11/20/2009 3:41:01 PM
Economy putting a crimp in your travel budget? Don’t fret. Wherever you may roam across this great land of ours, you can always find...FREE STUFF
If these days of belt-tightening and buyouts have you feeling gloomy about the future of travel, take heart! This country of ours harbors a wealth of no-cost diversions that promise to make even Mr. Greenspan himself crack a smile. In fact, some cities are so chockablock with freebies that every breed of traveler in your group—from chocoholic to political wonk—is sure to find a free way to while away the afternoon. So sit back and let us show you some of the ways great values and group travel go hand in hand across the land.
Call it a national tradition, but almost every museum offers at least one free day during the week. Thanks to generous endowments, a precious few are able to fling open their gates seven days a week. Three of the most notable are Los Angeles’ Getty Museum Malibu’s Getty Villa, and the Baltimore Museum of Art. The Getty Museum showcases European and American paintings, drawings, sculpture, and photography, while its Malibu cousin, the Getty Villa, stands as more of an educational center dedicated to the cultures of ancient Greece, Rome and Etruria.
Across the country, just a few miles from Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, the Baltimore Museum of Art boasts 90,000 works of 19th-century, modern, and contemporary art. Preface your visit with a stop at The Book Thing , a weekend free-for-all that offers bookworms mountains of free, no-strings-attached reading material. Browse, stock up, and spread the word.
One of the best-kept secrets in the West is the Idyllwild Arts Academy Summer Program’s free big band, festival choir, and chamber orchestra concerts. Set in rustic Idyllwild, California, the gratis evening performances provide small-venue access to top-level musicians in a bucolic mountain setting. Visit www.idyllwildarts.org for the complete schedule.
Long loved for its wintry slopes, Sun Valley, Idaho, brings melodic magic to the summer months with the free Sun Valley Symphony concert series, an offering that promises to popularize this high-altitude destination year-round. Take a seat in the city’s new Pavilion for a varied program of popular, symphonic, and chamber music works, from Tchaikovsky’s Overture of 1812 to Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin. Visit www.visitsunvalley.com for dates and performance schedules.
Turn up at New York’s Central Park Concert Ground on Tuesday evenings where, for more than 100 years, the Naumburg Bandshell has offered free evening concerts each June, July, and August. Think the Brooklyn Philharmonic, Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players, and the Naumburg Orchestra. Visit www.naumburgconcerts.org for the coming season’s schedule.
Penny-pinching politicos will thrill to learn that they can sit in on oral arguments in the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays through late April. Lines form early for the 10 a.m. session and seating is limited, but groups have the advantage of being able to reserve seats in advance. Afterward, visit the exhibits, take in the film on the Supreme Court, or attend one of the courtroom lectures on days when the court is not sitting. For information, call (202) 479-3211.
Celebrity seekers will enjoy exploring Hollywood history at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard. A star-studded landmark for more than 75 years, Grauman’s public frontage is home to footprints and handprints of celebrities from Myrna Loy to Steve McQueen. Join the crowds and stick your hands and feet in and see how you measure up.
You Get Around
Hop aboard Monterey, California’s Waterfront Area Visitor Express (WAVE) from Memorial Day through Labor Day for free trolley service from Fisherman’s Wharf to Cannery Row to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Pick it up at the downtown parking garages every 10 to 12 minutes or en route at the green MST trolley signs.
Historic Alexandria, Virginia’s free King Street Trolley makes touring Old Town a breeze. Picture old-fashioned trolleys with clanging brass bells operating between the King Street Metrorail Station and the Potomac River waterfront. The trolley stops every 15 minutes at 20 stops that include hotels, restaurants, and shopping.
Ride free-style through Park City, Utah’s Historic District thanks to its Main Street Trolley Service. Fueled by earth-friendly biodiesel, the complimentary trolleys connect the Old Town Transit Center and Main Street. In addition, Park City’s buses will take you just about anywhere you need to go, from Historic Main Street to the Utah Olympic Park for no cost whatsoever. For details, visit www.parkcityinfo.com.
Sweet Treats & Tastings
Tour the factory, sample fine chocolates, and learn about how everyone’s favorite confections are made at the Scharffen Berger Chocolate Factory in Berkeley, California. Start off with a presentation on the history of cacao, the history of the company, and a tasting of Scharffen Berger chocolates, followed by a walking tour of the factory. Reservations required.
The eye-watering magnitude of Celestial Seasonings’ Peppermint Room is reason enough to sign up for a guided walk through the whole plant. Set against the foothills in Boulder, Colorado, the tour invites you to witness what could be the world’s most advanced tea production plant and lets you sip free samples of every tea flavor imaginable. For details, visit www.celestialseasonings.com.
Top off a trip to Alaska’s capitol city with a tour of Alaskan Brewery. See the spirit of the region reflected in every bottle of amber ale and smoked porter. Mash tuns, fermenters, and bottling systems have never been so thrilling, especially when there’s a promise of free samples of Alaskan’s IPA, ESB, and seasonal ale at the end.
While the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago holds bragging rights for being the nation’s oldest free public zoo, its existence is no anomaly. Free zoos dot the nation from Gainesville to Eureka—so much so that there’s sure to be some free animal action near you. Try the Navajo National Zoo (Window Rock, Arizona), Sequoia Park Zoo (Eureka, California), Santa Fe Teaching Zoo (Gainesville, Florida), Kansas Wildlife Exhibit (Wichita, Kansas), Como Zoo (St. Paul, Minnesota), Cape May County Park Zoo (Cape May, New Jersey), and the Ochsner Park Zoo (Baraboo, Wisconsin).
If you prefer a little razzle-dazzle with your beastly encounters, head to the MGM Grand on the Las Vegas Strip, where the edu-taining Lion Habitat and Mini-African Safari await. With a rotating cast of cats (including descendents of MGM’s original roaring Leo that graced the silver screen for decades), this wild encounter offers Vegas-size value.
Combine fresh air with fine-feathered friends at Bryce Canyon National Park’s Annual Christmas Bird Count, administered each December by the National Audubon Society. Whether you’re a “bird nerd” or just someone who just likes counting, you can sleep soundly knowing that you helped monitor bird populations for posterity. Even better, Bryce Canyon will pay the $5 entry/participant fee and hand out free T-shirts to all registered birders. Contact the resident biologist at (435) 834-4904.
Join in the Action
Enjoy Friday-night free-style dancing under the stars from May through September courtesy of Los Angeles’ Dance Downtown. Whether you’re Patrick Swayze or Elaine Benes, Dance Downtown provides a fun and free space to cut a rug without slashing your budget. Show up at Music Center Plaza at 6:30 for free instruction in the style of the evening, which ranges from swing to samba. Visit www.musiccenter.org for the full schedule.
Learn what really goes on behind the camera at your favorite television shows. Audiences Unlimited provides free studio audience tickets for tapings of more than 30 shows, from The Price is Right to Two and a Half Men. Simply go to the Web site 30 days prior to desired show date to sign up for tickets, or contact Audiences Unlimited ahead of time to arrange for groups of 10 or more.
Group Travel Planet