FROM ART TO ZOO
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.
ALABAMA: FOOD FESTIVALS APLENTY
Festivalgoers can eat their way through Alabama this summer. Celebrate blueberries June 16 at the 38th annual Alabama Blueberry Festival in Brewton; peaches on June 29 at Clanton's Peach Jam Jubilee; and okra on Aug. 25 at Burkville's Okra Festival.
ALASKA: JUNEAU GOLD RUSH DAYS
The city of Juneau is honoring its gold-digging history with the Juneau Gold Rush Days festival June 16-17. Residents commemorate the city's founding by Joe Juneau in 1880 with exhibits, food, and mining competitions.
ARIZONA: FREE DAYS AT MUSEUMS
Children of all ages will appreciate the I.d.e.a Museum's free admissions day on Aug. 5. One highlight among the museum's interactive activities and workshops is ArtVille, an indoor play space designed for children under 5. The Arizona Museum of Natural History also offers free admission on June 3.
ARKANSAS: JUNETEENTH & FREE FISHING
The annual Juneteenth festival is coming to the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center in Little Rock on June 16 to celebrate African-American freedom and achievement. There will be food trucks, live music, a kids zone, and more. Head to Mountain Pine's Free Fishing Weekend June 8-10, when residents and nonresidents get to fish Lake Ouachita without permits and take part in fish-themed programs and activities.
CALIFORNIA: MUSIC & MOVIES
Downtown Los Angeles is home to a free Saturday night concert series at Pershing Square from July 11 to Aug. 18, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's Sundays Live chamber music concerts at LACMA are every Sunday 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 dusk Tuesdays and Thursdays in Long Beach.
COLORADO: FREE DAYS AT DENVER BOTANIC GARDENS
Denver Botanic Gardens waives admission fees on designated days throughout the year. This summer, visitors can roam the gardens at one of the two locations free of charge on June 5, July 3 and 19, and Aug. 7 and 29.
CONNECTICUT: FIREWORKS & FOOD TRUCKS
Hartford celebrates summer with food trucks, live entertainment, and fireworks on July 14 this year. The festivities take place at two locations: Mortensen Riverfront Plaza in Hartford and Great River Park in East Hartford. A Dragon Boat & Asian Festival is slated for Aug. 18.
DELAWARE: SANDCASTLE CONTEST
Rehoboth Beach's annual sandcastle contest returns Sept. 8, with more than 100 teams expected to take part in the 40th annual end-of-summer event. Adults and children can participate in the fun while competing for prizes.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: CAPITAL DRAGON BOAT REGATTA
The Capital Dragon Boat Regatta launches in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 25 for a full day of boat racing down the Washington Channel. Vendors will offer an assortment of retail and food products.
FLORIDA: FREE DAYS AT GOLD COAST RAILROAD MUSEUM
On June 2, July 7, Aug. 4, and Sept. 1, the regular admission fees ($6 to $8) are 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. Rides on historic trains are $6 to $12.
GEORGIA: MOVIES IN THE PARK
The Movies in the Park series offered by Atlanta's Northside Hospital boasts a slate of more than a dozen showings spread in five city parks on the last Saturday of the month in June, July, and August. The films are kid-friendly and screened for free at dusk.
HAWAII: PAN-PACIFIC FESTIVAL
Celebrating the international cultures of Hawaii, the free Pan-Pacific Festival takes place June 8-10. The festival strives to bring people together with demonstrations, amazing food booths, a performing arts showcase, a hula festival, and a parade.
IDAHO: WORLD VILLAGE FESTIVAL
The World Village Festival, a multicultural arts festival showcasing dance, music, storytelling, poetry, film, and food from around the globe, runs June 8-10 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.
ILLINOIS: TASTE OF CHICAGO
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 George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic and the Flaming Lips. The festival is July 11-15 in Grant Park along Lake Michigan. Although admission is free, food and drink tickets come at a cost.
INDIANA: CLASSIC-CAR PARADE
The free Parade of Classics on Sept. 1 is part of the annual Auburn Cord Duesenberg Festival. Classic cars cruise downtown Auburn, home to the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum, about 20 miles north of Fort Wayne.
IOWA: DES MOINES ARTS FESTIVAL
The Des Moines Arts Festival showcases a variety of performing and visual arts in Western Gateway Park downtown June 22-24. This year’s featured artist is noted photographer Chris Dahlquist. The event also includes musical performances by the Spin Doctors and Sir Sly.
KANSAS: FESTIVAL OF THE TRAILS
Festival on the Trails in Gardner packs plenty of fun — including free entertainment, activities for kids such as face painting and inflatables, food booths, a car show, and crafts — into just two days (June 8-9). The event features a Chat-Fest, giving attendees an opportunity to talk to distinguished citizens about the area and family history. More than 15,000 people are expected to attend this year, making it a hot (but not ticketed) event.
KENTUCKY: HAGYARD CHALLENGE SERIES
In Lexington, horse lovers enjoy the Hagyard Challenge Series, a summer jumping competition. Through Sept. 21, horses and riders are competing for a $50,000 Leading Rider Award.
LOUISIANA: FRENCH MARKET CREOLE TOMATO FESTIVAL
The French Market Creole Tomato Festival takes place June 9-10 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, a tomato parade, and a tomato-eating contest. Although there's no admission fee, purchases at the festival support local farmers.
MAINE: CENTRAL MAINE EGG FESTIVAL
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 9-14 in downtown Pittsfield, about 45 minutes from Augusta.
MARYLAND: FRIDAY NIGHT STARGAZING
Stargazing is a nice way to spend a summer evening, and it's even better with a telescope. The public is invited to visit the observatory at the Maryland Science Center on Friday nights to view the stars and planets for free.
Harborfest returns to Boston's historic downtown and waterfront district June 28-July 4. Free events held during the 37-year-old festival include live performances, harbor cruises, 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.
MICHIGAN: RIVER DAYS
Detroit's River Days festival June 22-24 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).
MINNESOTA: DRAGON FESTIVAL
The Dragon Festival is a tradition celebrating pan-Asian heritage in St. Paul. Of course there are dragon boat races, but there also will be food vendors, martial arts demonstrations, and a children's corner at the event July 14-15.
MISSISSIPPI: MISSISSIPPI BOOK FESTIVAL
The Mississippi Book Festival at the historic state capitol building in Jackson features authors, speeches, live music, and book and food vendors. It will run all day Aug. 18. This year's guests include writers Salman Rushdie, Jon Meacham, Jesmyn Ward, and Rick Bragg.
MISSOURI: FAIR SAINT LOUIS
Fair Saint Louis claims to be America's biggest birthday party, with crowds expected to gather in Gateway Arch National Park on Fourth of July weekend for fireworks and musical performances by the likes of Jason Derulo and Martina McBride. The event kicks off July 4 with the 136th America’s Birthday Parade (formerly the Veiled Prophet Parade).
MONTANA: MONTANA FOLK FESTIVAL
NEBRASKA: TASTE OF OMAHA & SUMMER ARTS FEST
June 1-3 is the 21st 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 8-10, the 44th 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.
NEVADA: DOWNTOWN ROCKS SUMMER CONCERTS
In Las Vegas’ Fremont Street area, you can take in a free concert. Performers scheduled to take part in the Downtown Rocks summer concert series include the Cult, Molly Hatchet, Billy Ray Cyrus, Everclear, and more. (The concerts are paid for by area casinos.)
NEW HAMPSHIRE: HILLSBORO BALLOON FESTIVAL
The 29th annual Hillsboro Balloon Festival & Fair brings fireworks, marching bands, food vendors, carnival rides, skydivers, and, of course, lots of hot-air balloons to Hillsboro, about 30 minutes from the state capital of Concord. It's set for July 12-15 this year.
NEW JERSEY: ARTS FESTIVAL & STREET PARTY
Fort Lee's Arts & Music Fest on June 3 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 21 with live bands, rides, games, and dozens of food vendors and craft tables. Parking and admission are free.
NEW MEXICO: INTERNATIONAL FOLK ART MARKET
The award-winning International Folk Art Market kicks off with a free community celebration July 12 featuring an artist procession and musical performance by Pascuala Ilabaca from Chile. Patrons older than 16 must pay to get in to the rest of the event, which supports folk artists around the world.
NEW YORK: FREE SHOWS & MUSEUMS
BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn includes free dance, music, and spoken-word performances from May through mid-August, such as shows by Los Lobos on June 10 and the Jayhawks on June 16. On June 12, 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, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Cooper-Hewitt, and the Museum of the City of New York.
NORTH DAKOTA: DOWNTOWN STREET FAIR
The Downtown Street Fair in Fargo is one of the largest events in the area. It takes place July 19-21 this year and delivers classic summer fair favorites, including grilled food, art contests, and games.
OHIO: PARADE THE CIRCLE & CIRCLE VILLAGE
Giant puppets, floats, dancers, musicians, stilt walkers, and other costumed entertainers will take over University Circle in Cleveland for the Parade the Circle & Circle Village on June 9, a 29-year tradition.
OKLAHOMA: ICE CREAM FESTIVAL
On June 9, an ice cream festival in the city of Chandler will indulge attendees with an ice-cream-making contest, entertainment, activities for kids, and — most important — unlimited free ice cream.
OREGON: PDX POP NOW
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.
PENNSYLVANIA: MULTICULTURAL FESTIVALS
Penn's Landing in Philadelphia is hosting a series of free festivals June 3 through Sept. 16 along the Delaware River downtown. These multicultural events include the Philadelphia Irish Festival, Islamic Heritage Festival, and the Festival of India.
RHODE ISLAND: NEWPORT KITE FESTIVAL
Taking advantage of the perfectly windy coastline, the Newport Kite Festival at Brenton Point State Park in Newport is July 14-15 this summer. Bring a kite, watch others fly, or simply enjoy the breeze off the water.
SOUTH CAROLINA: WATERMELON FESTIVAL
The small town of Pageland is hosting a Watermelon Festival July 20-21 — 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.
SOUTH DAKOTA: HOT SUMMER NITES
Classic cars and motorcycles will roll through the streets of downtown Sioux Falls for Hot Summer Nites on July 18. Food and music also keep the crowd entertained.
TENNESSEE: FIRST SATURDAY ART CRAWL
The First Saturday Art Crawl takes place June 2, July 7, Aug. 4, and Sept. 1 this summer in downtown Nashville. Participants can meet up to two dozen artists and admire their work on a stroll through the city, while being treated to wine and other refreshments along the way.
TEXAS: COWBOY TRIBUTE
On July 28, stop by historic Stockyards Station in Fort Worth for the National Day of the American Cowboy, which includes a cattle drive, parade, and contests for fiddle playing, cow milking, and more.
UTAH: PIONEER CELEBRATION
The Days of '47 in Salt Lake City is a free, unique event celebrating the early pioneers. While festivities began in May, the Family Festival on July 21 is an all-day event that draws a huge crowd. It follows a youth parade and is loaded with family-friendly (and free!) activities such as inflatable slides and pioneer-era learning opportunities.
VERMONT: MIDDLEBURY FESTIVAL ON THE GREEN
The 40th annual Middlebury Festival on the Green scheduled for July 8-14 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.
VIRGINIA: VIRGINIA LAKE FESTIVAL
The Virginia Lake Festival attracts some 80,000 visitors to Clarksville. On the weekend of July 21, attendees can enjoy hot-air balloons and helicopter rides, live music, arts and crafts, and other attractions in a historic town.
WASHINGTON: BITE OF SEATTLE
Bite of Seattle, the city's premier food festival, returns July 20-22 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 "A League of Their Own."
WEST VIRGINIA: FESTIVALL CHARLESTON
FestivALL, a 10-day event in which "a city becomes a work of art," will take place in Charleston June 15-24, with hundreds of performances on the schedule. Many festival events are free, including an ice cream social on June 16.
The eighth annual Balloonfest in Waterford is a chance to see colorful hot air balloons high overhead July 19-22. Helicopter rides, an inflatables amusement area, food vendors, and live music performances are all good reasons to stop by.