Can You Really Have Fun for Free? I Gave It a Shot


If you’re trying to cut back on your spending, someone’s probably told you to swap pricey outings with free ones. Great idea! If you have loads of spare time to spend scouring the Internet. But what about those of us with jobs, families and other obligations that keep us busy?

Curious to see how easy having fun for free could really be, I gave it a shot. Here’s what I did, and some lessons learned along the way.

Concert at the Santa Monica Pier

My first free outing was actually a no-brainer: I look forward to the Twilight Concert Series—free concerts every summer Thursday at the Santa Monica Pier—every year, and was excited to meet up with friends to see Khalid perform. (If you’re hunting around for concerts in your city, search “free concerts [name of your city]” on Facebook.)

Because it was the first show of the summer and Khalid is a popular artist, I knew it’d be packed—but I didn’t expect to be crowded in like sardines among 60,000 people! We did eventually found a spot on the beach below the pier, and enjoyed the concert.

In hindsight, we should have arrived at least an hour before to stake a spot on the pier. I’ll keep this in mind for future events: When something’s free, space is a lot more competitive. However, I still had a great time and enjoyed spending time with friends. 

The only money I spent was taking the light rail ($1.75 each way) from my place in West L.A. to Santa Monica, and grabbing sandwiches and soda at a nearby deli ($12)—a nice discount from the $40-plus I’d otherwise spend on a concert ticket, plus food and drinks.

Opening Night at an Art Gallery

There’s no shortage of gallery events year round in major art cities, like L.A. Opening-night receptions are usually free and open to anyone—plus there’s usually gratis booze and snacks.

To check out my options, I scanned the listings on Curate L.A., which is a map of openings and exhibitions. (Not in L.A.? In addition to Facebook, check out Chicago Gallery News and The Visualist in Chicago or NY Art Beat in NYC. Online publications, like Artslant , artnet and Artforum, also include search tools to find gallery openings in cities around the world.)

I ended up attending an opening at 1605 Gallery, a cozy space featuring photography in Echo Park. It was a juried group show (meaning the works are rated and selected by a panel of judges) called “Signs,” and I enjoyed light snacks, wine and beer—probably worth $20 or so if I’d had to pay. Besides the few bucks I put in the bar tip jar, I didn’t spend any money the entire night.

Overall, I really enjoyed seeing thought-provoking art, meeting fellow art lovers and getting free noms. The one drawback was that even though parking was free, it was tough to find a spot. Next time, I may consider a more extensive evening of gallery-hopping while taking public transit.

Family Art Workshop

If you live in a smaller city, you can easily research event listings on the calendar posted on the website for your city, parks and rec site, public library or local visitor’s center. I ended up finding out about the free family art workshop—supplies included!—at Barnsdall Art Park in Los Feliz on the L.A. Department of Cultural Affairs site. It’d been a long time since I’d done anything like this, and it seemed like a leisurely way to spend a Sunday morning.

I arrived about 20 minutes into the workshop, and, to my surprise, had no problem finding free parking. (Barnsdall Park can get pretty crowded on weekends). The workshop featured Warli tribal artwork, and white paint, brushes and construction paper were provided to create our own Warli-inspired paintings.

Trying my hand at painting geometric shapes and animals was indeed pretty relaxing and not too kid-focused—there were a handful of other adults who attended solo. For absolutely no cost, this was one of my favorite fun and free discoveries.

Outdoor Yoga Class

I’ve seen discounted gym packages on Groupon, as well as complimentary intro passes at fitness studios around town. But what about free, one-off classes? I did a quick search on Facebook for “free fitness Los Angeles,” and information about an hour-long yoga class, offered seven days a week, at Runyon Canyon popped up.

The page suggested bringing water, sunscreen, my own mat and towel—all of which I already had at home. There’s also a suggested donation of $5 to $15, which is less expensive than other donation-based yoga classes I’ve seen. Full disclosure: I only tipped $3—I thought I had more in my wallet. I’ll check before I go next time.

Runyon is a popular hiking spot for city slickers, so I went on a Monday morning to avoid the crowds. Besides exercising in the sweltering heat, the class was a lot of fun and I’d definitely do it again. There were about 30 people in attendance—a number I’m sure skyrockets on the weekends. If you’re available at off hours, take advantage of it.

At the end of class, our instructor mentioned that he also taught a donation-based, evening yoga class in Hollywood, which isn’t something I could have easily learned about otherwise. That’s the great thing about free activities: Go to one, and you might learn about more.