From November 1 through next spring, admission—usually $8 for adults—is free for the Dumbarton Oaks garden. The elegant landscaping and sculptures made of Indiana limestone are much more peaceful when the summer crowds have gone home. The art museum, with Byzantine and pre-Colombian collections, is free, too. Both are open Tuesday through Sunday 2 to 5.
At the snug, folky Iota Club & Café, a free ongoing poetry series features readings by both established and amateur poets. It’s held the second Sunday of each month from 6 to 8, hosted by poet and Word Works founder Miles David Moore. Sign up at the cafe if you’d like to perform your own work, or just browse the bar menu and enjoy the show.
On November 1, the Phillips Collection’s critically lauded Sunday Concerts return, starting with the Verdehr Trio on violin, cello, and piano. The concerts are free with museum admission, which is by donation. Mostly classical chamber music, they start at 4, but get there early—seating is on a first-come, first-served basis.
There’s never a general-admission charge for the National Zoo—and parking is free if you’re a member. Check out one of the free lectures this fall, such as November 20’s “The Age of Empathy,” presented by Frans de Waal, one of Time magazine’s World’s Most Influential People. Before you go, RSVP your place on the Smithsonian Web site.
This fall, the US Navy Band’s usual string of free concerts will include a performance on October 18 commemorating the Navy’s 234th birthday with the theme “Total Force . . . Total Performance.” It’s hosted by the chief of naval operations and includes appearances by soloists from the Sea Chanters chorus and the country-bluegrass ensemble Country Current. The music starts at 8 at DAR Constitution Hall. Like most of the Navy Band’s shows, it’s free but ticketed: To get tickets (there’s a limit of four per person), send a self-addressed stamped envelope to Navy Birthday Tickets (W), US Navy Band, PO Box 70271, Washington, DC 20024-0271. See the rest of the band’s fall schedule here.
Tuesdays mean free winetastings. At the date-worthy Bistrot Lepic, the upstairs wine bar offers samplings from new bottles or selections from its mostly French list every Tuesday from 6 to 8. Vidalia’s free wine-and-hors d’oeuvres samplings will be switching to Tuesdays only in the next few weeks; in the meantime, stop by any weeknight between 5:30 and 6:30 for this perennial favorite.
Old Town Alexandria and the Potomac River form the backdrop for Thursday-night music jams at the Torpedo Factory Art Center. These free concerts, which run from 7 to 9, feature mostly blues, folk, swing, and jazz by local musicians. They’re not held every week, so check the schedule here for upcoming shows.
Also at Torpedo Factory, the Second Thursday Art Night is a monthly event when studios and galleries are open to the public. Mingle with artists, snag some refreshments, and take in the art—it’s all free. The next one, October 8, is called “Dig It,” a celebration of Virginia Archeology Month. There’s a reception for two new gallery shows from 6:30 to 8, and activities go on throughout the evening. Check here for the full schedule.
The annual LGBT film festival Reel Affirmations will host a series of film screenings from October 15 through 24—and several of them are free. On October 18 at 3, the festival is screening the funky, singsong 48-minute Free to Be . . . You And Me! , a 1974 TV special and featuring appearances from ’70s celebs such as Marlo Thomas, Alan Alda, Mel Brooks, Kris Kristofferson, and Carol Channing. On October 20, a series of recent film shorts explores growing up, youth, and gay identity—ranging from dark drama (Cowboy by Till Kleinert) to boppy musical comedy (Boycrazy by John Sobrack). Brian Harris Kriinsky’s Dish and Connor Clements’s James will be shown as well; the show starts at 5. The next day, there’s a free screening of Clare Smith’s documentary Drag King Extravaganza at 5. All events take place at the Harman Center for the Arts.
Get your heart pumping and take in the first burnished glimpses of autumn at Bike and Roll’s in Alexandria (1 Wales Alley; 703-548-7655). Until October 11, the bike-tour-and-rental shop is offering the first hour of rental free. The Old Town location makes it easy to pick up the Mount Vernon Trail or cruise downtown DC. If you’d like to extend your ride, rental prices are here—and you can even rent a trailer for your dog, too.