How to find fun things to do!

15 June 2010

How’s that for a post title?

As some of you know, J and I moved away from (most of) our family and friends after college. Even after about a year in our new locale, we don’t know too many people, so we’re mostly left to our own devices in terms of entertainment. And since we’re on a relatively limited budget, said entertainment generally needs to be free or inexpensive.

Even with those restrictions, we’ve become somewhat famous among those who love us for “doing fun things.” A few have asked me how we find things to do. Here’s my best advice.

Tip One: Watch the News
J watches the news every night (he really, really loves the weather, but usually tunes in for the whole shebang). News stations will often sponsor or have a presence at interesting community events, giving them incentive to promote them beforehand.

Success Story: Last August, the North Carolina Symphony played a concert in a downtown Raleigh park. A local news anchor was hosting, and talked it up on the nightly news, which is why we heard about it. We brought dinner and a picnic blanket, listened to fantastic music for about three hours, and bought dessert crepes to top off the night. Cost: FREE (two crepes were about $6)

Tip Two: Listen to the Radio
I find that the best stations to tune in to are NPR and the oldies station. You’re looking for the advertisements here, so don’t change the station once the music stops!

Success Story: The Koka Booth Amphitheater in Cary shows recently released feature films every Thursday in the summer. The Amphitheater itself is beautiful, and the surroundings are equally so. The back deck hosts a variety of independent vendors, and you’re also welcome to bring your own food and drink. Heard about this while driving home on NPR! Cost: $6 for two tickets

{via the NY Times}

Tip Three: Read the NY Times Travel Section
They have entries for an astonishing array of locales across the US (and beyond!), and they always unearth some fun choices. Check the main page out here.

Success Story: The nearby NC Museum of Art has an awesome sculpture garden. We first read about it here, and have since walked and biked its path many times, including with out-of-town visitors. Cost: FREE


Tip Four: Read Grace’s Guides
I’ve talked about this a bit here, but Design*Sponge has amassed an excellent collection of City Guides, similar to the Times’ write-ups but with a longer list of options and more of an indie-crafty bent. Click here to see if there’s one for your area!

Success Story: The Durham guide lists Daisy Cakes as a great place to stop for a snack, and it didn’t disappoint. J and I stopped by the adorable vintage airstream trailer for a cupcake and the house specialty, the pop’t-art (homemade preserves in a flaky crust, served warm), after visiting the Durham Farmer’s Market down the street. Cost: $5.50

Tip Five: Use Your Resources
This could mean a variety of things, but for us, it primarily means the universities: Duke, UNC, and NC State are all within a half hour’s drive. About four times a year I make a point to stop by each school’s website (specifically, their calendar) to see what lectures, performances, or events might be on tap. I’d also recommend checking out your town or region’s Parks & Rec publication, for notice of festivals (which are often free) and classes (which are often inexpensive), as well as your local library.

Success Story: One of the best things we’ve done in NC thus far was attend the Duke Chorale’s annual Christmas concert. The singing was wonderful, every pew in the breathtaking Duke Chapel was filled, and it really put us in the Christmas spirit (and y’all know I love Christmas). Cost: a can of food each for the local food bank. We also found out about and attended a Sweet Honey in the Rock concert in the Duke Gardens via the web calendar. Cost: FREE, pictured above).


Tip Six: Talk to the Locals
Fairly obvious, but worth mentioning. Once you start to meet people who’ve lived in the area, you can of course pick their brains about little-known landmarks and leisure activities, but I’d also suggest some innocent eavesdropping. (What?! You haven’t done this in, say, a coffee shop?)

Success Story: We may have to drive 40 minutes, but we’ve found an NC ice cream place that rivals our beloved Buttonwoods back home in Connecticut (okay, not quite). Fresh churned from cows that graze in the front yard. One of my company’s interns tipped me off to this one. Cost: about $6 for two cones

Tip Seven: Be Observant
Again, I know this is fairly obvious, but stick with me here, because this is the single best tip I’ve got. Wherever J and I are, we keep our eyes peeled. And then we remember to follow up once we’re back home.

Success Story: What do we keep our eyes peeled for? We never know, but it’s usually something good. We discovered Backwoods OK while on an unrelated hike, the Western Wake Farmer’s Market while driving home from the library, and the best family farm (with the most delicious pick-your-own strawberries) because we weren’t afraid to follow a sign onto a side road on the way home from the grocery store. Be open to adventure (and keep a pad with you to jot down notes!) and you’ll never be bored.

So tell me — what are your best tips for “doing fun things”? I’d love to hear!

{All photos by moi or J unless otherwise noted}

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June 15, 2010 6:27 pm

Something that I think you'll enjoy:
Lazy Daze Arts and Crafts Festival. It's in downtown Cary every summer. This year it's on Aug 28th.
Along the same lines, there's Artsplosure. It's in Moore Square in downtown Raleigh- this year it was May 15 and 16, but it happens every single year.
Every Thursday during the summer, there's a Beach Music concert (FREE) at North Hills (where Luke and I had our reception). I checked the concert this week and it's The Embers (hit single: I Love Beach Music). They also have a farmer's market set up in the parking lot on the weekend. Here's their event website:
Speaking of Farmer's Market, the main Farmer's Market in Raleigh is great…but it also has a FANTASTIC antique store in the same lot…if you haven't been yet, GO. There's a great restaurant w/ good southern food as well.
Lots of typing for a comment :)

June 15, 2010 8:50 pm

Great advice! I'm always looking for fun things to do.

June 16, 2010 6:58 am

Yelp!! *anywhere, anything*
Local magazines and chamber of commerce websites as well as aaa, sunset, via, etc. *West Coast to-do lists*
Locallectual….and other fun sights.
Love the ideas you posted!!! I'll have to check out some of them, and use the ideas to look up similar items in my area.
PS, really funny because our family was having the hardest time figuring out what to do in our area (SF Bay Area) because we've already done most of the stuff around us. Hilarious that you would post "how to find fun things to do" today!!

June 16, 2010 1:45 pm

Meghan and Charity — awesome ideas! Meghan, I had heard of the Lazy Daze festival and really want to go but I think we were out of town last year. I will DEFINITELY check out your other ideas — you know I'm always down for a good antique store.

And Charity, if you live in SF you should definitely check out Jordan's guides for that area, if you haven't already — she lives there and writes often about things to do with and without kids. Good luck!

June 18, 2010 4:36 pm

I really do hear about the best stuff on NPR. My "to read" list is overflowing because of all of the great books they talk about, and I'm dying to go see Ira Glass and Idina Menzel after NPR mentioned they were coming to Dallas.