The Berkeley Playhouse (local theater company) - They mostly produce fun musicals (such as the recent "Seussical," a musical based on the works of Dr. Seuss), and many of their productions include half-price and/or "pay-what-you-can" nights.
The Shotgun Players (local theater company) - They tend to produce relatively serious plays, but some are more lighthearted than others. For every production, the first week of performances offers "pay-what-you-can" tickets, which means that you can see a professional play for only a couple bucks! These performances sell out quickly, though, so it's best to buy tickets in advance.
The San Francisco Mime Troupe - Not mimes in the sense most people think. They talk, and everything! This is a fairly experimental, politically-oriented theater group who put on free plays about current events and global politics, using lots of biting satire. Might be a bit heavy for some people, but it's free! Their website says:
The San Francisco Mime Troupe does not do pantomime. We mean 'mime' in the ancient sense: to mimic. We are satirists, seeking to make you laugh at the absurdities of contemporary life, and at the same time see their causes. We travel the country and the world with our message of solidarity, comedy, and the plight of the worker in our increasingly corporatized democracy, and have done shows about most of the burning issues of our time - normally debunking the official story. And because we want our shows about the issues of the day to be seen by the people who are most effected by those issues- working class families who can't always afford to the ticket prices at the other Tony award winning theaters - we perform most of our shows free in public parks, for tens of thousands of our fellow citizens every summer.
The Berkeley Rose Garden - A beautiful garden most of the year (though the blooms become a bit anemic in the middle of winter), and it's free. In the surrounding neighborhood, there are lots of pedestrian paths and stairways, as well as a very nice park. It's a beautiful area to explore.
The Bay Area Free Book Exchange - This "store" (not really a store, because they don't actually *sell* anything) accepts donations of books and provides a large room of shelves and boxes ... which you can look through and take whatever books you want for FREE! They're only open on weekends (9 a.m.-6 p.m.).
East Bay Hella Free Day - This funky event happens at the Lake Merritt Amphitheater every first Saturday of the month. People bring their usable items, foods, skills, and talents to give/trade/swap and pretty much everyone can find something that interests them. You don't have to bring anything if you don't want to, though. According to the website, this "communal potluck of trinkets, treats and talents" will let you find anything from fresh produce to on-the-spot yoga
Bay Area Social Gamers - They play fairly light, fun, social games (rather than intense strategy games that require lots of thinking and planning), and they meet every week on either Tuesday or Thursday (it alternates each week, so that folks with regular scheduling issues on one of those days can still make it half the time). There's no commitment or pressure: you can just drop in once or twice, you can pick and choose which games you want to play (because there are usually 2 or 3 going on at the same time), and you can get yourself some dinner or a snack (because they meet in restaurants or cafes). They're a nice, relaxed, friendly group of people. (It was through them that I made most of my early friends when I first moved to the Bay Area 20 years ago.)
Art Murmur - This is totally free and might be of interest for some of the artists at CWC ... or just those of us who like art! Every first Friday of the month, Art Murmur member galleries are open to the public from 6-9 pm. Visitors can look at art in local galleries, talk to a lot of the artists, and just generally have a good time. Additionally 23rd Street between Telegraph and Valley is closed to car traffic, and craft, art, and food vendors are set up along this corridor. Also, street performances, one-night art installations, and social and political activities tend to happen, too.
$2 Oakland A's home games at the Coliseum - Every home game on a Wednesday, you can see an A's game for only $2. The seats aren't the greatest, but it's hard to beat $2 tickets to an A's game!
Free local museums - There are lots of museums and guided walks, both in SF and in the East Bay, that are always free.
Monthly free days at local museums - Even some museums that are usually quite expensive (such as the California Academy of Sciences, which normally costs more than $30!) have "free days" once a month. These days are sometimes very crowded, but if you go early it isn't too bad. And I've been to the MoMA on their free day before, and the crowds weren't bad at all. (Special exhibits did cost money, though. It was only the general admission that was free.)
Berkeley Public Library - They offer lots of classes and events, such as:
- a free drop-in computer class for beginners (Monday evenings 6:00p.m.-6:50p.m.)
- a group that reads great plays aloud, changing parts frequently (Wednesday afternoons 12-1 p.m.)
- a book group that meets to discuss books folks have read recently (4th Tuesday of every month, 3-4p.m.)
Waterfront Flicks in Jack London Square - A weekly (every Thursday) event in which you can watch a free summer outdoor film screening under the stars and close to the water. I'd suggest taking a warm sweater and maybe something to sit on.
Center Street Summer Cinema - Free outdoor movies and thematic costume contests! Bring something to sit on, or you can rent a chair for $5. Before the film, from 6-7:30 p.m., entertainers from the Downtown Berkeley MusicFest serenade onlookers with violins, steel drums, Brazilian guitars, capoeira performance, or other entertainment. Before the main movie begins, other fun includes cartoons and short features.
Dancing under the Stars in Jack London Square - Kick up your heels and enjoy a free dance lesson provided by the Linden Street Dance Studio. Each Friday features a different type of dance followed by a dance party to practice what was learned.
Kaiser Center Roof Garden Concerts in Oakland - These outdoor concerts are held on Fridays from 12-1 p.m. The concerts -- which feature music from a variety of genres, including jazz, zydeco, blues, pop, hip hop, salsa, etc. -- are FREE and open to the public!
Williams-Sonoma Free Cooking Classes - Every Sunday, the Williams-Sonoma store in Emeryville offers free classes on various cooking topics, such as creating satisfying brown bag lunches, the art of using leftovers, gluten-free baking, etc. They also offer free demonstrations of various cooking-related skills pretty much every day (see the demonstration schedule on their website for more info.
Meetup.com - This isn't an event or a location -- instead, it's a website that gives users the opportunity to search and find various events, groups, classes, etc. You can search for pretty much any kind of interest and find people to hike with, people to do yoga with, people to talk with (about various subjects), people to learn stuff with, etc. It's a great way to connect with people who share your interests.
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May-October - Yerba Buena Gardens Festival - This festival happens primarily in the parks in SF, but it's all entirely free and it's chock full of music, arts, dance, theater, and all kinds of good stuff. And it's happening right now!
August 20, 12-6 p.m. - Art and Soul Festival - This music-centered festival features jazz, rock, gospel, latin, R&B, acoustic, and blues performed by national recording artists and top local talent. The festival's "Artisan Marketplace" offers exotic foods and tasty treats from a multicultural menu, and there's also some great art to check out.
August 20, 7:30 p.m. (Saturday) - "Raiders of the Lost Ark" outdoor film and costume contest - They're showing the first Indy movie outdoors in the Bank of America parking lot, at 2219 Center Street. Totally free! I listed this outdoor movie series above, but I was excited enough by this particular showing that I'm listing it separately. Get out your fedora! Get out your whip! Draw some stubble on your cheek! Maybe carry a rubber snake!
August 28 - LastSundaysFest in Berkeley - This festival features indie-pop/rock music mixed with crafts, exhibitors, vendors, non-profit booths, outreach exhibits, education and green commercial booths, and performances on two stages. And it's all free!
September 3-25 - Free Shakespeare in the Park - These guys do fantastic productions of Shakespeare plays and perform them absolutely free in the open air at The Presidio's Main Post Parade Ground Lawn in SF. The actors almost always pronounce their lines in such a way that even those not terribly familiar with Shakespeare can get the gist. This year they're doing "Cymbeline," which is not one of Shakespeare's best-known plays (to say the least), but it should still be interesting. Take a blanket, a picnic lunch, and a few good friends!
September 11 - The Solano Stroll (http://www.solanoavenueassn.org/strol.htm) - Always the second Sunday in September, the Solano Stroll is the East Bay's biggest street festival. It includes a parade, food booths, arts and crafts, various kinds of entertainers, local music and dance, extravagant international costumes, and all kinds of other stuff.
September 20 (Tuesday), 7-8:30 p.m. - REI's 25th Anniversary Celebration (http://sf.funcheap.com/rei-25th-anniversary-celebration-berkeley/) - Free, and really cool if you're interested in travel, other cultures, or adventure! For their party, REI is bringing in two of their Top Guide award-winners, K.P. Kafle from Nepal and Marco Fallas from Costa Rica, for presentations about their native countries, which you can enjoy while noshing on free hors d’oeuvres and tasty desserts. You can register ahead of time for this free event, and they’ll also hold a seat for you until the scheduled start time, so that you won’t miss out on light snacks and maybe some layer cake at this global anniversary gathering of guests from all over the world.
September 23-25 - Eat Real Festival (www.eatrealfest.com) - Part state fair, part block party, Jack London Square's Eat Real Festival celebrates good, fresh, delicious food. With a focus on food craft, street food, handcrafted beers and local wines -- all featuring sustainable local ingredients -- Eat Real showcases food in all its different forms. But eating is only part of the fun! Learn how to make it and grow it! From cheese to kombucha, there are dozens of demonstrations highlighting a DIY food lifestyle. No cost for entry. All edible treats $5 or less.
September 30-October 2 - Hardly Strictly Bluegrass (http://www.strictlybluegrass.com/) - This is an annual free music festival held the first weekend of October in Golden Gate Park. It started out including only bluegrass music, but it has expanded to include musicians of all genres. There's a great variety of stuff, and it's all free!
October 2, 10:00 a.m.-10:00 p.m. (Sunday) - "Oaklavía": Car-free Downtown Open to Strolling and Biking (http://sf.funcheap.com/oaklava-carfree-downtown-open-strolling-biking-oakland/) - Oaklavía allows walkers, bikers, and hikers to roam the streets, car-free, enjoying the festival's dance and yoga classes, bike repair and bike safety classes, live music, and other spontaneous activities. And it's all totally free!
October 22, 10:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. (Saturday) - Pedalfest: Bike Rodeo & Celebration (http://sf.funcheap.com/pedalfest-bicycle-celebration-jack-london-square-oakland/) - A day-long bicycle-centered event at Jack London Square, complete with a pedal-powered sound stage, races, demos, bike safety programs, rides, a bicycle rodeo, parade, food vendors, and more. You don't have to own or bring a bike in order to come and enjoy the festival.