From museums to splash pads to off-the-chain people-watching, find all that’s free in the Valley of the Sun with our one-of-a-kind guide.

Free PHX

Written by Keridwen Cornelius & Marilyn Hawkes Category: Lifestyle Issue: June 2017
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Photography by 
Chad Cocquyt, Devon Cordell, Wenhui Dong, Louis Hernandez, Chris Loomis, Brandon Sullivan & Michael Woodall


Games & PLAY

There’s nothing dry about this roundup of splashy soirÉes and other pulse-raising pastimes.  

Free Pool Parties or “day clubs,” if you’re that guy. 

Lustre Rooftop bar at hotel Palomar

Lustre Rooftop bar at hotel Palomar
By our calculations the highest-elevation pool party in the Valley, this Downtown day-party destination is cover charge-free on non-holiday-weekends.
2 E. Jefferson St., Phoenix, 480-478-1765,

The OH Pool at Hotel Valley Ho
One of the Scottsdale hot spot’s three weekly, DJ-enhanced pool parties – Happy Hour Fridays (10 a.m.-7 p.m.) – is free and open to the public, except for holiday weekends. To enjoy Session Saturdays and Recovery Sundays, you’ll have to “get a room,” as they say.
6850 E. Main St., Scottsdale, 480-248-2000,

The OH Pool at Hotel Valley Ho

5 Best Valley Splash Pads
Beat the heat and save your sanity by taking restless little ones to chill out at one of the many splash pads around the Valley. 
Bonus: Some are located in shopping areas just a stone’s throw from food and drink.

SanTan Village
Drop off cranky kids at the covered splash pad and plop yourself under the misters to watch them burn off that energy.
2218 E. Williams Field Rd., Gilbert,



Cardinals Training Camp

Pioneer Community Park
Outfitted with toppling buckets, water wheels and water guns, this Peoria pad has a rubberized surface to prevent tiny feet from slipping.
8755 N. 83rd Ave., Peoria,

The Orchard PHX
Nestled in a former citrus orchard, this small but comfy North-Central Phoenix splash pad sits next to Splurge, an ice cream and candy shop with an outside service window to accommodate hungry kids. Get a sugar rush going, then go splash around.
7100 N. 12th St., Phoenix,

Scottsdale Quarter

Desert Ridge Marketplace
Enjoy an iced coffee from Paradise Bakery while the kids hit the marketplace’s expansive, palm-dotted splash pad to cool off. Desert Ridge also baits the hook with intermittent promotions like free fitness classes.
21001 N. Tatum Blvd., Phoenix, 480-513-7586,

Scottsdale Quarter 
Tucked between upscale stores and restaurants with comfortable lounge chairs and lawn seating, the Quarter’s palm-lined splash pad is primo real estate for tots who want to see and be seen.
15059 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale, 480-270-8123,

Arcade Fire

Free Centipede? That doesn’t bug us at all.

Bonus Round
Billing itself as “the only nerd hub in Phoenix,” this Uptown bar offers free classic arcade games, including NFL Blitz and Mortal Kombat. Play free “Geeks Who Drink” pub trivia on Thursday nights to win cash and prizes.
24 W. Camelback Rd., Phoenix, 602-374-6936,

Casino Arizona
Test your knowledge every week at Casino Arizona’s Tuesday Trivia night in the Arizona Room Patio Grill to win up to $1,000 and prizes. Register between 6-7 p.m., but get there early because teams fill up fast.
524 N. 92nd St., Scottsdale, 480-850-7777,

Valley Bar
Play pool, darts, shuffleboard, board games and skee ball for free every Monday night in the Rose Room. Take $1 off any draft beer and you’ve got yourself a party.
130 N. Central Ave., Phoenix. 602-368-3121,




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Museums & Culture

You don’t need to thread your visit through a maze of off-hour and weekday free “specials” – these valley museums are always no-charge.

Arizona Capitol Museum
Learn about the 48th state through hands-on exhibits, technology and historical artifacts housed at the historic 1901 Arizona and Territorial State Capitol Building.
1700 W. Washington St., Phoenix, 602-926-3620,

Phoenix Sky Harbor Art Museum
Waiting for a flight? Explore public art at all three terminals promoting the state’s artistic and cultural heritage through photography, ceramics, metal sculptures, paintings and murals.
3400 E. Sky Harbor Blvd., Phoenix, 602-273-2744,

ASU Art Museum at Nelson Fine Arts Center
Housed in a desert-inspired building designed by architect Antoine Predock, the Arizona State University Art Museum has three floors of rotating year-round exhibits and a museum store featuring the work of ASU students and faculty.
51 E. 10th St., Tempe, 480-965-2787,

Ellie & Michael Ziegler Fiesta Bowl Museum
This shoebox-size museum houses all things Fiesta Bowl, including 128 college team helmets, a Heisman Trophy and the National Championship Coaches’ Trophy.
7135 E. Camelback Rd., Scottsdale, 480-350-0900,

Arizona Jewish Historical Society
Built in 1921 and renovated in 2008, the Cutler Plotkin Jewish Heritage Center once housed Phoenix’s first synagogue. Exhibits include artifacts relating to the settlement and history of Jews in Arizona and the Southwest.
122 E. Culver St., Phoenix, 602-241-7870,

Shemer Art Center & Museum
A Santa Fe Mission-style home built in 1919, this Arcadia museum has changing exhibitions of traditional and non-traditional art by Arizona artists as well as a notable sculpture garden.
5005 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix, 602-262-4727,


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Complimentary Culture

Free? Not usually. But pick the right day and time, and these highly respected museums and galleries will let you pass with a wink.

Phoenix Art Museum
Free: Wednesdays 3-9 p.m.; First Fridays 6-10 p.m.; Second Saturdays; Second Sundays. Special exhibition fees may apply. Admission is always free for military families (veterans or military members with I.D., their spouse/adult guest and children 17 and younger).
1625 N. Central Ave., Phoenix, 602-257-1880,

Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMOCA) 
Free: All day Thursdays, after 5 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
7374 E. Second St., Scottsdale, 480-874-4666,

Desert Botanical Garden
Free: Second Tuesdays. Always for active military with I.D.
1201 N. Galvin Pkwy., Phoenix, 480-941-1225,

Children’s Museum of Phoenix
Free: First Fridays 5-9 p.m. 
215 N. Seventh St., Phoenix, 602-253-0501,

Heard Museum
Free: First Fridays 6-10 p.m. (except Dec.-March); always for American Indians.
2301 N. Central Ave., Phoenix, 602-252-8840,



You can go to a karaoke bar and watch amateurs butcher Neil Diamond all night – or you can get your free performance fix at these Valley venues.

Caffeine Corridor poetry series, hosted by Valley poets Bill Campana, Jack Evans and Shawnte Orion, spotlights local and touring poets with monthly featured readings – prefaced by open-mic sessions – among the art at {9} the gallery. Second Fridays.
1229 Grand Ave., Phoenix, 602-349-9557,

Each Ballet Under the Stars performance costs Ballet Arizona nearly $50,000. But they cost nothing for the families who watch dancers jeté and emboîté across the alfresco stage. The six September performances are held at parks around the Valley.

Closet poets can read their verse alongside bestselling bards like Alberto Rios during Changing Hands Tempe’s monthly Friday Poetry events.
6428 S. McClintock Dr., Tempe, 480-730-0205,

Tempe Center for the Arts is a veritable bazaar of free performance options – so many music and art events, we had to list them.

Tempe Symphony Orchestra stages four to five seasonal concerts a year. Yes, they’re free. Check the TCA calendar to find a schedule.

Walk-in Wednesdays Open-Mic Nights (Jan.-May, Sept.-Nov.) offer local musicians a platform for their talents. No cover. 

During EDGE Happy Hour – a nightlife concept held Thursdays through Saturdays – you can groove to live music, plus enjoy deals on drinks and tapas.

Located within TCA, the Gallery is a free-admission space showcasing local artists and thinkers. Current exhibition: Biomimicry, a showcase of nature-inspired design.
700 W. Rio Salado Pkwy., Tempe, 480-350-2822,


FREE - The Children

Come summer, the Valley is lousy with no-charge family fun.

Every week on Creative Saturdays, ASU Art Museum ambassadors help kids craft projects coinciding with current exhibits. Inspired by Chinese ceramics, children recently transformed recycled materials into shimmery fish flags and wrote their names in Mandarin. On Family Days (July 8, October 14), local artists lead activities for kids ages 4-12 at stations scattered throughout the galleries. 51 E. 10th St., Tempe, 480-965-2787,

Mighty Mud Mania is dirt cheap. Kids 17 and under can race through the Original Mud Obstacle Course, slip and slide in the Mini Mud Course, and muck about in Mudville at no cost. Adults who want to get dirty pay $10. June 10, Chaparral Park, Scottsdale, 480-312-0205,

Changing Hands caters to bookish bairns and teeny-boppers with bestselling youth author events, costumed or bilingual story time, and tween book clubs (with free pizza to fuel YA conspiracy theories). Tempe and Phoenix locations,

You don’t need to be riding the gravy train to enjoy McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park. Every Sunday night leading up to the fireworks finale on July 2, music lovers pull up a blanket and listen to local bands for free. During Railfair (Oct. 7-8), take a complimentary tour of a Pullman car and the Scottsdale Railroad Museum, plus peruse model trains and vintage railroad equipment.
7301 E. Indian Bend Rd., Scottsdale, 480-312-2312,

Check out your local libraries for coding classes, book clubs, play sessions, sewing and crafting, anime games, performances, volunteering opportunities and more for children of all ages.




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Free admission is music to our ears at these clubs and venues.

1 After you shop, drop in on a complimentary concert at Phoenix’s Desert Ridge Marketplace, tempe Marketplace, or Glendale’s westgate entertainment district. The Friday-to-Sunday affairs might include contemporary jazz, classic rock or Latin guitar.,,

2 During the Fall and Spring Out to Lunch Concert Series, music lovers pack a picnic and pack the Mesa Arts Center’s Wells Fargo Garden to listen to everything from country to Celtic rock to doo- wop. Thursdays, seasonally. 
1 E. Main St., Mesa, 480-644-6500,


3 ASU’s School of Music hosts more than 700 performances a year (hear, hear!), from student soprano recitals to dueling harpsichordists to guest guitar ensembles. Most of them don’t cost a penny.

4 Every First Friday, The Nash – nationally recognized as one of America’s four leading jazz venues by the Jazz Forward Coalition – offers gratis gigs by leading progressive musicians who typically appeal “to younger jazz enthusiasts,” according to managing director Kate Hastings. Read: spicy swing, contemporary jazz and high-energy funk. 
110 E. Roosevelt St., Phoenix, 602-795-0464,


Tempe Center for the Arts

More Free Music

Second Friday Night Out
This monthly fest in downtown Mesa features live bands, plus art booths and food trucks.

Superstition Skies
Get your free country dance lessons every Monday (5-8 p.m.) at this SanTan live music venue.
945 E. Scenic St., Apache Junction, 480-983-3099,

Concerts in the Park
Apache Junction hosts monthly live music at Flatiron Park.

Desert Ridge Marketplace

McCormick-stillman Railroad Park
The beloved Scottsdale locomotive museum throws Sunday night concerts (see “The Children,” pg. 90).

Tuesday Morning Music and Tea
Savor a free concert with your cuppa at this ASU Kerr Cultural Center series. Patrons are encouraged to bring a $5 donation and a canned food item.
6110 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale, 480-596-2660,




Mesa Arts Center

Free Date Night

If you have a hot date, but are strapped for cash, head out to Old Town Scottsdale on a Thursday night for an art-themed evening that won’t set you back too much. 
Disclaimer: Freebie dates aren’t for wooing – save this itinerary for after you’re in a relationship.

5:00 p.m.
Stow your car in the free parking garage adjacent to Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMoCa) ( and pop into the sleek museum, where admission is free on Thursday nights. Admire the Will Bruder-designed building and peruse the exhibits before visiting the well-stocked gift shop featuring Arizona artists.

ASU’s School of Music

5:30 p.m.
Walk a few steps to catch the free City of Scottsdale Downtown Trolley ( that will shepherd you to the Scottsdale Art Walk. Stroll through more than 100 galleries in the arts district, where you’ll see everything from Western art and contemporary jewelry to kinetic sculpture and large-scale oil paintings ( Brownie points if you have the chops to discuss the different art forms with your date. 

7:30 p.m.
Many galleries offer complimentary wine and hors d’oeuvres (more free stuff!), but if you’re still hungry, make your way over to Kazimierz world Wine Bar ( and order a pot of three-cheese fondue with apples and toasted baguette ($8), a couple of snifters of brandy (cheapest: $5 each) and enjoy live entertainment from 9 p.m. until midnight. 

The Nash

9:00 p.m.
Unfortunately, if you stay out past 9 p.m., you won’t be able to take the free trolley back to your car and you’ll have to hoof it. But hey – it’s Old Town. There’s plenty to see on the way.






No matter how you prefer to burn calories, the Valley offers a free way to do it.

Duh, right? According to PHOENIX hiking guru Mare Czinar, the Valley is nothing less than the finest hiking metro in America. We’ve devoted whole cover stories to the topic, and will again. In the meantime, check out Czinar’s dedicated website for ideas on where and when to pursue this most popular of free Phoenix activities.

Art Walk
Co-founded by performance and installation artist Angela Ellsworth, the Museum of Walking turns ambling into an art. During its events, participants have traipsed through Tempe carrying pieces from a museum exhibit and strolled as a pack in a dog park with writer Tania Katan and her French bulldog.

Every Sunday morning, around two dozen cyclists convene at The Velo in Downtown Phoenix for a two-hour ride to South Mountain and back, capped off with well-earned (and complimentary) doughnuts. Check the Facebook page for times.
828 N. Second St., Phoenix, 602-759-8169,


Urban run

Urban Run
Meet Me Downtown is a free threefer. First, park for free (in Downtown Phoenix, remarkably) in the Collier Center Garage. Then meet at The Park Street Food Bar & Beer Garden to take a free run or walk with about 150 of your new BFFs. Return for a raffle, where you can score goodies like restaurant gift certificates and Suns tickets. Every Monday, 5:15 p.m.

Nighttime Kayaking and More
Maricopa County Parks & Recreation’s summer calendar is a hotbed of free outdoor fun: sunset or full moon kayaking, flashlight hikes, scorpion hunts, nighttime mountain biking, archery and Free Fishing Day at Lake Pleasant (June 3).


Urban Yoga

Yoga for Nada 

Assuming the lotus pose will set you back only a few sore muscles at these no-cost yoga classes. 

“Her secret is patience” will be your mantra while doing tree pose beneath Janet Echelman’s iconic, womb-shaped artwork suspended above Civic Space Park in Downtown Phoenix.
Saturdays at 8:30 a.m. 424 N. Central Ave.,

At Spirit of Yoga, complimentary classes are taught by students training to become yoga instructors.
1420 E. Southern Ave., Tempe, 480-567-0695,

Yogis of all levels flock to 8 a.m. Free Flow Fridays at industrial-Zen Urban Yoga to explore basic or advanced poses.
3225 N. Central Ave., Phoenix, 602-277-9642, 

Kickstart your week at Buckeye’s Sundance Park with Monday Ignite Yoga sessions and Tuesday PiYo – the love child of Pilates and yoga. 6:30 p.m.
22865 W. Lower Buckeye Rd., Buckeye, 623-349-6350,

Three times a week, anahata yoga offers sadhana, a practice designed to introduce you to your higher self during the “ambrosial hours” (that’s 4:30-6:30 a.m. for us mortals).
14148 N. 100th St., Scottsdale, 480-699-9600,

Saturday mornings bring both barre and yoga to DeSoto Central Market in the Roosevelt Row arts district.
915 N. Central Ave., Phoenix, 602-680-7747,

Break in your yoga pants at Lululemon’s free Sunday sessions.
Scottsdale Quarter: 10:30 a.m., 15257 N. Scottsdale Rd., 480-922-2544; Biltmore: 10:30 a.m., 2502 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix, 602-956-1402; Chandler: 9 a.m. at CorePower Yoga, 2875 W. Ray Rd., 480-899-0545.





Lucky Strike

5 Best People- Watching Spots

It might be an epic waste of time, but let’s be honest with ourselves: People-watching is fun, and the Valley is a smorgasbord. So plant yourself at one of these five primo-people-watching spots and get your fill.

Scottsdale Fashion Square
Who You’ll See: Lambo-revving sugar daddies; the Lululemon set; Scottsdale kids; that guy with the Weimaraners The Valley’s most luxe shopping center boasts more than 200 stores, a slew of restaurants and an upscale movie theater. It’s dotted with comfy chairs and sofas where you can scope out everyone from the rich and famous to wannabe fashionistas.
7014 E. Camelback Rd., Scottsdale,

Roosevelt Row
Who You’ll See: Subaru Nosferatus; ear-gauge artists; plucky ’zine publishers Downtown’s defining arts district declares “Vampire Hours” from 4-9 p.m. on First Fridays in June through September. Valley dwellers crawl out of their air-conditioned caves to shop, dine and explore art galleries. Bring your loose garlic and gaze at the vamps during twilight.

Cosmo Dog Park

Lucky Strike
Who You’ll See: Eight-ball hustlers; blotto conventioneers; staycation bachelorettes
There aren’t a lot of places where people-watching involves bowling, dancing, dining, gaming, drinking and billiards. Lots to see here.
50 W. Jefferson St., Phoenix,

Cosmo Dog Park
Who You’ll See: Frisbee dogs; soccer moms with Labradors; the Weimaraner guy again
Watching people dote over their dogs at the dog park is almost as fun as watching the pups play.
2502 E. Ray Rd., Gilbert,

Film Bar
Who You’ll See: Man-bun-sporting millennials; off-duty baristas; Dr. Frank N. Furter understudies
This bar-meets-art-film-theater attracts a young hipster crowd that’s fun to watch. Also: Get ideas for your next tattoo.
815 N. Second St., Phoenix,


8-Step Guide to Free Self-Improvement

Become the Valley’s most well-rounded human being with these free education and skills classes. 

1 Every day is a learning opportunity at free co-working space Gangplank. Ideas pinball between people, micro-companies collaborate, and speakers share their expertise. Gangplankers also arrange free Craft Hacks and Hacknights, when you might record a podcast, learn programming, join a jam session, help create an art installation or crochet a cardigan.
Locations in Chandler, Avondale and Queen Creek,

2 HeatSync Labs is a magnet for mad scientists, tech geeks and young makers. The volunteer-led hackerspace hosts almost daily free events like 3-D Printing Night, Coffee and Code, metalworking, microscope viewing and robot tinkering.
140 W. Main St., Mesa,
3 College classes are more fun when you don’t need a degree. At ASU, polymaths can dip into public lectures on compassion in Shakespeare, climate change and colonialism, the debate over citizenship tests, the truth about cancer breakthroughs, the origins of life on Earth, and more.
Get a stellar education at East Valley Astronomy Club’s star parties, held on Second Fridays each month. Gravitate to Gilbert’s Southeast Regional Library for a talk on space science, then spy planets and galaxies at the Riparian Preserve. EVAC also attracts professional astronomers for monthly lectures.

5 Literary types heart Four Chambers Press for its events with authors like Phoenix Poet Laureate Rosemarie Dombrowski, as well as their Get Lit salons at Valley Bar, where you might muse on such topics as “Alternative Facts, Media and Social Responsibility.”

6 Boost your business know-how at CO+HOOTS co-working space’s Midweek Mindtweak – Wednesday lunchtime lessons are often open to the public. Learn how to handle intellectual property and tax issues for startups, become an engaging leader, and improve your writing to help sell your small business.
221 E. Indianola Ave., Phoenix, 602-688-2825,
7 Hive @ Central offers everything you need to start a business, except a multimillion-dollar inheritance. Hosted by Burton Barr Central Library, the free co-working space presents workshops including the Business Roadmap Program, the Nonprofit Navigator, marketing and social media.

8 In addition to its gratis author events, Changing Hands hosts stacks of free book clubs centered around everything from crime fiction to fantasy to women of color. Its First Draft Book Club brings lit lovers to the Phoenix location’s wine and beer bar for lively confabs led by Arizona Republic reporter Barbara VanDenburgh. Phoenix, Tempe and offsite locations.





Cookies at Ingo’s tasty food and Buck & Rider


“There’s no such thing as a free lunch,” the old saying goes. We beg to differ.

Top 3 Free Food Items in the Valley

Tenderloin Sliders at Donovan’s Steak & Chop House
It’s a gentleman’s agreement: You purchase one of Donovan’s pricey cocktails at happy hour, and the server sets you up with a wicked-tasty slider. Free enough, friends.
3101 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix, 602-955-3666,

Bacon-Filled Mason Jars at Bourbon & Bones
Instead of mere breadsticks, this Old Town chophouse provides Mason jars full of complimentary bacon. And it’s good bacon: smoky and caramelized just so. That’s what we call meat advocacy.
4200 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale, 480-629-4922,

Cookies at Ingo’s tasty food and Buck & Rider 
Another gentleman’s agreement: Eat at one of these LGO restos, enjoy complimentary sea salt-chocolate chip cookies. Please resist the urge to stuff your purse with these delicious little abominations. Two locations.,


Diego Pops

Might as Well Be Free

Legally speaking, restaurants and bars are forbidden from giving away drinks in the Valley. But some come awfully close.

Pita Jungle
During happy hour (3-6 p.m. and 9 p.m.- closing) Pita Jungle offers a handful of appetizers for $1, including baba ganoush, a hummus trio and dolmades. Valleywide.

Denim & Diamonds
Wednesday night is Ladies’ Night: 50-cent long necks and bar drinks for women ($1 for men) at this lively country bar in Mesa.

Diego Pops

Dierks Bentley’s Whiskey Row
Celebrate Wing Wednesday all day and snag 50-cent chicken wings with the purchase of a drink. Good at the Scottsdale and Tempe locations.

Diego Pops
Appetizers are half off during happy hour (3-6 p.m.) at this Scottsdale watering hole. That buys you chips and salsa for $1 and a cheese quesadilla for $3.

Zipps Sports Grill
Belly up to the bar at any of the 12 Valley Zipps for a $1.50 slice of pizza during happy hour, 3-7 p.m. Wash it down with a well drink or glass of house wine for $3.