There is no shortage of things to do in a buzzing metropolitan area, and with the Internet at your fingertips (and in your phone), you can find popular after-work and weekend events and activities in a matter of seconds. But if you’re looking to avoid long drives, large crowds, and possible admittance or parking fees, you may want to look for less publicized events at the community level. (See our list of fun local things you can do for $5 or less.)
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Check your city’s newsletter or website. Besides local reports and announcements, your city’s news publications will likely also feature a section for upcoming events. For example, right on my city’s homepage is a banner advertising the annual 5K run, a post announcing the kickoff of free outdoor concerts, and a link to the summer recreation guide. These events probably won’t attract out-of-towners, but they are excellent opportunities for residents to have fun with other members of the community.
Stay updated with event calendars. Libraries, museums, community centers, and other family-oriented venues tend to be really good about keeping the public posted on events hosted at their facilities, by way of a calendar of events on their website or bulletin board. (For example, in September, hundreds of museums offer free admission to celebrate National Museum Day.) You can also create your own calendar events to keep track of the local happenings you and your family are interested in.
Read flyers. They’re everywhere — stapled on telephone poles, taped to bus stops, tacked on bulletin boards by the layer. Strangers hand them to you on busy intersections. Sure, it’s easy to pass them by (or chuck them in the next recycling container) without a glance, but you may be missing out on something interesting: free drinks at a new restaurant’s grand opening, a carnival hosted by a local church, weekly concerts in the basement of a music store — the possibilities are endless. And all it takes is a few seconds of reading. (See also: How to save money while eating out.)
Ask around. Virtually every person you interact with can be a resource. A neighbor may be part of a baseball league. A co-worker’s sister may be the drummer in a new rock band. You can easily pick up on fun things to do just by asking for more information (date, time and location) in your day-to-day conversations. Don’t forget to ask your kids (or your friends’ kids) about school events. Attending plays, concerts, sports games, and charity dinners put on by students is a great way to support the youth in your community.
Crash a party. It may be rude to show up uninvited at a private party, but when you pass by a large group of people (or cars) gathered at, say, a park or a school, it doesn’t hurt to investigate. If you have a minute to spare, stop and ask someone who seems to be in the know, “What’s going on?” You may discover you’re just in time for an outdoor concert or a high school football game. The great thing about local events is that you can go home, pack your family in the car or prepare for a walk, call friends who might want to join you, and still make it back in time to have some fun.
Amy Lu writes at Wise Bread, a blog dedicated to helping readers live large on a small budget. Wise Bread's book, 10,001 Ways to Live Large on a Small Budget, debuted as the #1 Money Management book on Amazon.com.