The Best Free Thing to Do in All 50 States (Including a Free Zoo)

You don’t have to shell out the big bucks (or any bucks for that matter) to have a good time at these popular free attractions across the country.
Updated April 11, 2024
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Financially savvy travelers tend to be quite skilled at finding the free stuff at any given destination (even hot tourist spots). When traveling around the US, there’s no shortage of interesting free attractions to fill your days — no matter which region you happen to be in.

To help you step up your travel game, here are some of the most popular free things to do in each state.

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Alabama: Visit Birmingham Botanical Garden (Birmingham)

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In the heart of Birmingham, the Botanical Garden stretches across 67 acres and features beautiful green spaces that showcase the many plants that live and thrive in the South. Admission is free, and the garden is open daily.

Alaska: Hike the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail (Anchorage)

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Hikers will love the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail in Anchorage, which winds 11 miles along the coast. The hike provides incredible views of downtown Anchorage, mountains, and Fire Island — and you just might catch a moose crossing the trail nearby.

Arizona: Visit the Chapel of the Holy Cross (Sedona)

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Taking a drive through Sedona alone is enough to keep you both entertained and mystified by natural beauty for a day. However, the Chapel of the Holy Cross is quite a stunning (and free) site to see. The massive cross stands out among two towers of red stone, and its chapel offers breathtaking views.

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Arkansas: Visit Hot Springs National Park (Hot Springs)

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A national park that doesn’t require a fee, Hot Springs boasts stunning ancient thermal springs, beautiful mountain views, incredible hikes, and much more. Guests also tend to be in awe of the nine historic bathhouses, including the Fordyce Bathhouse Museum and Visitor Center.

California: Walk/bike the Golden Gate Bridge (San Francisco)

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California is a massive state so it’s difficult to pick just one free attraction, but walking or biking across the famed Golden Gate Bridge is a big draw for many who travel to the Bay Area. In fact, about 10 million people visit the stunning bridge every year.

Colorado: Explore the Garden of the Gods (Colorado Springs)

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The rock formations at Garden of the Gods are natural wonders you have to see to believe and can do so for free if you happen to be in the Colorado Springs area. The land’s owner took steps to ensure it would remain free and open to the public before he passed in 1907.

Connecticut: Visit the Elizabeth Park Rose Garden (West Hartford)

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The beautiful Helen S Kaman Rose Garden in the center of Elizabeth Park first opened back in 1904 and has been delighting visitors ever since. For a fun and free afternoon, check out more than 800 different varieties of roses.

Delaware: Stroll Rehoboth Beach Boardwalk (Rehoboth Beach)

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Rehoboth Beach’s mile-long boardwalk brings visitors from far and wide (and, of course, nearby). With its eclectic mix of shops and restaurants, the quaint beach boardwalk features plenty of things you can spend money on, but taking a free stroll makes for a lovely afternoon.

Florida: Visit Disney Springs (Orlando)

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With nearly 100 shops, plenty of great places to eat, and dozens of other attractions, Disney Springs is a fun alternative to the many pricier activities one can get into in Orlando. Visitors can be entertained for hours just walking around the town square-style pathways.

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Georgia: Explore Piedmont Park (Atlanta)

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There’s plenty to do at Piedmont Park, a more-than-200 acre Oasis in Atlanta, including many walking paths, dog parks, playgrounds, farmer’s markets, and even a public swimming pool. The park is free to visit, but you will have to shell out $5 for access to the pool in the summer.

Hawaii: Visit Waikiki Beach (Hawaii)

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There are many beautiful free beaches along Hawaii’s breathtaking shores, but Waikiki Beach is a particularly popular spot. From the beautiful white sands to the stunning view of Diamond Head State Monument in the distance, it’s the perfect place to kick back and relax.

Idaho: Hike or bike Snake River Canyon (Twin Falls)

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Snake River Canyon is located on the north side of Twin Falls, offering an eight-mile trail where hikers and bikers can enjoy much natural beauty, including incredible views of Shoshone Falls (often referred to as the Niagara of the West).

Illinois: Visit Lincoln Park Zoo (Chicago)

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Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo is one of the only free zoos in the country. Nature lovers can explore the zoo’s nearly 49-acres, which display an array of different plant species, and the zoo has nearly 200 species from around the world.

Indiana: Check out Indianapolis Art Center ARTSPARK (Indianapolis)

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Indianapolis Art Center’s ARTSPARK, a 9.5-acre open-air museum full of beautiful sculptures, is free and open to the public from dawn until dusk. Visitors can explore the installations, hang out on the grounds, picnic, and more.

Iowa: Visit the Des Moines Art Center (Des Moines)

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Visitors can find both modern and contemporary art located at the stunning Des Moines Art Center, as well as the 4.4-acre John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park. Admission to both is always free.

Kansas: Check out the Keeper of the Plains (Wichita)

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The Keeper of the Plains, a stunning 44-foot steel structure that stands at the point where the Big and Little Arkansas rivers meet, was designed by Native American Artist Blackbear Bosin in the 1970s. Visitors can also check out the Mid-America All-Indian Museum nearby.

Kentucky: Stroll through the Big Four Bridge (Louisville)

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There’s plenty to do at Big Four Bridge Waterfront Park beyond just taking in the awe-inspiring bridge that connects the park to Jefferson, Indiana. Visitors can enjoy stunning artwork and tranquil grounds — plus, the bridge is also a great place to take in the sunset.

Louisiana: Explore the French Quarter (New Orleans)

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There are many places to spend your money in the French Quarter — from artisan cocktail bars to world-renowned eateries — but you can absolutely spend a day (or more) in the area and not spend a dollar as the architecture, ambiance, and bustling streets will keep you entertained.

Maine: Check out the Portland Freedom Trail (Portland)

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Many are unaware that Portland, Maine, played a key role in helping formerly enslaved people travel through the U.S. into Canada. Visitors to the Portland area can get an interesting history lesson by doing the self-guided walking tour of the Portland Freedom Trail.

Maryland: Explore Baltimore Museum of Art (Baltimore)

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The Baltimore Museum of Art has a massive collection of world-renowned artists, from 18th and 19th-century greats to contemporary gems — and admission is completely free. The museum also has a sculpture garden featuring 33 works across three acres.

Massachusetts: Walk the Freedom Trail (Boston)

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The Freedom Trail is a 2.5-mile journey that takes visitors to 16 historical sites, including museums, churches, meeting houses, and parks. There’s no charge to visit the trail, however some of the historic sites do charge entry fees.

Michigan: Visit Belle Isle Park (Detroit)

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Belle Isle Park is a large island park located in the Detroit River. Among the natural beauty, visitors can also enjoy stunning views of Detroit on one end and Canada on the other. It’s free for pedestrians and cyclists to enter the park, but drivers will need a special pass.

Minnesota: Explore Minnehaha Regional Park (Minneapolis)

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A great way to explore some of Minneapolis’s natural beauty, Minnehaha Regional Park features a beautiful waterfall, limestone bluffs, and stunning river overlooks — and is completely free to visit.

Mississippi: Check out Bay St. Louis Beaches (Bay St. Louis)

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Bay St. Louis is a delightful seaside town where guests can enjoy mostly free beaches where crowds tend to be thin. Aside from enjoying the beaches, there are many other free things to do in town, like visiting the Bay St. Louis Mardi Gras Museum.

Missouri: Visit the Gateway Arch Park (St. Louis)

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It’s free to gaze at the stunning Gateway Arch, the tallest monument in the US, and to explore the Museum and Visitor Center. However, there is a fee if you plan to take a tram ride to the top of the Arch.

Montana: Hike Ousel Falls Trail (Big Sky)

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A relatively simple hike that leads to the stunning Ousel Falls, this trail takes hikers from Big Sky Town Center to Ousel Falls Park. The trail, which is about 1.6 miles long, provides plenty of great photo ops on the way to the 100-foot waterfall.

Nebraska: Visit the Sunken Gardens (Lincoln)

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Once a neighborhood dumpsite, this 1.5-acre space was transformed into a beautiful garden nearly a century ago. Visitors can enjoy stunning art installations, a delightful combination of greenery, tranquil lily ponds, and more. Admission is free, but visitors may donate if they wish.

Nevada: Explore the Las Vegas Strip (Las Vegas)

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If you can resist heading into the casinos or array of fine-dining restaurants, there are many free things to do in Vegas, including exploring the world-famous Strip. While on the Strip, check out other free attractions like the Bellagio Conservatory & Botanical Garden.

New Hampshire: Drive along Kancamagus Highway (Lincoln)

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The natural beauty is the draw on this stunning 34.5-mile drive from Lincoln to Conway. From east to west, drivers are taken on winding roads through the White Mountains. For those who want to get up close and personal with nature, there are hiking trails and campgrounds.

New Jersey: Visit the Wildwoods Boardwalk and beaches (Wildwood)

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Many of the Jersey Shore beaches charge for day passes, but the five miles of beaches in the Wildwoods are completely free. After spending a day on the beach, it’s also free to stroll along the massive boardwalk, which features 38 blocks of restaurants, shops, and rides.

New Mexico: Stroll through Old Town (Albuquerque)

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Old Town, a historic site founded in 1706 and housed between the Sandia mountains and three volcanoes, has plenty to keep visitors entertained — like restaurants, museums, and boutiques. Strolling around the town and taking in all the sites is completely free.

New York: Explore Central Park (New York City)

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Each year, millions of visitors descend on New York City’s massive Central Park. The 843-acre greenspace, located right in the middle of Manhattan, is an excellent place to go on a walk or jog, relax, and enjoy an array of greenery — plus, it’s one of the city’s best spots for people watching.

North Carolina: Visit Great Smoky Mountain National Park

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Great Smoky Mountains National Park is partially in North Carolina and partially in Tennessee. For those in the area, the free park has plenty to offer — from its rich history dating back to prehistoric times to its stunning mountain views.

North Dakota: Check out the Roger Maris Museum (Fargo)

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A museum honoring Yankees legend Roger Maris, who broke Babe Ruth’s home run record in 1961, opened in the West Acres shopping center back in 1984. At the famed athlete’s own request, the museum in his hometown of Fargo has remained free and open to the public.

Ohio: Stroll through the Cleveland Metroparks (Cleveland)

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Cleveland Metroparks includes 25,000 acres across 18 reservations in Cuyahoga County and Hinckley Township. With more than 300 miles of trails, nine golf courses, and eight lakefront parks, there’s truly something for everyone in the Metroparks.

Oklahoma: Check out the Blue Whale along Route 66 (Catoosa)

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Oklahoma is home to the largest drivable stretch of the famed Route 66 and there are plenty of fascinating places to stop along the way — including the Blue Whale. This quirky roadside stop sits on 23.5 acres of land where those passing through can hang out, picnic, and more.

Oregon: Explore the International Rose Test Garden (Portland)

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From May through October each year, visitors to Portland’s Washington Park can enjoy more than 10,000 rose bushes in beautiful bloom. The garden includes more than 600 different varieties of roses and it’s completely free to take a leisurely walk through the gardens.

Pennsylvania: Snap a photo with the Rocky Statue (Philadelphia)

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The Rocky Statue and steps (the Philadelphia Museum of Art steps Rocky famously runs up in the films) are a big draw for visitors to Philly. The statue, which depicts the film’s protagonist Rocky Balboa with boxing gloves raised in the air, makes for a great photo op.

Rhode Island: Explore WaterFire (Providence)

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WaterFire includes more than 80 bonfires installed across the three rivers in downtown Providence. Locals and visitors alike praise the installation and the beauty sparked when the flames sparkle across the waters at night. Lighting events are always free.

South Carolina: Visit White Point Garden (Charleston)

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In the heart of Charleston’s historic downtown district, White Point Garden has plenty of beautiful green space to enjoy, as well as historical landmarks like Civil War cannons, monuments, and statues. Visiting the garden is an excellent (and free) way to while away a sunny afternoon.

South Dakota: Wander around Falls Park (Sioux Falls)

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Anyone passing through Sioux Falls should consider making a stop at Falls Park to see why the city got its name. It’s completely free to visit the park, and guests tend to find themselves in awe of the 100-foot falls (and the 128 acres of stunning nature that surround them).

Tennessee: Stroll along the Beale Street (Memphis)

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Beale Street has a rich history as a gathering place for Black businesses, artists, and more. While there’s plenty to spend money on, visitors can also simply wander the street, taking in the incredible music, dining, nightlife, and art scenes.

Texas: Explore the San Antonio River Walk (San Antonio)

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There will be plenty going on at the San Antonio River Walk no matter when you visit. From parades and artisan markets to outdoor recreation and stunning views (and photo ops), the River Walk is a great place to enjoy a free afternoon (if you can resist the many delicious restaurants).

Utah: Check out Temple Square (Salt Lake City)

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A site to see even for those who are not religious, Temple Square in downtown Salt Lake City is a historical landmark for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The square includes five city blocks with many historical sites, exhibits, gardens, and more.

Vermont: Visit Church Street Marketplace (Burlington)

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Burlington’s Church Street Marketplace in four blocks full of shops, restaurants, local businesses, and more. It’s a great place to window shop, catch street entertainers and/or vendors, or simply hang out and relax (or do some people watching).

Virginia: Stroll the Virginia Beach Boardwalk (Virginia Beach)

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While there’s plenty of activities to get into along Virginia Beach’s three-mile boardwalk, taking a nice stroll down the boards is a great way to spend a few free hours. Visitors can check out stunning artwork and views or pop into one of many restaurants or shops.

Washington: Explore Pike Place Market (Seattle)

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Stretching across nine acres in downtown Seattle, the Pike Place Market has been a staple in the area for more than a century. Visitors will find plenty of places to shop, eat, and explore throughout the market, and may also just want to stroll through it free of charge.

West Virginia: Visit the New River Gorge (Glen Jean)

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New River Gorge Bridge is a stunning work of architecture (and makes for great photos). New River Gorge National Park and Preserve is completely free of charge and guests can visit the Canyon Rim Visitor Center to walk the boardwalk paths for a great view of the bridge.

Wisconsin: Stroll the Milwaukee Riverwalk (Milwaukee)

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Visitors can enjoy more than three miles of scenic views along the Milwaukee Riverwalk, which is free and open to the public 24 hours a day. The stunning walk takes visitors from the former North Avenue Dam to Lake Michigan, and they can enjoy the vibrant downtown and historic districts.

Wyoming: Check out Jackson Town Square (Jackson)

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Jackson Town Square sits at the center of culture and business in the area. Guests can take a leisurely stroll, enjoying the stunning arches made from elk antlers, check out local restaurants and art galleries, and in the summer, the Jackson Hole Historical Society & Museum even offers free walking tours.

Bottom line

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Vacation planning may seem daunting when you look at the price tags for many activities, but there are many more sites, events, works of art, and natural wonders that visitors can check out completely free of charge across the US.

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Author Details

Laura Gesualdi-Gilmore Laura Gesualdi-Gilmore is a seasoned freelance writer who also teaches writing courses at Rutgers University. She's based in Jersey City and enjoys travel, live music and, of course, spending quality time with her pup.

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