Blake Walsh

15 Free Things to Do in State College, PA

  • Published 2023/02/03

State College is a municipality in Centre County, Pennsylvania, primarily known as the home of Penn State University.

Originally just a village, State College was soon incorporated into a borough when Penn State University grew rapidly since its establishment during the mid-1800s.

Because of this, the municipality has evolved into a cultural and educational hub for Pennsylvania and the United States.

Hence, most of the attractions you’ll see here are centered on science, history, and culture, many of which are free of admission charges.

There are many free things to do at State College, Pennsylvania.

Check out this list for your comprehensive guide on the municipality.

Take Photos of the Old Main

Exterior of the Old Main

Lucky-photographer /

One of the most symbolic buildings in Pennsylvania is the Old Main, which should be on top of your priority list of attractions at State College.

It’s Penn State University’s most recognizable building, dating back to the early 1900s.

Known for its vintage facade, taking photos of the Old Main is a must as it makes for a fantastic photo souvenir.

There’s also beautiful greenery outside the administrative building, typically covered in snow if you’re visiting during winter.

Trail leading to the Old Main

Lucky-photographer /

What’s best about the Old Main is that it’s open to the public and entrance is free.

Here, you’ll see various historic frescos and more remnants of the past through its intricate interior design.

Easily one of the most symbolic places in Pennsylvania, Old Main stands along Pollock Road, within the University Park area.

History marker of the Old Main

McCarraher’s Photo 0p /

Visit the Happy Valley Adventure Bureau

One of the best and most practical ways to kickstart your adventure in State College is by visiting the Happy Valley Adventure Bureau.

It’s the primary visitor center for State College, giving you a complete overview and glimpse of what the municipality offers tourism-wise.

What’s best about this place is it also doubles as a tourist attraction in itself, as there are a couple of exhibits you can see here, along with a beautiful facade and outdoor area.

Tons of tourism maps and brochures are free, and the staff is more than willing to explain all the hotspots you can check out.

The Happy Valley Adventure Bureau is a fantastic way to begin your trip, located along West Beaver Avenue.

Explore the Arboretum at Penn State

The Arboretum at Penn State is one of the most popular free attractions at State College, boasting an ample green space home to a wide array of botanical life.

It’s located along Bigler Road and East Park Avenue, right across the heart of Penn State University, making this a convenient visit as it’s right in the heart of State College.

Vast and beautiful, you could easily get lost here for an entire day as you explore its walking trails, gardens, and numerous ponds.

Bring a high-powered camera with you.

This place teems with all sorts of photo opportunities as it intricately marries garden architecture with its jaw-dropping flora.

Easily one of the prettiest areas in Pennsylvania, the Arboretum at Penn State is a must-visit during your trip.

Have a Picnic at Tom Tudek Memorial Park

Butterfly garden at Tom Tudek Memorial Park

JohnDziak, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Found along Herman Drive, a few miles from Penn State University, Tom Tudek Memorial Park is one of the best public parks in State College.

It’s a sizable park with many things to do for the family, but having a picnic here is probably the best.

It’s a scenic place with sweeping views of the Nittany Mountains surrounding the valley region of State College, an ideal spot to do landscape photography.

When you’re done with picnics, there are various sports amenities, including a horse stable.

Besides these attractions, Tom Tuden Memorial Park is also home to a butterfly sanctuary and a dog park, completing the family-friendly experience.

Check Out the Artifacts at the Matson Museum of Anthropology

Matson Museum of Anthropology is just a stone’s throw away from the Nittany Lion Shrine, found within the same building called Carpenter.

Despite being a tiny museum composed only of a few rooms, this place makes a great addition to your plans because of its unique collections.

You’ll find a variety of human bones here, primary skulls from different periods.

Human objects like pottery and stoneworks are also found at the Matson Museum of Anthropology.

If you’re a lover of history and human civilization, give this place a visit, as it’s free of charge, even for non-students.

Explore Downtown State College

Shops at Downtown State College

Stilfehler, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Since the municipality dates back to the early 1800s, State College is home to a bustling historic downtown along West Beaver Avenue.

Downtown State College is home to various buildings that still retain their vintage 19th-20th century aesthetic, making it an ideal place for walking and sightseeing.

Its roads are cramped, making it ideal for parking and walking along its red brick side streets that take you back in time.

A bookstore at Downtown State College

Stilfehler, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

You’ll find many interesting places along the way, from multicultural restaurants to artsy corners.

This is also where the municipality’s visitor center is located, allowing you to hit two birds with one stone when you visit.

Downtown State College is a must-see whether you’re in the mood to eat or see the historical remnants of the 1800s.

Mural at Downtown State College

Stilfehler, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Ride a Bike at Sunset Park

Sunset Park is a must-visit if you’re bringing your mountain bike with you during your trip to State College.

Teeming with tons of wooded areas, Sunset Park is a beautiful place to ride a bike, especially since its trails are made for both hikers and two-wheelers.

Sunset Park is also family-friendly, as its high arching trees provide tons of shade, making it a perfect place for kids to play.

There is sports equipment, including an outdoor gym area where you can work out while surrounded by nature.

You can find Sunset Park just a few blocks from Penn State’s arboretum, along McKee Street.

Observe Wildlife at Millbrook Marsh Nature Center

Millbrook Marsh Nature Center is a haven for outdoor adventurers, especially if you want to observe wildlife.

Spanning around 50 acres, mainly composed of wetlands and woodlands, Millbrook Marsh Nature Center is teeming with all sorts of birds and small mammals.

An extensive, well-maintained boardwalk leads you to most of the marsh’s intended tourist areas.

From there, you can see a variety of terrains, like ponds, creeks, and forests.

There are also a couple of ecological boards for the nature buffs who genuinely want to understand the area’s ecosystem.

You can find Millbrook Marsh Nature Center along Puddintown Road, near Route 26.

See the Nittany Lion Shrine

Daytime view of the Nittany Lion Shrine

Amy Lutz /

Penn State University has a ton of attractions within its campus, and you should start with the Nittany Lion Shrine.

It’s the symbol of Penn State University, with the Nittany Lion acting as the school mascot since its founding.

The Nittany Lion Shrine features a limestone lion statue that you can touch and take photos of.

Close view of the Nittany Lion Shrine

Wirestock Creators /

It’s complemented by information boards that give you additional information about the statue’s history and thematic background.

Located along Carpenter Road near the Nittany Parking Deck, seeing this iconic landmark is a convenient addition to your itinerary.

It’s also within walking distance of many other attractions on campus, so it’s a no-brainer.

Look at Rocks in Earth and Mineral Sciences Museum and Art Gallery

If you want a museum and art gallery in one, Penn State University has another free place for you, the Earth and Mineral Sciences Museum and Art Gallery.

Located inside University Park, this public museum is an excellent addition to your itinerary if you have niche interests in the natural sciences.

You’ll find plenty of exhibits here that showcase the rocks and minerals found in the country, along with cool meteorites with their respective names.

The Earth and Mineral Sciences Museum and Art Gallery also have displays depicting prehistoric life, particularly dinosaurs and their fossils.

You’ll find a bit of artwork here, too, geared toward the natural sciences theme of the museum.

Appreciate Art at Palmer Museum of Art

Exterior of Palmer Museum of Art

Ken Wolter /

The Palmer Museum of Art is a nicely sized art museum that you can find in Penn State’s University Park.

Palmer Museum of Art is open to the public to promote educational awareness about artworks worldwide.

You’ll find many art mediums here, from the usual paintings to the more intricate pottery works, most of which are from the 17th-19th century.

There are also artworks from Penn State University faculty and several others from Pennsylvania locals.

What’s best is there’s a rotating exhibit here all the time, making each visit memorable.

With so much art to see and appreciate, the Palmer Museum of Art is a must-visit because of the value it brings at no cost.

Trek along Thompson Woods Preserve

On the southeastern portion of State College lies a dense forest area called the Thompson Woods Preserve.

Thompson Woods Preserve offers some stunning areas you can enjoy as you trek deeper into its woodlands.

You’ll find lush shrubberies, trees, and picturesque streams.

Its trails also connect to Walnut Springs Park, an extension of the preserve, making it a great addition if you want to make this a whole-day activity.

As one of the more underrated spots for outdoor lovers in Pennsylvania, the Thompson Woods Preserve will show you a rustic experience with Mother Nature.

Read at Pattee and Paterno Library

Signage of Pattee and Paterno Library

Ken Wolter /

Pattee and Paterno Library is one of the best libraries in the United States, renowned for its vast collection of academic resources and modern facilities.

Pattee and Paterno Library is two libraries in one, making this a fantastic place to read and explore.

It has everything you can ask for in a library, sprawling with bookshelves, computers, and various study rooms.

Exterior of Pattee and Paterno Library

George Chriss, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

There are even areas where you can peacefully take a nap.

Besides its superb facilities, the facade and garden area outside Pattee and Paterno Library is also a great photo opportunity during your trip.

You can find the library along Curtin Road near the Nittany Lion Shrine.

Interior of Pattee and Paterno Library

George Chriss, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Play Sports at Circleville Park

Circleville Park is located along Little Lion Drive on the western end of State College.

It’s a public park with excellent sporting amenities, headlined by its disc golf course.

Its course is geared towards beginners, making this an excellent place for rookies to try out the sport.

They also have baseball fields and basketball, volleyball, and pickleball courts for added variety.

Pavilions and picnic grounds are also found here, including a few walking trails for picturesque exercise.

Check Out the Critters at Frost Entomological Museum

An insect in Frost Entomological Museum

Frost Museum, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Frost Entomological Museum is fun to bring children, especially if they’re into all sorts of bugs and critters.

The Frost Entomological Museum is a quick stopover; you won’t need more than 30 minutes to see everything.

Despite its size, the trip is worth it.

You’ll see hundreds, if not thousands, of bugs and critters displayed throughout.

If you take the time to read its information boards, you’ll learn a lot about moths, butterflies, arachnids, and many other species of arthropods.

Most of the information here talks about how the university collected, curated, and researched these insects.

This museum is an excellent destination for any bug-loving family.

Final Thoughts

State College is a hidden gem in Pennsylvania, boasting fun activities.

Mainly centered on Penn State University, the tourist hotspots are brimming with history, culture, and scientific relevance.

The free things to do in State College, Pennsylvania, are waiting for you.

Start planning your itinerary now!

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