Blake Walsh

15 Free Things to Do in Gilroy, CA

  • Published 2023/01/12

The world’s garlic capital, Gilroy, is a unique travel spot not only for families and couples but also for garlic lovers.

In fact, aside from the city’s annual Garlic Festival, the downtown district of Gilroy is brimming with garlic-focused attractions.

Wine connoisseurs will also have a great time in this diverse city because of its various wineries and vineyards.

Within Silicon Valley, Gilroy in Santa Clara County within North California brings together the beauty of historical and modern attractions.

From over 18 community parks to world-class golf courses and shopping avenues, its cove of recreation sites is a source of entertainment for travelers.

You’ll have a blast with these free things to do in Gilroy, California, so read on for tips for a fun and memorable trip.

Spot Rare Deer and Other Wildlife at Coyote Lake Harvey Bear Ranch County Park

Scenic view of Coyote Lake Harvey Bear Ranch County Park

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Enjoy a different wildlife viewing at Coyote Lake Harvey Bear Ranch County Park.

This multifaceted regional park, spanning almost 7,000 acres, is a wildlife sanctuary for fowl and other mammals, including the western pond turtle, turkeys, and black-tailed deer.

Within the property, there’s also a 449-acre lake that many visit to fish and boat.

With two docks and family picnic sites, the place is also famous for large group gatherings.

Nature trail at Coyote Lake Harvey Bear Ranch County Park

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Some sections of the park, such as the Bear and Mendoza Ranch, come with multi-use trails that wind past oak canyons and offer a clear view of the Santa Clara Valley.

General admission to Coyote Lake Harvey Bear Ranch County Park is free, but additional activities like camping and boating come with a fee.

You can find this park on Coyote Lake Road, though you can access it through various entrances and streets, like Roop Road and San Martin Avenue.

Cows at Coyote Lake Harvey Bear Ranch County Park

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Enjoy Free Wine Tasting at Kirigin Cellars Winery

Your trip to Gilroy is not complete without a visit to its quality vineyards and wineries.

Fortunately, you don’t have to spend anything at all with a drive to one of its prime wineries, Kirigin Cellars Winery.

Since 1916, this winery has served the community with its old-world appeal and 33 acres of rolling winery landscapes.

But what you can anticipate here is the winery’s complimentary wine-tasting sessions.

Get a whiff and taste of wine grape specialties, including Petite Sirah, Malvasia Bianca, and Pinot Noir.

Kirigin Cellars Winery is also open for tours, but these may come with a fee.

Head to Watsonville Road to reach this Gilroy treasure.

Admire and Take a Photo of the Garlic Capital of the World Mural

Public art in Gilroy is as magnificent as its recreation centers and tourist attractions, and one of its most breathtaking art installations is the Garlic Capital of the World mural.

Boldly expressing the city’s label of being a garlic city, the art depicts the Santa Cruz mountains in the background and farmers gathering garlic in wooden crates.

Don’t forget to pose and take a photo in front of the Garlic Capital of the World mural when you drive by the intersection of Monterey Street and Fifth Street.

You can find this mural right outside the south wall of the Gardner South County Health Center.

Play on the Sports Courts at Christmas Hill Park

Signage of Christmas Hill Park

Wahn, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Sitting on an astounding 57 acres, Christmas Hill Park is one of the city’s most notable public parks.

Nestled within nature, this park offers a fun time for little kids with its play area and equipment set.

There are also bike trails that showcase the native oak forest, which is home to acorn woodpeckers.

Want to bond with your loved ones through sports and outdoor games?

A baseball diamond is available for use alongside horseshoe pits.

If you’re looking for a breather or a serene place to spend time with the whole family, Christmas Hill Park on Miller Avenue is your best choice.

Gather for a Picnic at San Ysidro Park

Gilroy’s impressive list of public parks is only one of the city’s most admirable assets.

Just like every park within the city, San Ysidro Park provides comfort and relaxation for every resident and visitor.

With its basketball and handball courts and a jogging path and trails for hiking, it’s a great place for everyone who wants to get away from the downtown buzz.

San Ysidro Park’s large expanse of grass is also ideal for a game of soccer or just running around.

Get your sports shoes ready when you visit this park on Murray Avenue.

Visit the Cultural Shelter at Chitactac-Adams Heritage County Park

Display of a carved fish at Chitactac-Adams Heritage County Park

Schmiebel, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Chitactac-Adams Heritage County Park is the best place to discover the Native American heritage.

Extending to 4.5 acres, this site is a historical landmark just as it is a recreational site for nature enthusiasts with its petroglyphs and bedrock mortars.

The park boasts an interpretive center filled with tribal artifacts, the 1850s Adams schoolhouse, and the stunning Uvas Creek.

Get a glimpse of what village life was like during the time of the Native Americans, as well as their extraordinary food processing measures and art culture.

Chitactac-Adams Heritage County Park on Watsonville Road is your best source of historical information within a picturesque setting.

Practice Your Skateboarding Skills at Las Animas Veterans Park

Las Animas Veterans Park offers a grand time for the whole family.

This 31-acre park has multi-use facilities that everyone—young and old—can enjoy.

Take your children out for a worthwhile afternoon at the trails and playground.

The park also had specific facilities for your furry loved ones.

Its dog park has a fenced section for larger pups and another for smaller ones.

There is also a skate park within Las Animas Veterans Park where you can practice skateboarding stunts.

You can find this city park along Mantelli Drive.

Relax in the Wide Open Space at Carriage Hills Park

Need privacy while you cool yourself down from the heat of summer?

Carriage Hills Park may be the place you’re looking for.

This park features open turf and large canopies of trees, ideal for giving shade against the sweltering heat.

Locals visit this neighborhood park for a quick basketball game among peers, colleagues, and loved ones.

But if basketball is not your thing, there are picnic areas all over the place that can make your relaxing afternoon more memorable.

There’s also a playground for your little ones to have fun and socialize with other kids.

Carriage Hills Park is on the quaint street of Crest Hill Way.

Go on a Garlic Sightseeing Tour in Downtown Gilroy

Old City Hall at Downtown Gilroy

Sanfranman59, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Downtown Gilroy mixes historical charm with eccentric modernity through the presence of various establishments and business buildings.

One of the area’s most eye-catching attractions are the lined public sculptures.

In front of the Old City Hall Restaurant, there’s a detailed sculpture of the city’s namesake, John Cameron Gilroy.

Other sculptures include a stagecoach and his horse and animated garlic cloves along a residential sidewalk.

Speaking of garlic, Gilroy’s downtown area is where you can find Garlic City Café, known for its unusual garlic ice cream flavor, and Garlic World, where every possible garlic product is up for sale.

This place is also home to the Garlic City Car Show and the Spring Art & Wine Stroll, where everyone gathers for live music and entertainment.

Walk along Monterey Road or Eigleberry Street to reach the center of Gilroy—its downtown district.

Dance the Night Away at the Thursday Night Music Series

Every summer, Gilroy celebrates music with the Thursday Night Music Series.

This free event gathers locals and tourists for nights of festivity, made more lively with the performances of local and international artists.

More than the live entertainment, there’s also a kid’s zone for your little one’s enjoyment.

Bring your folding chairs and blankets to cozy up as the sun goes down.

Or, if you prefer, get ready with a dancing partner to groove the night away.

Join the Thursday Night Music Series within Downtown Gilroy.

Browse through Historical Artifacts and Exhibits at Gilroy Historical Museum

On Fifth Street, Gilroy Historical Museum is a historical attraction that narrates the city’s past through interactive exhibits.

This museum details the events of Gilroy from its first settlers—the Ohlone Indians—to its Garlic Renaissance up to the present time.

Step back in time as you explore the 1950s-style interior of the museum, which is home to over 25,000 artifacts of Gilroy’s heritage.

Gilroy Historical Museum stands within the 1910 Carnegie Library building, which served the public until 1975.

Other Things to Do Nearby

Have time to explore nearby Gilroy?

These nearby cities offer a great deal of fun for free.

Listen to Live Music at the Watsonville Strawberry Festival

People enjoying their day at Watsonville Strawberry Festival

Phorenon at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

If Gilroy’s staple crop is garlic, Watsonville has its own: strawberries.

At the Watsonville Strawberry Festival, you get to celebrate with locals and visitors the city’s love for the fruit.

This annual event goes way back to 1994 when it went by the name “Watsonville Strawberry Dessert Festival” and was a means to help the city and its folks bounce back after the devastating effects of the Loma Prieta earthquake.

Now, the festival has evolved into a family-friendly event that doesn’t only celebrate strawberries but also allows organizations and small businesses within the city to flourish and succeed.

Rides at Watsonville Strawberry Festival

Phorenon, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Join the parade and meet people in strawberry costumes!

Have fun watching and listening to bands, cheering for contenders at pie-eating contests, and more.

Downtown Watsonville, where the Watsonville Strawberry Festival takes place, is only 28 minutes from Gilroy.

Explore the Historical Exhibits at the Agricultural History Project Center and Museum

Within Watsonville, the Agricultural History Project Center and Museum provides a glimpse into what agricultural living was like in the past.

Only half an hour’s drive from Gilroy, this museum and its organization provide a vast collection of historical archives, equipment, and educational exhibits.

Its Porter Implement Shed offers an in-depth perspective on horse-drawn equipment and hand tools with shelved displays.

Get a free demonstration of the carriage repair process at the Snyder Building, where you can see old functional equipment.

Experience what train transportation was like when you step foot inside the Caboose.

There’s more to explore and learn within the historic site, and you don’t have to pay an admission fee!

Head to East Lake Avenue to reach the Agricultural History Project Center and Museum.

Go on a Refreshing Hike at Coyote Valley Open Space Preserve

Picturesque view of Coyote Valley Open Space Preserve

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Twenty-sox minutes northwest of Gilroy is the Coyote Valley Open Space Preserve, where wildlife viewing and hiking combine to make your outdoor adventure more enjoyable.

This preserve, opened in 2015, features a loop trail that spans four miles.

It is also an interpretive site that sheds light on the historic Juan Bautista de Anza Trail.

Deer at Coyote Valley Open Space Preserve

yhelfman /

With its breathtaking landscapes and surprising wildlife around, expect only a top-tier hiking experience along the trails of this tourist spot.

Coyote Valley Open Space Preserve is on Palm Avenue in Morgan Hill.

Trail at Coyote Valley Open Space Preserve

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Go on a Historical Excursion at Pajaro Valley Historical Association

Pajaro Valley Historical Association houses a museum, a charming mansion, and an archive center.

Established in 1940, this organization has ensured the preservation of important documents and artifacts of the area’s history.

At the Volck Museum, you’ll find antiques and vignettes, as well as replica furnishings of kitchens, classrooms, and general stores back in the 1990s.

Learn more about century-old costumes at the 1870 Victorian home, Bockius-Orr House.

Enjoy an immersive historical adventure at Pajaro Valley Historical Association on East Beach Street in Watsonville, which is about 27 minutes away from Gilroy.

Final Thoughts

Gilroy is home to garlic-focused traditions and a wide set of recreational opportunities.

The city is a sensational hit for solo travelers, couples, and even large groups and families.

Now that you know some of the free things to do in Gilroy, California, have you made up your mind about making this city your next travel destination?

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