race, with dance demonstrations, food, and music. Although the June 18 event is free, donations benefit cancer research and survivors.