free events

Treats for travelers at LAX

To mark the Chinese New Year and celebrate the Year of the Pig, Los Angeles International Airport will be hosting a Lion Dance for two days this week.

The Lion Dance symbolizes power, courage and good fortune. It also chases away evil spirits and bring happiness and good luck.

At LAX, the 20-minute Lion Dance will be performed by Wushu Shaolin Entertainment on Tuesday, February 5 at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m, and on Friday, February 8 at 3 p.m. and 5 p.m in the post-seurity area of Tom Bradley International Airport.

The terminal will also have festive decorations in honor of the Chinese New Year. Red envelopes with gifts and offers from LAX shops and restaurants will be handed out to passengers. So don’t shy away from the lion!

But wait – there’s more.

The 61st annual Grammy Awards take place at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Sunday, February 10.

To celebrate, on Tuesday afternoon February 5 LAX airport and the GRAMMY Museum will host a Grammy-themed event for passengers arriving in Terminal 2.

The event will take place between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. and again from 2 p.m. to 4 pm and feature live music plus gifts for arriving passengers of official GRAMMY merchandise and souvenirs.

A five-case display showcasing the evolution of the gramophone award has been installed in Terminal 2 and will there all year long.

On Tuesday, down in the Terminal 2 baggage claim area, a giant gramaphone will be arriving to remind passengers that this is an especially festive week in LA.

In June: Fly there, do that

I’ve brought my monthly “Cheap, free or just plain cool” round-ups to Travel + Leisure but this month there just wasn’t enough room for all the fun stuff I found, so here’s a slightly expanded list of cool and offbeat events to head to June. 

Get the Blues – for free

Chicago hosts dozens of free music festivals year-round, but the Chicago Blues Festival, June 8-10, is the Windy City’s largest music festival and largest free blues festival in the world. The party takes place in Millennium Park with four stages celebrating the Chicago-born music tradition and Chicago blues legends.

Magic and more 

The Jewish Museum of Maryland opens Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini on June 24 and on opening day professional escape artist Dai Andrews who will recreate Houdini’s 1916 Baltimore stunt in which he escapes from a strait jacket while suspended upside down from a 50-foot crane.

Not free – but avocado-themed.

The Cado – billed as “an immersive, pop-up experience devoted to California avocados” – opens in San Diego sometime this month (the website isn’t clear…) for a three month stint. Tickets are not cheap: $27. But hey, avocados.

Live it up in LA

LA Live is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year with all sorts of free and low-cost events starting on June 8.

Farm machinery mania

2018 marks the 100th year John Deere has been in the tractor business and a big celebration is planned for June 15 and 16 in Waterloo, Iowa. In addition to live music and an exhibition showcasing 100 years of tractors and tractor innovations at the Waterloo Convention Center, there will be a tractor pull and other activities at the John Deere Tractor and Engine Museum in town. (Admission: free).

Can’t make it to Iowa? The Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History features rare and classic John Deere tractors in two temporary exhibits put together for the “Year of the Tractor.” (Admission: free).

If this museum could talk, it would slur its words


It’s appropriate that the grand re-opening of the newly renovated Oscar Getz Whiskey Museum in Bardstown, Kentucky takes place June 14, which is National Bourbon Day. The museum is home to more than 5000 whiskey-related artifacts, including real moonshine stills, a 600-piece decanter and bottle collection and a mean-looking mannequin portraying temperance advocate Carrie Nation swinging her hatchet. (Admission: free).

 Grab a drum, a spoon, or a washboard and make some music

 Logan, Ohio, home of the Columbus Washboard Company, hosts the free Washboard Music Festival on Father’s Day weekend, June 14-16. Events include a parade, live bluegrass, folk and washboard-rich music, kids activities and free tours of the last remaining full-time washboard factory in the United States. Keep an eye out for the world’s largest washboard.

Want more music? June 21 (the summer solstice) is Make Music Day around the world, with more than 4,500 free outdoor concerts, music lessons, jam sessions and other music-making events scheduled in more than 70 U.S. cities. Bonus: Come evening, many any iconic buildings and landmarks around the country will be lit orange to mark Make Music Day.

San Antonio’s Tricentennial Celebration Continues

 On June 22, the San Antonio Museum of Art opens “Spain: 500 Years of Spanish Paintings from the Museums of Madrid,” an exhibition featuring more than forty masterpieces by the likes of El Greco, Goya and Picasso. Regular adult admission, with exhibit entry, is $20, but you can see the exhibit for just $5 during hours when general admission is waived: Tuesdays 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Sundays 10 a.m. to noon.

Renew your vows; break a world record

Considering renewing your wedding vows?

Niagara Falls USA, Niagara Falls New York

Renew your vows with 1,201 other couples on Goat Island, overlooking Niagara Falls (the Honeymoon Capital of the World) on June 23 and you’ll help break the Guinness World Record for the largest vow renewal ceremony. Registration is free, but all couples must bring photo IDs and their marriage certificates to the event. Participants will get a commemorative t-shirt, a Certificate of Participation and a free buffet at a local casino.  Cheers!

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.

Valentine’s Day – at the airport

Charles Lindbergh-themed Valentine

Who says airports aren’t romantic?

Pretty much everyone.

But this year many airports and several airlines are getting all dolled up and offering treats, entertainment and some surprises to sweeten up Valentine’s Day for travelers and their sweethearts.

Here’s a round-up of some of what’s in store:


On Thursday, Delta Air Lines transcontinental passengers in both economy and BusinessElite traveling between New York’s JFK and Los Angeles (LAX) or JFK and San Francisco (SFO) airports will receive a complimentary glass of sparkling rosé and Ghirardelli chocolates. On Southwest Airlines all passengers 21 and older are eligible to receive one complimentary alcoholic beverage of their choice during each Valentine’s Day flight.

PHL, Valentine Origami Demonstration

On the ground, Valentine-themed origami paper folding demonstrations are scheduled at Philadelphia International Airport on Valentine’s Day. Passengers may fold a heart during two live demonstrations, pick up paper and folding directions and fold a heart later or take a pre-made red or pink folded paper heart. Demonstrations will take place from 11:30 a.m to 1:30 p.m. and from 4 to 6 pm at the Performing Arts Stage between Terminals B and C.

The Aveda Store at Minneapolis-St Paul International Airport (in the Airport Mall, across from checkpoint 2) is offering Valentine’s Day travelers complimentary seated neck, shoulder and back-stress relieving rituals, hair consultations and hosting a “best kiss” contest. After a complimentary lip touch-up, guests may leave a kiss imprint on a card. The customer with the best “kiss” gets a prize.

Everyone wins on Valentine’s Day at Miami International Airport during parties being held from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. pre-security in Terminal and from 2 to 5 p.m. post-security in Terminal D. In addition to DJ music, stilt-walkers will pass out chocolate roses and there will be games and prizes, craft tables for making valentines and a heart-shaped background for striking a Valentine’s Day pose.


At Jacksonville International Airport in Florida, volunteer airport ambassadors will continue their Valentine’s Day tradition of handing out about 1,500 colorful carnations to passengers and, at New York’s LaGuardia Airport, “Cupid” will be roaming Terminal B (through February 15th) handing out vouchers for free chocolate hearts. (The vouchers are also available in the Terminal B shops.)

Many airport shops will have special Valentine’s Day discounts and deals and tables piled high with romantic, pre-wrapped, grab-n-go gifts. At Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX), the specials include Valentine’s Day cookies from the Paradise Bakery and, at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport in Texas, Amy’s Ice Creams will have fresh, chocolate-covered strawberries available for purchase at its post-security shop and, for last minute shoppers, in the baggage claim area.

Plenty of Valentine’s Day entertainment is also on tap.

Early birds in Texas are invited to the Brownsville South Padre Island International Airport for a Valentine’s Day Breakfast at 6 a.m. to celebrate American Airlines addition of a new flight to DFW airport. On the menu: breakfast tacos and heart-shaped cookies.

In Ohio, Port Columbus International Airport (CMH) will be holding a Passenger Appreciation Day on Valentine’s Day with live music, fresh popcorn, a kid’s activity table, Valentine’s Day pencils, stickers and old-fashioned stick candy.

On Valentine’s Day, Billy Gaines will be singing love ballads at the Concourse C food court stage at Nashville International Airport and in Nova Scotia, Canada, chocolate hearts will be handed out while an Elvis impersonator serenades passengers and visitors at Halifax Stanfield International Airport.

(My story about Valentine’s Day at airports and on airlines first appeared on the MSN Traveler Blog.

Free ice-skating in Denver, courtesy Southwest Airlines


Southwest Airlines is sponsoring an ice-rink in downtown Denver this winter and that means free ice-skating for all.

The Southwest Rink at Skyline Park is next to the historic Daniels and Fisher Clocktower and will be open weekdays from noon to 10 p.m. and weekends from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Don’t have your own skates? No problem. You can rent skates at the rink for just $2.

Pillows? You’ll have to bring your own.

Photos courtesy Flickr Commons.