Friday, July 18, 2008

Free Stuff; A Guide to Seattle Area Bargains

The Seattle metro area is one of the nations best places to live. With robust arts and education communities and an abundance of recreational opportunities there is so much to do. And it may be a surprise to learn how many of these activities are absolutely free!

Yes, zero, zilch, nada, free. The region offers a menu of free places and events broad enough to satisfy nearly every age and taste.

For example, travel guru Rick Steves offers free travel classes where you can learn about topics ranging from travel destinations and language to how to ride a train in Europe.

In its area stores, kitchen retailer Williams Sonoma offers “technique demonstrations” on topics as diverse as the basics of omelet making to tips for holiday entertaining. Topics and times vary so it’s advisable to call your nearest store for a schedule.

Wine tasting at area wineries is another free activity. One of the regions largest wineries, Ch√Ęteau Ste. Michelle, offers visitors wine samples and the opportunity to wander their beautiful Woodinville grounds. But it is just one of dozens of local wine makers who can be found by typing “seattle wine tasting” in the search box at citysearch.com.

If your interests roam beyond travel, food and wine you will find a wide array of additional options available.

The Fry Museum is always free. Most other major museums allow free access at times. The Seattle Art Museum has evenings free to the public the first Thursday of each month, to seniors the first Friday and to teens the second Friday. Boeing sponsors a free night, the first Friday of the month at the Bellevue Art Museum.

If you prefer airplanes to art the Museum of Flight opens its doors to everyone the first Thursday of the month, in a program sponsored by Wells Fargo Bank.

The performing arts want to encourage your visits as well though tickets are not quite free. Many of the theaters staging live plays offer “near free” opportunities by holding “pay what you can” evenings. The Seattle Repertory Theater holds a “pay what you can” evening once during each main stage production with a one dollar minimum payment. Act Theater sets aside two nights during each production, suggesting a five dollar payment but accepting more or less, down to one dollar. Contact you favorite theater to learn of their programs and dates. In most cases the tickets are offered on a space available basis. The Paramount Theater offers a free tour of their beautifully restored facility the first Saturday of each month but doesn’t offer free shows. For history buffs that trumps actually sitting through an expensive event!

Water lovers are not left out of the regional bargain hunt. The Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, in Ballard, are open to all everyday during daylight hours. If you don’t think watching boats motor through the locks is entertaining then you haven’t been there at the end of along summer weekend when the boats are pouring home and the crews a little weary. If you tire of boat watching, wander over to the fish ladder where all ages can enjoy watching salmon make the climb from salt water to fresh. If gardens are your thing save time to visit the extensive and well maintained gardens as you return to your car.

On the opening day of boating, the first Saturday in May, celebrations, crew races and boat parade make the Montlake cut, near Husky Stadium, the best waterfront bargain in town. Any boater will advise you that it is always cheaper to watch a boat than own one.

For those who would like to board a boat, rather than just watch, the Center for Wooden Boats, at the south end of Lake Union, offers free rides most Sundays from 2:00 to 3:00. The Seattle Singles Yacht Club offers free boating lessons from time to time. Check their web site or give them a call to see if any are planned.

The University of Washington, offers a number of bargains. The athletic department welcomes all to their spring football game at Husky Stadium. For kids it’s a chance to get close to the players and create a lasting memory. There are also kids camps and clinics offered in various sports at the “U .” If academics is your preference free on-line programs are available covering topics ranging from American History and Shakespeare to the History of Jazz.

Each April the three UW campuses open their doors to visitors of all ages offering department open houses, lectures and exhibitions. Such a visit could be particularly useful for a student trying to decide what course of study they might like to pursue at the UW or any other school. And the weekend gives new meaning to the school’s old advertising line, “you benefit [from the University] whether you go there or not.”

Summer, in the Seattle area, activities abound where you will not have to reach for your wallet. Seafair inspired events alone can keep you busy every weekend. Communities across the region sponsor parades, festivals and arts and crafts shows. Area 4th of July fireworks shows are all well worth the price of admission which, by the way, is zilch. The August Seafair finale presents the downtown torchlight parade and four ear splitting Blue Angel shows for the same low price.

Attending the big hydro race costs a few dollars but the TV coverage is excellent so you can enjoy the screaming boats from the comfort of home, for free.

The Christmas Holidays bring another elevation to the level of free community activities. The Seattle Center comes alive at a Winterfest celebration with activities for all ages. The Great Figgy Pudding Street Corner Caroling Competition, held in downtown Seattle, is a popular holiday tradition. Attendees can then wander the streets, enjoying the window displays on their way to the Sheraton hotel to examine the winners in the Gingerbread House competition that pits the areas leading architectural firms against one another.

Bellevue offers its own nightly holiday show with the festive Snowflake Lane extravaganza drawing hundred of celebrants to Bellevue Place. The Bellevue Botanical garden lights up its grounds for the holidays with a display that appeals to all ages and is free, free, free.

So now you have a comeback for those negative thinkers who think you can’t get something for nothing. It’s just not true. But at times there may be a price to pay for a “free” experience. Free nights at museums tend to draw crowds so don’t count on having the place to yourself. Discount nights at theaters fill up fast so you may not get to see the show. Dates and times can change, month to month, so be sure to check before you go to avoid disappointment. But if you are willing to look, verify before you go and be ready for some inconvenience at times, free opportunities abound. Enjoy them. They are a dividend you receive for living in a diverse and active metropolitan area.

FOR MORE INFORMATION
Web sites and advertising for area activities don’t always highlight the “free” options that are available so it is best to call for current information. Some helpful web sites include:

Click “Free Travel Classes” at http://www.ricksteves.com/ for information on available classes.

For area wine tasting opportunities visit http://www.citysearch.com/

Info on the Center for Wooden Boats is available at http://www.cwb.org/

For UW sports see http://www.gohuskies.com/

UW courses are described at www.outreach.washington.edu/openuw

The schedule of campus events during Washington Weekend, held each April, can be found at www.washington.edu/alumni/weekend

The City of Seattle does an excellent job of cataloging a range of regional fairs and festivals at www.seattle.gov/html/VISITOR/festival.htm

The Seattle Seafair site outlines activity schedules at http://www.seafair.com/

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