In the summer, Portland becomes a veritable frugal living paradise. Once the sun decides to come out – and stay out – there are virtually endless ways to have a blast, without spending a dime.
There are those activities that you can initiate yourself for little or no cost – think biking the Springwater Corridor, visiting public gardens, checking out funky neighborhoods – and then there are those opportunities that various municipalities, nonprofits and businesses supply for you, absolutely gratis. We focus on the latter in this post.
Free Summer Concerts
Nearly every area city – from Portland to Hillsboro to Gresham and beyond – offers some form of free summer music program. The city of Portland’s Concerts in the Parks is (not surprisingly) the most expansive of them all with dozens of performances in parks around town, featuring everything from hip-hop, jazz and reggae to salsa, blues and cajun. Bring a picnic and a blanket, find a shady spot and take it all in.
A few other possibilities (you can find many more by searching online):
Tualatin Hills Park & Recreation District (Beaverton)
Showtime at Shute Park (Hillsboro)
Music Mondays (Gresham)
Sounds of Summer (Lake Oswego)
Bridgeport Village offers free performances every day from July 1 through Sept. 10. Impressive! (Caveat: no outside food/beverages allowed.)
Lest you think that all free music happens at night, consider Noon Tunes at Pioneer Courthouse Square.
Free Outdoor Movies
Along with music of every genre, many municipalities also offer free films after sunset. Most are PG and G rated; a few are PG-13 (parents of young kids should check online before making a decision).
Here are some options:
Movies in the Parks offered by the city of Portland
Portland Actors Ensemble is presenting its 48th (can that be correct? Yes, I double-checked!) year of free Shakespeare performances. This year they’ll feature Troilus and Cressida and The Winter’s Tale. (Non-English majors might want to consult Cliffs Notes for a primer before attending.)
What could be more quintessentially summer than attending a festival on a sunny summer afternoon? Entertainment, food, vendors, a little culture, a lot of fun!
Here’s a sampling of free-admission themed festivals in the area:
Bastille Day. Don’t miss the annual Waiters’ Race, in which formally-dressed waiters/waitresses walk (running is not allowed) around the block (three times) as fast as they can while carrying a tray of Perrier and glasses. FUN!
Free Fair Fun
Area cities and even neighborhoods join in the fun with parties for all. For example, Sherwood is celebrating its 63rd (!) year of time traveling fun with their Robin Hood Festival featuring medieval re-enactments, swordplay, jugglers, a traditional knighting ceremony, and appearances by Maid Marian and (of course) Robin Hood and his Merry Men.
There’s much more to choose from, including:
Neighborhood street fairs, from Alberta and Hawthorne streets to Fremont Fest and Multnomah (Village) Days, promise to showcase the best the city has to offer.
And at least one local county fair (Washington County) offers free admission. :)
Miscellaneous Free Entertainment for Everyone
The area’s libraries – Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties, as well as Clark County (Fort Vancouver Regional Library system) – offer tons of free literary-related (and, often, just plain fun!) entertainment, mostly geared toward kids but still a hoot for adults as well. Performances range from puppet shows and storytelling to music and comedy shows – and more.
The city of Portland (and a host of co-sponsors) brings Sunday Parkways, car-free “block parties,” to different neighborhoods around town from May through September. Hop on your bike and join in the fun!
The city of Portland also offers free open swim times every week day through Aug. 25 at pools around the city.
The PDX Adult Soapbox Derby, one of my favorite summer events, defies description – and so do most of the zany vehicles involved in it. The derby is, in my mind, a microcosm of what makes Portland, well, Portland. Taking place on Aug. 19 at Mt. Tabor Park, the bizarre, gravity-powered contraptions zip down the city’s urban volcano as hundreds of fans and curious onlookers watch in awe. It’s a hoot.
This list is NOT exhaustive. You’ll find many additional offerings by searching online. You’ll be rewarded with even more cool fairs, festivals, music, art, and other events to enjoy – all for free!