You can spend a great deal of money shopping, attending concerts of big-name performers, going up in hot air balloons, and taking jeep tours in Phoenix, but not everything in the Valley of the Sun has to cost a mint. Even in a metro area as large as Phoenix, there are free community events every month of the year, plus sporting events, kid-friendly activities, and art attractions.
Throughout the year, there are six days when all national park sites in the country offer free admission. If you time your visit right, you can use one of these free days to visit one of the prehistoric ruins around Phoenix, like Montezuma Castle and Tuzigot National Monument, which were built by the Sinagua people sometime between 1100 and 1425 AD. Built into a sheer limestone cliff, the ruins are a marvel to see and only 94 miles north of Phoenix, which makes it a good day-trip destination.
Gardens may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the desert, but these arid ecosystems are actually home to many species of diverse and interesting succulents and cacti. At the Desert Botanical Garden, you can learn more about the unique properties of desert plant-life and admission is free on the second Tuesday of every month. The gardens also feature larger-than-life plant sculptures and various art exhibits that keep things interesting.
Although there is an admission fee to visit the Pueblo Grande Museum, you can walk around on the outdoor trail for free and walk through the historic village. The trail is open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. and is ADA accessible. The trail goes past the Hohokam ruin site, where you can see adobe buildings and pit houses, as well as a garden that illustrates how the Hohokam people irrigated the land.
A drive on the Apache Trail, also known as Route 88, is one of the most scenic drives near the Phoenix area. This well-traveled road affords visitors 40 miles of canyons, geologic formations, desert plants and trees, desert and lake views, and wildflowers in season. Avoid the drive when it's raining or very windy, and probably on the hottest days of the year unless you have a lot of confidence in your car's maintenance and you don't mind getting out in the heat for the scenic stops.
Many of Phoenix's best museums offer free admission, either all of the time or on select days of the week or the month where you are welcome to visit without paying an admission charge. The Arizona State University Art Museum is one always-free institution that showcases world-class Latino and Southwestern art among other collections. If you have tykes in tow, you can visit the Children's Museum for free on the first Friday of every month.
Splash pads and splash parks are popping up all over the metro Phoenix area. With five months of summer, it's no wonder that splash playgrounds are one of the most requested amenities of the various Parks and Recreation Departments around the Valley of the Sun. The public swimming pools usually charge low fees to get in and some of these pools also have great features, like waves and slides.
Open studio tours are an excellent way to experience Phoenix art and artists. On the first Friday evening of each month, you can take a free self-guided tour of downtown galleries, studios, and art spaces. This is particularly enjoyable during the fall and winter months when temperatures aren't as hot.
Every Thursday night for the past 30 years, many of the more than 100 art galleries in downtown Scottsdale have opened their doors to art lovers and people-watchers during Scottsdale ArtWalk. This is a great way to spend an afternoon whether you're just window shopping or looking for a show-stopping piece to put up in your home.
Hiking is a popular activity here, and there are plenty of places where you can do it for free. In the middle of Phoenix, surrounded by freeways, neighborhoods, and resorts, is Camelback Mountain, a popular destination for a hike in Phoenix. The trail requires a little over two miles of steep hiking each way, so if you're looking for something a little easier the Waterfall Trail in White Tank Regional Park is a flatter option with a great reward at the end.
South Mountain Park has been mentioned as the largest city park in the world. At nearly 17,000 acres it certainly covers a lot of ground, although it isn't a park in the sense of grass and playgrounds and lakes, and ducks as one might think. South Mountain Park is a desert mountain preserve. If you are walking, hiking, or biking, enjoy this park when it isn't too hot. In the summer, that means very early in the morning.
If you're visiting Scottsdale, you can take a free guided trolley tour to get a better sense of downtown. The Scottsdale Trolley Tour introduces you to downtown Scottsdale districts, history, and trivia while traveling between Old Town, the Arts District, Fifth Avenue Shops, and Scottsdale Fashion Square.
You might know that Scottsdale is a major golfing destination, but you might not have known you could visit the PING factory, owned by Karsten Manufacturing Corporation, to see how golf clubs are made. Yours are offered for free, but you'll need to make reservations in advance. The busiest season tends to be October through April. The tour will take you through the club-fitting area and through the plant, where you'll see employees going through the steps to make the clubs and custom fit them for each customer.
Each year, representatives of tribal nations of Arizona and the United States, such as the Hopi, Diné, Akimel-Au-Authm, and San Carlos Apache come together to present musical performances and dances at the Scottsdale Civic Center Mall. The Native Trails event typically takes place in March and is free to attend.
Visit a Riparian Habitat
Riparian areas, also known as the ecosystems that thrive on river banks, help to maintain ecological balance in Phoenix and are a great place to learn about the local environment from native wildlife and plants. In a riverside park like Water Ranch in Gilbert and the Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Project in Phoenix, you can watch birds, picnic, and otherwise enjoy nature. These are open to the public at no charge for jogging, walking, and self-guided bird-watching.
Go to a Free Concert
Throughout the year, there are numerous opportunities to attend a free classical concert. During the summer, you can enjoy free outdoor concerts from West Valley Symphony. Or in the fall and winter, students at Glendale Community College regularly present a variety of musical performances with free admission open to the public. At various times all year long, the Chandler Symphony Orchestra also presents free concerts indoors. Be sure to check all the calendars ahead of your trip to see if any free concerts match your dates.
When the Arizona Cardinals have an open practice, you can watch your favorite players and pro hopefuls go through their paces, take orders from the coaches and, hopefully, dole out a few autographs. Training camp only takes place for about a month each summer before the regular football season starts. Check the schedule for open practice dates.