Some of the best attractions in the United States won't cost you a cent.
1. Point Reyes National Seashore
Even for those of us accustomed to beautiful ocean vistas, the sprawling Point Reyes has special points of interest, including 80 miles of shoreline. Located north of San Francisco, this beautiful point offers excellent whale watching, gorgeous rocky points, a historic lighthouse, and the chance to walk an easy trail that shows the devastation of the San Andres Fault Zone.
There's no charge to enter or park. The historic Point Reyes Lighthouse has its own visitor center and the main Bear Valley Visitor Center has interesting exhibits and trailheads nearby. There's also a Tule Elk preserve at Tomales Point. Give yourself plenty of time to explore this large area and make sure you have gas in your car. Note that just outside its boundaries, charming West Marin County offers cheese factories, wineries and more. Learn more: nps.gov/pore.
2. Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs, Colorado
I always love visiting this beautiful 1,367-acre nature park with towering red rocks, which offers 15 miles of scenic trails - from easy walks to 3-mile hikes. The Perkins Central Garden Trail is an easy paved 1.5-mile loop that's wheelchair and stroller accessible, with less than 30 feet of elevation gain. Admission and parking are free. And there are free guided nature walks every day. And free color trail maps are available at the nature centre. Open daily in winter 9 a.m.-5 p.m., in summer 8 a.m.-7 p.m. Location: 1805 N. 30th St. Learn more: 719-634-6666 or GardenofGods.com.
3. Niagara Falls, New York, and Ontario, Canada
There are three sections to Niagara Falls - created when 3,160 tons of water from four Great Lakes plunge over 200 feet into Lake Ontario: Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side of the border; and American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls on the U.S. side. While there are lovely manicured parks on the Canadian side, I like New York's Niagara Falls State Park side, with its lush green parklands, five islands on the river and more than 400 acres of nature, bike trails and more. There's no admission charge, but parking is $10. On the Canadian side, a beautiful set of promenades, planted with flowers in the summer, stretches along the main overlooks. At night, the falls are illuminated with colored lights. Hotels are considerably cheaper in spring and fall. (Note: If you decide to buy a boat ride, choose the original Maid of the Mist, which invented the ride into the whirlpool but now only operates on the New York side. It lost its concession on the Canadian side to Hornblower Cruises.)
4. Freedom Trail, Boston
If you're a history buff, don't miss the Freedom Trail, a walk through the history of the American Revolution, which started in Boston. The trail visits 16 historical sites in a little over 2 miles. It includes Paul Revere's house, the Old North Church, the USS Constitution, Bunker Hill and much more. You follow a red brick path. It's free to walk the trail at your own pace. Some sites along the way require admission if you want to go inside. There's also a guided tour with costumed docents that costs $12. Learn more here: thefreedomtrail.org.
5. Staten Island Ferry, New York City
Even if you've never been on this iconic ferry, you've seen it in countless movies and TV shows. But did you know that it's completely free to travel? It takes about 25 minutes each way, and is best enjoyed when it's not rush hour, when the ferry will be jammed with commuters. It also offers a great view of USA's most iconic sight - the Statue of Liberty. The ferry operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, generally every half-hour, more frequently at rush hour. The Manhattan terminal is at 4 Whitehall St., New York. Learn more: siferry.com.
6. Getty Centre, Los Angeles
This huge white complex towers atop a hill overlooking West Los Angeles. It is free to visit, except for a parking fee. Built with the legacy of oil man J. Paul Getty, it's the work of famed architect Richard Meier. It cost more than $1 billion to build and requires a tram ride from the parking garage to the top. They've done their best to make this complex kid-friendly, with a special section just for children. Collections include Van Gogh's "Irises" and paintings by such European masters as Monet, Renoir, Degas, Rembrandt and others, along with antiquities and ancient statues, decorative furniture, illuminated manuscripts and lots of photography. The gardens are lovely - on a clear day, you can see all the way across to Catalina Island. There's a cafe and they have special events, which are generally also free. Learn more here: getty.edu.
7. Getty Museum, Malibu
Formerly the main home of the Getty collection, this stunning jewel was modeled after a villa in Pompeii. Also built by J. Paul Getty, it now houses the Getty Center's collection of Greek, Roman and Etruscan antiquities. The beautiful villa itself and its setting near the sea is part of the charm. For the villa, you need a free timed ticket, which you can order on the website. There's a fee for parking. Learn more here: getty.edu.
8. 9/11 Memorial, New York City
New Yorkers become justly offended when they hear this described as an attraction, when it's actually a somber memorial to one of this nation's worst tragedies. On the site of the former World Trade Centers, this memorial is a moving tribute to those who died and those who tried to save them. There's a 9/11 memorial mobile app available. Note that the memorial is free to visit, but the adjacent museum has an admission charge. Inscribed in bronze around the twin memorial pools are the names of everyone who died in the terrorist attacks of Feb. 26, 1993, and Sept. 11, 2001. Learn more: 911memorial.org.
9. Mount Rushmore, South Dakota
Located in the Black Hills of South Dakota, this monument featuring colossal heads of presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt includes a visitor's center, a walkway with an up-close view and a sculptor's studio, closed in winter that includes more information about how it was built. Free ranger programs in season describe more about the memorial. A Lakota, Nakota and Dakota Heritage Village on-site are also free. Grounds are open daily from 5 a.m.-9 p.m. The monument is lit at night until 9 in fall and winter, and 11 in spring and summer. The National Park Service does not charge admission to Mount Rushmore, but parking is $11. Before you go, rent a copy of Hitchcock's "North by Northwest" from Netflix or your local library for some fun movie shots of the monument as it was re-created. Learn more: nps.gov/moru.
10. Manzanar National Historic Site, California
A large Japanese internment camp during World War II, this former site of the Manzanar War Relocation Center is being restored. It was one of 10 camps where a total 110,000 men, women and children - Japanese American citizens and Japanese nationals - were held in remote, military-style camps during the war. There is no fee to enter, park or go on the 3-mile auto tour. There are replicas of barracks and a mess hall. The visitor center includes exhibits from 1885 to the present, specifically the WWII relocation of Japanese Americans and their internment at Manzanar. There's a model of the camp, photos, artifacts and a short film. The site is on Highway 395, 9 miles north of Lone Pine. Learn more: nps.gov/manz.
Japanese Americans at Manzanar were only allowed to move freely within one-square mile of barbed wire fence. Anything beyond the fence required a permit from the authorities. Eight guard towers manned by military police ringed the fence line. In oral histories, many people recall their feelings when the lights from the guard towers swept across the camp at night. One very young girl remembers feeling so terrified by the light illuminating her barracks room through the window that she wet her bed. Others who were children in Manzanar recall their parents telling them never to go near the fence or near the guard towers. In 2005, the National Park Service reconstructed Guard Tower No. 8 (pictured) in its historic location. #USHistory #manzanar #manzanarnationalhistoricsite