Out and about in April: cheap, free and offbeat adventures



(OVO by OVO Collective) 

Spring flowers are out and so are crops of cheap, free and fun festivals and events around the country. Here are some highlights from a round-up I pulled together for Travel + Leisure.

Fiestas in San Antonio

¡Viva Hemisfair! (April 6-8) in San Antonio’s Hemisfair district marks the 50th anniversary of the 1968 World’s Fair, which was held with great fanfare in the Alamo City.

The three-day festival will include free music and cultural performances, public art, historical exhibits, a ‘60s-themed fashion show and other fun throwbacks to the 1968 fair.

The 11-day Fiesta San Antonio (April 19-29) started with a single parade back in 1891 and today brings multiple parades and more than 100 other free and ticketed events, including carnivals, balls, arts fairs, concerts and more to streets and venues in the city.

See the light in Baltimore

Light City, a free large-scale light, music and innovation festival take overs the waterfront in Baltimore, MD April 14-21 with a full line-up of performances and free concerts, an opening night parade, closing night fireworks and 21 brand new juried light installations by artists from around the world.

SPAM fan?

Waikiki’s SPAM Jam festival returns to Honolulu on April 28. The annual street festival offers three stage of free music along with crafts, souvenirs and food booths serving up – what else but – a surprising variety of dishes incorporating the canned ham product first introduced in 1937 that remains especially popular with Hawaiians.

Park it in a National Park

While admission is free at many of the more than 400 national parks sites around the country, more than 100 site normally charge an entrance fee. Avoid the fees in every park on April 21, the first day of  National Park Week (April 21-29, 2018) when many parks offer special programs and events as well.

Book it to Berkeley

The free two-day Bay Area Book Festival (April 28-29) returns to downtown Berkeley, CA for the fourth year with a full line-up of authors and speakers, children’s programs, arts installations,  and hundreds of literary exhibitors. There’s also a (ticketed) series of conversations and film screenings about literature in partnership with the Berkeley Art Museum and the Pacific Film Archive.

Replay for National Pinball Museum – in Baltimore

Since 1995, Baltimore, Md. has been the home of the American Visionary Art Museum, a magical place that displays a vast amount of unusual and offbeat work by outsider artists, such as these carved Styrofoam cups made by Mark Swidler.

Now there are even more reasons to hightail it to Baltimore. This weekend the city welcomes its newest attraction: The National Pinball Museum.

Here’s the story I put together about the museum for Travel:

David Silverman, founder of the National Pinball Museum opening Saturday, Jan. 14, in Baltimore, Md., first discovered the coin-operated, arcade-game known as pinball when he was 4 years old.

“Back then, New York was one of the cities that banned pinball,” Silverman, 63, told “Lawmakers considered it gambling and they thought it was associated with the mafia. So I first saw a pinball machine while on a vacation with my parents in upstate New York.”

Silverman grew up to be an avid pinball player and, eventually, a pinball machine collector. “My first machine was ‘Fireball,’ which was made by Bally, a major pinball company. My wife liked the game, so we kept it lit up in the living room. One game led to another and now I have more than 900 machines.”

While searching for parts and people to repair and maintain the machines in his collection, Silverman learned the history of pinball and discovered that it had roots reaching back to the 18th century.

“The early games were handmade and were played liked billiards with a cue stick,” said Silverman. “Then the coil spring came along and the cue stick was replaced by the plunger. Flippers didn’t come along until 1947, but that changed pinball from a game of chance to a game of skill.”

Like the metal balls in the pinball machines, the National Pinball Museum has been bounced around. Until it lost its lease in September 2011, the museum was located in Washington, D.C.’s Georgetown neighborhood. It’s new location, in Baltimore’s attraction-rich Inner Harbor, is smaller (two floors instead of four) but still offers a history gallery with original artwork and more than 40 vintage machines and an interactive gallery with more than 50 working machines, including some classic film and TV-themed machines dating back the 1940s and 50s, that may be played.

If you go:

The National Pinball Museum is located at 608 Water St. in Baltimore, Md., and will be open Friday-Sunday beginning Jan. 14. Admission tickets include play time on the machines in the museum’s Pinhead Gallery.