Fabulous and Still Free ~ Attractions to Visit in America

vintage disney Remember the good old days, when people could set aside a few dollars and head out for trips of wonder and excitement?  It didn’t take a small loan or the sale of your firstborn to create memories that lasted a lifetime.  Set the wayback machine for 1971 when a mere $4.50 (adult) or $3.50 (child) bought you entry into the Magic Kingdom of Disneyland where you could wander from dawn to dusk.  It also bought you a book of ride tickets rated from A-E.  The “E” ticket was highly coveted as it took you on the best and biggest rides in the park.  Your $4.50 bought 1A ticket, 1B, 1C, 2D tickets and 2 E tickets.  As kids, we quickly learned about prioritizing and rationing!   One C ticket (or 50 cents if you wanted to go again) got you a ride in one of Davey Crockett’s canoes in Frontierland.  The E ticket took you on a gondola ride through It’s a Small World (don’t start humming the song or it’ll be in your head all day) or bought you a front row seat at The Mickey Mouse Review.

Fast forward to 2014 and What the Heck Happened?

A trip to the Magic Kingdom today will set you back a cool $92.00 (adult) and $86.00 (child).  Yikes!  You can ride any attraction you like as many times as you like, but only if you are willing to stand in line for 45 minutes.   Whoopie!   Universal Studios, another “must see” on so many vacation lists, costs $84.00 in Hollywood and $92.00 in Orlando.

A family of four or two retirees taking the grandkids on a vacation, might have to take out a second mortgage to have this kind of fun.  And pack a lunch.

Which got me thinking:  “Are there any great places to visit or attractions to see that are still free?”  Or at least cheap?

Turns out there are quite a few.  And a lot of folks are making a pilgrimage to these wonderful sites part of their vacation travels.   I’ve been to a few, but not nearly enough.  I see a road trip or two in my future.  What about you?

In order of absolutely no importance, every one of these attractions is worth a visit while the price is still right.

1.  The Smithsoniam Museums, Washington, D.C.  –  The National Zoo, National Museum of Natural History and the National Air and Space Museum are the crown jewels of the 18 Smithsonian institutions in Washington D.C.   Where else can you see The Hope Diamond, Dorothy’s Red Slippers and the Spirit of St. Louis all in the same day and all for free?

2.  The National Mall and Washington D.C. Memorials –  The nation’s capital takes it’s “by the people for the people” ethos seriously (at least when it comes to buildings and monuments) and a surfeit of attractions honoring the country’s heritage cost nothing to tour – landmarks along the Mall, the Washington Monument, Lincoln and Jefferson memorials and the moving memorials to the veterans of WWII, the Korean War and the Vietnman War should be on every American’s must see at least once bucket list.

3.  New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park – While most national parks were established to preserve and share nature, this one celebrates jazz in it’s birthplace, New Orleans.   You’ll enjoy live music in the French Quarter, a music workshop for kids at Preservation Hall every Saturday, free guided walks and video documentaries and a whole lot more.

4.  The Getty Center, Los Angeles – Admission is free.  Parking is $15.00 but it’s still a deal and you can take public transporation.   The Getty is a sprawling art complex that sits high on a hill with jaw dropping views and sunsets.  Browse their impressive collection of European and American art, stroll the fabulous gardens or take the young ones to enjoy the Family Room for interactive exhibits and an art treasure hunt.   I just checked and the cost of admission to our Portland Art Museum is $15.00 for an adult, so the Getty seems like a real deal.

5.  Staten Island Ferry, New York City –  There’s still something free in NYC.  Who would have guessed.  A thrill ride on the Staten Island commuter ferry will take you past the Statue of Liberty with a panoramic view of downtown Manhattan, Brooklyn and Jersey City.  Even better when the city lights up.  It’s free 24/7 so you can ride any time.

6.  Harley-Davidson Factory Tour, Kansas City, MO –  Here’s your chance to go behind the scenes to see how Harley’s are made.  Take the tour to learn how fenders and gas tanks are formed from raw materials, watch live welding, frame bending and sophisticated robot technology at work.  You can even sit on hogs currently in production.  Selfie time!  (Tours are also available in Menomonee Falls, WI and York, PA).  They offer more in-depth tours for a whopping $30.00 so stick with the freebie.

7.  Freedom Trail, Boston, MA –  Walking the red brick path as it winds through metropolitan Boston is a walk through colonial history:  Boston Commons, the Old State House, Faneuil Hall, Paul Revere’s house and Bunker Hill Monument.  You can take this walk at your leisure (for free) or pony up for an official tour with a guide in period costume.

8.  Mt. Rushmore, South Dakota –  It’s free to take in this amazing feat of art and architecture.  Where else but in the good ole USofA would you find 60 foot tall heads of four American presidents (Jefferson, Roosevelt (Theodore), Washington and Lincoln) painstakingly chiseled into granite cliffs?  It does cost to park, but it’s still South Dakota’s most visited attraction.

9.  Olympic Training Center, Colorado Springs, CO – The Colorado Springs Center is one of three facilities in the U.S. where Olympic hopefuls put in long hours to prepare for their shot at the gold.  You can tour this facility, which mainly focuses on summer indoor sports like swimming and fencing.  Always wanted to sit in a bobsled?  Here’s your chance.

10.  Royal Hawaiian Center, Honolulu, HI –  Immerse yourself in Hawaiian culture and history with a visit to this recently remodeled attraction.  Experiences include everything from traditional Hawaiian massage (lomilomi), lei making, Hawaiian quilting, hula dancing or a crash course in ukulele making.

Been there?  Done that?  Here are ten more.  Get there and enjoy the experience while they are still free.

11.  Independence National Historic Park, Philadelphia

12.  Conservatory at Bellagio, Las Vegas

13.  National September 11 Memorial, NYC

14.  Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago

15.  San Francisco Cable Car Museum

16.  Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco – Yes you can walk across, enjoy the spectacular views, eat in the restaurant

17.  Birmingham Botanical Gardens, AL

18.  Bonaventure Cemetery, Savannah, GA for some eerie Gothic charm or the Westminister Hall Cemetery in Baltimore, MD, the eternal resting place of Edgar Allen Poe.

19.  Houston Museum District, Houston – 19 museums within a 1.5 mile radius.  12 are free daily.

20.  Allagash Brewery Tour, Portland, ME – Make an advance reservation, wear closed toe shoes and start your tour with free samples.

Got a favorite free attraction that you want to share?  Please leave a comment!

See you on the road!

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12 thoughts on “Fabulous and Still Free ~ Attractions to Visit in America

  1. Excellent list, with the push for local economies to add income streets, it’s great to see that there are still some incredible things that you can do for free in the USA, thanks for sharing these!

    • Thanks Noel, I loved your Venice photos. Sometimes I forget how many outstanding things there are to see and do right here at home. I’m so busy looking toward foreign shores. Hopefully I’ll get to do both soon.

  2. Terrific! Might I also suggest a free sight, walking the beach in Sanibel FL, seeing all kinds of varieties of sea birds (you can also see them on docks and on the main street!) and shells of all size and description. Also, Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, nominal car fee, and you can buy a pass for $10 that gives free admission to all National Parks, but only if you are a senior. At Ding Darling, you pay by the carload, so everybody in my car (with pass) rides and sees free! Another hint, slip into the jetstream of a tour group and overhear the guide’s spiel! That’s free everywhere!

    • More great places Margie. Thanks for the tips and someday I will get there to experience them with you as our tour guide. Enjoy your warm weather and your visitors.

  3. Great list, Nancy!! I’ve been to a few but I’m saving your list for future travels!

    I’ve always been able to find free places to have fun no matter where I am so I’m not sure what my favorite place would be but here’s just a few off the top of my head:

    In San Diego: the tidepools, Seaport Village, Point Loma, the seals in La Jolla Cove.

    In San Francisco: Golden Gate Park, the beach at west end of Golden Gate Park, the Presidio, wandering along Fisherman’s Wharf.

    In Las Vegas: the salt-water aquarium at Mandalay Bay, the Ethel M. Chocolate Factory Tour and Cactus Garden (you get free chocolate, too!), Hoover Dam and the Hoover Dam Bypass Bridge.

    In Los Angeles: the Griffith Park Observatory, Hollywood Forever Cemetery where many celebrities are buried, the hike up to the Hollywood sign (great view of the city).

    One of the most awesome compliments my son ever paid me was the day he brought a sailor buddy home for the weekend while their submarine was in a nearby port, and he asked me where they could go to have some cheap fun because, as he said at the time “you’ve always been able to find the free places to go to have fun.”

    Very nice post, Nancy! You brought back some really fun and enjoyable memories!

    See you on the road!

  4. Fun post and I remember the E tickets in Disneyland. I also have a photo of me as a little girl riding the “live” donkeys. Where Thunder Mountain Railroad is now, that’s where there was a small replica of a gold mining town and a donkey ride. Remember?

    • Hi Patti, My first visit to Disneyland was 1965 but I’m afraid I don’t remember the donkeys. I do remember that at Knott’s Berry Farm which is another high dollar attraction these days.

  5. worth mentioning again – for $10, 62 & older – lifetime pass to ALL national parks, national wildlife refuges, forest service campgrounds. Admits everyone in your car. Then half price for camping in national parks – practically free

    • Thanks Judy. We have our pass now just have to get out this summer and use it more. Where are you guys? Hope you are having a grand adventure!

    • Thanks Dale. Thank goodness there are still many amazing and beautiful sights to see that are free or at least cheap. Hopefully a walk in the still beauty of the forest or along an uncrowded beach will always be something we never have to pay for.

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