Blake Walsh

15 Free Things to Do in Salinas, CA

  • Published 2022/12/19

Salinas, the most populous city of Monterey County and its county seat, are among the destinations in California which can be inexpensive to visit.

With a well-planned itinerary, you can find plenty of free things to do in Salinas, where history, arts, and culture are woven into its many points of interest.

Incorporated in 1874, this city traces its roots to the Spanish land grant “Rancho Las Salinas” before California became a U.S. territory.

The Spanish name of the city refers to the salt marshes in the area, which is south of Monterey Bay and only about eight miles from the coastline of the Pacific Ocean.

Proximity to the ocean provided Salinas with a marine climate, ideal for agriculture, particularly growing flowers, grapes, and vegetables.

Because of its large and bountiful agriculture industry, Salinas eventually earned the title “Salad Bowl of the World.”

However, there’s more to this city besides farm produce, as you will see on the following list of free things to do in Salinas, California.

Take a DIY Salinas History Tour

A building at Oldtown Salinas

James Kirkikis /

Visitors can easily go on an unguided tour to see up close the historic buildings in Salinas.

With a cellphone, you can use the interactive map of the Salinas History Tour developed by the city’s tourist information center.

Many of the city’s historic buildings are located in Oldtown Salinas, like the circa 1920s Fox California Theater on Main Street.

Another must-see in a downtown Salinas DIY tour is the Amtrak Station, built in 1942.

Fox California Theater at Oldtown Salinas

James Kirkikis /

Built with an art deco architectural style, this Salinas train stop stands out on the corridor of Station Place.

Right next to this vintage train facility on Station Place is another must-see—the Railway Express Agency Building.

The stretch of West Alisal Street can grab visitors’ attention too.

The historic buildings of the Monterey County Courthouse, U.S. Post Office Steinbeck Station, and Monterey County Jail are all located here.

Enjoy the First Friday Art Walk

Join in the fun for free as Oldtown Salinas comes alive after 5 p.m. in the city’s First Friday Art Walk!

As its name suggests, this event is held on the first Friday of each month.

Creative talents enliven Main Street and its surrounding blocks in Downtown Salinas on such days.

Besides the display in this area’s art galleries, artists also set up sidewalk exhibit booths during this monthly event.

During the First Friday Art Walk, you can also enjoy free live entertainment, including music, dancing, and more.

View the Public Artworks in Salinas

A public art map is available for visitors who want to view the sculptures in and around Salinas.

Creations initiated under the city’s One Voice Arts & Leadership Program are prominent among these artworks.

A must-see for visitors is the sculpture titled “Hat in Three Stages of Landing,” set up on Sherwood Park on North Main Street.

Another interesting piece among the Salinas public artworks is the mural “Turtle Creation” on Lincoln Avenue.

Rendered on the west wall of the one-story building of Martella Printing, this mural features a giant turtle and a “Sky Woman” teaming up to bring in earth’s inhabitants.

Inside the Amtrak Train Station on Station Place, you can view a mural depicting the early history of Salinas.

Browse the Exhibits of the Hartnell College Gallery

Drop by Hartnell Gallery in the Fine Arts Building J of Hartnell College on West Alisal Street to appreciate different artworks.

This gallery features various exhibits drawn from diverse cultural and historical sources.

Here, you can view some of the works of Henri Matisse, Claes Oldenburg, Marion Post Wolcott, Edward Weston, and Imogen Cunningham.

As expected, Hartnell Gallery also presents a large overview of works rendered by Hartnell art students.

Other collections of this gallery include Chinese paintings, Mexican dance masks, Japanese folk art and ceramics, and Native American ritual artifacts.

Watch out also for the gallery’s West Coast Songwriters Competition; its presentations are free and open to the public.

Visit the Boronda Adobe House

Exterior of the Boronda Adobe House

TheJonesy, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Probe deeply into the history of Salinas with a visit to the Boronda Adobe, a Monterey Colonial house built between 1844 and 1848.

Located on Boronda Road, the house is a California historical landmark listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

This house predates the foundation of Salinas and was built by José Eusebio Boronda after he received a Spanish California land grant in the local area.

The Monterey County Historical Society now owns and manages the Boronda Adobe, which is open and free to visit.

The organization has designated the house as the Boronda Adobe History Center, inaugurating it as a museum in 1972.

Period artifacts like clothing and furniture are displayed in the unique setting of this historical center.

Other interesting features of the Boronda Adobe include side porches, two indoor fireplaces, and an outdoor brick oven.

The historic Lagunita School, built in 1897, is also on the grounds of the Boronda House History Center, which also features a military exhibit.

Take a Joy Drive on River Road

The River Road Trail isn’t only a delight for wine connoisseurs but also a wonderful route for a joy ride.

You can start this drive traversing Salinas Valley’s wineries from The Farm off Highway 68 in Salinas.

Mark the start of your River Road trip with a photo-op at the giant sculptures on this farm’s grounds.

Proceeding onward Highway 68 toward the south takes you to River Road, where you’ll see the Spreckels, which was once a company town for a local sugar plant.

Refreshing vistas of the various farms, vineyards, and wineries will keep you company in the drive along River Road.

You will also enjoy the sights of Santa Lucia toward the west, the Gabilan Mountains to the east, and Highway 101 winding toward Los Angeles.

Catch the April Asian Festival

The historical and cultural presence of the Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino communities in Salinas is celebrated in the city’s annual Asian Festival.

A project of the non-profit Asian Cultural Experience founded in 2007, this event is typically held in late April at various venues in the Chinatown of Salinas.

The Asian Festival’s activities include live entertainment at the Filipino Community Center in Calle Cebu.

In another venue, the gym of the Buddhist Temple on California Street hosts bonsai and martial arts demos.

Besides these events, festival visitors can also join a walking tour of Chinatown, including the Buddhist Temple.

They can likewise check out the Chinatown Car Show on California Street, a festival side-event featuring car models from 1972 or older.

Watch the Rodeo Horse Parades

Set your Salinas visit in the third week of July, as this is the city’s Big Week for its annual rodeo.

The Colmo Del Rodeo night horse parades are one of its highlights that you can enjoy for free.

A Salinas tradition observed since 1911, the parades make their way down Main Street.

This long procession features the rodeo competitors on horseback and a mounted sheriff’s posse, color guards, drill teams, and various riding groups.

Other rodeo-related events during the Big Week in Salinas include cowboy poetry reading, a gala cowboy ball, and a carnival.

Bring the Family to the Kiddie Kapers Parade

The Kiddie Kapers Parade is another side event of the Salinas Big Week and is usually set before the rodeo festival’s horse parades.

The city’s Main Street is also the setting of this evening parade exclusively for toddlers, which has been held annually since 1930.

Kids participating in this parade wear costumes and ride bicycles instead of horses.

As many as four family generations have joined this unique parade, allowing kids to dress up in their favorite costumes.

They can wear cowboy getups to synch with the rodeo theme and come dressed as cartoon characters, pro sports players, astronauts, etc.

Prizes are awarded to the best-dressed kids in the Kiddie Kapers Parade.

Visit Alisal to Celebrate El Grito in Salinas

Salinas draws thousands of visitors to join El Grito, a free annual event held every September in the city’s Alisal neighborhood.

This event highlights the Hispanic influence on the culture of Salinas, wherein Latinos dominate among its residents.

The celebration centers on “The Cry of Dolores,” which Fr. Miguel Hidalgo, a Catholic priest, made on Sept. 16, 1810, marking the start of the Mexican War of Independence versus Spain.

El Grito is one of the major festivals in Salinas, with several city blocks arterial to Alisal Street closed and reserved for the event.

The activities during El Grito Festival in Salinas include a parade, cultural exhibits, entertainment performances, Mexican cuisine, and vendors.

Bike in the Ciclovía Salinas

The 1.5-mile corridor of Alisal Street awaits participants and guests of Ciclovía Salinas, an annual biking extravaganza in the neighborhood of Alisal in Salinas.

Ciclovía (Spanish for “bike path”) has been held here since 2013, with Salinas youth volunteers as its principal prime movers.

Alisal Street is exclusively for cyclists and pedestrians during this day-long event that originated in Bogotá, Colombia, where it was launched in 1976.

Besides biking, Ciclovia Salinas also features physical fitness activities like a fun run, soccer, disc golf, boxing, and Zumba.

It also flaunts a cultural side, such as Folklorico and Oaxacan dancing, along with displays of community-created murals.

Other Free Things to Do Nearby

Explore Fort Ord National Monument

Scenic view of Fort Ord National Monument

Zack Frank /

Experience the environment in the former training grounds of the U.S. Infantry at the Fort Ord National Monument.

It’s accessible from Toro Creek Road in the city of Marina, seven miles southwest of Salinas.

This 14,000-acre parcel features over 86 miles of trails you can explore on foot, horseback, or by bike.

Open from dawn to dusk daily, these are day-use trails meandering on some of the Monterey Peninsula’s last undeveloped wildlands.

Wildflowers at Fort Ord National Monument

Mel Walkup /

These pathways traverse through various environments, from coastal shrublands to grassy hills.

Breathtaking views of cliffs and valleys and wildlife sightings await visitors of Fort Ord National Monument.

Wetlands at Fort Ord National Monument

David A Litman /

Pick from the Fun Mix at El Estero Park

An itinerary of a family trip to Salinas becomes more complete if a visit to El Estero Park is included.

This park, located on Pearl Street in Monterey, 18 miles southwest of Salinas, offers a wide range of family-friendly facilities.

Its amenities include the Dennis the Menace Playground with three slides, a climbing wall, a hedge maze, a fun suspension bridge, an adventure ship, and other play structures.

The park boasts a centerpiece lake with fishing piers, birdwatching spots, and an exercise course.

El Estero Park also features the popular Monterey Skate Park, which local skateboarders designed for ultimate enjoyment.

Fly a Kite at Marina State Beach

Sunny day at Marina State Beach

Hank Shiffman /

A trip to Salinas opens the opportunity to visit Marina State Beach, a popular area for kite-flying and hang-gliding.

This beach is located off Reservation Road in the city of Marina, about 14 miles west of Salinas.

Swimming on this beach can be hazardous because of the strong rip currents of its waters.

The sand of Marina State Beach

karaian, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Surfing can be enjoyed here, though, particularly in the afternoon.

Marina State Beach is also ideal for birdwatching, with 27 avian species regularly seen in the nearby Marina Dunes Preserve.

Gorgeous sunset at Marina State Beach

mljphotography /

Hike or Bike on the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail

The Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail is accessible from Haro Street/Merritt Street in the town of Castroville, about eight miles north of Salinas.

From its trailhead here, the trail stretches for 18 miles along the coast of Monterey Bay south to the city of Pacific Grove.

This paved and flat trail was developed from an abandoned stretch of the South Pacific Railway and is open only to pedestrians and bikers.

The trail opens the opportunity to access the picturesque area of Monterey State Beach, where many outdoor activities can be enjoyed for free.

One of the most popular sections of the trail near this beach is the two-mile leg between Old Fisherman’s Wharf and Lovers Point in Pacific Grove.

Final Thoughts

Salinas checks all the boxes for visitors looking for free or the least expensive ways to enjoy a trip to this city.

Its rich history, well-developed public facilities, and wide selection of special events generate plenty of free things to do in Salinas.

Bookmark this list of free attractions in the city to make the most of your trip!

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