Sunny days in the Northwest are electrifying. There’s almost too much to do, and figuring out how to budget your time can become stressful. And then there’s winter, when we seem to have the opposite problem. It’s tough to find ways to stay occupied, social, and active this time of year. Especially if you’re operating on a tight budget.
Whether you’re trying to keep yourself occupied this winter or are hoping to occupy energetic youngsters with cabin fever, here are our picks for free and cheap winter activities in the Pacific Northwest.
Several Seattle museums have free entrance on the first Thursday of every month. The long list includes a few that are typically on the pricier side, and there’s such a diverse mix that it’s easy to find something that interests just about everyone. On the list are the Burke Museum, the Henry Art Gallery, the Museum of History and Industry, the Nordic Heritage Museum, the Northwest African American Museum, the Seattle Art Museum, the Seattle Asian Art Museum, the Wing Luke Museum, and the Bellevue Arts Museum.
Situated on a forested piece of land in Federal Way, near Tacoma, the Pacific Bonsai Museum is an outdoor living art museum. The gorgeous collection of professionally-cultivated trees is fascinating—and meditative to behold. Visitors to the free collection can learn about the various styles of bonsai, as well as gain an appreciation of the true artistry of the craft.
Several art walks in Seattle and Portland take place year-round, and in the winter they’re a great way to get out of the house and partake in a bit of local culture. In Portland, there’s the First Thursday Gallery Walk involving shops and galleries throughout Old Town, the Pearl District, and downtown, which stay open late for the festivities. Portland also has the Last Thursday Art Walk, taking place on Northeast Alberta Street.
For its part, Seattle’s excellent Pioneer Square Art Walk happens on the first Thursday of every month from noon to 8 p.m. It’s a great excuse to scope out the vibrant neighborhood’s many art galleries and studios and grab a bite at one of the area’s exciting restaurants. Many parking garages in the area offer free parking during the art walk, too.
For parents looking to occupy their kids with fun and cheap winter activities, Vancouver’s Art ala Carte hosts an “all you can make art bar” with drop-in sessions for crafting with the kiddos. There is a cost for this one: $9 for kids ages 1 to 4 and $11 for kids five and up, but there’s no limit on time spent or the amount of supplies used. If you bring a paper bag of recyclables or art supplies to share, they drop the price $2.
Portland’s myriad neighborhood movie theaters, as well as several restaurants and cafes, offer free movie nights—there’s a free movie being played somewhere every day of the week here.
Seattle’s World’s Fairs image courtesy of the Museum of History and Industry. Credit: Daniel Sheehan