Free is everybody’s favorite price. It’s also easier to find activities at that rate than you might think. Parks, tours, museums and live music — many attractions and events in The Bend come with no cost. All you have to do is make a visit.
Here are some of the best things you can do without having to bust out cash.
One of The Bend’s signature summer events, Art Beat on Aug. 15 is a great way to check out work from the local arts community. The event typically draws around 10,000 visitors to peruse handcrafted pieces, listen to music and taste food. You can window shop for free. But be warned: You might be inspired to buy.
Arts on the Race
An extension of Art Beat, local artists display (and sell) their work along the East Race in downtown South Bend as rafting takes place nearby. This takes place the first Saturday of the month during summer — June, July and August. Curious about rafting down the East Race too? It’s not free, but is certainly one of The Bend’s biggest attractions.
Browse local farmers markets
Visit the South Bend Farmers Market for a window into the city’s history. The market itself is historic. It dates to 1911 and has been in the same location since 1928. You’ll find a variety of sights and smells, from beautiful plants and vegetables to the scent of fresh roasted coffee. It’s also open year round. Mishawaka’s outdoor market takes place every Sunday between early May and September at Central Park
Concerts at Potawatomi Park
If you’re hanging around The Bend on a Sunday evening, you can catch live music at Chris Wilson Pavilion in Potawatomi Park. These shows run from late June through the end of August. Don’t forget to bring along a blanket or chair for seating.
DTSB Outdoor Film Series
Downtown South Bend throughout the summer puts on a series of films held on the gridiron, right next to the South Bend Chocolate Café. Grab a blanket, chairs and some snacks for the family then settle in around dusk for kid-friendly movies. Pre-movie activities take place as well.
Downtown South Bend bursts with activity the first Friday of every month. Themed nights include “Classic Downtown,” “Dog Days of Summer” and “Downtown for the Holidays.” It’s a great opportunity to explore downtown’s restaurants, shops and more with special activities and live music.
Fridays by the Fountain
People descend on Jon R. Hunt Plaza, located in front of the Morris Performing Arts Center in downtown South Bend, every Friday from June through August for live music and a variety of food vendors. Grab a chair or blanket and relax on the lawn, grab lunch and listen to the live tunes.
Monday Night Jam at The Brick
One of The Bend’s many event spaces, The Brick opens to the public Mondays for live music. Local bands infuse the beautiful venue with tunes. The bar is open and often there is at least one food truck in attendance in case you’re looking to try some local grub.
Parks Around The Bend
The Bend is flush with parks that serve as serene escapes in an urban environment. Pack a lunch and head to Howard Park, a downtown South Bend park that runs alongside the St. Joseph River. Leeper Park also utilizes the river. Several Mishawaka parks — notably Battell, Kamm Island, Beutter and Central — run along the river as well. Shiojiri Niwa Japanese Garden is a gem with some of the best scenery in The Bend. Many parks, especially those along the river, offer trails for walking, running or biking. Happen to travel with your dog? Perfect! The Niles Avenue Bark Park in South Bend and Prickett Park in Mishawaka both cater specifically to dogs.
FRed Table Plaza Concerts
Downtown South Bend’s streets have a lunchtime soundtrack Monday through Thursday during the summer. Local musicians play live during that time, so it’s a perfect opportunity to grab lunch from one of the nearby restaurants then relax at Studebaker Plaza.
Snite Museum of Art
Brilliant works of art await at the Snite Museum, where admission is always free. It holds over 28,000 works and is considered one of the finest university art museums in the country. Every third Thursday during the summer Snite hosts a jazz concert series. Picnicking is encouraged, so bring a blanket and some munchies then enjoy the show.
South Bend Museum of Art
Although not required, the South Bend Museum of Art does suggest a $5 donation for non-members to view its various galleries. It’s well worth the support. There’s a full spectrum of historical and contemporary art featured in five galleries. The museum’s shop, the Dot Shop, features work by local and regional artists.
South Bend River Lights
Located in the heart of downtown South Bend, the River Lights (pictured at the top of this piece) are an interactive showcase along the St. Joseph River. We recommend heading to the Colfax Bridge for an elevated view of the lights as they wash over the river. They frequently change color and are often themed for holidays or special events.
Tastings at The Exchange
Not only is The Exchange Whiskey Bar one of the best bars in The Bend, every week it offers up a little something free. Tastings of different spirits take place from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. every Tuesday. Of course, we recommend kicking back with one of the signature cocktails while you’re visiting.
Tour the University of Notre Dame
Public tours of campus are offered Monday through Friday from Eck Visitors Center. They cover many campus landmarks — the Grotto, Basilica of the Sacred Heart, Golden Dome and Touchdown Jesus. They aren’t, however, permitted to enter Notre Dame Stadium.
Don’t need a guide? Find some visitor parking and walk campus or ride on a LimeBike ($1 to unlock then 5 cents per minute).