20 Totally FREE Ways to Make This Your Best Portland Summer Ever

Leaving town this summer? Well, OK. But you're gonna miss all this free stuff—from a Nu Shooz show to JAW's three new plays to an actual screening of Jaws (plus so much more).

By Ramona DeNies, Rebecca Jacobson, and Tuck Woodstock May 17, 2016

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Lots of free love this summer at Pioneer Courthouse Square—home base for everything from a mass yoga event to sweet sundown flicks.

As we shared with you last year, come summertime in Portland, the living's not just easy—it can also be 100 percent free. Outdoor screenings of Inside Out and Best in Show? Lawn concerts from the likes of Nu Shooz and Edna Vasquez? A mass yoga session in Portland's "living room"? Free readings from Pulitzer-winning poets? Here in Stumptown, months of top-shelf summer entertainment can be had, all for the low, low cost of simply showing up. So go buy yourself something nice with all that spare change you'll save. (Might we suggest a picnic to share with some new friends?)

1. Original Practice Shakespeare Festival
May 15–Aug 21 (check lineup for locations and times)
OPS claims to produce Shakespeare the way it was done in the Bard’s day: with minimal rehearsal, an onstage prompter, and plentiful audience interaction (choose your seat accordingly). The company has 13 plays in its repertoire this summer, with showings scheduled at parks all across the city.

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2. Portland Street Fairs
May 15–Sept 10, various dates and locations
Practically every week this summer, a Portland thoroughfare will close to traffic in favor of foot traffic, food, free entertainment, and fun. Here are some highlights:

3. Chef in the Market
June 4–Oct 22, Portland State University Market, 10 a.m. Saturdays
Cooking for you each Saturday morning at the Portland State University Farmer’s Market: culinary masters like Leena Ezekiel of Thali Supper Club, Gabe Rosen of Biwa and Noraneko, and Matt  Choi of Choi’s Kimchi. The pièce de resistance? After each class, a free tasting!

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4. Pedalpalooza
June 9–July 4, events across town
Sure, the World Naked Bike Ride (June 25) is the cornerstone event of this monthlong velostravaganza. But things don’t stop there. Name your obsession—tweed? Organic produce? Freddie Mercury? Wine? Mamma Mia? Coffee at sunrise? Potlucks and dance parties at sunset? High heels? Solar panels? Lube your chain, lucky cyclist: Pedalpalooza has a ride for you. And you better bet the Bowie vs. Prince ride will be epic this year. 

5. International Yoga Day Portland
June 21, Pioneer Courthouse Square, 9 a.m.–3 p.m.
Gather in Portland’s living room for free community yoga classes, live music, performances and children’s activities. No experience required! 

6. World Naked Bike Ride
June 25, 8 p.m., location TBA
Join the rolling sea of flesh as more than 10,000 nude Portlanders cruise through the city, ostensibly to support human-powered transportation, safe streets, and body positivity. 

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Curtain call at Maryhill for the Shakespeare in the Park.

7. Shakespeare in the Park
June 25–Sept 5 (check calendar for locations and times)
Current political climate not acrimonious enough for you? Turn to Coriolanus, the Bard’s late, little-loved tragedy for a triple shot of manipulation, arrogance, ineptitude. Or keep things a little lighter with Love’s Labour’s Lost, which features the longest line in Shakespeare’s entire canon (“honorificabilitudinitatibus”). Produced by the Portland Actors Ensemble, this series tours different parks around Portland. Bring a picnic blanket and snacks. 

8. Sunday Parkways
June 26 (NoPo), July 24 (NE), August 21 (SE), October 2 (Sellwood), 11 a.m. – 4 p.m.
On select Sundays throughout the summer, the city creates car-free zones for folks to safely run, bike, roll, and stroll.  Explore a new neighborhood each month and hit up free, family-friendly events. 

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Edna Vasquez can certainly score a perfect Portland evening.

Image: Edna Vasquez

9. Summer Free for All: Concerts in the Park
July 6–Aug 28 (shows are still being added—check schedule for dates and locations)
Pick any evening this summer; there’s likely to be a free concert at a park near you—thanks to this major volunteer-led effort spearheaded by Portland Parks & Recreation along with the Portland Parks Foundation. Here are just a handful of this summer's free park concerts:

  • July 18—Pete Krebs and the Portland Playboys, Sellwood Riverfront Park
  • July 12—Dirty Revival, Columbia Park Annex
  • July 25—Edna Vasquez, Sellwood Riverfront Park
  • Aug 2—Wanderlust Orchestra, Fernhill Park
  • Aug 18—Tezeta, Couch Park

10. Summer Free for All: Movies in the Park
July 7–Sept 10 (Shows are still being added—check schedule for dates and locations)
For some, free park concerts are just pre-gaming for the main event: outdoor movies screened at sundown, all summer long. Here are just a few:

  • July 15Star Wars: the Force Awakens, Irving Park
  • July 29Inside Out, Warner Pacific College
  • Aug 7Jurassic World, Sellwood Park
  • Aug 18Jaws, Elizabeth Caruthers Park
  • Aug 20Best in Show, Sewallcrest Park

11. Portland Zine Symposium
July 9–10, Ambridge Event Center
Reject the Hachettes and Condé Nasts of the world at this free, volunteer-run, DIY-loving fest. This year, the programming gets split in half: Saturday features workshops, panels, and tabling at Ambridge Event Center, while Sunday is a skill-share extravaganza at the IPRC. 

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12. Ten Tiny Dances
July 9, Beaverton Farmers Market in City Park
Constraints are said to be good for creativity, a maxim embraced by this beloved performance series since 2002. As the name suggests, expect 10 different dance pieces popping up on five four-by-four-foot stages across downtown Beaverton. You’ve got three and a half hours to catch them all. 

13. Tin House Summer Readings
July 10–17, Reed College Ampitheater, 8 p.m.
On warm summer nights, there are few spaces lovelier for a literary reading than the leafy Reed College amphitheater. As part of its summer workshop, Tin House puts on a full week of 8 p.m. readings, with three writers each evening. Top picks include novelist Rachel Kushner (The Flamethrowers), Pulitzer-winning poet Gregory Pardlo, Ayana Mathis (The Twelve Tribes of Hattie), and Guardian columnist Kiese Laymon. 

14. Summer on the Green: Nu Shooz (and more)
July 15 (see schedule for other shows in the series), Marylhurst University, 7 p.m.
Thirty years ago, the jazz-funk-R&B outfit put Portland on the musical map “I Can’t Wait.” After a 27-year-hiatus, husband-wife duo John Smith and Valerie Day are back with a funktastic new album, Bagtown, and are hitting the road with a full band. You’ll have to haul out to Marylhurst on July 15, but the al fresco show is free. Also on this summer: longtime local rockers Quarterflash (July 29), chamber pop favorites 3 Leg Torso (Aug 12), and rock violinist Aaron Meyer (Aug 19)

15. Cathedral Park Jazz Festival
July 15–17, Cathedral Park
For the 36th year, the festival serves up three days of free jazz and blues in the shadow of the St. Johns Bridge. We’re particularly stoked for Saturday’s Earth, Wind & Fire tribute. 

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16. PDX Pop Now
July 22–24, Audio Cinema (under the Hawthorne Bridge)
The long-running, all-ages, always-free fest is one of Portland’s absolute best. The monster lineup includes dreamy, lo-fi pop experimentalists the Lavender Flu, instrumental troupe 1939 Ensemble, fuzz-pop outfit Tender Age, punk-meets-country band Jenny Don’t & The Spurs, and rapper Maze Koroma. 

17. Flicks on the Bricks
July 22–Aug 19, Pioneer Courthouse Square
Portland’s living room gets extra cozy every summer, with classic and family-friendly flicks played on a gargantuan inflatable screen. Bring a pillow and snacks for maximum fun. 

18. JAW
July 29–31, Gerding Theater
The crush of open-air Shakespeare is fine, but sometimes we crave theater written sometime after the 1600s. Portland Center Stage’s annual playwriting festival delivers, with staged readings of three fresh plays by emerging playwrights. This year’s offerings include a magical realism-inflected tale of environmental activists in Mexico, an investigation of family bonds, and an unlikely encounter between a lost young woman and two missionaries.

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Figment's participatory art is set to take over Portland's North Park Blocks for one summer weekend.

19. Figment
July 30–31, North Park Blocks
Since 2007, the Figment project has been transforming parks across the US into places of participatory art-making. For the first time, the festival comes to Portland for a whimsical weekend of family-friendly, interactive creation in the North Park Blocks. Prepare to get crafty. 

20. Galaxy Dance Festival
Aug 4–6, Director Park
Free dance classes and performances at Director Park, with opportunities to see (and learn) ballet, hip-hop, belly dance, modern, and more. 

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