Second Story Blog

Free Experiences for Your Summer Vacation

Going on vacation this summer? Visit one of the nation’s most-visited cities and choose activities you’ll love that don’t cost a thing. Here’s the scoop on what free experiences you can enjoy in each place!

Chicago, IL
  • Lincoln Park Zoo: Explore, learn and connect at this family-friendly destination and check out the Kovler Seal Pool, Waterfowl Lagoon, Farm-in-the-Zoo, Nature Boardwalk and much more.
  • Chicago Jazz Festival: If you’re in the Windy City August 30 through September 2, experience this festival programmed by the Jazz Institute of Chicago happening in Millennium Park. It’s a favorite among many because it’s just so good.
  • Summer Workouts: If you love Millennium Park and a good workout, go to the Great Lawn for a free yoga, tai chi or pilates class offered June through September from 7-11 a.m. A new 45-minute class begins every hour on the hour.
  • Garfield Park Conservatory: This is a place where those of all ages can appreciate the beauty of different plants. From the Palm House and Fern Room to the Desert House and Children’s Garden, there’s something for everyone.
  • The 606: If you’ve never heard of this destination, it features the elevated Bloomingdale Trail and is connected to four parks at ground level. The outstanding views of the skyline alone make this a worthwhile visit.
Nashville, TN
  • Robert’s Western World: This bar is just one of many that offers live music daily, with multiple bands playing each day. The best part? There’s no cover charge, and food and beer is very affordable.
  • Parnassus Books: Owned by international best-selling author Ann Patchett, this bookstore offers free readings, signings and children’s events almost every day.
  • CMA Fest: Add this music festival to your list, as it features a handful of free concerts, giveaways and other budget-friendly events like meet-and-greets and more.
  • Live on the Green: For another music option, this free outdoor music festival gives the stage to both established and emerging artists, with shows taking place on Thursdays and a featured weekend every summer in Public Square Park.
  • Centennial Park: This 132-acre beauty is considered one of Nashville’s premier parks, offering the Parthenon (a replica of the Athens structure), a walking trail, art center, historical monuments, events such as outdoor film screenings and a lot more.
New York City, NY
  • Hamilton Grange: As the preserved historic home of Alexander Hamilton, one of our nation’s founding fathers, this building is managed by the National Park Service and is located in Harlem.
  • Staten Island Ferry: The ferry is the only non-vehicular mode of transportation between Staten Island and Manhattan, and it’s known for offering scenic views of New York Harbor, the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and the skyscrapers and bridges of Lower Manhattan.
  • Brighton Beach: Located near Coney Island, this beach is loved by visitors all throughout the summer, and its surrounding neighborhood called “Little Odessa” has lots of shops and restaurants inspired by Eastern Europe.
  • Central Park: This nationally known park is open to the public, and some tours like the Heart of the Park Tour are completely free through the Central Park Conservatory.
  • 9/11 Memorial: Covering 8 of the 16 acres where the World Trade Center used to stand, this outdoor memorial lists the name of every person who died in the terrorist attacks of February 26, 1993 and September 11, 2001.
Los Angeles, CA
  • Downtown Art Walk: Every second Thursday of the month, community members gather to showcase art, music, and more.
  • Bradbury Building: As the oldest commercial building left in the city (and also the most filmed), this building has an interior that includes open cage elevators, marble stairs and iron railings complete with ornate designs.
  • Annenberg Space for Photography: This destination shows off digital and print photography of not only some of the most well-known photographers in the world, but also of those hoping to make the same kind of impact.
  • The Original Farmers Market: With live music and more than 100 specialty shops, grocers and eateries within its historic setting, this market has all the sights and sounds that keep people coming back.
  • Griffith Park and Observatory: Offering stunning views of the city and an unmatched sunset featuring the Hollywood sign as a backdrop, the Griffith Observatory offers free access to its building and grounds. Inside, visitors can explore exhibits about the cosmos.
Portland, OR
  • Forest Park: Covering 5,200 acres, this park is one of the largest urban forests in the country. It has more than 80 miles of trails and provides a beautiful look at nature without having to leave the city.
  • International Rose Test Garden: Touring this garden will have you smelling blooms that are being developed and evaluated for scent and color. Other than self-tours available all day long, free public tours are offered at 1 p.m. daily.
  • Powell’s City of Books: Explore rooms and rooms of books at Powell’s, the largest independent bookstore in the United States. You’re bound to leave amazed by how many literary pieces can fit into one building.
  • Oregon Rail Heritage Center: Great for kids, there’s no fee to experience the museum’s steam locomotives. Take in the current exhibit, get a guided tour of the big engines, check out the gift shop and (if it’s Saturday) take a ride to Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge.
  • Tilikum Crossing: About 1,720 feet in length, this bridge offers a 14-foot-wide path for cyclists and pedestrians on each side and is truly one of the first of its kind across the nation.

Have a bucket list ready? Book your flight or load the car — you’ve got some free stuff to experience!