Free vacations would be nice, but many towns along the shore at least offer the next best thing: free entertainment.

As summer arrives, so will the sounds of tribute bands, jazz quartets, beachfront movie blockbusters and fireworks.

"It gives added value while they're here in Cape May," said Cape May City Manager Bruce MacLeod.

The city offers all kinds of free entertainment each season.

Free concerts, for instance, are held four days a week at Rotary Park, adjacent to the Washington Street Mall, and the new Convention Hall is home to regular animal shows and magic acts.

"The benefit we want is to have residents and visitors feel like they've experienced a stay with free activities. It gives them greater value while they're here enjoying our restaurants and accommodations," he said.

The annual cost of the concerts and other free entertainment ranges from $20,000 to $40,000, but what the free entertainment delivers to the city and its visitors is hard to measure in dollars.

"For some, these activities round out their vacations," MacLeod said of the role the events play in vacation memories.

Across the Wildwoods, the communities of Five Mile Beach offer free music throughout the summer.

Tracey Dufault, executive director of the Greater Wildwood Chamber of Commerce, said music-themed events can draw visitors or entice those here to stay a little longer.

"I think the city does an excellent job with it," she said. Wildwood spent $51,034 on the concerts last year.

The city hosts concerts at Fox Park, and the chamber holds several events each year that rely on free musical entertainment, such as the Spring Weekend.

The chamber surveys visitors as it looks for which acts to book.

The result is strong attendance, with the Spring Weekend drawing an estimated 15,000 people each year.

In North Wildwood, Mayor Bill Henfey said his predecessor, Aldo Palombo, helped get the concerts on the city calendar.

Now, he couldn't imagine the summer without them.

"A lot of locals take advantage of them, and they do bring people here," Henfey said.

The concerts, held at the Lou Booth Amphitheatre at Second and Surf avenues, sometimes draw 1,000 or more people, depending on the performers, he said.

The city spends as much as $45,000 annually, in both its budget and tourism fees from mercantile licenses, on the entertainment offerings, which run from the Fourth of July through Labor Day.

Banner planes, a calendar of events pamphlet and the city's website all promote the concerts.

"We have to keep people entertained," Henfey said, adding he tries to attend at least one concert a week.

In Ocean City, the free events range from face-painting and pony rides to strolling bands on the Boardwalk.

Michelle Gillian, executive director of the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce, said the free entertainment serves to build relationships between the city and its visitors.

"There's something to do in Ocean City every day that's for free," she said.

Gillian said the events attract visitors and strengthen the connection between visitors and the resort.

"It's that Disney mentality. We want everyone to have that nice guest experience, to feel that their visit to Ocean City is a magical experience," she said.

Contact Trudi Gilfillian:

609-463-6716