The definition of summer is fun, but what to do when you don’t have a whole lot of extra cash to burn? Look for enjoyable activities that don’t cost a thing, of course. The U.S. offers a surprising amount of fun, free things you can do this season.
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Ride the Staten Island Ferry (Nearby Hotels)
During the summer, there are few things more enjoyable things to do then to hop in a boat and get out into the water – and, surprisingly, the Staten Island Ferry in New York City is totally free. The iconic ferry is an attraction of itself and offers a 25-minute voyage from Lower Manhattan to Staten Island that takes in the Statue of Liberty as well as the impressive New York Harbor and the Manhattan skylines.
Visit the Smithsonian Institution Museums (Nearby Hotels)
One of the best things about visiting Washington D.C. is its many free museums. The Smithsonian Institution is the world’s largest museum complex, made up of 19 separate museums and galleries as well as the National Zoo, housing over 137 million objects, like the Hope Diamond, the Wright brothers’ 1903 Flyer, the original Star-Spangled Banner and the ruby slippers from “The Wizard of Oz.” The Air & Space Museum, American History Museum and the Natural History Museum are visitor favorites.
Visit the Wave Organ at San Francisco's Exploratorium (Nearby Hotels)
Few people know about the Wave Organ, an acoustic metal sculpture that the Exploratorium installed decades ago. It sits at the top of a jet in the San Francisco marina and is a musical instrument that is actually played by the San Francisco Bay itself. The jetty was constructed with material taken from a demolished cemetery, providing a wide assortment of marble and carved granite, which is perhaps why the organ sometimes makes rather spooky sounds, as if a haunted soul is crying from within. As the tide changes, the sounds it makes do too. When the water rolls in, it burbles like a content baby, but on its way out, the sound is more like a belching man after he just downed a soda.
Take a Tour of Portland's International Rose Test Garden (Nearby Hotels)
Portland’s nickname is the City of Roses, as it’s long been an incubator for these glorious flowers. Founded in 1917, the Rose Test Garden, located in Washington Park, is the country’s oldest continuously operated public test garden. The garden develops new rose varieties and even miniatures, with its grounds divided up into a number of sections, each showcasing interesting plants to explore. If you visit between April and October, you can walk among 7,000 gorgeous rose bushes – they’re at their peak in June. Award winners are planted in the Gold Medal Garden, which also includes a picturesque gazebo. Take a tour to inhale blooms that are being developed and evaluated for scent and color, and can’t be seen anywhere else in the world.
Watch the Sun Go Down in Key West (Nearby Hotels)
Mallory Square has long been the hub of Key West’s social and commercial life. Today, the former warehouse area is not only home to an array of restaurants, shops, museums and theater, but it’s the location of some of the most glorious sunsets you’ll find anywhere on the planet. Tourists and locals gather on the dock to join in on the nightly sunset-watching ritual that includes live entertainment like musicians, jugglers and other street performers, as well as vendors, creating a carnival-like atmosphere. While you’re here, on another night you might want to catch a sunset sail, sipping wine as you watch the sun go down on the water.
Attend the Yarmouth Clam Festival, Maine (Nearby Hotels)
The Yarmouth Clam Festival has been an annual event in Yarmouth for over a half-century now, kicking off on the third Friday of July every year for three days of fun. It offers a wide range of family-friendly activities such as a parade, live music on three stages, arts and crafts, a carnival with rides, lots of food, road races, fireworks on Saturday night and more.
Visit the Cape Cod Lighthouses (Nearby Hotels)
Cape Cod is home to 16 lighthouses, making it one of the best destinations for lighthouse enthusiasts in the world. Some even allow visitors to climb to the top for jaw-dropping vistas of the shoreline and the Atlantic beyond. The Highland Light, sometimes referred to as Cape Cod Light, is the oldest and tallest on this hook-shaped peninsula. It was first constructed out of wood in 1797 to warn ships about the dangerous coastline between Cape Ann and Nantucket as it was usually the first seen for ships approaching from Europe. In 1857, the lighthouse was declared dangerous and demolished, so the current 66 foot brick tower was constructed. Located in North Truro, the grounds are open year-round, and the light is open to the public from May through late October, with guided tours available. There are four other lighthouses open for tours, including Nobska Point, Chatham, Nauset and Race Point.
Find Out if Aliens Really Exist at the Roswell UFO Festival (Nearby Hotels)
If you’re fascinated with aliens, head to the annual Roswell UFO Festival in Roswell, New Mexico. It’s the nation’s hub for all things extraterrestrial. The multi-day event held over three days in early July, July 6 to July 8 in 2018, features a parade, carnival, concerts, a costume contest, kid’s activities, and more. The festival welcomes both UFO enthusiasts and skeptics to celebrate the much-debated 1947 incident that many believe involved a UFO crashing on a ranch near Roswell. You’ll be able to explore questions like “Do UFOs exist?” “Did aliens really crash in Roswell?” While you’re here, you can visit the UFO museum too.
Watch For Whales From Lime Kiln Point, San Juan Island, Washington (Nearby Hotels)
San Juan Island in the San Juan archipelago off Washington State’s coast offers all sorts of outdoor adventures that can be enjoyed among spectacular scenery, but arguably the most popular is watching whales. You can join a boat or kayak tour to get out on the water, or watch for them right from shore at Lime Kiln Point State Park on the island’s west side. This is one of the world’s top spots for viewing the orca whale pods that frequently pass by in the summer, and occasionally at other times of the year as well. In the main seaport town of Friday Harbor, you can check out the whale museum, art galleries, a variety of shops, and dine at eateries, many of which serve tasty dishes based on local ingredients, including fresh seafood, produce and herbs.