Picture this recent summer evening: my wife sipped Merlot and I had a Riesling. We ate strawberries dipped in chocolate while perusing paintings and sculptures. A local brew pub handed out samples of their latest creation in the corner, and servers offered trays full of cheese and crackers. Sounds like a swanky night out, doesn’t it?
Actually, our evening of art, hors d’oeuvres, and drinks cost nothing.
We regularly attended art exhibitions like this one at the Mercato shopping center in Naples Florida, and it’s just one example of free summer entertainment opportunities available almost everywhere.
Here are six more ways to get out and have some free fun this summer.
1. Find a Secret Swimming Hole
When we lived in Colorado, a local gave us a hand-scribbled map to a secret swimming hole that was a mile down a barely-visible trail from an unmarked dusty parking area alongside a country road. A 30-minute hike led us to a small crowd of people jumping off cliffs into a cool green pool fed by a small stream. I took the 15-foot leap twice, and we watched as people crazier than me leapt from 60 feet up.
To find spots like this across the country, start with this website about swimming holes. With a few clicks, I just learned about a bunch of new places around my home. Once you get to your first new swimming hole, ask the people there about other, lesser-known spots. Then go enjoy the adventure of tracking them down, followed by the reward of a cool break from the summer heat.
2. Watch Free Outdoor Movies
Although there are 90% fewer drive-in movie theaters than there were 65 years ago, you can still find opportunities to watch movies on outdoor screens — and for free. For example, this summer in Chicago, the Millennium Park Summer Film Series will include one of my favorites, O Brother Where Art Thou?
You can also watch free movies in New York City at several different parks. In Denver, Southwest Airlines presents Movies at Skyline Park, and there is an entire website devoted to free outdoor movies in Washington, D.C.
To find the freebies near you, just Google “free outdoor movies” plus the name of your town or state. You might be surprised at how many there are. (Like this idea? Click to tweet it!)
3. Go to Free Concerts
Enter “free concerts” into that search engine, along with the name of your town and others nearby to see what you find. We have a freebie coming in a week to a local outdoor venue. It’s a decent band that does covers of Tom Petty, Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd, Neil Young and The Violent Femmes (is my age showing?).
Another way to attend concerts for free is to offer to be the designated driver for friends with similar tastes in music. Offer to let them enjoy their beer without worries about driving, for the price of chipping in to buy your ticket. I’ve chipped in with a group to buy a ticket for our driver, and it was great to relax and enjoy the concert knowing that we had a safe ride home.
One more option is to volunteer as an usher. Sometimes concert promoters advertise these positions on Craigslist, but usually you’ll have to call to see if they’re hiring ushers or need volunteers (check concert posters or websites for a phone number). Whether or not you get paid, you usually get to see just about the whole concert after you seat the attendees.
Finally, if your favorite band is coming to town and you can’t get in for free, you might at least cut the cost in half. We looked at how to make money selling tickets in a previous article on ticket scalping, but you can use the same websites to buy at a discount. Plans change and people often unload their concert tickets for less than they paid on both StubHub and Craigslist. To snag the best deals, it helps if you’re flexible and can change your own plans at the last moment.
4. Visit the Library
Sure, this might not sound too exciting in our digital age, but public libraries offer more than just paper books. Most have DVDs, CDs and audiobooks available to borrow, and some even offer ereader rentals.
Often, libraries host interesting lectures and short film presentations, and many have a weekly story time for children. All of this is free, and the information is available with a few clicks on your local library’s website.
5. Try Stargazing
Put together a beach, a blanket, and some snacks and drinks from the fridge, and you’re ready for a night of stargazing with your significant other or group of friends. If you’re not near the beach, an empty field or park works just fine. Just look for a spot without much light pollution so you’ll be able to see more stars.
Go to the Weather Underground Sky Map and enter your zip code to learn when the sun will set and what constellations you’ll be able to see. If you have a smartphone, try using one of these free stargazing apps to learn more about the constellations above you.
6. Attend First Friday Art Exhibitions
Google “first Friday art walk” or just “first Friday art,” plus the name of your community and any other towns near you. Chances are good you’ll find free art exhibitions at local galleries on the first Friday of every month. Often these events involve free snacks and drinks.
Even when we lived in little Cañon City, Colorado, at least one of the downtown galleries participating in the First Friday Art Walk always had free wine and hors d’oeuvres.
Your Turn: What are your best free entertainment ideas for summer? How do you get out and have fun without spending much?