16 Best Free Things to Do in Phoenix

An overhead view of Phoenix, Arizona

Pat Kofahl / 500px / Getty Images

While you definitely can spend a great deal of money shopping, attending concerts of big-name performers, going up in hot air balloons, and taking jeep tours during a trip to Phoenix, the good news is 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 a variety of sports, kid-friendly activities, and art attractions you can check out without breaking the bank.

01 of 16

Celebrate Arizona's Latinx Culture and Art

Arizona Latino Arts & Cultural Center in Phoenix

Arizona Latino Arts & Cultural Center

147 E Adams St, Phoenix, AZ 85004-2331, USA
Phone +1 602-254-9817

Celebrate all things Latinx at the Arizona Latino Arts & Cultural Center, located in downtown Phoenix on E. Adams Street. You’ll find works and collections highlighting scenes from Latin American, Mexican, and Indigenous life and history, as well as insightful exhibitions on cultural heritage and traditions, all open to the public for free as a way to promote education and understanding among the community.

02 of 16

Learn About the State at the Arizona Capitol Museum

Arizona Capitol Museum

Arizona Capitol Museum

1700 W Washington St, Phoenix, AZ 85007, USA
Phone +1 602-926-3620

Formerly the State Capitol Building, the fascinating and free Arizona Capitol Museum offers a look at Arizona’s journey from territory to statehood. Don’t miss the USS Arizona exhibit, dedicated to the battleship that was destroyed in the attack on Pearl Harbor, which eventually led the United States to join WWII; view artifacts and silver service from the battleship and read accounts from folks who were there the day of the attack. Other displays focus on minerals found as a result of mining in the area, and special looks at the rooms formerly used as the Arizona Governor’s Office, House Chamber, and Arizona’s Judicial State Courts.

03 of 16

Enjoy the Phoenix Art Museum for Free on the First Friday

Painting at the Arizona Art Museum

TripSavvy / Christian Hundley

1625 N Central Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85004-1685, USA
Phone +1 602-257-1880

While you normally need to pay for a ticket to enter the Phoenix Art Museum, guests can get in free by visiting on the first Friday of the month between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m., when general admission is based on a voluntary donation. View more than 20,000 works of art, ranging from Latin American, Asian, and European art (including collections featuring works from the 14th through 19th centuries) to American and Western American art, as well as a mix of photography, contemporary and modern art, and fashion design. The Thorne Rooms, extremely detailed replicas of full-sized rooms based on the decor and styles you’d see in Europe and the United States throughout the ages, are a particularly interesting exhibit.

04 of 16

Make Your Instagram Followers Jealous at Papago Park

Hole in the Rock at Papago Park in Phoenix, Arizona

Peter Unger / Getty Images

625 N Galvin Pkwy, Phoenix, AZ 85008, USA
Phone +1 602-495-5458

About a 20-minute drive from downtown Phoenix between Scottsdale and Tempe, Papago Park is a great spot to take a breather and spend some time enjoying the great outdoors. It’s also home to Papago Golf Course, the Phoenix Zoo, and Desert Botanical Garden, among other museums and attractions. Formerly an Indigenous reservation, a POW camp during WWII, a VA hospital, and a fish hatchery in the Great Depression era, Papago Park is full of interesting trails for hikers of all ages, whether you’re into a 2.3-mile loop around the park to get a better look at its butte and rock formations or prefer to capture Insta-worthy views from the 0.3-mile (short and steep) Hole-In-The-Rock trail.

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05 of 16

Walk the Outdoor Trail at the Pueblo Grande Museum

Art left on a cliff by the Hohokam people can still be seen today, in the Superstition Mountains of Arizona.

Andrew Lichtenstein / Getty Images

4619 E Washington St, Phoenix, AZ 85034-1909, USA
Phone +1 602-495-0901

Although there is a small admission fee if you wish to enter the Pueblo Grande Museum Archaeological Park, you can still walk along the outdoor trail for free and stroll through its ancient village exhibit. The trail, which is ADA accessible, takes you 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.

06 of 16

Check Out a Local Museum

Arizona State University Art Museum in Phoenix, Arizona

TripSavvy / Jackson Vance

51 E 10th St, Tempe, AZ 85281, USA
Phone +1 480-965-2787

Many of Phoenix's best museums offer free admission, either all the time, on select days of the week, or at certain times during the month, depending on the museum. The Arizona State University Art Museum at Nelson Fine Arts Center is one always-free institution that showcases world-class Latinx and Southwestern art, among other collections. If you have little ones in tow, you can visit the Children's Museum for free on the first Friday of every month.

07 of 16

Visit the Desert Botanical Garden

Purple cactus in the desert botanical garden

TripSavvy / Claire Cohen

1201 N Galvin Pkwy, Phoenix, AZ 85008, USA
Phone +1 480-941-1225

While a garden may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Phoenix and its desert surroundings, these arid ecosystems are actually home to many diverse species of succulents and cacti. At the Desert Botanical Garden, where admission is free on the second Tuesday of the month, you can learn more about the unique properties of desert plant life. The garden also features larger-than-life plant sculptures and a number of interesting art exhibits.

08 of 16

Day Trip to Nearby National Monuments

Montezuma Castle National Monument in Arizona

 DeepDesertPhoto / Getty Images

Montezuma Castle Rd, Camp Verde, AZ, USA
Phone +1 928-567-3322

There are six days during the year when all national park sites in the country offer free admission. If you time your visit just right, you can use one of them to visit some of the prehistoric sites and ruins around Phoenix, like Montezuma Castle National Monument and Tuzigoot National Monument, each constructed by the Sinagua people between 1100 and 1425 AD. Built into sheer limestone cliffs, the ruins are a marvel to behold and within a 90-minute drive of Phoenix, making either one a great day trip option, even on non-free days, when the $10 entry fee gets you into both sites for up to seven days.

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09 of 16

Drive Along the Scenic Apache Trail

Drive along the Apache Trail in Arizona

Bernard Gagnon / Wikimedia Commons

Apache Trail, Arizona, USA

The Apache Trail, also known as Route 88, is one of the most beautiful drives you can take near the Phoenix area, with 40 miles of canyons, geologic formations, desert plants and trees, desert and lake views, and seasonal wildflowers blooming at certain times of the year. Avoid making the drive when it's raining, very windy, or 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 extreme heat for the scenic stops.

10 of 16

Cool Off at a Public Pool

Kids playing at a splash pad

City of Glendale

Phoenix, AZ, USA

Splash pads and splash parks are popping up all over the metro Phoenix area. With five months of summer, it's no wonder splash playgrounds are one of the most requested amenities at Parks and Recreation Departments throughout the Valley of the Sun. If you’re in need of some pool time, the city’s public swimming pools typically charge low fees to get in, while some also sport family-friendly features like wave pools and slides.

11 of 16

Meet Local Artists in Phoenix and Nearby Scottsdale

Artwork outside for First Friday

Judy Hedding

Phoenix, AZ, USA

Open studio tours are an excellent way to experience Phoenix art and get to know local artists. On the first Friday evening of each month, you can take a free self-guided tour of galleries, studios, and art spaces all over downtown Phoenix. It's a particularly enjoyable event during the fall and winter months when temperatures aren't as hot.

About a 20-minute drive away, art galleries in downtown Scottsdale open their doors to art lovers​ and people-watchers during Scottsdale ArtWalk, an event held every Thursday night since 1975. It’s a great way to spend an evening out, whether you're window shopping, seeking artsy souvenirs, or looking for a show-stopping piece to put up in your home.

12 of 16

Climb Camelback Mountain

Sunset from Camelback Mountain

Andy Klein / Getty Images

Camelback Mountain, Phoenix, AZ 85018, USA

Hiking is definitely a popular activity in Phoenix and there are plenty of places where you can do it for free. In the middle of the city surrounded by freeways, neighborhoods, and resorts, one go-to spot is Camelback Mountain, where the trail to the top requires a little over three miles of steep hiking round-trip. If you're looking for something a little easier, the Waterfall Trail in nearby White Tank Regional Park is a flatter option with a great reward at the end for your efforts.

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13 of 16

Hike, Bike, or Drive Up South Mountain

Rider mountain biking along cliff
Thomas Northcut / Getty Images
10919 S Central Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85042, USA
Phone +1 602-495-5458

South Mountain Park and Preserve has been noted as the largest city park in the world. At nearly 17,000 acres, it certainly covers a lot of ground, although it isn't really a park in the sense that it has grass, playgrounds, and lakes with ducks; in reality, South Mountain Park is a desert mountain preserve. If you enjoy walking, hiking, or biking, head to this scenic outdoor space when it isn't too hot out. During the summer months, that means very early in the morning.

14 of 16

Visit a Riparian Habitat

Veterans Oasis Park

Visit Chandler

Riparian areas, or, 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. From a riverside park like Water Ranch in Gilbert or the Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Project in Phoenix, you can go for a run, watch birds in the wild, have a picnic, and otherwise enjoy nature from these free and open-to-the-public places.

15 of 16

Catch a Free Concert

Chandler Symphony Orchestra

Chandler Center for the Arts

250 N Arizona Ave, Chandler, AZ 85225-4567, USA
Phone +1 480-899-3447

Throughout the year, there are plenty of opportunities to attend free classical music concerts. In the summer, you can enjoy complimentary outdoor performances by the West Valley Symphony, while in the fall and winter, students at Glendale Community College present a variety of ​musical concerts with free admission that are open to the public. At various times throughout the year, the Chandler Symphony Orchestra also presents free concerts indoors. Check the calendars of each of these venues ahead of your trip to see if any of them match up with your travel dates.

16 of 16

Watch the Arizona Cardinals Practice

Cardinals' players on the field

Broderick Delaney / Flickr

1 Cardinals Dr, Glendale, AZ 85305, USA
Phone +1 623-433-7101

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, for free. Training camp only takes place for about a month each summer before the regular football season starts, so check the schedule for open practice dates to see if they align with when you'll be in town.

Article Sources
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  1. Visit Phoenix. "South Mountain Park & Preserve Phoenix, Arizona." Retrieved April 19, 2021

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16 Best Free Things to Do in Phoenix