The Best Free Things to Do in Each Southern State
When you’re on vacation and nearly every step you make takes a bite out of your wallet, the most beautiful sight may just be a four-letter word: FREE. Of course, sometimes you get what you pay for, but there are plenty of truly cool and totally gratis attractions out there.
Wander through 67.5 acres of manicured grounds at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. Among the 30 themed gardens: an Irish rose garden, wild Alabama woodlands, and a Southern Living magazine-inspired garden (featuring native dogwoods and Florida flame azaleas).
Gawk at works by mary Cassatt, Mark Rothko, Andy Warhol, and five centuries of great American Artists at the Moshe Safdie-designed Crystal Bridges Museum of Art. How can they afford to roll back the admission price to nothing? It was founded by Alice Walton, not far from the little family business in Bentonville: Walmart.
You'll want to keep your arms inside your vehicle at all times on the 27-mile Big Cypress National Preserve loop road. The swampy, tree-lined drive is thick with gators and their hungry reptilian friends.
Visit the Atlanta childhood home and church of a national hero at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site. Show up early and you'll secure a spot on the Park Ranger-led tour of the 1895 Queen Anne house where Dr. King lived —and dreamed—during the first 12 years of his life.
Peer inside the reconstructed, single-room log cabin where the 16th president was born at the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace, in Hodgenville. Don’t miss a look at Sinking Spring, the natural underground rivulet that supplied the Lincolns' drinking water.
Take a break from the eqicurean pleasures of New Orleans' French Quarter and join a ranger-led tour of the Jean Lafitte National Historial Park and Preserve. Most every building has a story-or two. For instance, Gen. Andrew Jackson was a frequent dinner guest at 417 Royal Street, the home of Edgar Degas' grandfather.
Bone up on the author who helped named the local football team at Baltimore’s Edgar Allan Poe Collection at Enoch Pratt Free Library. Among the treasures: Poe's original manuscripts, letters he wrote to his future bride (when she was only 13), and a lock of his hair. Sure it's a little creepy, but consider the source.
Bone up on civil war history at L.Q.C. Lamar House Museum, a Greek Revival home in Oxford. Don't remember Lamar? He earned a chapter in JFK's "Profiles In Courage" for helping smooth North-South relations after the war. He certainly had the credentials, having served as a congressman, a U.S. senator, a cabinet member, and a Supreme Court justice.
See what life was like on a ye olde tobacco factory and homestead (circa 1852) at Duke Homestead, in Durham.
Invite yourself over to Thomas Jefferson’s friends house, the Charles Pinckney National Historic Site. He was a principal author and signer of the United States Constitution.
Get a commanding view of Great Smokey Mountains National Park—and, on a clear day, 100 miles into the distance—from the perch at Clingmans Dome, some 6,643-feet in elevation.
Cool off with a swim in Austin’s Barton Springs Pool. Admission is free from 5-8 a.m. and again from 9-10 p.m.
Pose for photos at Foamhenge, the somewhat less sturdy replica of Stonehenge, in Natural Bridge. Foamhenge is made entirely of styrofoam.
Observe the artisans at work at the Blenko Glass Company, which has been welcoming visitors to its Milton factory since 1921. There's a gallery of vintage colored and stained glass as well as a glass garden. If you're lucky, they may let you take a turn on the blowpipe.