America's Top Free Attractions
(Photo: Ted Soqui/Corbis)
Imagine seeing masterpieces by van Gogh, entertaining your kids with activities and strolling a hilltop garden with waterfalls and beautiful views at sunset.
Now imagine doing it all for free. That’s how your day could play out in Los Angeles at the J. Paul Getty Museum, where admission doesn’t cost a thing.
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In our search for the top free attractions, we bypassed public parks and train stations to focus on experiences you wouldn’t necessarily expect to be free: a guided tour of Gothic-style Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah; an afternoon with cute baby animals at Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo; and a behind-the-scenes look at a Harley-Davidson factory.
Find out just how far $0 can get you from coast to coast.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Maximize your time at the Getty by visiting on a Friday or Saturday, when this sprawling hillside art complex is open late — allowing you to take in sunset views. The light-filled museum interiors display an impressive collection of European and American art including Vincent van Gogh’s famous “Irises.” Debbie Dubrow of the family travel blog Delicious Baby recommends the Family Room’s interactive exhibits, giant illuminated manuscripts, and an art treasure hunt. “And whenever you need a break, just pop outside to the Getty’s fabulous gardens,” she says. While parking is expensive ($15), the Getty is also accessible by public transit.
Smithsonian Museums, Washington
(Photo: David Coleman / Alamy)
The National Zoo, National Museum of Natural History, and National Air and Space Museum — which displays The Spirit of St. Louis — are the biggest crowd pleasers among the 18 Smithsonian institutions in D.C., otherwise one of the country’s priciest cities. Indeed, making knowledge accessible is key to the mission of the world’s largest museum and research complex. Affordable-travel expert Tim Leffel observed that the three museums he visited with his wife and daughter would have set them back more than $100 in most European capitals. And here's a bonus: you can