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Fun, Fabulous, Free Things To Do in My Favorite Vacation Cities


La Jolla Shores

When you look at needs versus wants, travel probably fits into the latter category. You won’t starve, freeze to death, or stop breathing if you can’t take a vacation. I do believe it is important to see the world in whatever capacity is possible for your situation. I always need to have some sort of trip planned, even if it is only a camping trip a couple of hours away. It makes the hectic and often motonous routine of daily life more fun knowing a break is in sight. Transportation and lodging cost money in most cases, but you can find tons of free things to do in some great cities. While I am no world class traveler, these are some fun, fabulous, free things to do in my favorite vacation cities.

San Diego

We’ve been to San Diego several times. It is within a day’s drive from where we live, and has great beaches, which are always free. Some of my favorites in the area include:

  • La Jolla Shores-This is an amazing area with ocean cliffs, a swim beach, and the harbor seals. If you’ve never seen a seal that wasn’t in the zoo or at Sea World, this is a must for all ages.
  • Coronado Island/Hotel Del Corondo-Coronado is my favorite beach areas in San Diego, and while you can’t stay at Hotel Del Coronado for free, you can visit this historic hotel with the red turret roof. The grounds are amazing. From just about anywhere on Coronado, you can also watch the planes and helicopters take off from the naval base.


I grew up an hour and a half from Nashville, and it was a treat to visit when I was a kid. Even if you don’t like country music, there are tons of neat things to see here.

  • Opryland Hotel-If you visit the Opryland Hotel from November 16-December 25,  you will see the most amazing display of Christmas lights, trees, and decorations. In the Cascade area, you really feel like you are visiting a twinkly rain forest, complete with humidity.
  • The Parthenon/Centennial Park-No it’s not Athens, but this is a full-scale replica. You do have to pay to visit the museum inside, but you can see the Parthenon and park for free. Dressing like a godess is optional.


Denver is a fun, metropolitan city in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains that has great sports teams. What more can you want?

  • Denver Broncos Training Camp-If you are a fan of the Broncos, or just want to see Peyton Manning, you can attend training camp for free beginning toward the end of July.  Space is first come, first served.
  • LoDo- Lower Downtown area. There is a little of everything on the 16th Street Mall area. Street preformers are often around during the summer, and a free shuttle bus runs the lengthe of the street.


If you ever make it to Italy, Rome is a great place to start. There are tons of fountains, churches, and architectural delights that are free and open to the public.

  • Trevi Fountain-While the fountain if free to visit, you will most likely want to throw in a coin. Legend has it that this tradition will ensure your return visit in the future.
  • Vatican Museums-The Vatican Museums are free on the last Sunday of the month. That being said, the crowds are huge on the free day and you have to be there early to get in. It might be worth the cost of admission to avoid the crowds.

Los Angeles

Los Angeles is not one of my favorite cities because of the difficulty of getting around, but there are some fun things to do there that you can’t do anywhere else.

  • Attend a taping of a live show. My sister and I saw a taping of The Tonight Show With Jay Leno. You have to plan in advance, and you still might not get it, but seeing movie stars is really fun. Check the networks websites for details.
  • Rodeo Drive- While I could never buy anything here, you can park your old beater right next to the Lamborghinis and window shop.

New Orleans

I haven’t been to New Orleans since before Hurrican Katrina, but from friends, I’ve heard it has had a great rebirth. Some of the nicest people I’ve ever met have been in New Orleans.

  • Bourbon Street-If you like great jazz music, this is the place. All the Voodoo shops are pretty fun as well.
  • Mississippi River-The mighty Mississippi is as mighty as it gets here. Being in Colorado, where the rivers are pretty meek in comparison, viewing this river is truly astounding.

Washington D.C.

D.C. is the mother of all free things, in my opinion. Most of the historical landmarks and museums are free, but you may need to pre-register or obtain a ticket early in the morning. It’s hard to narrow down two, but here are my favorites.

  • Smithsonian Air and Space Museum-Seeing Neil Armstrong’s spacesuit or the Wright Brothers’ plane gives me goose bumps.
  • Capitol Building-Whatever your current view of politics, it is pretty awesome to stand where former President’s like Abraham Lincoln once stood.

No matter where you go, with the right planning, you can find many fun, fabulous, free things to do on vacation. Next summer, we plan to visit the Portland area. If you have an tips, I’d love to hear them.

What are your favorite vacation cities? Any fun, free finds?



About Kim Parr

Kim Parr is a private practice optometrist, freelance writer, and personal financial blogger. You can follow her journey to 20/20 financial vision at Eyes on the Dollar.


  1. My favorite cities in the US are NY and San Francisco. I took fabulous free walking tours there. You can check online, they have themes, for all ages and tastes, and are usually run by very enthusiastic and fun people!

  2. Unfortunately the only place I have been to that you listed is LA, and that was only for a connecting flight! I was in Hawaii a year and a half ago and despite the high costs of getting there and staying there, all the beaches are public so you can take advantage of any and all of them while you are there, absolutely free of charge!

  3. *Bookmarked this page for future reference!

  4. San Diego is awesome! My in-laws still live there as my wife was born & raised in San Diego. La Jolla Shores is great (my wife surfed there all the time) as is Coronado. I mentioned this to my wife who instantly said we need to go back. 🙂 I would love to go to Rome. We’ve been to much of Western & Northern Europe but not so much Southern Europe.

  5. Awesome! What a great resource of frugal fun!

    If you’re even in Anaheim, you don’t need to pay the big $$$ to have a disney experience, just walk into “DownTown Disney”, and they have live music and awesome stores to window shop in (and try on some Mickey ears!). Tons of places to eat, if you want, even and outdoor full round bar.

    • We actually went there last year and ate at the Rainforest Cafe. Our daughter, who is usually very brave, was totally freaked out by the indoor storm and the gorilla. She hid under the table for most of the meal. Not quite ready for that I guess.

  6. You are making me with I was on vacation!

    Thanks a lot! But really, we are looking at maybe going to Europe next year and Rome is on the list. Good info!

  7. I would like to recommend the beaches at Oceanside, California.

    We travel there in the summer & the kids (& parents) have a great time.

  8. Great List Kim… I’m also bookmarking this page for future fun!

    Chicago is also a great city for a weekend getaway, especially around Christmas. The downtown (Michigan Ave) is fabulous and always a fun place to hang out.

    • I haven’t been to Chicago in a long time, but my husband really wants to go to Wrigley Field, so I’m sure we’ll make it someday.

  9. LA isn’t one of my favorite cities either, but Rodeo Drive was hilarious. I felt SO out of place in my shorts and tee shirt. Of course, I’m not the first or last, I’m sure.

  10. I’ve only ever hit Nashville and DC on this list. DC has SO much free stuff! And I love your Nashville ideas; unfortunately I arrived there during a precursor to snowmaggedon, so almost everything was shut down for the whole weekend. 🙁

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