It can be a challenge to find free and cheap things to do in Phoenix. Due to our weather, we have a lot to offer in the way of outdoor recreation in the winter months and plenty of air-conditioned attractions in summer.
Many of the best things to see and do are free or inexpensive. From free concerts to a railroad park, scenic drives to free museums, you won’t have to spend a ton to have a ton of fun. Here are some of our favorite free or cheap things to do in Phoenix.
1. Art for Art’s Sake, and FREE too
The art scene in Phoenix is growing into something special. Though most museums do charge for admission, do some research and find out what days/times they may offer free admission to the public.
At First Friday, tour the Phoenix Art Museum, art galleries, venues, and related spaces from 6 to 10 p.m. every First Friday of the month. You can enjoy the spirit and culture of downtown Phoenix as you mingle with thousands of other art-lovers.
Scottsdale has its own art walk almost every Thursday night and has for the past 30 years. Many of the more than 100 art galleries in downtown Scottsdale open their doors to art lovers and people-watchers during the Scottsdale ArtWalk.
The Arizona State University Art Museum is always free. This contemporary art museum has five galleries in a spacious and modern facility located within the Nelson Fine Arts Center. The museum features contemporary artists, both regional and international, and its exhibitions often deal with current social issues.
While the ASU Art Museum’s collections are rich in ceramics and prints, a variety of artistic media is showcased here. Southwestern and Latino art are also well represented in the collection.
2. Visit Arizona State University for the Experience, No Tuition Due
The campus is a living arboretum, with native plants identified and growing everywhere. Art, archeology, astronomy, and more are featured in small and large museums all over campus. They include the expected – a local sports hall of fame – to the exotica center for meteorite studies.
Art of almost every kind is represented, as well as one of the largest collections of human fossils to be found anywhere. View live rattlesnakes (all 18 indigenous species) at the Life Sciences Building. Or explore the moon or Mars. You can do it all here on campus. You don’t even have to be a student. Check out ASU Collections.
3. The Great Outdoors – FREE Sunshine and Desert Vistas
A popular hot spot with the locals, Camelback Mountain attracts adventurous and active Arizonans to its majestic location. It is a landscape true to the desert theme with incredible views.
Check out the Echo Canyon trail for an outdoor trip through mountainous terrain and desert shrubbery. Because it’s surrounded by residential development, large mammals are not normally found in the park; however, you might find a friendly lizard or two.
Become one with the Phoenix desert at South Mountain Park and Preserve – at 16.000 acres, thought to be the largest municipal park in the country.
Enter through the park’s main entrance on Central and Dobbins Road to explore the South Mountain Environmental Education Center, or follow the road to the top of the mountain for spectacular views of the entire valley. The park also boasts more than 51 miles of primary trails for horseback riding, hiking, and mountain biking for all ability levels.
Finally, Scottsdale’s McDowell Sonoran Preserve is a place where visitors can experience the vast Sonoran Desert. The preserve, which opened in 2009, will encompass 36,400 acres of desert once it is complete.
Enjoy the flora and fauna of the Preserve, from colorful wildflowers and Saguaro cacti to quail and lizards and other desert creatures, shade ramadas, a dog comfort station, an equestrian staging area, and more. The Gateway Access Area is located east of Thompson Peak Parkway, one-half mile north of Bell Road. Pick up a trail map in the parking area.
For more details on local hikes, click here.
4. Old School, Chic & Cheap
Could you could find your way around the desert with nothing but a map in this orienteering course at Papago Park?
Orienteering is a form of land navigation in which participants use only a map and compass to navigate through fields, woods, hills or desert terrain. The course is open daily from sunrise to sunset.
5. A Smooth and Easy Scenic Drive
A drive on the Apache Trail is one of the most scenic drives near the Phoenix area. This well-traveled road affords visitors incredible views of canyons, geologic formations, desert plants and trees, lake views, and wildflowers in season (spectacular in April).
6. Cheap Water Frolic in Phoenix
Splash pads and splash parks are popping up all over the metro Phoenix area (there are nine in the Mesa area alone). With five months of summer, it’s no wonder that splash playgrounds are so popular around the Valley of the Sun. For more fun at local splash pads, click here.
The public swimming pools usually charge a nominal fee to get in, less than two bucks. Some of these pools have great features, like fountains, waves, and slides.
Stroll the paths along the Tempe Town Lake, where dozens of special events happen annually – including the Fantasy of Lights Boat Parade and the state’s largest July 4th celebration.
7. No Fee Football Fun
When the Arizona Cardinals have an open practice, anyone can go watch favorite players and pro hopefuls go through their paces, take orders from the coaches and, hopefully, dole out a few autographs.
It only happens for about a month before regular-season football starts, in the late summer. Check the schedule for open practice dates.
8. Listen to the Music, for FREE
The Desert Ridge Marketplace in North Phoenix offers free concerts showcasing popular local bands and musicians. The concerts take place on outdoor stages.
In Scottsdale, free outdoor concerts are offered at Sunday A’fair happening from mid-January through mid-April.
For more local free outdoor music, click here.
9. Antique Trains are So Cool
The McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park in Scottsdale may be the only one of its kind in the nation. Take a ride on the Paradise and Pacific Railroad or the antique carousel, enjoy the museum, play on one of the playgrounds, or just relax in the grass under the shade of a tree or in one of the park’s picnic ramadas.
Enjoy live music from area bands every Sunday evening in May and June. In the fall, Railfair is where train enthusiasts gather to show off their model trains –a free event. At Christmas, the park is a winter wonderland of lights and holiday entertainment. Admission is free, but there is a small charge for rides.
10. Fabulous Farmers Markets in the Valley of the Sun
It doesn’t cost a thing to look! When the sun is up on a relaxing Saturday, breath in the smell of organic farm fresh food, outdoors in a safe family-friendly environment. Farmers Markets truly have something for everyone year-round.
Shop a variety of vendors or just take a leisurely stroll. By the time the day becomes too hot outdoors, your shopping bags are full, and you’re ready to head home.
Part of the fun of being at the Downtown Phoenix Farmers Market is the light weekend traffic. This market is known for its organically grown food, but also for having a diverse array of vendors while being deeply committed to the community.
Just north of Phoenix, experience the Carefree Farmers Market for a warm and inviting offering of vendors, from hand-crafted specialty foods to fine art. Don’t forget to take a look around, the desert views from Carefree are spectacular.
Located on the grounds of the impressive Mesa Arts Center is the Downtown Mesa Farmers Market. Vendors are known for their delicious homemade snacks and distinctive gifts. During cooler months, the Downtown Mesa Farmers Market offers dance fitness and yoga for kids.
For more details on Farmers Markets in the Valley, click here.