The city of Phoenix, Arizona and its surrounding metropolitan area can be a great place to explore for anyone traveling on a budget. America’s sixth-largest city boasts beautiful sunny weather all year round. Nature plays an important role in the active life of its citizens.
It is a priceless escape and the Southwestern backdrop is the perfect setting for a vacation. There are a wide array of free things to do in Phoenix that will suit any interest.
One misconception is that Arizona can be expensive. On the contrary, there is much to see and do for free. From hiking opportunities to arts and cultural activities, there are plenty of museums and historical sites to explore. You can enter some attractions at no cost only on certain days, and you may have to reserve a timeslot online.
14. Piestewa Peak
To Piestewa Peak, it is a fun, challenging hike not for the fainthearted. The trail will lead you to the 2nd highest peak in Phoenix. Its name pays homage to the first Native American woman to die in combat in the US military. It is located right in the heart of central Phoenix and only 20 minutes from downtown.
As soon as you begin the rugged hiking trail, it is a quick ascent upwards. You never actually see the summit until you reach the end. Once at the top, the reward of completing this challenging hike is the overwhelmingly tranquil view. Enjoy panoramic views of the city and beyond. The park can get very busy on weekends.
13. Heritage Square
In the city’s historical center, east of downtown lies Heritage Square. It is the last remaining original block of late-Victorian and early-20th-century homes in the metropolitan area. They stand in stark yet charming contrast to the soaring modernity of downtown Phoenix. Ten carefully restored buildings offer a look into the city’s vibrant past.
It is possible to visit inside, as a gallery, a crafting workshop, a visitors center, and a few restaurants occupy the spaces. You can also see the restored stately Rosson House. Its name derives from the family that built the home: Dr. Rosson was an army physician and eventual mayor of Phoenix. Admission to the house is only via a guided tour.
12. Encanto Park
Encanto Park consists of 222 palm-tree-fringed acres. Opened in 1935 by William G. Hartranft, he had a vision for a large urban park like the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco or San Diego’s Balboa Park. It features a lagoon, a swimming pool, golf courses, and a privately operated amusement park called Enchanted Island. It even has an archery range!
This particular beloved attraction can be busy. You can entertain yourself by renting a boat to row or canoe or partake in some sports. Entrance to Enchanted Island is free but you pay for the rides you want to ride on.
11. South Mountain Park
South Mountain Park is the largest municipal park in the United States and is one of the largest parks in North America. It is one of the best places to head if you seek solitude in the city. A vast park, it spans a trio of mountain ranges. It gives the feeling of being deep in the desert. A place of wilderness, South Mountain Park is a fantastic place for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding.
Dobbins Lookout is the highest point visitors can access from the park’s 50 miles of trails. Along your hike, you have the chance to view ancient Indian petroglyphs and many different types of cacti species. It is a Phoenix Point of Pride.
10. Children’s Museum of Phoenix
Boasting more than 300 play experiences across three floors, the Children’s Museum of Phoenix offers a range of exhibits suitable for infants and kids up to age 10. From a fort-building area to a child-sized cafe to a noodle forest, it is a great place for kids to burn off energy. You’ll find the Children’s Museum of Phoenix downtown, within walking distance of the Arizona Science Center.
The Children’s Museum opens to the public free of charge on the first Friday of each month from 5pm to 9pm. It seeks to ensure that all children in the community, along with their families, will be able to play and learn at the Museum regardless of their ability to pay.
9. Lost Dutchman State Park
This state park is located 40 miles east of Phoenix in Apache Junction. The park sits at the base of the Superstition Mountains and is known for its beautiful views of the Sonoran Desert. Day-trippers and campers frequent the area. Charming cabins and campsites are available to rent for a night away among the stars.
The Lost Dutchman State Park is named after a legendary lost gold mine somewhere in the area. Deer, Coyotes, Bobcats, and Jackrabbits inhabit the desert, and most are nocturnal. Early morning and late evening viewing are the best times of the day to observe these creatures.
The Siphon Draw Trail has the best scenery. You pass different terrains (desert, cactus forest, open grassy slopes), making your hike demanding yet enjoyable. A treasure to find at Lost Dutchman State Park is the iconic Saguaro cactus.
8. Arizona Capitol Museum
Opening in 1951 as the Capitol Museum, it is a symbol of Arizona State’s vast and colorful history. It educates and offers visibility into the governmental, political, social, and cultural chronicles. Priceless collections and archives provides a better understanding of the distinct and historic region. It also inspires an appreciation for its rich cultural heritage. Admission is free but donations are appreciated.
The four-story building opened in 1901 and served as the territorial capitol until it became state-owned. The museum exhibits this transition and how people continue to shape their government after more than 100 years of statehood. Offices and congressional chambers have been restored to their period excellence.
7. Heard Museum
Founded in 1929 by Dwight and Maie Heard, avid collectors of Native American art, this museum spotlights the history, arts, life, and culture of American Indian tribes in the Southwest. It consists of art galleries, ethnographic displays, a film screening, an interactive exhibit for children, and a magnificent collection of Hopi kachinas (spirit dolls). In particular, the Boarding School Experience gallery will leave you speechless.
The free guided tours are highly recommended and run throughout the day. Spend the entire morning here and come away impressed and educated on the past. The Heard Museum offers free admission from 4 to 8 pm on First Fridays and from 10 am to 4 pm on the final Saturday of the month from June through August.
6. Roosevelt Row District
Roosevelt Row District is a downtown neighborhood, a trendy spot to drink craft beer or discover incredible street art. The area’s mission is to advance arts-focused initiatives for artists, entrepreneurs and residents by cultivating a sustainable and creative hub for growth and engagement. There is a real sense of an established community. Stroll through the countless murals and various locally owned shops, bars and restaurants.
Popular events in the neighborhood include the First Fridays Art Walk. It is one of the most successful self-guided art walks in the US. It resembles an open-air market, as food trucks greet you at every corner. Live music bands perform on the street. They also hold annual festivals in the district, such as M3F Music Festival.
5. Phoenix Art Museum
This museum has one of the largest collections of visual art, emphasizing Western Art and fashion design. The exhibitions include renowned works by Claude Monet, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Diego Rivera. It also presents a comprehensive film program, educational programs specifically for children, and vibrant photography exhibitions.
The museum’s location Central Avenue Corridor is a historic strip of Downtown Phoenix. Collect a souvenir in the museum shop or dine in their restaurant, Palette. There is much to see here in this iconic art museum. Entry is by donation every Wednesday from 3pm to 9 pm. The museum also offers free guided tours daily.
4. Scottsdale Old Town
Scottsdale’s Old Town is an enclave with a cowboy history. It has now morphed into a trendy destination. The town is surrounded by historic buildings, covered sidewalks, boutique stores and hip restaurants. Housing a museum, and modern craft breweries, it is among one of the most vibrant and unique urban downtown centers in the American Southwest. You will not get bored here.
Scottsdale Public Art’s permanent collection includes commemorative statues, contemporary sculptures and interactive installations. When the sun goes down, you can experience the exciting nightlife. It is a lovely destination for a weekend trip from Phoenix.
3. Camelback Mountain
Camelback Mountain has been one of Phoenix’s most historical landmarks since the 1900s. It takes only twenty minutes from downtown Phoenix, and it is best to get there early to avoid large crowds. Hiking times range from 1.5 to 3 hours round-trip, so remember to keep hydrated.
There are two trails that you can take to ascend Camelback Mountain. The Cholla Trail and the Echo Canyon Trail are short but steep, and the hike requires boulder hopping. You can commit to a fantastic workout followed by getting extraordinary 360-degree views of the city. The summit resembles the hump of a camel’s back. One peak is the hump, and the other is the head.
2. Desert Botanical Garden
Nestled amid the red buttes of Papago Park, it is home to 350 rare, threatened, and endangered plant species. From bluebells to Mexican gold poppies, it is a lovely spot to reconnect with nature while educating yourself on desert plant life.
The best time to visit is within the spring season when the flowers are in bloom. The Garden’s Community Day allows visitors to enjoy the beauty of the desert for free every second Tuesday of the month. You have to reserve tickets in advance. It is advisable to plan your route thoroughly beforehand. The Desert Botanical Garden is a one-of-a-kind museum you will not want to miss during your trip to Phoenix.
1. Papago Park
A favorite Phoenix pastime is to jog, bike or hike the low-elevation trails in Papago Park. Trek along the Hole-in-the-Rock-Trail, or cast a rod in seven acres of stocked fishing lagoons. This particular park has a rich history. It was an indigenous tribe reservation, a fish hatchery during the Great Depression, and a POW Camp and hospital during WWII.
Currently, it holds the Phoenix Zoo, golf courses, baseball fields, and much more. Standing tall on a hill and visible throughout the park is a white pyramid that serves as a tomb for Arizona’s first governor, George W.P Hunt. Papago Park is where Tempe, Scottsdale, and Phoenix meet, making it accessible from all metropolitan areas.