In February 2019 I spent a few days in Phoenix Arizona to attend a few spring training games. While preparing for my trip, I did some research and shared some of the best attractions in Phoenix. While I was thrilled to be able to see several museums such as the Arizona Science Center, Heard Museum, and the Phoenix Art Museum, I was also trying to stay on a budget. With that in mind, I was also looking for some free things to do. Luckily I have found quite a few free things to do in Phoenix. Some of the activities or attractions are inside and some are outside. Obviously, the group you are with, and the time of year will play a factor in what you can see and do.
Jump to list for free things to do in Phoenix:
- Apache Trail
- Arizona Capitol Museum
- Arizona Military Museum
- Camelback Mountain & Echo Canyon Recreation Area
- Mesa Arts Center
- Phoenix Police Museum
- Phoenix Public Market
- PING Factory Tour
- South Mountain Park
- St. Mary’s Basilica
- Wells Fargo Museum
Looking to see some scenery from the comfort of an air-conditioned car? If so a drive on the Apache Trail may be the answer. This 40-mile trail is one of the most scenic drives near the Phoenix area. This well-traveled road affords visitors an incredible view of canyons, geologic formations, desert plants and trees, desert and lake views, and wildflowers in season. While the air conditioning may be nice, I would still avoid the drive when it’s raining or very windy, and probably on the hottest days of the year. That is 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.
Address: 192 N Apache Trail, Apache Junction
Hours: 24/7 but closed often due to weather and road conditions
Arizona Capitol Museum
We love to tour state capitol buildings and have actually been to more than half of them. Check out my post of the Oregon State Capitol which officially marked our halfway point! We have been to a few more since then, but still a ways to go 🙂 Sadly Gene will not be with me, so the Arizona State Capitol will remain at the top of our list of free things to do in Phoenix. I can tell you that while serving as a symbol of Arizona’s rich and colorful history, the restored Capitol Building museum presents programs and exhibits about the government of the Arizona Territory and the early days of statehood. Today free historical and educational exhibits are housed in the Capitol Building under a dome made from copper, the state’s official metal. I will come back and update this post once we actually tour the Capitol and Capitol Museum.
Address: 1700 West Washington Street Phoenix, Arizona 85007
- Sunday – Closed
- Monday through Friday 9:00 AM – 4:00P
- Saturday (Sept-May) 10:00AM – 2:00PM
Arizona Military Museum
This sounds like a very interesting museum. According to the Arizona Military Museum bylaws, it was designed to memorialize the history of the Military of Arizona, the Arizona National Guard, and the general military history of Arizona. Displays include the history of conquistadors in Arizona, the Mexican-American War, Indian Wars, WWI, and WWII. The museum has updated its exhibits with recent events such as the War on Terror. Although the museum is on a military reservation, anyone is able to visit the museum by showing their state I.D. to security at the front entrance of the reservation.
Address: 636 E McDowell Rd, Papago Park Military Reservation, Phoenix, AZ 85008-3455
Hours: Sat. & Sun 1-4
Camelback Mountain & Echo Canyon Recreation Area
While I really liked South Mountain Park, one of the more popular hiking trails in the valley is the Echo Canyon trail at Camelback Mountain. This area is made up of layered sandstone and comprises the “head” of Camelback Mountain. While visiting you may catch of glimpse at some of the smaller animals of the Sonoran Desert, including cottontail rabbits, snakes, lizards, Harris antelope squirrels as well as a variety of birds. Rattlesnakes are also common on the trail. You will definitely see some Native desert flora. These could include saguaro, barrel, hedgehog, pincushion, jumping cholla, Christmas, staghorn, cholla, and prickly pear cacti. As a heads up, parking is extremely limited, so it pays to come early and carpool.
Address: 4925 E McDonald Drive Phoenix, AZ 85018
Hours: Sunrise until sunset or 7 p.m., whichever comes first.
Mesa Arts Center
While only a few miles from Phoenix, Arizona’s largest arts center is the Mesa Art Center which is located in Phoenix’s East Valley city of Mesa. This unique and architecturally stunning facility is home to four theaters, five art galleries, 14 art studios, and an artist cooperative gallery. Their mission is to inspire people through engaging arts experiences that are diverse, accessible, and relevant. The museum is always free to browse and check out which concerts or events are coming up.
Address: 1 E Main St, Mesa, AZ 85201-7403
- Mon: Closed
- Tue, Wed, Fri, Sat: 10 am-5 pm
- Thu: 10am-8pm
- Sun: Noon-5pm
- [2nd Fri of the Month: 10 am-10 pm]
Phoenix Police Museum
Well, I have to say the Phoenix Police Museum would not necessarily be on my list of best free things to do in Phoenix. However, I guess many people have enjoyed it as they recently moved into a new and bigger location. In this new location, they are proud to share one of their first police cars, a 1919 Ford, and our first helicopter as well as steel from the Twin towers on 9/11 and a memorial to Phoenix Police Employees who have died in the line of duty. I would enjoy seeing the 1919 Ford and of course of a piece of the Twin Towers. They do schedule tours for groups of more than five people, so please call in advance. If you are a Visit Phoenix member, they will give you a 10% discount on gift store items.
Address: 180 W Jefferson St Phoenix, Arizona
Phone: 602 534-7278
- Mon – Fri 9am to 3pm
- Sat and Sun Closed
Phoenix Public Market
The Open Air Market at the Phoenix Public Market is in downtown Phoenix and is a gathering place of small farmers and businesses that strengthen sustainable food systems and produce healthy products for the local community. Today we host over 80 vendors in each market. They are open rain or shine, year-round! My niece and I were there a few years ago and had a great time wandering around and checking out all the vendors. Since it’s an open-air market dogs were allowed as long as they are on leashes. Not sure if this has changed, but that’s how it was when we were there. This should surely be on your list of things to do in Phoenix.
Address: 721 N Central Avenue Phoenix, Arizona
Phone: 602- 625-6736
- Saturdays (May-Sep): 8 am to Noon
- Saturdays (Oct-Apr): 8 am to 1 pm
PING Factory Tour
Do you know the name Karsten Manufacturing? If you are a golfer you most likely would. For those of us that aren’t in the golf world, PING Golf is the name by which Karsten Manufacturing Corporation is known worldwide. Even though I am not a golfer, I think it would be fun to take a tour of the manufacturing facility and see how PING golf clubs are made. Since most of the tour is indoors, their busy season is from October through April. Quite often they are booked months in advance during this time frame and reservations are required.
Address: 2201 W Desert Cove Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85029-4912
Phone: 602-687-5385 or 800-474-6434
- Tuesday Tour 9 am
- Wednesday Tour 9 am,
- Thurs Tour 9 am.
South Mountain Park
I have actually been to South Mountain Park with my niece and it is definitely one of the best free things to do in Phoenix. This beautiful park has been mentioned as the largest city park in the world. I knew it was huge but apparently is it about 17,000 acres it certainly covers a lot of area. Some people don’t think or refer to it as a park since it doesn’t have grass, playgrounds, lakes, or ducks as most people are used to seeing in a “park”. Thus South Mountain Park is technically a desert mountain preserve. Whatever you want to call it, I think it’s beautiful. Just make sure 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. We were there in March and it was quite nice. However, it did get a little warmer later in the afternoon. No matter what time of the year, make sure to bring water with you.
Address: 10919 S Central Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85042-8302
Hours: Trailhead 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. Gated entrances will close at 7, but trails remain open until 11 p.m.
St. Mary’s Basilica
St. Mary’s Basilica, Named The Church of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin, Mary’s Basilica is the oldest Catholic parish in Phoenix. It was also the only Catholic parish in Phoenix until 1924. As such, it holds a unique place in the history of the Church and in the Diocese of Phoenix. While on his American Visit, Pope Saint John Paul II visited St. Mary’s knelt in prayer in the center aisle, and then spoke to the crowd from the balcony on September 14, 1987. I am not Catholic, but I thought that was really cool. Hope to see it while in Phoenix. They do offer self-guided tours.
Address: 231 N. 3rd Street, at Monroe Street, Downtown, Phoenix, AZ 85004-2219
- Sun – 8:00 AM – 1:00 PM
- Mon – Fri 9:00 AM – 4:00 PM
- Sat – 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM
Wells Fargo Museum
Just steps away from the US Airways Center and Chase Field, the Wells Fargo Museum has to be one of the top free things to do in Phoenix. Granted I haven’t been there, but listen to some of their exhibits They include an authentic 19th-century stagecoach, a replica stagecoach you can climb aboard, gold and precious minerals, a replica mine shaft, antique firearms, a working telegraph, and other artifacts depicting the settlement of the American West. How interesting does all the sound? The museum also contains an impressive collection of original artworks including the world’s largest collection of famed illustrator N.C. Wyeth’s western-themed work. Tours are available with advance reservations and admission is always free.
Address: 145 W Adams St, Phoenix, AZ 85003-2003
Hours: Monday – Friday 9: a.m. to 5 p.m
As you can see from this list, there are a vast array of free things to do in Phoenix, Arizona. A lot of them depend on the weather and time of year, but you should be able to find something to do as a family or a group? I am even going to be in AZ by myself and plan on doing a few of these. Before I send this post, I am also going to list some of the museums below that are NOT free but have free days or free hours that can help you save money. Not only are these free things to do in Phoenix, but they are also on my post of the best attractions in Phoenix. It’s a win-win. If you know of more free things to do in Phoenix, or museums with free days, please send me an email and I will add it to this list. Thank you and happy travels.
Museums with Free Days or free hours:
- 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 fourth Sunday of the month 11 a.m.–5 p.m., June through September.
- Phoenix Art Museum: The Southwest’s largest collection of classic and contemporary art offers free admission every Wednesday from 3 p.m.–9 p.m.; the first Friday of the month from 6 p.m –10 p.m.; and the second Sunday of the month from 12 p.m–5 p.m.
- Desert Botanical Garden: This must-see Phoenix attraction houses thousands of desert plants on acres of trails. Admission is free all day on 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. on the first Friday of the month.
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