We’ve told you once, and we’ll tell you 1,000 times: Seattle’s summers dominate all others. But sometimes that much domination comes at a cost. Don’t worry, though. When the artisanal ice cream, microbrews, and music festivals start putting a hurting on your wallet, we’ve got a solution: just pull out this list of free food, drinks, activities, and sights all over the city, and you’ll stay busy until the next paycheck rolls in.
It’s kind of like a museum, only there’s grass, sunshine, and a sunset view that will guarantee more Instagram likes than any of your lunches this week.
Learn to get your wheels off the ground, watch kids half your size take twice the air, or just ride around on the well-kept trails at Duthie Hill Mountain Bike Park. If you don’t already have one, borrow a real mountain bike (with suspension, not a hybrid) and check your fear at the entrance before you weave through the trees, pedal up hills, and let fly on the way down.
Even if you are inexplicably not fascinated by the circumstances surrounding both the martial arts star’s death (was it an evil curse?) and his son’s (why was a prop gun loaded with live bullets?), the gravesite of these two cultural icons is worth a visit to pay homage and leave a few flowers.
All around Seattle
If you’ve ever wanted to learn about Seattle’s past at the Museum of History & Industry or tour the old planes at the Museum of Flight, the first Thursday of each month is your complimentary ticket to do so. The monthly free-entry holiday encompasses nearly all of Seattle’s museums, including the Seattle Art Museum and the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience.
Make a beeline to the rope swing, take a leisurely stroll through the tea garden, read all the nature walk info in the marshes, or perhaps just watch the over-height trucks get stuck under the bridge.
Everybody knows about the Space Needle and the fountain, but there’s more to Seattle Center than meets the eye. Built for the 1962 World’s Fair, the 74-acre campus is host to arts organizations, sports facilities, restaurants, and much more -- all of which the free walking tour will show you.
Why pay to go to a water park when the fountain is free? We’re not sure, but the musically choreographed spouts of water shooting out from the decorative fountain make a prime spot for an impromptu splash. Just watch out for the hordes of children who are also in on this (non-) secret.
Set up to share the many ways that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation aims to create a world where every person can live a healthy and productive life, the visitor center is something of an interactive museum. Exhibits display voices from around the world, offer opportunities to understand real-world problems and try to solve them, and teach you how you can make a difference. There’s no cost to enter, and free tours happen at 2pm on Tuesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.
Near the reservoir in Volunteer Park, you can visit the statue that inspired the Soundgarden song. The sculpture, by Isamu Noguchi, doesn’t have much to do with the song, but it’s a cool reminder of just how much awesome music and art comes out of the city. Plus, there’s a killer view. Try taking a photo through the center of the sculpture and capturing the Space Needle inside of it.
You might never make it to New York for your opportunity to shout down Al Roker on the street, but Seattle’s own morning show, New Day, films Monday through Thursday, and attending is free. Watch local authors, celebrities, sports stars, and experts make small talk with Margaret Larson and see if your smile makes it onto the show.
If your gold standard of samples is Costco on a Saturday, welcome to your mecca. The longest continually operating public market in the country, and the star of Seattle, the Pike Place Market has more and better free samples than you could ever dream of coming out of the microwave at the local big box. Salmon jerky, okra chips, truffled potato soup, peaches, apples, pears, it’s all here, and it’s all free -- until you give into temptation and buy something.
Don’t all cities have a 22ft waterfall just hanging out on a street corner? No? Well, Seattle does, and it’s a part of the nicest little green pocket of park, complete with benches and shade and everything you could want while eating your lunch outside -- with the bonus of being just blocks from the office. Also, it’s a historical site to boot: it’s built on the site of UPS’ original location when that company started in 1907.
South Lake Union
There are plenty of ways to get out on the water in Seattle, but most of them require a hefty rental fee. Not so on Sundays at the CWB: anyone can sign up for a quick hour-long Lake Union excursion. Get there early (opens at 10am) to make sure you get the spot you want.
Built in 1928, the Paramount began life as “Seattle’s most opulent movie palace,” and in the ensuing years, it has played host to vaudeville shows, silent movies, Broadway musicals, comedy shows, and stand-up. To fully understand the majestic venue and get a peek behind the scenes, you can take the monthly tour on the first Saturday of each month at 10am.
Walk into any of Met Market’s locations and there’s likely to be something good cooking. Afternoon wine tastings, ice cream socials, new products, and various other sampling events keep the kiosk kitchens in each store filled with just the types of free samples to keep you smiling as you shop.
Ride your bike in the street along one of Seattle’s most beautiful stretches of road on the summer Sundays deemed “Bicycle Sundays.” Lake Washington Blvd, from Mount Baker Beach to Seward Park, closes to vehicle traffic, allowing bikes, scooters, and pedestrians to mosey their way along the winding waterfront way, admiring the view of Mount Rainier at their own pace.
It’s art you can play with: bring your favorite seasonal or themed clothes and participate in the local tradition of dressing up the statues.
Seattle's Sri Chinmoy Centre offers free introductory classes to help people develop their own practice. Sri Chinmoy, for whom the centre is named, once said that if you meditate properly, you will get spontaneous inner joy. Free inner joy? Sounds cool!
The only downside to Gas Works is that there isn’t actually the paintball set-up shown in the movie 10 Things I Hate About You. Still, it does have a sweet playground made of old gas refinery machines, grills, and the greatest grass hill for picnics ever.
Rick Steves doesn’t just babble on NPR and advocate for pro-marijuana laws: he also runs a travel center in Edmonds offering free lectures on European travel and destinations, as well as language classes. You might not leave fluent, but you’ll probably be able to order off a menu.
Aside from being all kinds of famous for the killer architecture of the Downtown branch and being full of free books, movies, and music, the library offers all sorts of cool classes that you can take -- for free. Learn to write a novel, use a 3D printer, or code videos, among a world of other options.
Anyone who’s ever had a visitor to Seattle has probably watched the salmon climb the ladder and the boats pass through the locks, but if you want to really want to know what’s going on, take a free tour. The professionally guided tours require no advance reservation and are offered at 1 and 3pm every day, with an additional 11am tour on weekends.
If you play with timing, you can often find a specific day and time to get into a museum for free, but that’s hard, and you want to find a free indoor activity when it's raining, not on a sunny Thursday evening. Well, you’re in luck: the Frye is always free, and it’s not too shabby. You'll find works by Andy Warhol, Thomas Hart Benton, Winslow Homer, and Edward Hopper, along with a bunch of other people that you definitely should have heard of.
Leave your #SadDeskLunch behind and head to City Hall to the Out to Lunch concert series, which puts on hour and a half shows in parks around Downtown throughout the summer. Folks like rock band The Dusty 45s and the funky Polyrhythmics will inject some life into your midday routine -- all for free.
Visit a relic of roadside America at Oxbow Park, where these giant cowboy boots and hat sit, rather oddly, in the middle of the city. Originally a gas station (the boots housed the restrooms), now they’re just quirky decorations, but are fun to look at and take photos of.
When was the last time you walked around a 100-plus-year-old lighthouse? Too long, if ever, we’d guess. On Saturdays -- from May to October -- the Browns Point Lighthouse Park opens up the history center, boathouse, light keeper’s cottage, and more. It’s been a fixture for boats since 1887 (before Washington was even a state) and the lighthouse itself was built in 1901.
The best, most refreshing summer activity is free and is basically everywhere. The giant lake that runs the length of the city? Yeah, jump in that. There are nice public park beaches in most neighborhoods, but if that’s hard to get to, there are secret paths between the houses about every mile or so -- look for a change in pavement and a path leading down -- which lead to public swimming access.
Workout classes are always better when they’re both free and outdoors. The Saturday morning yoga classes at the Olympic Sculpture Park fit both of those categories. Choose between beginner or level one and lay out your mat with everyone else planning to start their Saturday with a few sun salutations.
The big grassy hill here makes for a perfect natural amphitheater for the free concerts sponsored by local radio station KEXP, and free movies are put on throughout the summer. Check the schedule, bring a picnic, and rock out... without your wallet out.
With a better view than a certain iconic leftover from the world’s fair half a century ago, and none of the pricey tickets or long elevator rides required, it’s no wonder there’s a line of cameras always ready to snap a shot from this park.
Aside from being a lovely, cozy place to curl up with a book, Seattle’s most iconic bookstore offers a full calendar of talks by all kinds of authors -- from the mega-famous to the local first-timer -- and they’re almost all free.
Real golf is expensive, but disc golf -- which is played with friends and Frisbees -- is free, at least at South Seattle’s Lakewood Park. No experience necessary, just grab your disc and start aiming for the little baskets.
Hmm, how do we say this more clearly? Free wine. Yes. Alcohol, available free of charge. No, we’re not making this up. One of Washington’s largest wineries offers a complimentary tour and tasting of its products, every single day. What are you waiting for? Go drink!
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