Frugal Cultural Events

Summer is the season when most cities host free or nearly free cultural events. Of course, this is also the season when you can choose to spend big bucks to experience culture under the stars. Los Angeles is brimming with options, but here are some ideas for finding free or nearly free cultural events near you.

Summer Classical Concerts

Here in Los Angeles, we have this wonderful place called the Hollywood Bowl. It’s legendary. Conductors aspire to conduct there, performers aspire to perform there. The Bowl is currently the summer home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Normally, you think of an orchestra performance as an expensive event that requires dressing up. This may be true when the Phil performs at the Disney Hall, their winter venue, but it’s not true of the Bowl.

The Bowl is an amphitheatre, which means it’s a come-as-you-are place. Ultra-casual. Although they sell refreshments on site, everyone is welcome to bring in their own food and beverages, including wine and beer. Picnics are strongly encouraged. Parking is fairly reasonable and they also run shuttles from various locations around Los Angeles.

Tickets are also affordable. For some shows, tickets are as low as $1. They go up to over $100, but even the $1 seats aren’t that bad. My husband and I usually spring for the $18 seats. The nice thing about the Bowl is that the conductors explain the story behind the music or discuss an interesting episode from the composer’s life between the pieces. They’re usually amusing and they make “stuffy” classical music accessible.

So you sit under the stars, being educated, being entertained, drinking wine, and listening to amazing music.

Many cities and towns also offer free or low-cost concerts at parks, museums, and local amphitheaters. Start by visiting the website for the nearest orchestra or your local city’s website for ideas. Several LA museums offer free chamber music, so check a local museum if you don’t have an orchestra in your city.

Summer Jazz Concerts

I’ve found free summer jazz concerts at several of LA’s outdoor malls (we have many) and museums. The listening is free, but they sell food and beverages. I’ve also attended an evening of low-cost jazz at the Hayden Planetarium in New York, and seen ads for similar events at their Chelsea Market. If you want to find something similar near you, your local museums and malls are the first place you should check. A local university or community college may also offer events.

Summer Theater

New York’s free Shakespeare in the Park is legendary (and difficult to get tickets for), but other cities offer free or low-cost summer performances, too. Some feature professional actors, while others feature local performers who are quite talented. Check your local city’s website, theater groups, universities, parks and rec. department, or newspaper events calendar. If you’re in a big city, try the alternative newspaper or Goldstar.

Summer Children’s Events

Most outdoor cultural events are open to children, but you can find events specially designed for them, too. Start with the local library and museums, both of which usually offer free summer children’s programs. Your local park and rec. department or community center will probably also hold activities for kids.

Summer Films

Free films in the park are a relatively new event, but they’re growing in popularity. These are free in some cities, and cost money in others. LA’s biggest is actually held in a famous cemetery, and costs $10 a person, but you can bring in your own food and drinks, so it’s still a good deal (and not in the least bit creepy. You don’t sit on graves.) San Francisco has a couple free film venues during the summer. The films are usually classics, or at least a decade old. The LA event also includes free music before and after the movie.

To find a summer film series near you, your best bet is to Google your city name and “summer film.” You can also try a local events calendar, the newspaper, or the parks and rec department.

Summer cultural events are much more relaxed than anything you’ll find during the winter. Use this opportunity to enjoy local culture for free (or nearly free), without having to worry about dressing up. As more cities and towns add events to their calendars, you should have no trouble finding an event near you. Of course, if you’re in the mood to stay home, you can invite your friends over for a nearly free party.

If you have other ideas for finding local events, tell me in the comments.

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