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Top 10 Free Things to Do in America

The good ole USA has it all — from giant pandas to giant presidential heads carved in stone

1: The National Mall and Washington, D.C., Memorials

En español | The nation's capital takes its "by the people, for the people" ethos seriously. A surfeit of attractions honoring the country's heritage costs nothing to tour — including landmarks along the National Mall: the Washington Monument, the Jefferson and Lincoln memorials and memorials to veterans of World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

Richard T. Nowitz/Getty Images

2: Great Smoky Mountains National Park

America's national parks offer budget-friendly holidays, but only a handful offer free admission anymore. One that does is also the most-visited national park in the country: the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a vast forest wilderness in North Carolina and Tennessee that welcomes more than 9 million visitors annually.

Jay Dickman/Corbis

3: Golden Gate Bridge

It costs nothing to stroll the east sidewalk promenade of this San Francisco landmark, stretching high above the sparkling blue waters of the Golden Gate Strait. Walk, bike and even dine on the bridge (at the Bridge Café), with heavenly views all around.

Paul Hardy/Corbis

4: The Smithsonian Museums

All of the heralded Smithsonian museums in D.C. offer free admission — including the National Air & Space Museum, the National Museum of Natural History and the National Zoo. This means you can see first-rate artifacts like the Wright Brothers' 1903 flying machine, the Hope diamond and giant pandas, without paying a dime.

Richard T. Nowitz/Corbis

5: National September 11 Memorial and Museum

Since opening in September 2011, this 8-acre memorial of remembrance and honor to those killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks has fast become one of New York's most popular pilgrimages. Shimmering waterfalls cascade into two reflecting pools set into the massive footprints of the World Trade Center's original Twin Towers.

Mark Lennihan/AP

6: Mount Rushmore

You won't need to pony up admission to gape at this chiseled-in-stone behemoth, but you will have to pay parking costs. Still — what a sight! Carved into the granite cliffs of Mount Rushmore are the 60-foot heads of four American presidents: Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt (Theodore) and Lincoln. It's South Dakota's top attraction.

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7: Hana Highway

When do two lanes of curving blacktop become a destination? When the surrounding scenery is as spectacular as that along Highway 36 — better known as the Hana Highway — on the island of Maui. This corkscrew, 70-mile road follows Hawaiian countryside embroidered with taro fields, rain forests and eye-popping seascapes.

Ron Dahlquist/Corbis

8: Central Park

An oasis for city dwellers, this 843-acre swath of urban green offers plenty for visitors, too. You can kick back on the green grass of the Sheep Meadow, stroll the Literary Walk beneath a canopy of elms and watch summer productions of Shakespeare in the Park — all for free.

Rob Howard/Corbis

9: The Alamo

Originally established in 1718, this Spanish mission in San Antonio was the site of a historic battle for Texan independence and remains a spiritual touchstone in the heart of Texans. Look for the Heritage Tree, a mammoth live oak on the grounds.

Murat Taner/Corbis

10: Mardi Gras

Yes, you might spend a few bucks on hooch and a nice bowl of gumbo, and hotel rooms are a whole other high-rolling story. But it costs nothing to revel in the spectacle of the music, plumage and floats of New Orleans' Mardi Gras. Souvenirs are free, too, thanks to the "throws" — those beads and doubloons that are flung from parade floats.

Chris Graythen/Getty Images

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Getty Images: Michele Galli, Christian Wheatley, Kevin Forest, Steve Mason

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America offers so many wonderful things to do and see that are free to visit. Why, just cruising the long ribbons of scenic highway provides a (free) front-row seat to some dazzling sights. But a surprising number of America's most popular attractions have no admission charge. Here are our favorites.


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