Alabama: Sloss Furnaces
Get a glimpse into Birmingham’s industrial past at Sloss Furnaces, which in the late 19th century was the world's largest producer of pig iron. Grab your camera and walk among the eerily picturesque furnaces and rusty red pipes of this National Historic Landmark.
Alaska: Potter Marsh
This wildlife viewing area just outside of Anchorage is home to a spectacular array of migratory birds and scenic vistas. A 1550-foot-long boardwalk, parking, and public restrooms make this outdoor adventure as convenient as it is stunning.
flickr.com via readlistendream
Arizona: San Xavier del Bac
Located just south of Tucson, this impressive mission church was built in the late 18th century and is known as “The White Dove of the Desert.” The ornate structure is considered one of the finest example of Spanish Colonial architecture in the country and is still today a Catholic parish serving the Tohono O’odham community.
Arkansas: Petit Jean State Park
California: Griffith Observatory
Colorado: Garden of the Gods
Amazing red sandstone rock formations dot this unique park. Hiking and walking trails that wind through the landscape capture spectacular views, and a free museum and nature center provide background on the park’s geology and history.
Connecticut: Submarine Force Library & Museum
Learn all about the hidden history of submarines at this one-of-a-kind museum operated by the U.S. Navy. The museum is home to the first nuclear-powered submarine in the world, the USS Nautilus, as well as thousands of artifacts and photos.
Wikimedia Commons via Carol m. Highsmith
Delaware: The Delaware Contemporary
One lazy summer afternoon, take a break from the sun and stroll through this free art museum, replete with industrial-chic gallery spaces and rotating exhibitions. The museum is also home to 26 on-site art studios and has extended summer hours on select Friday nights.
Wikimedia Commons via The Delaware Contemporary
Florida: The Wynwood Walls
Georgia: Atlanta BeltLine
Still being developed, the BeltLine is an urban walking trail created from a historic railroad corridor encircling downtown Atlanta. When complete, it will form a 22-mile-long loop. The trail is dotted with parks, public art, and free events, and it's a great way to see the city.
Hawaii: National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific
Idaho: Custer Ghost Town
See what the life of a 19th-century prospector was like by visiting this abandoned gold mining town where several properties have been restored to their original condition. Scenic drives through the surrounding Land of Yankee Fork State Park reveal remnants of other abandoned settlements.
Illinois: Starved Rock State Park
Soaring sandstone canyons and misty waterfalls make Starved Rock State Park a must-see. With 18 canyons and 13 miles of hiking trails suitable for adventurers of all skill levels, the park easily promises at least a day's worth of free outdoor entertainment.
Indiana: Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park
Iowa: State Capitol
Touring this unique five-domed Renaissance-style structure is a must for architecture fans and history buffs alike. The interior features numerous murals and mosaics, plus a spectacular law library with four levels of balconies and cast-iron spiral staircases.
Kansas: Monument Rocks
Kentucky: Floodwall Murals
In the 1930s, the city of Paducah was devastated by a surge of the Ohio River. In response, the community built a floodwall for protection. Decades later, artist Robert Dafford covered the concrete walls with more than 50 murals depicting the city's history. Today, a stroll along the sidewalk to admire the postcard-like murals is like taking a trip through time.
flickr.com via Connie Roberts
Louisiana: Barataria Preserve
Maine: Maine State Prison Showroom
Maine has a long tradition of wood craftwork, even in its state prisons. Visitors to the Maine State Prison Showroom gallery can browse and buy ornate wood handicrafts created by inmates enrolled in a job-skills training program.
flickr.com via Sarah Mirk
Maryland: Glen Echo Park
Visit this colorful former amusement park that has been transformed into an arts and culture district awash in Art Deco architecture. Admission and parking at Glen Echo Park are free, but you can choose to splurge on a $1.25 ride on the historic 1921 Dentzel menagerie carousel.
flickr.com via Katherine Bowman
Massachusetts: Cambridge Center Roof Garden
This secret garden is definitely not something you would expect to find on top of a parking garage. A hidden green oasis, Cambridge Center Roof Garden is packed with tulips and rosebushes that seem even more impressive against the views of the surrounding city.
flickr.com via Keith Simmons
Michigan: Meyer May House
This iconic Frank Lloyd Wright prairie-style house in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has been dutifully restored to its original 1909 vision. Beautiful stained-glass windows along with original and reproduction furniture can be seen on the free tours of the Meyer May House.
flickr.com via Edward Stojakovic
Minnesota: Como Park Zoo and Conservatory
The Como Park Zoo and Conservatory has dozens of animal exhibits that are free and fun for the whole family. But the crown jewel of this park in Saint Paul is the Sunken Garden, where lovely flower shows are displayed inside a vast arched greenhouse.
flickr.com Kent Kanouse
Mississippi: Birthplace of Kermit the Frog Museum
This tiny museum pays homage to Jim Henson and the Mississippi boyhood during which he dreamed up his most famous character, Kermit the Frog. The Birthplace of Kermit the Frog Museum provides biographical information about Henson and serves up plenty of Muppets memorabilia, including a few original figures.
flickr.com via Rogelio A. Galaviz C.
Missouri: The Money Museum
Not only is this museum free, but they'll actually give you a bag of money when you leave—shredded money, that is. Guests at the Money Museum can watch real U.S. currency being processed, and coin collectors will love the exhibit of 500 historic coins minted under every president since George Washington.
Related: The 15 Best Factory Tours in America
Montana: Garden of One Thousand Buddhas
The magnificent scenery of Montana—towering trees, glacial lakes, and the magnificent Rocky Mountains—is a tough act to follow. But the Garden of One Thousand Buddhas holds its own against the state’s natural beauty. This serene sanctuary in the Jocko Valley boasts a remarkable array of Buddhist symbols, statues, structures, and images that promote spiritual change and awakening, with the 24-foot-tall Yum Chenmo, the Great Mother of Transcendent Wisdom, as the garden’s central figure.
flickr.com via joãokẽdal
Nebraska: Pioneers Park Nature Center
Both a wildlife sanctuary and environmental education center, Pioneers Park Nature Center is a family-friendly destination featuring eight miles of meandering trails through tall-grass prairie, wetlands, and woodlands. Hikers enjoy sightings of raptors, deer, bison, and elk. There’s a bird garden and an herb garden, and kids especially love the Edna Shields Natural Play Area, an outdoor space where they can dig, climb, and create.
Wikimedia Commons via CrunchySkies
Nevada: Truckee River Whitewater Park
Talk about a sure thing! If you’re into kayaking, canoeing, and tubing—or just want to beat the heat (and escape the nearby casinos)—head over to Truckee River Whitewater Park. Right in the middle of downtown Reno, the park floats your boat with 2,600 feet of class II and III rapids, and five drop pools. During the summer, catch free concerts and other fun events.
New Hampshire: Horatio Colony Museum and Nature Preserve
For a double dose of history and nature, visit the Horatio Colony Museum and Nature Preserve. Built in 1806 and once the private residence of the Colony family, the museum offers a glimpse of gracious New England living and culture with its collection of original furnishings, patterned tin ceilings, honey-colored oak floors, and hand-painted tiles. Each month, the Horatio Colony hosts free lectures and events, such as Old-Time Children’s Games in the Garden on July 12. The nature preserve offers three and a half miles of well-marked trails with interpretive information about geological features, historical ruins, and plant communities.
New Jersey: Warren E. Fox Nature Center
The Warren E. Fox Nature Center, named for the famed environmentalist, attracts nature lovers of all ages to the New Jersey Pinelands. Visitors and “staycationers” alike flock to the butterfly garden, the live animal display area, and Native American artifact exhibits. Staff naturalists are on hand to answer questions and help you explore. The Nature Center also offers loads of free events, including music lessons, game nights, movie screenings, and yoga classes.
New Mexico: Old Town Albuquerque
First settled in 1706 and still home to about 10 blocks of historic adobe buildings, the Old Town section of Albuquerque will richly enhance your cultural horizons. The adobe structures, arranged around a plaza, include the San Felipe de Neri Church, with carved corbels and wooden vigas that date back to the original 18th-century construction. Old Town is also the new center of the city’s art scene, with enough galleries and exhibits to fuel a twice-monthly ARTScrawl, a self-guided walking tour.
New York: Governors Island
A 172-acre paradise in the heart of New York Harbor, accessible by free ferry, Governors Island is all about fun and culture with a unique Big Apple vibe. The park is as well known for people-watching as it is for its vistas, including the Hills, which rises 70 feet above sea level and offers breathtaking views of the Statue of Liberty, and Outlook Hill, with its winding path to the plaza at its summit. Free events are available throughout the summer, such as Family Fun Day on July 15, an outdoor festival featuring live music, theatrical performances, arts and crafts, and games, and Art Force 5 (through August 12), which brings a superhero sensibility to community-based art, with workshops, craft stations, and exhibits.
North Carolina: Tryon International Equestrian Center
Folks who really love to horse around should trot on over to Tryon International Equestrian Center. Nestled in the Blue Ridge Foothills close to the city of Asheville, this sprawling entertainment complex is the world’s premier equestrian lifestyle destination, showcasing some of the top riders in the hunter/jumper, dressage, and eventing disciplines. During the summer, Tryon presents Saturday Night Lights, a free, family-friendly festival with carnival games, live music, food, and of course world-class horse shows. Tally-ho!
flickr.com via sugoipix
North Dakota: Plains Art Museum
A city that dubs itself “North of Normal” is bound to have a pretty cool (and totally free) art museum. And the Plains Art Museum, located in a renovated turn-of-the-century warehouse in downtown Fargo, is just the ticket. The museum maintains a permanent collection of some 4,000 works, including national, international, and regional fine art as well as ethnographic objects and 12 special exhibitions each year. Now showing: an impressive portrait exhibit titled “Now You See Me...” plus classes, lectures, social events, and performances.
flickr.com via Mark Goebel
Ohio: Hocking Hills
What really puts the “oh!” in Ohio? The fact that all of its 74 state parks are free! They're diverse, too, with all manner of natural wonders and leisure activities. Among the parks are Hocking Hills, 2,356 acres of towering cliffs, waterfalls, and hemlock-shaded gorges; Headlands Beach, with its mile-long natural sand beach along Lake Erie, the largest in the state; John Bryan, 752 acres renown for the limestone gorge cut by the Little Miami River; and the state’s largest park, Salt Fork, more than 17,000 acres of recreational facilities to suit nearly every taste.
Oklahoma: Route 66
If you plan to “motor west,” as the song goes, you ought to hit Oklahoma, home to the nation’s largest drivable stretch of historic Route 66, also known as the Mother Road. As you immerse yourself in the nostalgia of this celebrated highway, you’ll discover a host of cool, quirky roadside attractions—for instance, the Old Round Barn in Arcadia, built in 1898 and the only round wooden barn in the state. Another architectural curiosity is Pops, a four-ton, 66-foot-tall sculpture of a soda bottle covered in dazzling lights; the adjacent restaurant offers more than 600 different kinds of soda for sale. Also along the route is the Vintage Iron Motorcycle Museum, packed with bikes, photos, and memorabilia sure to thrill the easy rider in everyone.
Oregon: Powell's City of Books
Those with a passion for the printed word must flock to Powell's City of Books in Portland. The flagship of the world’s largest independent bookstore chain, it boasts more than 2 million new, used, and out-of-print books in stock, occupies a square city block, and rises three stories high—yes, you’ll need a map to explore it, and yes, fortunately, they have them. As you browse the stacks, keep your eyes peeled for autographs of famous writers scrawled on the pillars!
Related: 10 Novel DIYs for a Better Bookshelf
Pennsylvania: Little League World Series
Batter up! Every August, the Little League World Series takes the field in South Williamsport. This year marks the 72nd season of this spectacular event, and sports fans can snag a seat in the stadium or watch from the lawn as the best 10- to 16-year-old baseball players in the country compete while displaying extraordinary sportsmanship.
flickr.com via Governor Tom Wolf
Rhode Island: Cliff Walk
If your idea of a dream house is a mansion, get your fill of fabulous ones with a stroll along the eastern shore of Newport. On one side of the winding 3.5-mile Cliff Walk, you’ll see historic homes from the Gilded Age of the late 1800s, notably those designed by society architect Richard Morris Hunt for the Vanderbilt family—the magnificent Marble House and The Breakers, which stands as the region’s largest mansion. Should all that opulence make you long for a little natural splendor, simply turn your head to view the drama of the rocky New England coastline.
South Carolina: Prince William's Parish Church
Erected between 1745 and 1755, Prince William's Parish Church was one of the first Greek Revival structures built in the colonies. Burned during the Revolutionary War, then rebuilt only to be burned again during the Civil War, it now stands in ruins that any history or architecture buff will surely find fascinating. The gable roof, pediment, windows, and interior are long gone, but the old church, now known as the Sheldon Church Ruins, continues to captivate visitors, who roam the grounds, take photographs, and do rubbings of the gravestones.
flickr.com via Henry de Saussure Copeland
South Dakota: Deadwood
The city of Deadwood in the Black Hills of South Dakota, founded in 1876, was notorious for the motley crew of miners, outlaws, gamblers, and gunslingers who came to town in search of gold—and a rootin', tootin’ good time. At Mount Moriah Cemetery, you’ll see the graves of such larger-than-life Western legends as Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane, while exhibits at the Adams Museum include personal belongings, memorabilia, and artifacts associated with these figures. Relive the Wild West in Deadwood!
Related: 18 Small Towns That Changed America
Tennessee: Gaylord Opryland Gardens and Conservatory
Staying at the Gaylord Opryland, one of Nashville's finest hotels, may not be in your budget, but a visit to its garden and conservatory is free—and a priceless experience for anyone with a passion for plants. The garden, which covers nine acres, harbors exquisitely tended regional specimens in some spots and truly resembles a rainforest in others, with tropical species, waterfalls, and even an indoor river. Traipsing through these grounds could take several hours—fortunately, there’s plenty of secluded seating tucked in among the beautiful blooms.
flickr.com via Michael Kappel
Texas: Klyde Warren Park
A state as big as Texas better have some impressive parks—and indeed it does. Klyde Warren Park, a five-acre fun zone in Dallas, definitely fits the bill. A modern urban oasis set atop a sunken freeway, Klyde Warren is a gathering space for old and young, locals and visitors, featuring a variety of free programs all year long—fitness classes, dance lessons, lawn games, children's entertainment, and film screenings. Plus, in spring through fall, the park hosts Music Thursdays, with live bands and DJs performing for your listening pleasure.
Related: 9 DIY Ideas for a Summery Backyard
Utah: Wheeler Historic Farm
What’s cuter than little kids and farm animals? Not much, as you’ll see when you bring your brood to Wheeler Historic Farm, just outside Salt Lake City. Visitors of all ages are welcome to meet horses, chickens, pigs, and sheep as well as wander through some 40 acres of natural woods and wetlands running along Little Cottonwood Creek. Don’t miss the fun Playground Fort, which gives Wild West excitement a pip-squeak spin.
flickr.com via Carmen Ackert
Vermont: Quechee Gorge
There’s the Grand Canyon, and then there’s the Quechee Gorge, known as “Vermont’s Little Grand Canyon.” Formed some 13,000 years ago as the Laurentide Ice Sheet retreated across the region, the Quechee Gorge cuts through bedrock and drops 165 dizzying feet. The majestic sight can be viewed from the U.S. Route 4 bridge and from trails on either side, and the Ottauquechee River, which flows through the bottom of the gorge, is a popular whitewater kayak run.
Virginia: Virginia Beach Boardwalk
If life is a beach, then living may not get much better than the Virginia Beach Boardwalk. Erected in 1888 as a five-block, wooden-planked promenade, today it’s a 28-foot-wide, three-mile-long concrete esplanade stretching along the sparkling Atlantic oceanfront. By day, stroll the expansive walkway or cycle along a separate bike path and admire the various nautical sculptures dotting the side streets— in particular, King Neptune, a 24-foot-tall, 12-ton bronze tribute to the god of the sea. By night, enjoy free entertainment, including live bands and even fireworks. Ooh! Aah!
Washington: Pacific Bonsai Museum
The Pacific Northwest is known for towering trees, so it may seem odd that just outside the city of Tacoma lies the Pacific Bonsai Museum. This open-air museum displays as many as 60 specimens from its collection of 150 bonsai—miniature trees created by ancient Japanese cultivation techniques—in a fine-art setting. It’s one of only three museums in the world dedicated to this beautiful art form, and while it’s literally a hidden gem, nestled within a lush forest, the Pacific Bonsai Museum is a huge draw, attracting more than 40,000 visitors from around the globe each year.
Related: 7 Trees You Can Grow Indoors
Wikimedia Commons via Chris Light
West Virginia: Berkeley Springs State Park
A number of tourist attractions claim, “George Washington slept here!” but Berkeley Springs State Park can rightfully declare that the Revolutionary War hero actually bathed here! The soothing mineral waters of Berkeley Springs, which maintain a constant temperature of 74.3 degrees, attracted our first president when, a mere lad of 16, he was a member of a survey party. He continued to take the waters there regularly for years afterward. As if Washington’s bathtub and the springs themselves—which discharge approximately 2,000 gallons of clear, sparkling water every minute—aren’t enough, Art in the Park events display the work of local artists during the summer.
Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Geology Museum
This place literally rocks! The world-class collection at the University of Wisconsin Geology Museum includes hundreds and hundreds of rocks, minerals, and fossils as well as some 120,000 geological and paleontological specimens. Also on view at the Geology Museum is the skeleton of the Boaz mastodon. Its bones were discovered on a local farm in 1897; after reconstruction the mastodon stands a mighty 9.5 feet tall and 15 feet long.
flickr.com via Maitri
Wyoming: Oregon Trail Ruts State Historic Site
Follow in the footsteps—make that the wheel grooves—of those brave pioneers who settled the American West by visiting the Oregon Trail Ruts State Historic Site. As thousands of immigrants struggled to trek across the rugged High Plains, especially in the peak years of 1841 to 1869, their covered wagons wore deep marks into the sandstone ridge. This half-mile stretch along the North Platte River boasts the best-preserved set of Oregon Trail ruts, some as impressive as five feet deep in spots. Westward, whoa!
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