Free Guide

20 Absolutely FREE Things to Do in PDX This Summer

We keep you entertained through Labor Day, all without leaving the city—or spending a cent.

By Ramona DeNies July 1, 2015

From rock shows to opera to open-air movies, summer in Portland is all about getting out there, enjoying the sun, soaking up fun, and...not spending a dime? That’s right! Save your pennies for that prix fixe at Holdfast or a last-minute flight to Kauai come December; we keep you royally entertained through Labor Day, all for the low, low price of absolutely nothing (except sunscreen?). 

1. Original Practice Shakespeare Festival

Thru 8/23—OPS is known to get a little fresh with the Bard. In city parks across town, catch classics like The Comedie of Errors, Romeo and Juliet, Richard III, and The Merry Wives of Windsor. Some shows are all-male, some all-female, and some definitely not suitable for kiddies.

Getting cheffy at the market! Photo credit: Portland Farmers Market.

2. Chef in the Market

Thru 10/31—Cooking for you each Saturday morning at the Portland State University Farmer’s Market: culinary masters like Nostrana’s Cathy Whims, the Bent Brick’s Ryan Mead, and Earl Mnsom of Paa Dee. The pièce de resistance? After each class, a free tasting!

3. Sundown at Ecotrust

Free First Thursday concerts, from 5:30–8 pm, outside Ecotrust’s Jean Vollum Natural Capital Center in Portland's Pearl District. 

  • 7/2—Portland Cello Project
  • 8/6—Orquestra Pacifico Tropical and Mimicking Birds
  • 9/3—Horse Feathers and School of Rock

Summer Free for All at Centennial Park. Photo credit: Adam Sawyer.

4. Summer Free for All: Concerts in the Park

Pick any evening this summer; there’s likely to be a free concert at a park near you. Select shows below—visit the series website for the full schedule. All shows at 6:30 pm. 

  • 7/7—Freak Mountain Ramblers, Mt Tabor Park
  • 7/13—Ural Thomas and the Pain, Sellwood Riverfront Park
  • 7/15—The Stolen Sweets, Willamette Park
  • 7/29—Pilon D’Azucar Band, Dawson Park
  • 8/4—Chata Addy, Fernhill Park
  • 8/6—The Wanderlust Orchestra, Couch Park
  • 8/12—Pete Krebs and the Earnest Lovers, Ventura Park
  • 8/14—Curtis Salgado, Lovejoy Fountain Park

Get feisty with PAE's The Taming of the Shrew. Photo credit: Gary Norman.

5. Shakespeare in the Park

Bust out your picnic blanket for the Portland Actors Ensemble’s summer-long alfresco runs of Macbeth and The Taming of the Shrew.

  • 7/2–9/7—PAE’s itinerant 46th season spans locations like wineries, the Concordia and Reed campuses, and Laurelhurst Park.

6. Mississippi Street Fair

7/11—The world’s slowest moving parade (some might say) crawls up and down this vendor and performer-thronged street. Bring sunscreen, and a wide-open afternoon.

7. Portland Opera: The Elixir of Love

7/12—Free afternoon preview of this Wild West version of Gaetano Donizetti’s 1832 love story (at the Central Library, no less).

8. Tin House: Summer Readings

Each summer, the literary quarterly draws big talent to Reed College to lead an exclusive writer’s workshop. Evening readings, however, are free and open to the public. Word!

  • 7/12–18—Among the top draws, in order of appearance: Dorothy Allison, David Shields, Charles D’Ambrosio, Jenny Offill, Karen Russell, Maggie Nelson, and Tony Hoagland.

9. Proscenium Live: Festival of New Work

Artists Rep hosts free staged readings of new works recently published by contemporary theater journal Proscenium Live.

  • 7/14—Pericles Wet: a commissioned adaptation of Pericles from Pacific University Theatre and Dance Chair Ellen Margolis
  • 7/19—An Evening of Original One-Acts: directed by Paul Angelo and Steve Rathje
  • 7/20—The Widow of Tom’s Hill: by Portland-based playwright Aleks Merilo

At the Cathedral Park Jazz Festival: Hailey Niswanger (and her PDX Soul). Photo credit: Hailey Niswanger

10. Cathedral Park Jazz Festival

7/17–19—Among the smooth draws in the shadow of the St. John’s Bridge: Kung Pao Chickens, Hailey Niswanger’s PDX Soul, and the Paul Creighton Project.

11. PDX Pop Now!

For three days, effervescent local pop lurks under the Hawthorne Bridge. The 12th annual all-ages music festival also boasts a record fair and band-on-band b-ball tourney “Rigsketball.”

  • 7/24–26—Acts include the Blue Cranes, Cool Nutz, Lower 48, Nurses, Talkative, the Domestics, and White Glove

12. Flicks on the Bricks

Get your Friday-night evening movie fix for free this summer in Portland’s Living Room.

  • 7/24—Raiders of the Lost Ark
  • 7/31—The Lego Movie
  • 8/7—Grease Sing-A-Long
  • 8/14—The Breakfast Club
  • 8/21—Mrs. Doubtfire

13. Portland Festival Symphony Concerts

Director Lajos Balogh. Photo Credit: Portland Festival Symphony.

Directed by Lajos Balogh, these free classical concerts—think Beethoven, Mozart, Dvorák—start at 6 pm, alfresco!

  • 7/25—Cathedral Park
  • 8/1—Laurelhurst Park
  • 8/2—Peninsula Park
  • 8/8—U. S. Grant Park
  • 8/9—Washington Park

14. Sunday Parkways

Few free events are more neighborly than these slow-pedaling park-to-park treks through temporarily car-free streets. At each stop, food vendors, live music, and other easy afternoon attractions.

  • 7/26—Northeast Portland
  • 8/23—Southeast Portland
  • 9/27—Tilikum Crossing/Sellwood

15. Polaris Dance: Galaxy Festival

8/6–8—Director Park is the stage for dozens of dance and fitness companies; we’re talking ballet and improv, hip-hop and ballroom, belly-dancing and folk styles from around the world.

16. Washington Park Summer Festival

Parklandia in the West Hills! All Washington Park concerts are free and at 6 pm.

  • 8/7—Brass Ops: 234th Army Band, Oregon National Guard
  • 8/8—Opera in the Park
  • 8/9—Portland Festival Symphony
  • 8/10—Reggie Houston’s Crescent City Connection
  • 8/11—Johnny Limbo and the Lugnuts
  • 8/12—The Many Colors of Edna Vazquez
  • 8/13—Tizer Quartet

17. Alberta Street Fair

8/8—It's like a mini city of boho chic, with over 20,000 pedestrians milling the length of one of Portland's most dynamic streets. 300 vendors plus three music stages and two beer gardens? That equals a fine Saturday afternoon, by our calculations.

People eater! Photo credit: PDX Adult Soapbox Derby.

18. Adult Soapbox Derby

8/15—Otherwise sane individuals hurling themselves down the winding roads of Mt Tabor in garage-crafted vehicles? Sign us up (to watch at safe remove, that is)!

19. Submission Reading Series

8/29—Poet Elaine Kahn and Whiskey Tango Foxtrot author David Shafer read at the series launch event in May. Next up? We’ll see—the editors welcome blind submissions in multiple genres.

20. Art in the Pearl

9/5–7—100-plus artists set up shop along the North Park blocks for this 19th annual outdoor showcase of fine photography, ceramics, glass art, jewelry, and more.

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