Tuba Christmas, photo courtesy Pioneer Courthouse Square

It’s December. And after Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, and Giving Tuesday . . . well, many of us are already at the end of our budget for the year. Here are lots of ideas for getting out of the house with the kids and having some fun — all without spending a dime.

See Nutcracker Vignettes. The Nutcracker is a holiday tradition, but an expensive one. Head to Eastmoreland on December 11, from 5-9 pm, for outdoor Nutcracker scenes, including live dancers, lighting, music, props and more. Check out Classical Ballet Academy’s website to learn more about Nutcracker Vignettes.

Visit a Free Winter Carnival. Beaverton will be hosting a free Winterland Carnival on December 11. There will be a live unicorn! Register to secure your entry.


Go on a Holiday Tree Scavenger Hunt. Did you miss most of the community tree lightings? Never fear! The trees will be sparkling all season long, so pack up your littles and check each one off your bucket list. See our list of tree lightings here.

Visit Santa. While some visits with Santa can be pretty spendy, there are plenty of opportunities that are free. A visit with Santa is always free with our sponsor Washington Square Mall. Check out some other opportunities here.

Or meet Mrs. Claus. She’ll be at Washington Square Mall for a storytime along with tasty treats and activities on December 7, 9, 14, & 16, 12-1 pm.

See a Gingerbread Masterpiece. Polar Express fans in the house? Take them to see the elaborate gingerbread installation in the lobby of the Benson Hotel.

Get Vaccinated. PlayDate PDX is offering admission-free play and food at their vaccination events. See more information on Covid-19 vaccines here.


Take a music class. Music Together® of Portland is offering fun and active free demonstration classes at several locations around town. Reservations required.

Celebrate and Vacccinate at the Portland Mercado. Join the community celebration of Las Posadas at the Portland Mercado on December 18, 4-8 pm. There will be music, vendors, free champurrado, food and drinks and a vaccination clinic. For people who get vaccinated they offer one box of food, a first aid kit, gifts for children and virtual gift cards.

Search for Santa Clones. Follow Chris Willis on Instagram for clues to find #thesantaclones2021.

Get outside. What’s that? You don’t want to stay inside? No problem. Check out one of these rainy day nature walks.

Declutter. The holidays can often bring lots of new stuff—toys, clothes, games, decorations and more. Find a new home for your old things with a Buy Nothing Facebook group. You’ll also build community, help out other families and model generosity for your kids. If that doesn’t say “holiday spirit,” we don’t know what does.

Listen to (big brass) holiday music! The 30th Annual Tuba Christmas Concert in Pioneer Courthouse Square features nearly 300 tubas playing holiday songs in unison. Saturday, December 11, 1:30 pm-3 pm.

Pick up a discovery pack at the park. Hoyt Arboretum is offering free discovery packs for children K-5th, including binoculars, field guides, nature searches, maps, and more. Reserve a pack here.

Or try a new park. Newell Creek Canyon Nature Park in Oregon City opens December 6, and Chehalem Ridge Nature Park (15 minutes south of Forest Grove) opens December 13.

Skip the parking fees. The perfect chance to get out and explore. Enjoy free parking at Oxbow and Blue Lake regional parks, Broughton Beach, M. James Gleason Memorial Boat Ramp and Chinook Landing Marine Park on December 16. (You can also park free downtown in SmartPark garages on Sundays, noon-5 pm through Christmas, but a downtown purchase is required.)

Visit the art museum. Happy 129th birthday to the Portland Art Museum. All guests are free December 12. Registration opens December 8, so don’t wait to snag your free entry ticket.

See work by artists on the Autism spectrum. Portland Center Stage and North Pole Studio have partnered to create a gallery show featuring the work of artists on the Autism spectrum. It can be viewed online or in person. Learn more here.

Or visit an Advent art installation. River West Church is hosting a free Christmas Light & Art Exhibit in Lake Oswego. December 19-23, 5:30 pm-8:30 pm. Free cocoa + coffee, too!

Hunt for the Gingerbread Family. Find and submit photos of five and be entered to win a prize through Wilsonville Parks and Recreation. November 30-December 19.

Listen to a free concert. Portland Center Stage is bringing back their annual holiday tradition. They will be presenting local choral groups as part of their pre-show programming this winter. Wave from Ida B. Wells High School will be singing festive songs on December 15 from 6:50 pm-7:20 pm in the main lobby. Vaccinations or negative test required for entry.

Give back. Tis the season to make the world a little brighter. You and your kids can volunteer together with many organizations around town.

Create a time capsule. Wrap up 2021 by working on time capsules. Draw pictures, write stories, add photos and include trinkets to help you document the year. Store them in a shoe box and tuck them away for a bit of future nostalgia.

Pick up a free STEM kit at the library. Beginning December 11, Makerspace minikits are available at any Multnomah County library. They are developed for teens, but will be accessible to younger children with adult help. Available through Summer 2022.

Be dazzled. Bundle up and check out holiday lights on Peacock Lane or see the Christmas Ships. The lights at Holidays on Franklin in Vancouver are always free, and this year they have lots of free events planned, including carolers, live music and Santa visits. (For our complete list of holiday light displays, both free and paid, click here.)

Swap Minifigs. Head over to PDX Minifig Exchange at SE 42nd & Cora in the Creston Neighborhood. (It looks like a little free library, but with minifigs.) Take one, leave one. This is one of the many reasons Portland is the BEST.

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