If there is anything better than enjoying a fun activity in the summer, it’s doing it for free. Tomorrow, some friends and I will be meeting up at Ravinia, the country’s oldest outdoor music festival, to listen to some live classical music while grazing on our self-catered picnic of fruit, cheese, and vino. The best part? Our lawn passes were free courtesy of the Chicago Public Library.
Even in expensive cities, visitors and locals alike can find things to do that are totally free of charge. We’ve hunted down the best free events, free attractions, free tours, and more from some of the top cities in the country. This week, we'll be looking at the top free things to do in New York City, Chicago, Atlanta, and San Francisco. Don't be bummed if your favorite hot spot isn't on our list, over the next few weeks we'll also be covering the top free things to do in Los Angeles, Houston, Washington DC, Dallas, Philadelphia, Charlotte, Denver, and Minneapolis!
Top Free Things to Do in New York
Shakespeare in the Park
A long-running summer tradition in NYC, The Public Theater provides 8 weeks of free Shakespeare plays to audiences at Delacorte Theater. Tickets are first-come first-serve, or you can enter the daily ticket drawing online. Performances run in June, July, and August. Check the website for the schedule—Central Park www.shakespeareinthepark.org
Shakespeare in the Park(ing) Lot
The Drilling Company delivers free Shakespeare productions from the Municipal Parking Lot. Seats are first-come first-serve, but once the seats are gone, you can use your own blanket. Performances run in July and August. The the website for dates. There is never a wait and no one is turned away!—Ludlow and Broome Streets www.shakespeareintheparkinglot.com
Swiss Institute of Contemporary Art
Originally, this art museum featured only Swiss artists, but it now showcases the work of emerging artist from around the world. The museum is open Wednesday-Sunday and entry is always free.—495 Broadway, 3rd Floor
Kayaking at the Downtown Boathouse
The Downtown Boathouse offers free kayaking on the river between May and October. Check the website for dates, hours, and other information.—Pier 40, Pier 96, and 72nd St.
Socrates Sculpture Park
The Socrates Sculpture Park has large-scale sculpture and tons of events in a unique outdoor environment. And everything is free! Check the website for details.—32-01 Vernon Boulevard at Broadway
Top Free Things to Do in Chicago
Movies in the Parks
Check out old classics and more recent releases in parks around Chicago from June 11 through October 26. Bring your own blankets and snacks. Movies begin at dusk. See the website for movies and locations.
Lincoln Park Zoo
In the heart of Chicago, Lincoln Park Zoo is open 365 days a year, and it's always free. Summer hours are weekdays 10AM –5PM and weekends 10AM–6:30PM—Lincoln Park
Select Classical Concerts & Museum Entry
Chicago Public Library cardholders can pick up free lawn passes to select classical music concerts throughout the summer at Ravinia from library branches. Pick up a maximum of 2 passes to 2 different concerts per valid library card per day. Library cardholders are also able to pick up passes good for admission for up to 4 people at most Chicago museums.
Admission to Chicago Museums
If you aren't eligible for the free museum passes from the library, you can visit Chicago's world class museums, like the Art Institute, the Field Museum, and the Shedd Aquarium, without spending a penny by taking advantage of their free days. See this website for current dates.
Enjoy free music, family activities, summer workouts, a giant silver bean, and more at Chicago's Millennium Park.—201 E. Randolph St.
Top Free Things to Do in Atlanta
Atlanta Contemporary Art Center
Every Thursday from 11AM through 8PM, admission to the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center is free. Expect to find contemporary works by artists ranging from local to international. Thursday evening programming often features lectures, gallery tours, film screenings and more.—535 Means St.
The King Center
This donation-only museum dedicated to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. includes the crypt of Dr. King and his wife, Freedom Hall, and Dr. King's Birth Home.—449 Auburn Ave. www.thekingcenter.org
Centennial Olympic Park
This public park, constructed for the Atlanta-hosted Olympic Games in 1996, offers free concerts, a dancing water fountain, and more.—265 Park Ave W www.centennialpark.com
Center for Puppetry Arts
Every Thursday from 1 to 3pm, admission to the Center for Puppetry Arts is free. Jim Henson is the feature of a number of their long-term exhibits.—1404 Spring St.
The Governor’s Mansion
Get a real feel for Southern hospitality by touring the Governors Mansion. Free public tours run Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 10AM to 11:30AM. Arrive before 11 so you have time to finish the tour before the 11:30AM closing time.—391 West Paces Ferry Rd.
Top Free Things to Do in San Francisco
Cable Car Museum
Don't just ride a cable car, become an expert! Learn all about cable cars and view a collection of historic cable cars for free 361 days a year at the San Francisco Cable Car Museum.—1201 Mason St.
Admission to 16 SF Attractions
San Francisco Public Library cardholders can pick up a San Francisco Family Pass for free at the library. It offers free admission for 1-2 adults and up to 4 children to 15 area attractions including the San Francisco Zoo, and the Aquarium of the Bay. Only for families with children.
Jelly Belly Factory Tours
Take a free 40-minute walking tour of the Jelly Belly Factory. You'll learn what goes into the creation of these famous jelly beans. Tours depart every 10-15 minutes from 9am to 4pm 361 days a year.—One Jelly Belly Ln., Fairfield
The Mexican Museum
Over 14,000 works of art, ranging from pre-conquest to modern Mexican, Latino, and Chicano art, make up the Mexican Museum. It is open from Wednesday through Sunday from 12pm to 4pm. Admission is free.—Marina Blvd. and Buchanan St.
Shakespeare in the Park
From July through September, a number of the Bard's works are staged in parks in San Francisco and the Bay area. Admission is free. Bring a blanket and a picnic. Check the website for show dates, times, and locations. www.sfshakes.org
To find out the best free activities in 8 other cities, and get the best handpicked deals delivered to your inbox daily, sign up for Brad's Daily Alerts!Photo Credits, in order of appearance: Mike Fleming, Tim Sackton, Red, White & Black, & Nick Ares