It's a refrain we hear so often: "There's nothing to do around here."
But with a little research and creative thinking, turns out that not only is there plenty to do around here, there's a lot you can do for free or on the very cheap.
Here's a sampling:
Never miss a local story.
Think most arts performances are out of your league? The Gallo Center for the Arts in Modesto offers some student discounts with student IDs for $15 for selected shows, such as the "Keyboard Conversations" series with Jeffrey Siegel (next show Jan. 30). They also offer 15 percent discounts to groups of 15 or more, and some school groups get in for shortened versions of performances for $5. www.galloarts.org, 338-2100.
Art at City Hall
The Turlock City Arts Commission holds rotating displays at City Hall, 156 S. Broadway. The displays are available for viewing Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and during public meetings in City Hall.
Most of the bigger communities have a skate park. Helmets are required, but grab your board and get out there with the hip kids: Modesto, Beyer Community Park, Forest Glen Drive at Sylvan Avenue; Turlock, 300 block of Starr Avenue; Ripon, 1240 Hughes Lane, off Wilma Avenue; Oakdale, Brennan Park, H Street and Loma Lane; Ceres, Smyrna Park, Rose Avenue; Newman, next to the Youth Center, 831 Hardin Road; Sonora, Tuolumne County library complex, 480 Greenley Road.
Take a Class
Between your local parks and recreation department, the Senior Center, Modesto Junior College, Columbia College and various local organizations, reasonably priced classes are available in everything from driving to operating a ham radio to wine tasting. (You probably don't want to take the wine-tasting and driving classes at the same time) Check the "Around the Region" feature in The Bee's Local News section for information. You also can check with your city. The colleges can be reached at www.mjc.edu and http://columbia.yosemite.cc.ca.us, respectively.
Take a Hike
The Sierra Club often has free Saturday hikes along the Tuolumne River. For more information, call Dorothy at 549-9155.
Visiting an art gallery doesn't cost a thing (unless you find something you can't live without.) Take an art walk among galleries in downtown Modesto on the third Thursday evening of every month. Galleries and shops throughout downtown will be open from 5 to 9 p.m. for art viewing and refreshments.
Local museums, including the McHenry Museum and McHenry Mansion, welcome folks who want to help out. You'll get in free and be privy to upcoming exhibitions. Call the volunteer coordinator at your favorite museum to offer your services. Other volunteer opportunities also abound. Ripon PAL needs volunteers to help at its center, 303 W. Main St. in Ripon. Call Christina Wilson at 599-2102, ext. 2270, or 505-0458 for more information on how to apply. The minimum requirements are at least eight hours per month. Or you can call the Volunteer Center, 524-1307 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, to get matched with an organization that meets your skills and interests.
Or at Least Visit
Even if you don't want to work there, museums are great places to visit, and the folks who do volunteer there always have interesting stories to tell. In addition to the McHenry Mansion and McHenry Museum, you can try museums in Oakdale, Turlock, Gustine, Merced and other communities. Turlock's museum, on Center Street, has a couple of old-fashioned phones and a phone booth. You can show your kids how a rotary-dial phone works. You remember, don't you?
Park it at a Park
Sometimes, just a change of scenery can be refreshing. Grab a picnic, or a book, or a kid and head out to the nearest park on one of the mild, sunny days that no doubt will grace our area in the upcoming weeks. Sometimes you can happen upon something going on, such as the annual Hilmar Community Band concert in Turlock's Crane Park on May 16. This year, the city also is holding a Sidewalk Chalk contest there that day. And, of course, you can enjoy free MoBand concerts at Graceada Park on Thursdays during the summer. In August, the Merced Shakespearefest offers two free weekends of performances at Applegate Park.
Get a Library Card
Read a book. Visit the public library and check out something that interests you, or discover a new interest. A library card is free. Sign up for one with proof of address. For branch locations and hours, call 558-7800 or go to http://stanislauslibrary.org.
More Than Books
The library offers more than just books, magazines and videos. In addition to storytimes and other book-related activities, you can find occasional workshops on everything from estate planning to making roses out of duct tape. Go go the library's Web site and click on "Events."
Take a Drive
Go a few miles east or south and you can find a new world of wildlife. Try the San Joaquin National Wildlife Refuge: Its 20-foot high viewing platform is open from sunrise to sundown, Mapes Ranch, 10 miles west of Modesto near the end of Beckwith Road. From Highway 132, go north on Gates Road and left on Beckwith. From Vintage Faire Mall, cross Highway 99 on Standiford, which becomes Beckwith. Bee staff photographer Bart Ah You suggests the best time to go is at sunset, but not necessarily on the prettiest day. "Normally the birds come out when it's a little cloudier."
A little later in the year, Merced and the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge play host to 15,000 lesser sandhill cranes, pintail ducks and up to 100,000 geese. 826-3508 or www.fws.gov/sanluis/default.htm.
Want a haircut, a manicure or even a spa day, but don't have a lot of money to spend? Check out your local beauty college, where you can get anything from a makeup application to a "men's refresher" -- a haircut and style, manicure, pedicure and chest or back wax. For instance, Adrian's Beauty College, 124 Floyd Ave., Modesto, offers haircuts for women for $7 and manicures for $10. Call 526-2040 or go to www.adrianscollegeofbeauty.com.
For comic book fans, there's no better day than the first Saturday in May -- Free Comics Day. Participating stores include Bonanza Books & Comics, 2308 McHenry Ave., Krier's Cards & Comics, 3900 Pelandale Ave., Suite 305 and Comic Dreams, 377 W. Louise Ave., Manteca. More information is available at www.freecomicbookday.com.
Visiting a great used bookstore is like a treasure hunt. They're not going to have the selection of a big-box store, but you can get great deals, and you might find that book you never knew you always wanted. And you can trade in books you have for store credit, so it could cost you nothing. In Modesto, we have the venerable Yesterday's Books, 3457 McHenry Ave. 521-9623, http://yesterdaysbooksmodesto.com.