Yeah, yeah. We''ve all heard it again and again: Living in Paradise is expensive. But there are also a ton of things you can do around here that cost nothing. Zip. Zero. Nada. All it takes is a little bit of thought and you can come up with at least half a year''s worth of free things to do around Monterey County. You can even make a list. That''s what we did. And here it is:

1.

Walking in downtown Carmel at night, the shops are closed, the cars are parked, the streets are almost empty, and you can hear the roar of the ocean. Best enjoyed when holding someone''s hand...

2.

If you don''t mind rubbing shoulders with other gallery goers, check out the art galleries of Carmel by day. Sure there are a lot of seascapes, but there are a lot of surprises, too...

3.

Speaking of walking, walk the college campuses: at CSUMB, Hartnell, MPC. The aura of erudition at all three...

4.

Drive around Fort Ord. Thrill at its size, be amazed at the number of boarded-up houses (while homeless people cover themselves with rags in other parts of the county), marvel at the vast amount of virtual wilderness still left...

5.

Hang out near Fisherman''s Wharf. Visit the Custom House, the Memory Garden, cross the street and check out California''s First Theater and the garden behind it...

6.

The next day, go back down to Wharf #2 and hang out. Watch fishing boats unload. Take your fishing rod and angle off the side of the wharf...

7.

Who needs professional baseball? There are baseball diamonds, and amateur softball and baseball leagues in most every city. Get caught up in the competition; the men and women playing amateur games are every bit as intense as the pros--admission is free, snacks are optional...

8.

Collective art galleries: Find out what local artists are up to. In Salinas, check out the Valley Art Center; in Monterey, the Venture Gallery; in Pacific Grove (OK, it''s not a collective but still...), the Pacific Grove Art Center...

9.

Ride your bike. The Rec Trail from Seaside to Pacific Grove really is spectacular; ride through residential streets and try to figure out what kind of people live in the neighborhood--then ride down the alleys behind the houses where you''ll find the residents'' real personalities displayed...

10.

Libraries are great places for quiet times, and stock a never-ending source of marvels on their shelves...

11.

While you''re there, pick up a schedule of events. Most city libraries have a calendar of speakers and special events that are free (or nearly so). Monterey Library has a particularly active schedule...

12.

Read the morning newspaper in Harrison Memorial Library in Carmel. Such a cozy reading room, with real wood. Even better on a rainy day...

13.

What''s the point in living on the coast, if you don''t stroll the beaches, at least occasionally? Carmel Beach, Asilomar, Monterey, Monastery, Seaside--every beach has its own personality...

14.

Foggy day? Take a book to the lookout points off Ocean View Boulevard in Pacific Grove. Alternate between reading and watching the waves roll in...

15.

Drop by your local bookstore and pick up their schedule of book signings and other special events (even easier, read Coast Weekly''s calendar each week)...

16.

Visit a Farmers Market, you don''t have to buy anything to enjoy the variety of people and the stuff they''re selling. (On Tuesday afternoons in downtown Monterey, on Thursdays in the Monterey Peninsula College parking lot, on Sunday morning in the parking lot at Northridge, Wednesday afternoons in downtown Salinas)...

17.

If you go in to Pebble Beach, pay your $7.50 and get your receipt, you can then use your receipt toward discounts at some of Pebble Beach''s premier restaurants...

18.

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Go to the SPCA to play with the dogs or cats. They crave human company. Of course you might end up paying an adoption fee by the end of the day...

19.

Have lunch at Costco. All those nice people standing in the aisles giving away free food samples, you can easily make a meal out of all those tasty bites. Only catch: You have to be a member, or know someone who is...

20.

Volunteer to serve a free community Thanksgiving or Christmas meal at the Monterey Fairgrounds. It''s a festive atmosphere, and you meet a lot of good folks...

21.

The hiking, the hiking, the hiking. Fort Ord, Big Sur, Pinnacles, Ventana Wilderness, Garland Park...

22.

Go to your town''s city council meeting. See what all the fuss is about. See who your representatives are. See if they''re doing what you want them to do...

23.

Go fly a kite. On breezy weekend afternoons at Seaside Beach, people with a serious kite addiction fly their very serious kites. You can add your own color to air. (Doesn''t have to cost you anything, either. You''re not so old that you''ve forgotten how to make a kite, are you?)...

24.

Speaking of color in the air, visit the Monarch Butterfly habitat in Pacific Grove. Particularly in October, when the black ''n'' orange beauties are on the wing...

25.

MoCo is crazy for arts and crafts. In addition to the four or five regularly scheduled arts ''n'' crafts festivals at the Custom House Plaza, there are booths and displays in all the Farmers'' Markets and ''most every city celebration...

26.

Visit any local winery with a tasting room open. Get the free tour, then taste as many wines as you want. Make it an all-day trip to several wineries. Just don''t drive home...

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