Among the most popular forms of public entertainment were dancing and music, especially in folk-oriented styles; public examinations, spelling bees; exhibitions and presentations at schools; and traveling speakers, preachers and entertainers. In major cities; like Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Charleston, South Carolina; theaters and traveling entertainers presented plays, operas and other productions. Such productions were forbidden in Puritan-influenced Boston, although the ban slackened toward the end of the early national period. Religious revival meetings, especially in the South and West, were considered social events as well as spiritual affairs.

Private activities included walking, sailing, horse riding, shooting, fishing, ice skating and sleigh-riding; as well as cricket and various ball games. Pitching horseshoes was also a very popular sport, enjoyed by women and men alike. Chief Justice John Marshall was known as an expert in pitching horseshoes. In the South, men favored horse racing. Dog fights and cockfights (rooster fights) were also popular spectator sports among men. Unconcerned about the cruelty of these bloody sports, men would often bet money on the outcomes. Although it was openly played in the South and parts of the West, cockfighting was practiced secretly in the anti-gambling New England region. Similar to dog and cockfights were bull-baiting and bear-baiting, in which the bull or bear was chained and pitted against a pack of dogs.