15 FREE Things to Do in Waco (2024)

There are plenty of free things to do in Waco that are just as exciting, entertaining, and adventurous as the things that are not free!

Austin Ave with the historic Alico building and downtown Waco in the background.

Whether you are a local, or someone visiting Waco from out-of-state, there are plenty of things to do in Waco. To help keep your trip to Waco as budget friendly (but still fun!) as possible, it's important to know that there are plenty of free things to do in Waco that are just as exciting, entertaining, and adventurous as the things that are not free!

Whether you're traveling solo, hanging out with friends, or making the trip with your family; there's something for everyone to do in Waco, Texas.

Note: If you're looking for things to do near Waco TX, and not IN Waco, then I've provided an entirely different article for that.

Here are the top 15 FREE things to do in Waco:

The Waco Riverwalk

If you're a fan of parks, trails, hiking, biking, picnics, disc golf, fishing, grilling, etc., then the Waco Riverwalk is absolutely one of the best free things to do in Waco. Regardless of whether you're visiting Waco on your own, or with other people, there is something for everybody to do on the Waco Riverwalk.

map of the Waco Riverwalk; one of the many free things to do in Waco, TX.
Image Source

The Waco Riverwalk stretches along both sides of the mighty Brazos River. The Riverwalk extends well into the 400+ acre Cameron Park on one end, and deep into downtown Waco on the other. There is an abundance of free stuff to do along the 7+ mile-long Waco Riverwalk including one of my favorite places to eat in Waco!

Cameron Park Trail System

If you love the outdoors and are looking for things to do in Waco, then look no further than the Cameron Park Trail System in Waco, TX. Cameron Park Trail System was designated by the United States Department of Interior as a National Recreation Trail.

It is a completely free-to-the-public park with a trail system that features over 20 miles of trails (mostly covered in lush, dense native vegetation and forest), and 100-foot cliffs overlooking the powerful Brazos and Bosque Rivers which meet up at a fork and run right through downtown Waco, TX.

The park also features a sprawling 23-hole disc golf course, the Riverwalk, a splashpad, kids parks, BBQ grills, covered pavilions, animal sculptures, Cameron Park Zoo and much more. If you brought your horse with you, you could take your horse on many of the trails within the Cameron Park Trail System, too.

The park is open from 6 am to midnight, so you have plenty of time to explore this massive trail system and all it has to offer.

Waco Street Art Tour (Self-Guided)

Waco is home to a vibrant artist community where street art remains alive and well. If art is your thing, and you're looking for something fun to do in Waco, then why not go on a self-guided Waco, street art tour?

Since street art is typically in the public domain, it's one of the many things to do in Waco that also happens to be FREE!

You can find all the most up-to-date street art locations on this handy street art map tracking tool and plan your tour accordingly. You can also incorporate coffee shops, boutiques and maybe even a museum along your route to break things up a bit along the way!

an art mural on the wall of Fabled Bookshop & Cafe in downtown, Waco, TX.
Art Mural at Fabled Bookshop & Cafe in Downtown Waco, TX

Waco is a fantastic city with plenty of interesting things to do for free, and a self-guided art mural tour is a fun activity for those who appreciate the finer things in life, like art.

If you find street art that speaks to you, you'll usually find the artists social media handle or tag on the artwork so that you can follow them on Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, Pinterest, etc.

Pro Tip: Some of the coffee shops in Waco also cater heavily to the world of creatives. Be sure to see if Fabled Bookshop & Cafe has any events coming up if you're interested in book author events, reading clubs, and other literary-type events. Alternatively, if you're into poetry, music, spoken-word, or the artistic world of painting and drawing; check out THRST Coffee Shop for any events they may have coming up.

Jacob's Ladder

Jacob's Ladder is a challenging 100-step staircase that is just about as close to a vertical staircase as you can get. Jacob's Ladder is believed to be a 100+ year old staircase that likely belonged to someone who (at one point) lived at the top of the hill overlooking the riverside.

Of course, it is not in its original state since it has been maintained and improved over the years to remain usable for the general public.

Jacob's Ladder is, however, a significant physical challenge so if you're not trying to break a sweat or get your heartbeat into a tizzy, then this staircase may not be for you. It's definitely a hike.

However, it's both free, and fun to climb Jacob's Ladder, so I recommend putting it on your list of things to do while you're in Waco if you're looking for a physically challenging, outdoor activity during your stay in the city. If you really want a workout - go up and down the staircase a few more times!

Historic Waco Suspension Bridge

The John Roebling Co. played a role in building both the Brooklyn Bridge in NYC, as well as the historic Waco Suspension Bridge, which was part of the Chisolm Trail.

Built in 1870, the Waco Suspension Bridge was an incredible engineering feat, and it was also the longest single-span suspension bridge west of the Mississippi. The bridge was integral in providing a permanent connection between the north and south banks of the Brazos River.

Waco suspension bridge, a historic bridge in downtown Waco, TX - one of the many free things to do in Waco TX.
Image Source: The Historic Waco Suspension Bridge (pre restoration)

Today, the Waco Suspension Bridge is connected to the Waco Riverwalk, and it also features parks on both sides. It's a historic icon of downtown Waco, and is the location of many festivals, special events and even weddings. Of all the things you can do in Waco, the Waco Suspension Bridge is one of the many historic places you will find in and around the Waco area.

Grand Re-Opening Ceremony

The Waco Suspension Bridge was closed for two years for a restoration project that was completed in the Summer of 2023. The grand re-opening ceremony was a full-blown 2-day festival with food trucks, concerts (famous Austin guitarist, Jackie Venson, headlined the show), a ribbon cutting ceremony, cattle-drive across the bridge and a drone show.

Jackie Venson Concert in Waco

The historic Waco Suspension Bridge is now re-opened to the public, and once again connects downtown Waco with historic East-Waco which is also undergoing significant changes including road improvements, new public park and event spaces, new residential and commercial developments, and much more.

Free Museums in Waco

Waco, TX is home to a lot of fantastic museums which are great places to visit in Waco especially during the hot summer months. Some of the museums are free, so if you're looking for free things to do in Waco, then these Waco museums should definitely be on your list:

Armstrong Browning Library & Museum

Located on the Baylor University campus, this library and museum is free, and open to the public on weekdays from 9am - 5pm. The Armstrong Browning Library & Museum is, "dedicated to the study of the lives and works of Victorian poets Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning and houses the world’s largest collection of Browning material and other fine collections of rare 19th-century books, manuscripts, and works of art.".

The Armstrong Browning Library & Museum also happens to have the largest collection of "secular stained-glass" in the world. If you're a fan of literature, poetry, or the arts in general, then visiting this museum is one of the many really neat things to do in Waco - and it's free.

The last time my sisters traveled to Waco, they really enjoyed their visit to this particular museum.

Martin Museum of Arts

This particular museum is fantastic for those looking for free things to do in Waco simply because of the incredible variety of its exhibitions and the type of arts and artists that it showcases. You'll find everything from wood art to statues, paintings, writings and more at the Martin Museum of Arts. They also routinely change out exhibits so there's almost always something new to see at the Martin Museum of Arts.

The Martin Museum of Arts is also located on the Baylor University Campus, and just like the Armstrong Browning Libaryr & Museum, this one is also free and open to the public. The hours at this museum are a bit more generous than the Amstrong Browning - it's open every day of the week, albeit, reduced hours on the weekend.

If you're visiting Waco and Museums are of interest to you, then I'd highly recommend visiting this one while you're in the city.

Lee Lockwood Library & Museum

This particular library and museum is very different from the previous two museums that I mentioned above. The Lee Lockwood Library & Museum is a freemasonry museum that also doubles as a library filled with freemasonry-related books. It also features a beautiful event venue for everything from banquets to wedding ceremonies.

And it's easy to see why; the building is massive and is built in the style of what one might describe as a modern take on an ancient Roman-era building, pillars and all. It's a building that certainly stands out in the neighborhood in which it sits and is definitely one of the places you'll at least want to see in Waco, even if you do not venture inside.

The museum portion is home to a collection of over 2,000 masonic artifacts, including a 700-year-old Scottish sword and many other incredibly fascinating pieces of history. Regardless of what your thoughts are on freemasonry, the Lee Lockwood Library & Museum is most definitely one of the most fascinating and interesting things to do in Waco -- and again, it's FREE!

Magnolia at The Silos

One of the really neat places in Waco to visit is Magnolia at The Silos. Magnolia is comprised of several city blocks that Chip & Joanna Gaines have bought and rehabbed over the years and turned into a destination that millions of people visit each year.

Magnolia at The Silos one of the many free things to do in Waco TX; front entrance with a view of the historic church in the background.
Image Source: Main Entrance to Magnolia at The Silos

It includes the old grain silos, a large green space to relax, a seed store, covered pavilions and lots of seating, food trucks, a restored historic baseball park, a restored historic church, a furniture store, a massive coffee shop and more.

Vie Bien Aimee, a boutique shop at Magnolia at The Silos with the restored historic church in the background.

There are also plenty of local boutique shops, and a weekly farmers market held on the grounds at Magnolia as well. Overall, it's a very wholesome public space that has something for everybody of all ages and I highly recommend visiting Magnolia at The Silos while you're in Waco, even if you may not necessarily be a fan of Chip & Joanna Gaines.

Austin Ave

Austin Ave is the main street in downtown Waco, and it is the street on which many historic, famous and popular places can be found.

Austin Ave with the historic Alico building and downtown Waco in the background.

On Austin Ave, you'll find historic and well-known places such as:

  • The Palladium

  • Waco Hippodrome Theater

  • Alico Building

  • Heritage Square Downtown

  • Waco City Hall

  • 1953 Waco Tornado Memorial

There are also plenty of retail stores, boutiques, coffee shops and restaurants on Austin Ave such as:

  • Coach's xXx Smoke (cocktail bar & BBQ)

  • Dichotomy Coffee & Spirits (features a rooftop terrace)

  • Stone Hearth Indian Cafe (Indian food)

  • Sergio's (Mexican food)

  • Jake's Texas Tea House

  • Portofino's (Italian food)

  • Waco Ale Company (brewery)

Stone Hearth Indian Cafe and Dichotomy Coffee and Spirits storefronts in downtown Waco TX.

You can find plenty of free things to do in Waco on Austin Ave alone, but don't just spend your day there! There are plenty of other interesting things to do in Waco, including just one street over on Washington Ave!

Washington Ave

Just one street over from Austin Ave (see section above) is Washington Ave. Washington Ave is one of several streets that crosses over the Brazos River in downtown Waco via the Washington Avenue Bridge (a historic single-span truss bridge built in 1902).

As you approach the river on Washington Ave, you'll find yourself in Indian Spring Park which also features the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial (West side of Washington Ave), the Waco Riverwalk which runs through the park.

Just to the East of Washington Ave, you'll find "Branding the Brazos" sculptures (cowboy and longhorn sculptures dedicated to the history of the Chisolm Trail), as well as the historic Waco Suspension Bridge (which has connections to the Brooklyn Bridge in NYC).

Once you cross over to the north bank of the river, you'll find yourself in what's known as "East Waco". Here, you'll find a beautiful park, the Doris D Miller Park - it's a great spot to stop to take a break from your Waco tour, and rest in the shade for a bit.

East Waco is also home to the recently completed "Bridge Street Plaza", which is a public space on the East end of the Waco Suspension Bridge designed to be a space for festivals, shopping, and other fun community events.

Also, while you're there... some of the best local places to eat in Waco can be found in East Waco. So if you're hungry, make a quick stop and enjoy some local food!

You can also hop on the Waco Riverwalk from Washington Ave and go for a beautiful walk along the river, into Cameron Park and up the hill onto the cliffs that rise above where the Bosque and Brazos river's meet.

But before you get to the bridge to cross over the river, there are lots of cool places to check out in downtown Waco!

Here are a few places you can see and things you can do in Waco on Washington Ave:

  • The Waco Convention Center

  • McLennan County Courthouse (Built in 1901)

  • Waco Downtown Farmer's Market (Saturdays 9am-1pm)

  • Z's at the Curry (upscale lounge w/ coffee & wine located in the historic Curry Building)

  • Cafe Cappuccino (located on 6th St. between Washington & Austin Ave)

  • Lighthouse Coffee & Wine

  • Waco Escape Rooms

Lake Waco & Waco Dam

Another fun, free thing to do in Waco is to walk or bike on the 2.8-mile Waco Lake Hike and Bike Trail. The Lake Waco Dam was built in 1958 as an earth fill structure, which rises 140 feet high. You can get to the Waco Lake Hike and Bike Trail via three entrances, but parking is only available at the Middle Hike & Bike and Skeet Eason entrances.

The hike and bike trail is not a difficult trail, so it's something that the entire family can do. The trail offers scenic views and is a nice relaxing walk, so I'd recommend this trail as something fun and FREE to do whenever you're in Waco.

Local Swimming Spots Near Waco

There are several free places to swim in Waco, and there is one in particular that we frequently go to that is easily accessible to the general public.

The man-made beach located inside of Twin Bridges Park (it's the very first exit on Highway 6 after you cross Lake Waco going West) is the swimming spot in Waco that we go to. Every time we have gone, admission to the park was free. The only thing you may have to pay for is a parking spot, but even then, the last time we went, it was only like $1.50.

The park features a huge playscape for the kids, covered pavilions, picnic tables, a man-made sand beach by the lake with a designated swimming area, and plenty of space to walk, have picnics, etc.

Other places to swim in the Waco area (but not free) are Hawaiian Falls Waco, and the BSR Cable Park - where the longest lazy river in the world is located.

If you want to venture a little further out from Waco to Crawford, TX (where the Bush family ranch is located), you'll find a unique swimming spot called Tonkawa Falls. Just keep in mind that if Central Texas is experiencing a drought when you are visiting the falls, this local swimming spot may not have enough water to swim in.

Homestead Craft Village

The city of Waco offers plenty of free things to do, as well as a remarkably diverse range of activities and places to see. The Homestead Craft Village is certainly a divergence from many of the other places on this list, which is why it's one of the most unique, free things to do in Waco, if you ask me.

Homestead Craft Village features a 550-acre farm made up of many small family homesteads and farms with draft animals and crops. They grow everything from corn to potatoes to sweet sorghum and even fruits and vegetables.

They even mill their own grain! How? Well, in a water-wheel-run gristmill in a 250 year old hand-hewn timer-framed mill, of course!

This fascinating Waco destination (which has equally fascinating origins in New York City's "Hell's Kitchen") holds festivals, fairs, craft classes, and even seminars educating people all about homesteading and self-sufficiency skills.

It is free in the sense that there are no entry fees into the village to walk around, however, there are plenty of activities, classes, etc., that will cost money if you want to participate. There are also plenty of interesting things you can purchase during your visit.

If you're hungry, you should probably stop by the Cafe Homestead; an on-site restaurant that features local, sustainable, and organic ingredients in all of their food.

The Magnolia Trail (Self-Guided)

The Waco Convention & Visitors Bureau created the Magnolia Trail, which is a self-guided tour for everybody who is a fan of Chip & Joanna Gaines, or one of the many media projects they're currently involved in.

This self-guided tour is another fantastic free thing to do in Waco, TX even if you're not a fan of the Gaines tv shows (or the Magnolia Network), I'd still recommend checking out the tour, since it includes historic places and other businesses that they simply mention or have highlighted on their shows.

For instance, they highlight a TON of things you can do in Waco (some of them for free), such as:

  • Black Oak Art Studio (a well-known ceramic pottery studio)

  • Baylor University (a historic 735-acre university chartered in 1845)

  • Cottonland Castle (an 1890 stone castle building built by John Tennant)

  • Earle-Harrison House & Pape Gardens

  • Fort House

  • Hillcrest Estate

  • Mayborn Museum Complex

  • Homestead Craft Village

  • Spice Village

  • Waco Grand Karem Shrine Building

If nothing else, this self-guided tour is a great way to quickly familiarize yourself with many of the highlights that the city of Waco offers, and will give you a better insight into all of the things that you can do in Waco during the rest of your stay in the city.

The Carleen Bright Arboretum

A project that started in 1997 called the Carleen Bright Arboretum is now frequently referred to as the “Jewel of Woodway”. Woodway is a suburb located just to the Southwest of Waco. The Carleen Bright Arboretum features a certified Monarch Way-station, botanical gardens, multiple fountains, a beautiful meditation garden, and the Todd Willis Nature Trail.

With a newly installed kids play area that includes a much-needed splash park for the hot summer months, and the Whitehall Center (a beautiful replica of the first church in the Woodway area), Carleen Bright Arboretum is the go-to space for weddings, retreats, special events, picnics, and much more throughout the year.

It's free to enter, walk around and enjoy the grounds - including the kids playground space.

Free Concerts in Waco

Are you a fan of free music? Yes, you read that right. FREE.

The Baylor School of Music routinely hosts free concerts for the general public to attend. The student musicians that host the events receive recital credits for each concert they participate in.

At the time that this article was written, some of the events listed are:

  • Jazz Swing Concert

  • Symphonic Band and Wind Ensemble

  • Concert Jazz

  • Ned Rorem Centenary Concert

And that's just to name a few. In fact, they host a dozen or more events each month, and nearly half of them are oftentimes free and open to the public.