16 Free Things to Do in Phoenix, AZ (2023)

Free Things to Do in Phoenix, AZ

A Phoenix sunrise paints the sky with vibrant hues, signaling the start of another day of Southwestern adventure.

In the heart of the Valley of the Sun, every moment is far from dull.

Between rustling palm trees, stunning sandstone formations, and the vibrant city life, a treasure trove of experiences awaits.

The best part? Many of these gems come without a price tag.

This article reveals how to experience Phoenix to the fullest without spending a dime.

Delve into the exploration of free things to do in Phoenix, Arizona.

We extend our heartfelt gratitude to the following individuals for their invaluable contributions to this article: Victoria Patterson, Anne Messina, Frank Garcia, Clara Fraire, Dorothy Marker, Donald Backstrom and Alexandria Johnson.

Discover the South Mountain Park and Preserve

Scenic view of South Mountain Park & Preserve
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I still remember the first time I ventured into the South Mountain Park and Preserve.

It was like stepping into another world, right in the heart of our bustling city.

Spanning over an incredible 16,000 acres, this place is filled with trails that weave through the landscape, leading you to breathtaking views and encounters with wildlife.

One of my favorite trails takes me to the lookout point.

The road to it is even drivable, and at the top, the whole city unfolds before your eyes in a sweeping panorama.

It's particularly stunning at sunset when the city lights begin to twinkle.

I remember my first encounter with the natural tunnel and 'fat man's pass' - quite the adventure, I must say.

Trail at South Mountain Park & Preserve
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From critters scurrying in the underbrush to birds winging their way across the sky, there's always something fascinating to see.

A ranch within the park and preserve's boundaries also offers horseback riding.

There's nothing quite like exploring the rugged landscape at a slower pace, feeling the horse's rhythm beneath you.

It's also a fantastic spot for any photography enthusiasts or budding filmmakers, with the beautiful backdrop adding an extra layer of magic to your shots.

And the best part? It's just a stone's throw from where I live.

Knowing such an expansive natural retreat is so close to home is incredible.

I return repeatedly, eager to explore more and lose myself amongst the beauty of South Mountain Park and Preserve.

Bench overlooking a mountain at South Mountain Park & Preserve
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Make a Tranquil Escape at Hole in the Rock

Daytime view of Hole in the Rock
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I've always appreciated the simple beauty of nature, and there's no better place to do so in my hometown than at the Hole in the Rock.

It is an intriguing geological formation, a bit of a local treasure, nestled in the heart of the vast Arizona desert.

Just a short jaunt from the highway, the dirt road leading to this iconic rock isn't too harsh - even a sedan can easily navigate it.

Once there, the parking lot is conveniently situated just beside the stone.

One of the best parts of the Hole in the Rock is how accessible it is.

Whether you're wearing workout gear or not, the climb is manageable, making it a perfect spot for an impromptu visit or a planned outing.

The view from the hole is nothing short of breathtaking.

For instance, the juxtaposition of the rugged rock, the vast expanse of the desert, and the delightful patches of cacti and brushes present a spectacle that never gets old.

Formations of Hole in the Rock
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It's a sight that serves as a reminder of Arizona's raw and rugged beauty.

One of the best times to visit is during sunset in March.

Arriving early, you get the chance to secure a great vantage point.

Yes, the crowds can get a bit overwhelming during this time, but seeing the sun slowly set, casting brilliant hues across the landscape, is an experience that is worth braving the crowd.

If you are interested, you can find the exact location of the Hole in the Rock.

Remember to wear comfortable shoes, bring your camera, and most importantly - enjoy the splendid view.

It's an experience that always leaves me in awe, no matter how many times I've seen it.

People at Hole in the Rock
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Check Out Sonoran Preserve - Desert Vista Trailhead

As someone privileged to live in Phoenix, I have to say that the Sonoran Preserve - Desert Vista Trailhead is an absolute must-visit for any lover of the great outdoors.

Just a hop, skip and jump from my doorstep, this open desert park embodies our region's natural beauty and tranquility.

My typical visit to the preserve often begins with a bike ride through miles of well-marked trails that wind through a lush, green expanse dotted with cacti in every direction.

It's a refreshing way to kick off my day, the early morning sun casting long shadows across the undulating landscape.

Moreover, it's not uncommon to see wildlife scurrying across the trails, a pleasant reminder of our shared space.

But the Sonoran Preserve is not just for the early birds.

The trails, perfect for hiking and biking, offer various options for any fitness level.

Whether you're in for a leisurely nature walk or a long, challenging hike, the preserve always delivers.

One of the most captivating aspects of the preserve is its stunning desert views.

On clear days, the views from the trails are nothing short of breathtaking.

The desert vista stretches as far as the eye can see, punctuated by the striking silhouettes of towering saguaro cacti.

It's a sight that never gets old, a constant reminder of the rugged beauty surrounding us.

So, whether you're a fellow Phoenician or just passing through, make sure to carve out some time to visit the Sonoran Preserve - Desert Vista Trailhead.

It's a quintessential Arizona experience that will leave you with a lasting impression of our beloved desert home.

Explore the Wonders of Papago Park

The waters of Papago Park
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I find myself returning time and again to the sprawling beauty of Papago Park.

It's an expansive natural playground with hiking and picnicking spots that make for the perfect weekend getaway.

One of the stand-out features for me is the Phoenix Zoo, tucked away within the park.

You can even catch glimpses of the giraffes roaming inside from specific vantage points - it's quite the sight!

The park also boasts the iconic Hole-in-the-Rock formation, a natural wonder that provides a stunning backdrop for those memorable family photos.

Hiking is a delightful experience here, not just because of the scenic views but also because it gives me a chance to take my foster dogs for a much-needed run.

Just remember, the heat can get quite intense if you're visiting during the summer.

This is due to the rocky terrain and lack of grass, so try to plan your visit for early morning or late evening to avoid the midday sun.

Trail at Papago Park
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If you're a golf enthusiast, Papago Park doesn't disappoint.

However, the place's popularity sometimes means it's fully booked, and you might not always finish your game. So, make sure to book in advance to avoid disappointment.

But perhaps my favorite part about Papago Park is watching the sunset from the trail up to the hole in the rock.

The hike up is pretty easy.

No special equipment is required, just your comfortable shoes.

The only thing to be mindful of is the limited parking slots, so arriving early is a good idea.

Seeing the view from the top, with the sun setting over the sprawling park, is a sight to behold.

Just don't forget to bring water and a spirit for adventure!

Hole-in-the-rock formation at Papago Park
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Experience History and Culinary Delights at Heritage Square

A house at Heritage Square
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Let me tell you about my corner of Phoenix, a sanctuary of history and gastronomy in the city's heart.

What is the place? Heritage & Science Park, often called Historic Heritage Square.

You see, I've been visiting this park for years.

It's a collection of experiences that reflect our city's rich past and vibrant present.

Walking through the Square is like strolling through a timeline.

You are there, in the present, but surrounded by the whispers of the past.

The Phoenix History Museum, the Science Center, and the crown jewel of them all, the Rosson House, a Queen Anne Victorian house museum, are just some of the park's historical gems.

Moreover, the Rosson House is a must-visit. It is a house from 1894 that you can only see with a tour.

But do remember, the tour is limited to six persons, so you need to secure your spot early.

While the Square is a historic wonder, it's also a haven for foodies.

The diversity of the park extends to its collection of eateries.

What's the most popular spot? Pizzeria Bianco. It's always bustling with people.

However, Que Sazon South American Cuisine in the historic Teeter House is my favorite.

Everything on Chef Fabian's menu is a delight.

The latest addition is Latha Restaurant + Bar, which serves food seasoned with the rich flavors of the African Diaspora.

It's the lively atmosphere, complete with live music, that makes the experience truly immersive.

The park also hosts events like the pride festival, which never fails to fill the Square with colors of love and acceptance.

So, whether you're a history buff, a foodie, or just in the mood for some music and laughter, swing by Heritage & Science Park.

There's always something to discover.

Explore the Trails of Dreamy Draw Recreation Area

There's something magical about the Dreamy Draw Recreation Area in Phoenix. It's more than just an expansive public park.

It's a desert oasis that offers miles of hiking and biking trails winding through rocky desert terrain.

Likewise, it's my go-to place whenever I want some solitude or want to soak in the beauty of nature.

Recently, the park underwent some renovations, and what a transformation it has been!

The trails are now wheelchair accessible, and the bathrooms have been upgraded - they're pretty lovely.

As someone frequents this place, these changes have made visits more enjoyable.

One of my favorite trails is the Freedom Trail.

What's the best time to hike this trail? At sunset, no doubt about it.

The trail entrance and parking at the Northern Road entrance are currently under construction, but that doesn't stop me.

I access these trails from the backside. I usually pick up the Freedom Trail from either Cactus Rd. or the 1/4 point bench at the Peak.

The trail is well-marked and welcoming, letting me traverse the desert for miles.

And during October, the sunset paints the sky with dreamy pink hues - it's a sight to behold!

While the park is a haven for nature lovers like myself, it's also home to some wildlife.

As dusk approaches, don't be surprised if you encounter rattlesnakes - this is their favorite time to come out.

It's a reminder that even in a recreational area, we're still in the heart of the desert.

If you're a beginner or an intermediate hiker, you'll find plenty of trails here to test your skills.

And if you're up for a challenge, veer off the usual path for some advanced hiking.

But if biking is more your style, you'll be pleased to know that there are also some great biking trails.

I've seen plenty of bikers whizzing down the paths, and they always seem to be having a blast.

So, if you're ever in Phoenix, carve out some time to explore the Dreamy Draw Recreation Area.

Whether hiking, biking or simply enjoying the scenery, you will have a great time. It's more than just a park - it's my little paradise.

Visit Encanto Park

The waters of Encanto Park
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Let me tell you about my favorite spot in Phoenix, Arizona - it's the vibrant Encanto Park.

It feels like my backyard, but it's much bigger and offers more.

My weekend routine usually involves a morning jog around the park's picturesque fishing pond.

It's a tranquil place where the world seems to breathe slowly.

But the park is where excitement and adventure are just around the corner.

It's like a mini sports complex with two golf courses, a swimming pool, and ball fields.

I am not much of a golfer, but the swimming pool is my haven during those hot summer days.

But the heart of the park, at least for me, is the Amusement Park.

It's a nostalgic wonderland that never loses its charm.

Golf course at Encanto Park
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Whether young or young at heart, the merry-go-round, mini train ride, and abundance of other rides and games will keep you entertained all day.

It's the perfect place for a fun-filled family day out.

And it's not just the rides.

The park is a sensory delight with plenty of shade from towering trees and the soothing sound of water.

It also houses a playground where I often see kids running, laughing, and having the time of their lives.

Despite its expansive size, the park is usually well-kept.

You can tell how much the community values this place by how most people take care of it.

I can't imagine my life in Phoenix without Encanto Park.

It's where I unwind, play, and enjoy the simple pleasures of life. It's a part of my Phoenix experience.

Garden of dreams at Encanto Park
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Pay Homage at Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza

The grounds of Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza
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Every morning, as I run along the tree-lined paths of Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza, I am reminded of the sacrifice made by countless individuals for our state and country.

The somber dignity of the place, which is a tribute to fallen military members, quietly reverberates through the area.

It feels like a sanctuary, with each monument telling a story of bravery and sacrifice.

One particular attraction that always captivates me is the Arizona memorial for those who died in the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The silent gravity of the place, combined with the deep sense of history, is genuinely touching.

Memorial at Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza
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However, not all that Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza has to offer is outside.

The capitol building houses an incredible display of hundreds of artifacts from the USS Arizona.

It's quite a sight to behold, like a peek into the past in the heart of Phoenix.

If you find yourself in Phoenix and you're drawn to places imbued with history and respect, I suggest making the Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza a stop on your itinerary.

Fallen Warrior sculpture at Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza
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Enjoy an Evening at Phoenix Bat Cave

There's something eerily magical about the Phoenix Bat Cave.

Now, I've been living in Phoenix for a good while, and let me tell you, this is one experience that never gets old.

We don't have a designated parking space for the Bat Cave, but you can always find a spot near Chelsea’s Kitchen or at the gas station on 40th and Camelback Rd, though it's at your own risk.

From there, it's a 5- to 8-minute walk along the canal to the cave.

A word of advice - walk quietly once you get close. The bats can be pretty noise-sensitive. The sound of thousands of bats chittering away is something you'll never forget.

Moreover, the sight is even more breathtaking, especially between June and September.

That's when they're most active, and you're likely to see a cloud of bats flying out into the dusk.

Remember, though, that the commotion made by humans can sometimes keep them inside.

Capturing this spectacle on camera can be challenging, given it's dusk, but the experience is worth it.

Every time dusk approaches, I find myself drawn to Phoenix Bat Cave, waiting for the bats to take flight.

It's not just me. I've bumped into other folks, all waiting for the same sight.

Although we didn't have a ton of bats last time, the anticipation of that sight makes every visit worthwhile.

It's a unique, fascinating part of Phoenix life that I thoroughly enjoy.

Take a Stroll Down History Lane at The Arizona Capitol Museum

Exterior of The Arizona Capitol Museum
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I've always been a history buff, and living in Arizona for several years has allowed me to quench my thirst for local history.

One place that never fails to amaze me is the Arizona Capitol Museum.

This restored circa-1901 capitol building lends a peek into the old statehouse chambers and the governor's office, serving as a true time capsule.

The museum has a unique way of bringing history to life with its fascinating exhibits.

A memorable one for me was an exhibit about the treatment of the Japanese during World War II, which enlightened me about a significant chapter in our nation's history.

The museum also does an exceptional job of educating visitors about the varied facets of Arizona's past.

For instance, the model train exhibit showcases the 5 Cs of Arizona (Copper, Cattle, Cotton, Citrus, and Climate) incorporated into major towns, which is a superb way of looking at our state's history.

Interior of The Arizona Capitol Museum
AdamBagindo / Shutterstock.com

The working Capitol has moved to a more modern building, but the old classic remains available for tours.

It's not just the brick and mortar of the building but the stories behind it that make the visit worthwhile.

Visiting the Arizona Capitol Museum has become somewhat of a tradition for me.

It's one of those places I recommend to anyone who wants a deeper understanding of the history of Arizona.

Plus, it's free to enter, so there's no excuse not to visit!

Whether it's the exhibits, the architecture, or the history, there's something in it for everyone.

Walking through the Arizona Capitol Museum is like taking a journey back in time, and I savor every moment of it.

A chamber in The Arizona Capitol Museum
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Pay Tribute at the Navajo Code Talker Memorial

Navajo Code Talker Memorial at Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza
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Every time I drive through Phoenix, the Navajo Code Talker Memorial never fails to catch my eye.

It stands tall amidst the hustle and bustle of the city, a silent tribute to the brave Native Americans who played a crucial role in World War II.

Having spent my entire life in this city, I've always felt a deep sense of home when I see it.

The memorial is remarkable - a life-sized statue accompanied by a plaque outside an office and hotel block.

I've often found myself stopping by to take it all in.

But it's not just a statue to me; it's a symbol of our city's rich heritage, of stories often forgotten amidst the pages of history books.

The Navajo Code Talkers are a testament to the courage and spirit of the Native Americans, and this memorial is a tribute to them.

Paying a visit to the Navajo Code Talker Memorial is about recognizing the invaluable contributions of these unsung heroes to our nation's history.

I believe that the memorial serves its purpose - it's there to remind us, to make us pause amidst our busy lives, and to appreciate the sacrifices made by those who came before us.

Go on a Thrilling Adventure at Cave Buttes Recreation Area

I've been lucky to call Phoenix home for most of my life and have explored many of the city's incredible outdoor recreation spots.

Yet, one place always captivates me: the Cave Buttes Recreation Area.

For those familiar with Cave Buttes Recreation Area, you can agree that it's the perfect blend of tranquility and adventurous thrill.

My most recent adventure at Cave Buttes occurred last weekend when a couple of friends and I decided to rev up our SurRons for an off-road adventure.

Navigating our two-wheelers through the challenging yet exciting terrain was a remarkable experience.

The trails are diverse – from smooth, flowing paths to rocky technical terrains – and they always captivate you by their rugged beauty.

One of the greatest things about Cave Buttes is that the entire atmosphere takes your breath away.

The peaceful desert silence and the stunning vistas create an overwhelming sense of tranquility.

During our ride, we managed to spot a few jackrabbits and quail, which added an extra touch of nature to our thrilling adventure.

Despite the excitement, safety is something Cave Buttes Recreation Area takes seriously.

The trails are well maintained, providing a safe and fun environment for riders of all skill levels.

Every trip to Cave Buttes is an unforgettable experience filled with scenic beauty and thrilling adventure.

Whether you're a seasoned off-road rider or a novice, you'll find something here that suits your adventure cravings.

Do you want to know my recommendation? Make the Cave Buttes Recreation Area your next destination.

Who knows? Maybe I'll see you on the trails!

Embrace Serenity at Cortez Park

The waters of Cortez Park
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Let's take a break from the bustling city life and escape to the heart of Phoenix, where awaits a peaceful oasis, Cortez Park.

Spanning over three acres of lush greenery, it's my go-to weekend getaway.

Nothing gives me more joy than waking up early to witness the breathtaking sunrise here, painting an open view of the city skyline with pastel hues.

This park is refreshing, reminiscent of its glorious state from a decade ago.

For instance, its well-maintained grass, the big playgrounds, and the scenic walkways make it an absolute pleasure to spend time here.

The park boasts two baseball diamonds, a basketball court, a tennis court, and an expansive open space for children and adults alike.

Its large pond is a spectacle, teeming with ducks, geese, fish, and even tadpoles!

A duck at Cortez Park
You Touch Pix of EuToch / Shutterstock.com

The pond is also stocked for residential fishing, a delight for all fishing enthusiasts like me.

Just remember to carry your fishing license!

While the park is a hub for outdoor activities, it also houses quiet corners for those seeking solitude.

What I love about Cortez Park is the swimming area.

The big side of the lake has the perfect water temperature for a refreshing swim, while the little kids' side is a bit colder – but that doesn't seem to deter the young ones!

Whether it's a family picnic, a sports day out, or a simple walk amid nature, Cortez Park has something for everyone.

Take a Trip Down Memory Lane at the Phoenix Trolley Museum

Ever since I was a little kid, I've been fascinated by the rail systems and their stories of our city's past.

My recent trip to the Phoenix Trolley Museum was nothing short of a journey through time.

When I stepped in, I was transported back to the days when streetcars were the lifeline of our city, Phoenix.

The museum might be small, but trust me when I say - it's mighty in knowledge.

It houses two rooms filled with pictures and memorabilia that narrate the tale of Phoenix's previous streetcar and trolley system.

If you share my love for rails or are simply looking for a unique way to understand our city's past, I highly recommend a visit.

Other Things to Do Nearby

Spend the Day at McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park

Station of McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park
Kit Leong / Shutterstock.com

I can't think of a better place to spend a sunny afternoon than the McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park.

This vibrant park has become my go-to spot for family outings, and it's easy to see why.

From the moment you step foot in the park, you're swept up in the nostalgia of the miniature train rides and the excitement of the 10,000-square-foot model railroad display.

One memory that comes rushing back is when I took my children to the Halloween event.

Decorated with haunted scenes, the trains were a huge hit with the kids.

It was just the right blend of spooky and fun.

We snapped many photos, creating beautiful memories that will last a lifetime.

They always ask when they can come back whenever they visit.

The summer brings its charm to the park.

Even though parts of it are closed, there's still much to enjoy.

Steam locomotive at McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park
Kit Leong / Shutterstock.com

The kids can't get enough of the interactive railroad museum.

Moreover, the simple joy of activating the displays with a button never fails to make them squeal with delight.

The park also features a functional carousel, which adds an extra dash of whimsy to the ambiance.

Beyond the attractions, one of the best parts of the park is the abundance of picnic spots.

It's a breeze to find a shady spot under a tree, fire up a grill, and enjoy a feast.

And on those hot summer days, the playground's misting feature is a lifesaver.

The kids can play to their hearts' content while staying cool.

If you're looking for an affordable, fun-filled day out, I can't recommend McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park enough.

The tickets are reasonably priced, and the memories you'll make are priceless.

Railcar at McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park
Kit Leong / Shutterstock.com

Final Thoughts

Phoenix is a vibrant city offering much more than just the typical urban experience.

It's a city where you can unleash your adventurous side and discover the rich history, unique culture, and stunning landscapes.

Get out there and start exploring all the free treasures Phoenix offers. After all, the best things in life are free!

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