Free Things To Do In Phoenix

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Free Things To Do In Phoenix

18 free (and nearly free) things to do in and around Phoenix

The Arizona Capitol Museum serves as a symbol of the state’s vast and colorful history. Guests can experience a range of educational opportunities – for free – that offer visibility into governmental, political, social and cultural chronicles of the state.

Free and Cheap Things to Do in Phoenix, AZ

A popular place for hiking and rock climbing, Camelback Mountain is part of the Pima and Maricopa reservation. The trails have a total length of 4 miles.

South Mountain Park

National and State Parks 10919 S Central Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85042 MoreLess Info

The largest city park in US, South Mountain Park covers 25.5 square miles and attracts approximately 3 million visitors each year. It is popular among hikers and bikers.

Piestewa Peak

Mountains 2701 East Squaw Peak Lane, Phoenix, AZ 85016 MoreLess Info

Formed about 14 million years ago, Piestewa Peak was long a popular site for mining and raising mountain goats. Today, it is popular with hikers who climb to the 2,608 feet summit, or enjoy the scenic views at the Phoenix Mountains Park and Recreation Area and Dreamy Draw Recreation Area.

Papago Park

National and State Parks 625 N. Galvin Parkway, Phoenix, AZ 85008 MoreLess Info

Papago Park contains an archery range, 1.7 mile exercise course, fishing lagoons, orienteering course, Oakland A’s minor league ball field, 8,000 seat spring training facility for the Oakland A’s, four softball diamonds, the Desert Botanical Garden, Hall of Flame, Papago Golf Course. The park also houses the Ph…

Grand Canyon University

Colleges and Universities 3300 West Camelback Road, Phoenix, AZ 85017 MoreLess Info

Located in Phoenix, Grand Canyon University is Arizona’s premier private Christian University. The University offers more than 12 degree programs as well as an online schooling option.

Phoenix College

Colleges and Universities 1202 West Thomas Road, Phoenix, AZ 85013 MoreLess Info

As the flagship of Arizona’s Maricopa Community Colleges, Phoenix College offers over 150 degree and certificate programs. The college also offers online courses and an offsite training center.

Desert Botanical Garden

Botanical Gardens 1201 N Galvin Pkwy, Phoenix, AZ 85008 MoreLess Info

Those interested in finding more about the desert flora can visit the Desert Botanical Garden. It covers 140 acres, and has more than 50,000 plants in display. There are events and exhibitions organized in here all around the year.

Western Destinations

Farms and Ranches 21424 North 7th Ave Suite #12, Phoenix, AZ 85027 MoreLess Info

Western Destinations promises its clients genuine Wild West adventures, such as horseback riding, jailhouse quick draw, steer roping, and others.

Western Destinations Canyon Creek Ranch – Private Tours

Western Destinations Canyon Creek Ranch – Private Tours is an excursion company that has access to over 400,000-acres of land. The ranch features private skeet shooting, horseback riding, and cowboy games.

Musical Instrument Museum

Music Museums 4725 East Mayo Boulevard, Phoenix, AZ 85050 MoreLess Info

The Musical Instrument Museum has collections from all around the world, exhibited in its 4 galleries: the Geographical Gallery, the Mechanical Musical Gallery, the Artist Gallery, and the children’s Experience Gallery.

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18 free (and nearly free) things to do in and around Phoenix

A young man and woman watch the sun go down Phoenix, Arizona from Dobbins Lookout on South Mountain.

Phoenix, Arizona, may have a pricey, metropolitan feel in its downtown district, but this sprawling city also hosts a plethora of free or cheap outdoors, arts, adventure and cultural activities.

Scattered across the Valley of the Sun, there are dozens of museums, trails, markets, and historic sites to visit at low cost. Here’s how to see the best of Phoenix and the surrounding area on a budget.

See Hotel Westward Ho, a Phoenix landmark

A beloved Phoenix landmark, the beautiful 16-story Westward Ho hotel has weathered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune since its opening in 1928. It held the title of tallest building in Arizona for more than 30 years until the Meridian Bank Tower took the title in 1960. Once frequented by celebrities and politicians (JFK stopped in for dinner and gave a speech here in 1961), Hotel Westward Ho fell into disrepair and closed down in 1980. In 1982, the National Register of Historic Places recognized the Westward Ho as a historic building. The property was converted to a low-income housing complex in 1981 and opened to senior citizens. It underwent a multi-million dollar renovation in 2017 to restore some of its original facades including a historic fountain.

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Experience Phoenix’s contrasts at Heritage Square

Heritage Square is a cluster of late-Victorian and early-20th-century homes that stand in stark contrast to the soaring modernity of downtown Phoenix. In fact, this city block is actually on the National Register of Historic Places. With the buildings now sensitively repurposed (the Bungalow contains a crafting space and shop, while others serve as a gallery, restaurants and visitor center), it’s possible to see inside many, including the stately and well-restored Rosson House Museum (for a $12 admission fee).

Learn about the state at Arizona Capitol Museum

The Arizona Capitol Museum serves as a symbol of the state’s vast and colorful history. Guests can experience a range of educational opportunities – for free – that offer visibility into governmental, political, social and cultural chronicles of the state.

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Phoenix, Arizona - A red dinosaur in a red cage at the Phoenix Art Museum.

There are cheaper times to visit Phoenix Art Museum

The Phoenix Art Museum is Arizona’s premier repository of fine art, including works by Claude Monet, Diego Rivera and Georgia O’Keeffe. On “Pay What You Wish Wednesday” and the first Friday of each month, entry is by voluntary donation after 3pm. Make a beeline for the Western Gallery to see how the astonishing Arizona landscape has inspired everyone from the early pioneers to modernists.

It’s free to hike the challenging trails at Camelback Mountain

Camelback Mountain is considered one of the nation’s top hiking destinations. This 2704ft twin-humped mountain sits smack in the center of all the Phoenix action. The two main trails are rated extremely difficult and subject hikers to elevation gains, uneven terrain, and a path that is unprotected from the elements, so make sure you bring plenty of water and take adequate rests on the way to the top. The Echo Canyon Trail (4925 E McDonald Dr), is short but steep, with 1264ft of elevation gain over a mere 1.2 miles (each way) and lots of hands-on scrambling over boulders. It’s a great workout followed by stellar views of the Valley of the Sun.

Heard Museum is free to visit on the first Friday of most months

The impressive, historic Heard Museum spotlights the culture, life and arts of American Indian tribes in the Southwest. Visitors will find art galleries, ethnographic displays, films, a get-creative kids’ exhibit and an unrivaled collection of Hopi kachinas (elaborate spirit dolls, many gifted by Presidential nominee Barry Goldwater). Keep a lookout for occasional events that enliven the grounds, such as Indian fairs and competitions of spectacular hoop dancing. Free guided tours run throughout the day and are recommended. Overall, guests can easily spend two to three hours exploring. Be sure to check out the well-stocked bookstore and superb gift shop. On the first Friday of every month (except March), it’s free to visit the Heard Museum from 4–8pm.

Desert Botanical Garden runs a free monthly Community Day

Community Day at Desert Botanical Garden allows visitors to enjoy the beauty of the desert for free every second Tuesday of the month (reserve tickets in advance). To make the most of your visit, plan your route through the property beforehand. The garden is home to thousands of species of cactus, trees and flowers from all around the world spread across 55 acres. From bluebells to Mexican gold poppies (just two of the colorful showstoppers blooming from March to May along the Desert Wildflower Loop Trail) this well-nurtured botanical garden is a lovely place to reconnect with nature while learning about desert plant life. Looping trails lead past a profusion of desert denizens, arranged by theme (including a Sonoran Desert nature loop and an edible desert garden). It’s a dazzling spot to check out year-round, but the flowering spring season is the busiest and most colorful.

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Take part in a self-guided art walk on First Fridays

Get hands-on at one of the best kids’ museums in the US

The Children’s Museum of Phoenix is rated as one of the top three children’s museums in the US. It’s designed for active involvement for children aged up to 10 years old, where they can touch, explore, create and be inspired. There are more than 300 play experiences on-site spread over three separate floors. The museum is open free of charge on the first Friday of each month from 5–9pm.

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Follow the scenic loop around Tempe Town Lake

Walkers, cyclists and runners will love the scenic 7-mile loop that encircles Tempe Town Lake. A perennial reservoir that was created in 1999, Tempe Town Lake serves as a recreational center point for the town of over 180,000. The path runs on the north and south sides of the lake, with bridges connecting at Priest Dr and Mural Rd. For those who want to shorten the loop, take the pedestrian bridge located near the Tempe Center for the Arts. There are numerous pieces of public art lining the lake on both sides of the walkway.

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Wander through the street art at Roosevelt Row

Roosevelt Row in the downtown neighborhood is a trendy spot to grab drinks or check out some street art. The mission of the area is to advance arts-focused initiatives for artists, entrepreneurs, and residents by cultivating a creative, sustainable space for growth, opportunity, engagement and art advocacy. Take a walk and enjoy the dozens of murals and the various locally owned shops, bars, and restaurants all throughout the arts district. If you’re willing to spend a few bucks, head up to From the Rooftop at Cambria Hotel Downtown Phoenix. This bar, with a sweeping view of the city skyline, serves half-priced food during happy hours on Wednesdays and Thursdays.

It’s a short but tough hike to Piestewa Peak

Hike to Piestewa Peak, dotted with saguaros, ocotillos and teddy bear cholla, and you’ll be rewarded with views from the second-highest point in the Phoenix Mountains (after Camelback Mountain). It was named for Arizona local American Indian soldier Lori Piestewa, the first American Indian woman to die serving in the US Armed Foreces, killed in Iraq in 2003. Be forewarned: the 1.1-mile trek to the 2600ft peak is a tough climb, but still hugely popular. The park can get extremely busy on winter weekends, so plan your parking carefully.

Explore the vast South Mountain Park and Preserve

At more than 25 sq miles (larger than Manhattan), this park is one of the largest municipal parks in the country. It’s great for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding. The 58-mile network (leashed dogs allowed) dips through canyons, over cacti-studded hills and past granite walls, offering city views and access to ancient petroglyphs. The main entrance is at 10409 S Central Ave.

Take a hike on the South Mountain’s Dobbins Lookout, which is the highest peak in the park at 2330ft high. Enjoy the panoramic view of the city when you make it to the top.

Go running or biking in Papago Park

Known for its massive buttes that rise and fall throughout the park, the terrain at Papago Park is primarily made up of sandstone with trails that are considered relatively easy. It’s a popular area for running and mountain biking.

Take a leisurely cycle along Tempe Bike Paths

Tempe has 175 miles of bikeways with bike lanes, desert trails and canal paths to explore. Routes include pathways around Tempe Town Lake, as well as Mill Ave or in Papago Park. The League of American Bicyclists has designated Tempe as a Gold-Level Bicycle Friendly Community.

A row of old stores in Old Town Scottsdale, Scottsdale, Phoenix, Arizona, USA

Visit the Wild West in Old Town Scottsdale

Tucked among Scottsdale’s trendy upscale malls and bistros is its Old Town, a Wild West–themed enclave filled with historic buildings, covered sidewalks, boutique stores selling souvenirs, and hip restaurants. There’s also a museum, public art, saloons, wine bars and galleries.

Admire the many stalls at Phoenix Farmers Market

This large open-air farmers market offers some of the best fresh fruit and vegetables, indigenous foods, wonderful bread, spices, pastes and salsas, organic meat, BBQ trucks and plenty more. Jewelry, textiles and body products also make appearances. Even if you don’t buy a thing, it’s a site to behold. However, this is a great opportunity to support local business vendors if you’re able to.

It’s always free to visit Arizona State University’s Art Museum

The Arizona State University’s Art Museum lives by the words “Arte para todos. Art for all,” with a goal to offer advancement for the future by focusing on education in social justice and equity. Exhibitions are free to visit and frequently rotating, so visitors get a fresh perspective with each visit.

This article was first published April 2021 and updated January 2022

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Free Things To Do In Phoenix

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Free Things To Do In Phoenix

Make the most of your time in the USA with Lonely Planet’s range of travel guides. Be the architect of your own trip as you discover the best things to do in the USA through insider tips, suggested itineraries and handy maps.

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Stock photograph of a family with one child looking at view in Grand Canyon National Park, South Rim, USA on a sunny day.Stock photograph of a family with one child looking at view in Grand Canyon National Park, South Rim, USA on a sunny day.

Aug 9, 2022 • 7 min read

Bold, big and beautiful, Arizona has plenty to brag about, and there are good reasons to visit at any time of year. Here are the best times to come.

Free and Cheap in Phoenix

Want to enjoy Phoenix without racking up the bills? Find free things to do in Greater Phoenix, including outdoors activities, museums, and more near you. If you’re looking for more, find free events happening now or soon on our events calendar.

Museums

Free Museum Days

Jump into Phoenix’s rich arts and culture scene with free museum admission, offered specific days throughout the month.

  • Heard Museum: Discover the region’s American Indian culture through history and art. Free admission is 6 p.m.–10 p.m. every first Friday of the month (except March), and the third Saturday of the month 11 a.m.–5 p.m., June through August.
  • Phoenix Art Museum: The Southwest’s largest collection of classic and contemporary art offers free admission every Wednesday from 3 p.m.– 7 p.m. and the first Friday of the month from 3 p.m.– 9 p.m.
  • Desert Botanical Garden: This must-see Phoenix attraction houses thousands of desert plants on acres of trails. Admission is free all day the second Tuesday of every month.
  • Children’s Museum of Phoenix: Kids up to age 10 can crawl, play and create at this imaginative museum for free from 5 p.m.–9 p.m. the first Friday of the month.
  • Penske Racing Museum: Check out this collection of cars, trophies and racing memorabilia chronicling the career of one of the most successful dynasties in all of sports, including a replica of the 1963 Pontiac Catalina which Roger Penske drove to victory in the 1963 Riverside 250. Admission is always free.
  • Mesa Arts Center: Arizona’s largest arts center is located in Phoenix’s East Valley city of Mesa. The five art galleries in its Contemporary Arts Museum are always free to browse.
  • Arizona Capitol Museum: Free historical and educational exhibits are housed in the Capitol Building under a dome made from copper, the state’s official metal.
  • Arizona State University Art Museum: Don’t be fooled by the fact that this museum is housed on ASU campus in Tempe — it’s one of the best local museums for contemporary art. Even better is the fact that it’s always free to check out.

Outdoor Activities

  • Explore the Trails: The city’s desert trails cross every corner of the metro area—and they are always free to bike, hike or ride. Download or request a pocket-sized version of our Phoenix Trail Guide for maps and trail picks for every level. Check out our top picks for hikes, biking, running, and more below.

Apache Wash Trailhead in the Phoenix Mountains Preserve

Best Phoenix Hiking Trails for Beginners

Lost Dutchman State Park

Best Long Hikes Around Phoenix

Hikers at Dobbins Lookout In Phoenix, AZ

Best Hikes in Phoenix

mountain bike biking

Best Mountain Bike Trails

trail running

Best Places to Trail Run

Usery Mountain Regional Park Petroglyphs

Petroglyph Hikes

  • Take a Guided Tour: For just a $6 per-car fee, you can join Maricopa County Parks’ guided events and explore the outdoors on wildflower walks, moonlit hikes, scorpion hunts and more.
  • Picnics: Phoenix has an abundance of beautiful parks that are perfect for a picnic. Check out some top spots, as well as nearby spots to pick up food.
  • Take a Scenic Drive: Hit the open road and see some beautiful views while you’re at it. There’s some gorgeous scenery to catch on these drives.
  • Farmers Markets: See all the delicious foods and artisan goods at Phoenix farmers markets — it’s free to walk around, but you may want to bring a couple bucks to splurge on some treats. See when and where the farmers markets take place here.
  • Movement in the Courtyard: The Churchill in downtown Phoenix’s Roosevelt Row hosts a donation-based fitness class every Saturday at 10 a.m., with a rotation on styles and instructors.
  • Take a Self-Guided Mural Tour: Downtown Phoenix has a plethora of eye-catching murals, perfect for selfies and photo backgrounds. Check out our favorite murals around town at the moment.
  • Splash Pads: Cool off with refreshing family fun at splash pads. CityScape, Fountain Park at WestGate City Center, Scottsdale Quarter and Outlets at Anthem are just a few shopping centers with free water features.

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