Free Summer Events in All 50 States
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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