Where to find free activities and events in your area

Our family has been going through a transformation from a paycheck-to-paycheck family to a family that has money in the bank. While I wouldn't say we are extreme frugalists, we do try to save as much money as we can, yet still provide excellent entertainment and learning opportunities for our family. Like J.D. (and many others!), we have struggled with finding that balance where we allow some fun while working to increase our financial health.

When it comes to entertainment, I think we are close to finding that balance. We do allow some money in our budget for that type of spending, but not much. We supplement our spending by enjoying as many free activities/events in our area as we can. But where do we find them?

The internet turned out to be a great resource for us and I thought I would share what I've learned with you. Of course, internet sources vary greatly depending on where you live so this is a generic list that I hope can be helpful to everyone. By all means, if you have suggestions, feel free to share with everyone in the comments!

  • TV & Radio Stations — Most of our local stations have an online community calendar. While not everything listed has been free, I have found some great gems.
  • Newspapers — Our newspaper's online version has a community calendar. They also sometimes post articles about free events (they tend to be right before the event so they are last minute finds).
  • Hospitals — I never knew our local hospital sponsored so many free activities to promote good health! The free activities around us are often geared towards kids but the whole family is invited.
  • Cities/Towns — Municipalities around us have event pages to promote what is happening. Free concerts around us are pretty popular.
  • Local Tourism Sites — Our local tourism sites have given us ideas regarding free places to visit and explore in our area. They also have a calendar that we check for free events.
  • Bookstores & Libraries — When it comes to finding free presentations by authors or literacy programs for children, bookstores and libraries are the place to look.
  • Sporting Goods Stores — I was surprised when I came across a local sporting goods store with a calendar of events. One near us sponsors things like free get-together bike rides.
  • National & State Parks — some state parks in our area have free nature programs and hikes for families during the summer.
  • Schools & Colleges — One school in our area has an online newsletter on their website that includes upcoming local activities for families. I've found quite a few free things to do from that. The local college advertises free seminars and concerts. Both of these are usually more active during the school year.
  • Historical Societies & Museums — In my experience, there is usually a fee for events sponsored by historical societies and museums. However, at least once a year the ones near us have a free open house and some link to free historical seminars at other locations.
  • Target Stores — They are sponsoring free and reduced fee activities this summer. The activities are in major metropolitan areas, but if you are near one there are some great offerings. For example, admission to the Portland Children's Museum is free on the first Friday of the month.
  • Search Engines — I've found a few obscure free things to do just by searching for “free events [my town]” or “free activities [my town]” on Google.

The sites I find are bookmarked and checked weekly. The small amount of time I spend to check them is worth it since the free activities and events we attend feel like little splurges to us. They are fun and they are free!

The photo of the girl is by D Sharon Pruitt.The second photo is by the Goddard Space Flight Center of “The Sunday Experiment”, a free program they hosted earlier this year.

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cmadler
cmadler
11 years ago

One of our biggest sources for free entertainment is our neighborhood’s email list.

Chickybeth
Chickybeth
11 years ago

I live in Michigan and the libraries here have passes that you can check out to get into lots of museums for free all over the state. There is also a program this year called “Park and Read” where you check out a pass to get into any Metro Park for free.

Tyler@FrugallyGreen
11 years ago

With the explosion of popularity of blogs, I’ve been able to find a few bloggers here in Portland that dedicate their site to local events. They’re not always free, but they’re usually targeted at a certain demographic, so if you fit that mold, you can get a lot of valuable updates all at one spot. May be worth looking into if you live in a larger city.

MK
MK
11 years ago

I live in Houston and use the blog:
houstononthecheap.com
And it has lots of helpful tips. I believe the blog has other sites for other cities.

I’ve had good luck with our local outdoor theatre. They show movies in the park on a regular basis. I always encourage my friends to go there because 1. It’s cheaper than a theatre and 2. We can drink (and BYOB is cheaper than a bar). A potluck picnic and movie under the stars is a pretty great night out.

Lindsay
Lindsay
11 years ago

It’s good to hear the perspective of someone who has children, because the financial choices, priorities and sacrifices can be different from those of the single or sans children household.

I don’t believe I’ve seen a list like this here before.. and writing about something that hasn’t already been covered by our mentor here is quite a feat! This is my favorite guest submission thus far.

Lindsay
Lindsay
11 years ago

Oh I forgot to add, though this is written from the perspective of a family with children, most of it can be easily applied to a single person or a family without children. This list is something I’m going to start using right away!

Lindsay
Lindsay
11 years ago

Gosh, I just thought of something that crossed my mind while reading the list: at least around Atlanta, there are several state parks within an hour’s drive, and they are entirely free to go hiking, biking, have a picnic or just sight-see. You could borrow a book on local birds/trees/insects and turn it into an educational treasure-hunt with your kids (or your inner kid).

Shane
Shane
11 years ago

This is a great post with some great tips for finding ways to save money on entertainment. Two thumbs up! I enjoy simple things like riding my bike, playing catch, etc. Many bowling alleys around my area also have $1 games on Mondays, which is pretty cheap. My girlfriend and I do enjoy going out to see movies though, probably because of the atmosphere. We have slowed down with that lately though. When we do go, I have discount tickets I can buy through my job, and they save me about $5 on a pair of tickets. We tried visiting… Read more »

Kate
Kate
11 years ago

Fun guest post. A good reminder that in the midst of all this frugality and the stress of the economy, the point of it all is to enjoy life. When I think of my childhood, we did a lot of activities that were free or required a small initial investment in equipment (that my parents often got used). Things like hiking, skating, sledding, playing catch, neighborhood block parties, camping in the backyard. Some other ideas: *Letterboxing (a sort of scavenger hunt hobby requiring a very small initial investment in a stamp and notebook) http://www.letterboxing.org/ *Picnics in the park *Farmer’s Markets… Read more »

DCH
DCH
11 years ago

When the “candidates” for the staff writer position(s) were first introduced, I was most interested in reading posts from AJ and Lynn – now I’ve got their posts on back-to-back days! My wife and I have three kids, so having someone write from the family perspective is definitely useful to me. Also, I like the idea that AJ and Lynn don’t currently write for another blog. I know that shouldn’t make a difference, but for some reason it does to me.

Anne
Anne
11 years ago

If you have a Bank of America card you get free admission to museums and zoos on the first weekend of every month.
http://museums.bankofamerica.com/

Debra
Debra
11 years ago

Best place I’ve found is citiesonthecheap.com . There are also “subsites”, such as tucsononthecheap.com etc. The site/blog posts good deals and freebies in your area. Example: I recently discovered through it that a local hamburger joint on Tuesdays offers hamburgers, hotdogs, french fries, small drinks, and ice cream cones for FIFTY CENTS EACH. That rocks!

Jason D Barr
Jason D Barr
11 years ago

Great post, Lynn! There are some places that I’d thought of previously, but a bunch that I had no idea about (Target, especially, is news to me).

Juliana
Juliana
11 years ago

My favorite guest post so far. I like the fresh perspective! Hope to see more!

allen
allen
11 years ago

great post, indeed!

Just wanted to add one; Here in Wisconsin, at least, our Public Radio’s & Public Television’s websites are great, and have lots of lists of events around the state. Not all are free, but many are.

Lisa A.
Lisa A.
11 years ago

These are great tips. I really enjoyed the post!

Jessica
Jessica
11 years ago

For those of you in the Greater Philadelphia Area, this website run by the tourism office has a free section, and lets you search the calendar by date for only free activities. They also have some RSS feeds.

http://www.phillyfunguide.com/

xtina
xtina
11 years ago

I’ll also add that those free city newspapers (in Washington, D.C. it’s called The City Paper, in Albuquerque it’s The Alibi and in Santa Fe, NM it’s The Reporter) have tons of free/low cost events listed.

MarthaO
MarthaO
11 years ago

I enjoy the family perspective, and a mom’s voice. We have five teen/tweens…definitely a difficult time in our lives to keep the activity/entertainment budget down. We’ve found keeping the kids involved with low-cost sports and positive groups (anti drug, music, theater groups, volunteering) also gets the whole family involved. We also keep up with websites in our area for free concerts, etc. I think I would enjoy a mix of voices on this, my favorite, PF blog.

Ann
Ann
11 years ago

I’m mostly lucky to live in Chicago, boo to the new parking meter rates, where we have tons of free things to do in the summer; movies in the park, concerts, dancing and exercise classes in the park, etc. A donation is sometimes asked to get into a street fair and it’s just that. Depending on your budget, you can donate what you want or walk in free. Also, the library has museum passes to waive entrance fees. (Oh the days when museums were free on Sunday.)

Kristin @ klingtocash
Kristin @ klingtocash
11 years ago

Check out your local chamber of commerce. In our town, the CoC sends out an email every Thursday with everything going on in town. We have free concerts on the green, a farmer’s market and lots of other activities each week. I’m always amazed with all the free stuff going on in my town each week.

Caitlin
Caitlin
11 years ago

Great list!
Not the best written of the audition articles, in my opinion, but a helpful list indeed. 😀

@Kate – is Letterboxing sort of like Geocacaching? It sounds like loads of fun!!

I would hope, though, if Lynne becomes a staff writer, the phrase “she is the CFO of her family” is dropped from her bio. It’s amusing as a one-off phrase, but as part of an “official” site bio sounds rather pretentious and stuffy. Would anyone really introduce themselves like that?

Angela
Angela
11 years ago

Great tip about Target.

Another idea: check if your employer (especially if it’s a large one, like mine) has arranged for free or discounted admission to museums, shows, or other places. My very large employer has arranged a bunch of great deals for employees in the NYC area. However, I did need to poke around their website quite a bit to get the information.

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
11 years ago

Have you actually gone to any of these events? Were any of them fun? Did some of them turn out to be lame? Personally, a free hospital activity to promote good health sounds like it’s going to be tremendously boring, and I’d much rather just go to the beach or the park (which are both free, too). Maybe some of these things are more fun than they sound, but it’d be nice to have some references. Just because something’s free doesn’t make it worth going to, so if there’s no way to find “free things that you actually want to… Read more »

Tracy
Tracy
11 years ago

Thanks for sharing your resources with us!

Lesley
Lesley
11 years ago

I am also liking the family perspective. It was having kids that started me on this path of financial responsibility, so it’s very relevant to me.

arg
arg
11 years ago

This post seems a little obvious, not that helpful really, and not as well written as some of the others, sorry…

ebyt
ebyt
11 years ago

All good ideas. I usually don’t check out any of the free stuff in my city unless it’s in the big square downtown near my work… they usually hold a lot of mini festivals and events there. I’ll keep these tips in mind. Wasn’t the most “oh that is interesting and really makes me think” post, but I think a list like this is useful for sure. Thanks!

Craig
Craig
11 years ago

There are always events around the community that you can find. In city blogs there are always mentions of festivals in the area, where you can just walk around.

Nate
Nate
11 years ago

Enjoyed it! You got me thinking about all the things I enjoy doing for free; I feel like I am going to be adding to that list soon 🙂 My favorite free thing to do with my wife is to play tennis (well – we buy balls in bulk that last us for quite a while). I also REALLY enjoy going to park and playing with out dog. We LOVE spending quality time with family (lots of “free” food — well until it is our turn to host of course!). We “rent” movies from our family and friends (swap 2… Read more »

Claire
Claire
11 years ago

I like this post! 🙂 Other good resources:

-We live near the state fairgrounds; they have an online calendar showing what’s going to be there next.
-Our local parks & recreation dept also has an online calendar (lots of free stuff).
***Our city’s visitor’s center is a GREAT resource, also with an online calendar.

lynnor
lynnor
11 years ago

thanks for the list! I do like the perspective, writing could improve, but if you look at where JD was a couple years ago… 😉 I also am one looking for someone w/ kids and not already have an established blog. I’ll also add check the community parks calendars. I know where parents live (SD) and here in PDX, the parks offer a lot of free events in the summer such as music, movies, climbing walls, games, pool parties, ice cream socials, etc. And check out kids sporting events. My kids (preschool and early elementary) really like to watch little… Read more »

Rich
Rich
11 years ago

Register for parkgeek.com – they have a free weekly newsletter that will tell you about all of the cool stuff happening at parks and other recreation places near your house. It’s free!

Wendy H
Wendy H
11 years ago

This article is now bookmarked! I was just trying to figure out more things I can do with my 3yr old that wouldn’t break the bank.

R Hookup
R Hookup
11 years ago

I keep a calendar for Free Movies in the Boston area:

http://tinyurl.com/2z8spc

I find that colleges are great places to find events, cheap and free. Most of the schools now have calendars where you can find events open to the public. I have gone to interesting events (films, plays, discussions, conferences) for free — sometimes even including a meal or reception.

E
E
11 years ago

I think to find out which free events are lame and which are cool you just have to try a few out. Also the event type might give you a clue. Generally, library events sound really boring to me, but every once in a while we get something or someone – like JD – really cool. We once went to two street fairs in one day; one was awesome, the other just kind of meh. You just have to be a little adventurous and try things out. If something turns out to be lame, you can have fun talking about… Read more »

Tim
Tim
11 years ago

Nice article Lynn…good info without all the jibber jabber in the other articles thus far.

Patrenia
Patrenia
11 years ago

Thanks for the reminder!!! Now that my kids are back in school. I’ll have more time to make plans for weekly fun “free” activities.

Lynn
Lynn
11 years ago

Thank you for the compliments on my post. It was tough figuring out what I wanted to write about for the audition and in the end I chose this topic and the upcoming one. I’m glad it gave some of you ideas. I also love the ideas others have given! I know what I will be doing tonight (checking out the sites mentioned). @Caitlin #22 – I can understand what you are saying about the “CFO” part. I added that in there to help convey who I am in only a few words. If chosen to be a writer a… Read more »

Kevin M
Kevin M
11 years ago

Can’t believe no one has mentioned just taking a walk or going for a run…nothing cheaper than that.

Also, I agree with Tyler it would have helped to give a personal story about one event she and her family have actually attended, maybe kind of an impromptu review of sorts? Also would have helped show a bit of her personality, instead of just a brief intro, dropping the list on us and that’s it.

Kevin@OutOfYourRut
11 years ago

I have to agree with Tyler (24) on his suggestion that much of the free stuff isn’t terribly fun. If you have small children a lot of those venues can work, but if you’re doing it for yourself or to entertain teenage kids it’s a very different story. It’s probably best to find lower cost activities, or at least less expensive ways to do the things you normally like to do. We’ve found that going to the movies but buying our snacks at a store saves a bundle. The candy you pay $4-5 a box for in the theater is… Read more »

Erin
Erin
11 years ago

I really liked this post. My husband and I are always looking for fun activities to do that don’t require much money.

Bear
Bear
11 years ago

Nice concise article with apparently practical info. Unfortunately it has little application for me (kids grown and gone) but I can understand its appeal. This type of article would be nice for a guest post but I would prefer other potential staff writers style for day to day articles.

Swanky
Swanky
11 years ago

A friend and I just started up a website (www.swankyants.com) to help with this very thing. We were frustrated that it’s not easy to find events that are happening nearby where we live. There are all kinds of events posted and many are free. The site has mainly events in the Pacific Northwest but there is nothing to stop anyone for using the site anywhere in the world. BTW, it’s free!

Stefan
Stefan
11 years ago

Rather boring post, especially for all the people who are not brain dead.

azphx1972
azphx1972
11 years ago

Nice article, thanks for sharing!

Also thanks to [email protected] for the tip about BofA museum & zoo deals!

Adrian
Adrian
11 years ago

I think this article serves as a good reminder for the frugal-minded or the soon to be frugal-minded individuals lurking about on PF sites that fun can still be free, no matter what age you reach or where you reside. Unfortunately, I do feel that this article could have been written by many individuals (surprised JD hasn’t covered this) and was very broad and general in all respects — it would of been nice to hear about the author’s experience and specific examples in her quest to enjoy life (especially with her kids) and how she goes about finding that… Read more »

Jules @ Lovely Las Vegas
Jules @ Lovely Las Vegas
11 years ago

Great List! As for your mention of free activities at hospitals, it is very interesting because just last week I saw a session of tai chi occurring in a hospital lobby! Very cool.

Sarah
Sarah
11 years ago

My website is for exactly this, free entry for everybody. It is new and currently undergoing development but will eventually be worldwide. Contributors welcome.

seawallrunner
seawallrunner
11 years ago

Vancouver free events (and not expensive events) from a family’s perspective (a mom, a dad, a son and a daughter) with comments from the family. Immensely popular, lots of activities and spot-on for the commentary.

http://www.findfamilyfun.com/

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