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.
Festivalgoers can eat their way through Alabama this summer. Celebrate blueberries June 18 at the 36th annual Alabama Blueberry Festival in Brewton; peaches on June 24 at Clanton's Peach Jam Jubilee; and okra on Aug. 27 at Burkville's Okra Festival.
The city of Juneau is honoring its gold-digging history with the Juneau Gold Rush Days festival June 18-19. Residents commemorate the city's founding by Joe Juneau in 1880 with exhibits, food, and mining competitions.
Children of all ages will appreciate the I.d.e.a Museum's free admissions day on June 5. One highlight among the museum's interactive activities and workshops is Artville, an indoor play space designed for children under 5.
The eighth annual Juneteenth Celebration of Freedom is coming to Little Rock on June 18 to celebrate the end of slavery with gospel, blues, R&B, 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.
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 7 and 23, July 12 and 26, Aug. 2, and Sept. 14.
Hartford's Riverfest celebrates summer with food trucks, live entertainment, and fireworks on July 9 this year. The festivities take place at two locations: Mortensen Riverfront Plaza in Hartford -- where the food trucks will convene July 7-9 -- and Great River Park in East Hartford.
Rehoboth Beach's annual sandcastle contest returns Sept. 10, with more than 100 teams expected to take part in the 38th annual end-of-summer event. Adults and children can participate in the fun while competing for prizes.
District of Columbia
The Capital Dragon Boat Regatta launches in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 27 for a full day of boat racing down the Washington Channel. Vendors will offer an assortment of retail and food products.
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.
Every summer, the Old Fourth Ward Arts Festival in Atlanta celebrates the historic neighborhood where Martin Luther King Jr. lived. This free event, June 25-26 this year, focuses on the arts, fresh food, and the fascinating history of the area.
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.
Summer Cruise-In events offer free entertainment for car enthusiasts of all ages throughout the summer. Classic cars cruise downtown Auburn, home to the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum, about 20 miles north of Fort Wayne. The dates are June 16, July 28, Aug. 18, and Sept. 15.
The Des Moines Arts Festival showcases a variety of performing and visual arts in Western Gateway Park downtown. This year the free event, June 24-26, will feature live performances from musicians such as Grand Funk Railroad and Gin Blossoms.
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).
Enjoy high-stakes horse culture in Lexington, known as the horse capital of the world, at the Hagyard Challenge Series, a summer jumping competition. Between May 12 and Sept. 23, horses and riders will compete for a $50,000 Leading Rider Award or $10,000 runner-up prize.
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.
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 May 27 to view the stars and planets for free.
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).
The Dragon Festival is an 18-year tradition celebrating pan-Asian heritage in St. Paul. Of course there will be dragon boat races, but there will also be food vendors, martial arts demonstrations, and a children's corner at the event July 9-10.
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. 20. This year's guests include writers Richard Ford, Julia Reed, Greg Iles, Kate DiCamillo, and Richard Grant.
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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.
The historic Moss Mansion in Billings is hosting a free day June 5 to celebrate the Billings Preservation Society's 30th anniversary, throwing open the doors for festivities including a pie sale, ice cream and cake, music, and more.
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 Nevada City Adult Soapbox Derby coming June 5 to Pioneer Park is much like the soapbox derbies of old -- but taken to extremes, with adult teams getting together to build creative, gravity-based racers (think dragons pulling Roman chariots, smoking miniature roadsters, and giant Slinky Dogs) and teams coming from as far away as San Jose, California; Houston; and Wichita, Kansas.
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.
The Downtown Street Fair in Fargo is one of the largest events in the area. It takes place July 14-16 this year and delivers classic summer fair favorites, including grilled food, art contests, and games.
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.
On June 11, 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. The annual Bricktown 4th Fest is an extravaganza of fireworks, live music, baseball, and entertainment in Oklahoma City.
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.
Penn's Landing in Philadelphia is hosting a series of free festivals May 18 through Sept. 21 along the Delaware River downtown. These multicultural events include the Portuguese Festival, Hispanic Fiesta, and Southeast Asian Dragon Festival.
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Taking advantage of the perfectly windy coastline, the Newport Kite Festival at Brenton Point State Park in Newport is July 9-10 this summer. Bring a kite, watch others fly, or simply enjoy the breeze off the water.
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.
Classic cars and motorcycles will roll through the streets of downtown Sioux Falls for Hot Summer Nites on July 13. Food and music also keep the crowd entertained.
The First Saturday Art Crawl takes place June 4, July 2, Aug. 6, and Sept. 3 this summer in downtown Nashville. Participants can meet up to two dozen artists and admire their work on a stroll through the city, being treated to wine and other refreshments along the way.
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.
The Virginia Lake Festival attracts some 80,000 visitors to Clarksville. On the weekend of July 16, attendees can enjoy hot-air balloons and helicopter rides, live music, arts and crafts, and other attractions in a historic town.
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).
FestivALL, a nine-day event in which "a city becomes a work of art," will take place in Charleston June 19-28, with hundreds of performances on the schedule. Many festival events are free, including an ice cream social on June 21.
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.
Spectators can watch hot-air balloons lift off into the sky July 15-17 at the Riverton Rendezvous, an annual celebration for the city, which turns 110 this year.
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