Free in California’s Central Coast

As the saying goes, the best things in life are free.

Be sure to take advantage of wonderful free offerings like FREE parking, FREE concerts, FREE tours, and more on your California Central Coast road trip.

MONTEREY BAY REGION

Visit admission-free museums in Santa Cruz such as the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum, the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Exploration Center, Agricultural History Project, San Lorenzo Valley Historical Museum, Capitola Museum and the Aptos History Museum. The Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History is admission-free the first Friday of every month.

There are also a ton of opportunities to see free movies and outdoor concerts, many of which take place on the beach! Check out this list of FREE things to do in Santa Cruz.

In Gilroy, enjoy the Tamal Festival (late September) – this FREE family event in downtown Gilroy includes tamal and food vendors, arts and crafts, a bicycle-motorcycle-car show, kids zone, and live entertainment in English and Spanish.

Learn about the mystery of San Simeon Cove by beachcombing with marine biologists on a Tide Pool Field Trip. Find out what causes high and low tides and explore the plant and animal communities that live between the tides. Participants meet at the Coastal Discovery Center in San Simeon (across from entrance to Hearst Castle Visitors Center, by the pier). Donations accepted. Space is limited so reservations are required.

You will find a range of campgrounds and hiking trails in Monterey County. Bring your tent and become one with nature and fall asleep under the stars at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. Tent and RV campsites lie along the beautiful Big Sur River and provide easy access to hiking trails.

SAN LUIS OBISPO REGION

You may not know this, but Hearst Castle visitor parking is free! Not only that, admission to the Visitor Center and its museum exhibits are free. There are fees for Tours, however, the Grand Rooms Tour is an exceptional value that includes admission to the Hearst Castle Giant Screen theater to see the 40-minute film about the castle, roundtrip transportation to the hilltop, guided tour, and free time to stroll the grounds at your leisure.

In San Luis Obispo Concerts in the Plaza is the hottest summer concert series on the Central Coast. Held on Friday’s in June through September, this free concert series brings performers from throughout California for warm evenings of great music.

Enjoy the outdoors in San Luis Obispo with its rolling hills, fresh air and rewarding 360 degree views. Access over 40 miles of hiking trails within ten minutes from the heart of downtown. With a variety of trails like Cerro San Luis, Terrace hill, Reservoir Canyon, and South Hills Open Space, there are trails for any age and level hiker.

If you are in San Luis Obispo on the first Thursday of the month, you will be in for the ultimate local show – Bike Night! Around 9:30 p.m., a swarm of enthusiastic bikers exit Mission Plaza and begin laps around downtown with music and enthusiastic bell ringing. Visitors are welcome to join in for Bike Night.

SANTA BARBARA REGION

Every Sunday in Santa Barbara, you’ll find the weekly arts and crafts show along the oceanfront.
Admission to the famed Santa Barbara Courthouse is free, although donations are accepted. This Santa Barbara cornerstone was erected in 1850 and features beautiful sunken gardens, long mosaic-lined hallways, and its famous observation tower offers 360-degree views of the ocean and mountains.
For a feeling of zen, spend some time at Alice Keck Memorial Park Gardens. This free public park is a perfect place for your afternoon picnic. Watch turtles wade into their ponds and ducks wander from one small island to the next.

In Solvang there is free parking everywhere! How awesome is that?

Los Olivos is known for some of the best olive oils anywhere and is where you can immerse yourself in olive oils and gourmet food products. Olive Hill Farm offers free olive oil tastings. Discover the scents, textures and flavors that give them their identity.

Go fly a kite at Santa Maria’s Family Kite Festival. In April, kids and their families get together for an unforgettable quality outdoor family experience.

VENTURA REGION

Free parking in downtown, the beach, and the harbor, makes visiting Ventura especially pleasant. Check out this guide to free parking in Ventura.

Going on for 25 years, Artwalk Ventura is a totally fun, virtually free, self-guided tour of dozens of galleries, studios, pop-up venues, and transformed PODS in Ventura’s historic Downtown and Westside Cultural District.

Ventura County Farm Day, held on the first Saturday in November, is the only regional event featuring more than 25 farms. Admission is free. Admission is also free to the Port Hueneme Banana Festival. Held in September this annual beach event features live local bands, kids zone, port tours, tasty eats and more.