Low on funds and high on FOMO? We can help with that.
Phoenix is rife with no-cost events worth freeing your schedule for, including trivia nights, open mics, parks, bike rides, and a good deal of art walks. Because saving money is always in season, here are over 40 free things you can do all year round.
Brews and Books
It's a book club with a sudsy twist. The Phoenix location of Changing Hands Bookstore holds a once-a-month meetup called First Draft Book Club that's hosted by the USA Today's Barbara VanDenburgh. Expect to nerd out about a chosen book each month alongside brews, wine, and coffee at the First Draft Book Bar. For details, visit the Changing Hands website, or call 602-274-0067.
Tease Your Mind
Crescent Ballroom keeps the downtown music scene going day to day, but on Sundays, things unwind with trivia and DJ Heimbuck at the helm. Starting at 6 p.m., brainiacs can put their smarts to the test in exchange for such prizes as concert tickets, record store gift cards, and more. Visit the Crescent Ballroom website, or call 602-716-2222 for details.
Strike a Pose
The clothes may not be cheap, but the community yoga classes are. Every Sunday, the Lululemon stores in Phoenix, Scottsdale, and Chandler host complimentary yoga classes. These free classes are held in or outside the store, depending on the weather. Guests should bring their own mats and water. For details, visit the lululemon athletica Phoenix Facebook page.
Yuk It Up
Local comedian Matt Micheletti hosts Hot Mic, a different kind of open mic night at Crescent Ballroom. To get on stage to show your worth, put your name in the bucket to be drawn for the evening’s lineup. Micheletti says there will also be guest comics from throughout the Southwest and California to help tickle your funny bone. Will you die on stage or have them rolling in the aisles?. Visit Crescent Ballroom's website for more information.
Get Blinded By Neon
Take a self-guided tour through the blinding lights. The Valley's dwindling neon sign population proves only the strong survive. In fact, some preservationists estimate that a mere three dozen of the vintage illuminated displays exist in metro Phoenix today. Hippie Gypsy in Tempe, Lenny's Burger Shop in Phoenix, and Liberty Market in Gilbert still keep the glowing tradition of neon alive, and there are even more you'll find in our guide to the best neon signs in metro Phoenix.
Live that Lake Life
Tempe Town Lake is Tempe's recreational center. Bike by Tempe Beach Park, take a stroll down the length of the lake, practice your photography skills at the bridge, or just do some seriously great people-watching. If you're feeling spendy, you can rent a stand-up paddleboard for $20 an hour, a single kayak for $18 an hour, or just save your money and take a dip in the lake. (Just kidding! The water is really gross.) It's also a good spot for Pokémon Go — if you're still into that sort of thing. Visit the city of Tempe website for more information.
Even if you don't want to spend cash, Valley farmers markets are a great way to mix and mingle with local farmers, merchants, and artists. These markets tend to dodge the summer temperatures by either closing during the hot months or opening extra early to get a jump on the heat. (Some even move indoors.) Get the full lowdown on our list of metro Phoenix farmers markets — all free to drop by.
Swing That Way
Even if you're a total newbie to swing dancing, you can get down like a pro at the Duce's weekly South Central Swing Night on Tuesdays from 7 to 11 p.m. Get a free swing dance lesson from 7 to 8 p.m., then put your skills on the floor. Well, after gaining some liquid courage from the drink specials, that is. The class is free, but the rest of the night is $8. Visit the Duce's website, or call 602-866-3823 for more information.
Rock Band Mondays
Mesa's The Grid: Games and Growlers hosts a weekly Rock Band karaoke night on Mondays. There are professional lights and sound to give you the rock star experience. The Grid has plenty of craft beer at the ready as well as food, cocktails, and music. The event is for those 21 and over at 8 p.m. Visit The Grid's Facebook page for more information on the next event.
"Check Out" Local Culture
Phoenix, Chandler, Glendale, Scottsdale, and ASU libraries all offer a Culture Pass, with which library cardholders can get free admission to some of the Valley's most revered cultural institutions. Notable locations include the Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix Art Museum, Heard Museum, Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, and more. Check your local library's website for availability.
Catch the Classics
It's no Barrett-Jackson, but the McDonald’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Classic Car Show is likely the best local car show you can see for free every week. The longest-running weekly car show in the country draws crowds from 4 to 8 p.m. every Saturday, and the public is welcome to drive their classic, muscle, or luxury car onto the lot for a chance to show off. The event sees anywhere between 250 and 500 cars. Visit the McDonald’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Classic Car Show website for more information. And as fate has it, more than 35 food trucks roll onto the lot at Scottsdale Pavilions to stop rumbling bellies at the same time each week. (But not rumbling cars.)
Get to Work
If you're in town for business or just need a quiet place to work, Gangplank locations in Chandler and Queen Creek offer a free co-working space to anyone who drops by. Use the Wi-Fi, make some business connections, and enjoy a free space to work just for a day, or day to day. While Gangplank doesn't charge money for its space, it does ask that regular visitors give back in some way, but how you give back is up to you. Visit the Gangplank website for locations and more information.
Ghosts Among Us
Back in the 1890s, Goldfield, located 4.5 miles east of Apache Junction, was a thriving town with roots in mining the Mammoth Gold Mine. But when the vein faulted, so did the town, leaving the three saloons, a general store, brewery, meat market, schoolhouse, and more abandoned. Today, it's a great place to take out-of-towners looking for an authentic history of the Southwest. It's free to enter and to see the hourly gun shows every Saturday and Sunday, but just about everything else will cost ya. Visit the Goldfield Ghost Town website for more information.
Landmark It Off Your List
If you've ever wondered just what that layer cake castle along the 202 is all about, check out our guide to the 11 most iconic landmarks in metro Phoenix for a bit of a history lesson, then hop in the car or hoof it to see some of the landmarks with your own eyes. You might have lived in Phoenix your whole life and never really looked at these natural, artistic, and architectural mainstays.
Skate It Till You Make It
Work out your board tricks at any of the Valley's skate parks — and you won't have to drive far to do it. Virtually all of metro Phoenix's neighborhoods have a skate park to call their own, including Tempe Sports Complex, Freestone Skate Park in Gilbert, Desert West Skateboard Plaza in Phoenix, and more, all free to use. For a guide to various park hours and offerings, see our guide to skate parks in metro Phoenix.
Doggy Play Day
We're pretty sure Fido will wag his tail at this suggestion. The Valley boasts beautiful and functional off-leash dog parks where your pup can run, tug, and play with fellow canines in a safe space. To find the dog park nearest you, visit the Bring Fido website or your city's website.
You’re smarter than all your friends, right? Prove it at Growler USA. Every Tuesday at 7 p.m., you can put your drinking and your thinking to the test with a themed quiz by TriviaTainment. For more info, visit the Facebook event page.
Read Into It
Burton Barr Central Library is massive. It has books, study rooms, DVDs, CDs, and more. Besides its unmatched resources, the library also hosts a long list of free, recurring events, including art shows, movie clubs, crafting, business classes, and more. For details, visit the Phoenix Public Library website.
Valley newcomers or information-lacking locals can learn all about the history of their town at the Arizona Capitol Museum. Located at the (you guessed it!) state capitol, the museum is always free and open to the public during museum hours and includes four floors, 20 exhibitions, and guided tours with reservations. To plan your visit, see the Arizona Capitol Museum website.
Downtown Tempe was once known for its thriving music scene, and some might tell you those days are gone. But if the #DowntownTempe Music Series is any indication, the entertainment area's scene is thriving. Find live music from some of Tempe's hottest local bands at Culinary Dropout on Fridays and Saturdays, Fat Tuesday on Fridays, and Tempe Center for the Arts on Wednesdays and Fridays. For more information, visit the Downtown Tempe website.
T.G.I.F. in Tempe
Unwind after a stressful work week during EDGE Happy Hour at the Tempe Center for the Arts Lounge, where live music can be heard and mingling can be had for the high price of $0 every Friday and Saturday. Drinks cost extra. Visit the city of Tempe website for more information.
The Torch Theatre is the Valley's one-stop-shop for everything improv comedy, and now you can try your hand at the art for free. The monthly free drop-in improv class features instruction from the pro theater staff on the first Saturday of every month at 2:30 p.m. We'll warn you, though: While your comedy chops may be razor-sharp, not all newbs are as hilarious as you. And that's putting it lightly. Visit the Torch Theatre website for class dates and more information.
Find Your Heritage
Get a history lesson at downtown Phoenix's Heritage Square. Originally constructed in the late 1800s, visiting the square is like traveling back in time. Check out the square's free seasonal events, or if you have some spare cash, we hear there are some pretty good (a.k.a. nationally revered) restaurants in the area. Visit the Heritage Square website for more information.
Get Weird With Improv Everywhere
Throughout the year, Improv AZ hosts some super-bizarre events to confuse and delight passersby. Each January, the No Pants Light Rail Ride makes users of public transportation thoroughly uncomfortable, but the group does other weird stuff throughout the year. Who wants to cartwheel to a restaurant? Improv AZ does. Join them on the Improv AZ Facebook page.
Window Shop Your Heart Out
Not all who love the high-end lure of Biltmore Fashion Park can afford its prices. Dress up and pretend you’re loaded as you browse Saks Fifth Avenue, Jonathan Adler, Vera Bradley, Citrine Natural Beauty Bar, and more. (Don’t worry. There are a few budget-friendly stores if you feel like spending a little.) Visit the Biltmore website for a full directory and more information.
Catch a Lounge Show at the Casino
Love 'em or hate 'em, tribute bands are alive and well at the Valley’s casinos. On just about any given day you can see Beatles, Bon Jovi, AC/DC, or Led Zeppelin knockoffs in the lounges of Talking Stick Resort and Casino, Casino Arizona, Wild Horse Pass, and more. Some are good and some are not-so-good, but hey, it’s a free show. Plus, the lounges have local acts that are more, well, highbrow. Visit the websites of individual casinos for showtimes.
Get Your Culture on the Street
Phoenix's buildings aren't all varying shades of greige. The robust street art scene has been thriving in Phoenix for decades and has recently seen a rise in popularity thanks to an ever-growing downtown arts scene. Need a guide? Here are some of our favorite murals in metro Phoenix.
Take in Some Free Art at the Museums
Free admission is standard at establishments like the Phoenix Airport Museum, ASU Art Museum, the ASU Museum of Anthropology, the Arizona Capitol Museum, and Shemer Art Center (though some accept and encourage donations). But visitors can also get complimentary access to Phoenix Art Museum from 3 to 9 p.m. every Wednesday; 6 to 10 p.m. on First Friday; and on Discount Tire Free Family Weekends, which happen the second weekend of every month. Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art is free all day Thursday and after 5 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and the Heard Museum is free from 6 to 10 p.m. on First Fridays (except for March). And the Phoenix Children's Museum waives its entry fees from 5 to 9 p.m. on First Fridays.
On the third Sunday of each month, Sunshine Craft Co. gets the creative community together for an evening of arts and crafts. Bring your knitting needles, glitter, glue, and other DIY material and get ready to mix and mingle with other crafters as you work your handmade magic. For details, visit their website.
Walk the Art Walk
The Valley offers many opportunities to take in the arts. Downtown Phoenix has two art walks, which run from 6 to 10 p.m. on the first and third Friday of the month. The Downtown Mesa Art Walk is from 6 to 10 p.m. on the second Friday of the month. Downtown Chandler's Art Walk happens from 6 to 9:30 p.m. on the third Friday of the month. The weekly Scottsdale Art Walk runs from 7 to 9 p.m. every Thursday. The Sunnyslope Art Walk pops up from 5 to 10 p.m. on the second Saturday of October and April.
See Queens Sashay
It’s 2019, and those who resolved to see more drag performances are in luck. Lady Christian will launch the weekly Stacy’s Follies, a show filled with fab Arizona queens. The sashaying show starts at 7 p.m. every Sunday at Stacy’s on Melrose. For details, visit their event page.
Take a Hike
With so many free and accessible mountain trails available in metro Phoenix, it seems downright silly to pay for a gym membership. And if you're not sure where to start, we recommend trying one or all of the 10 best hikes in metro Phoenix.
Enjoy Some Bird Watching and Brew Drinking
Birds of a feather drink together. That's why the Rio Salado Audubon Society hosts its weekly series, Birds 'N' Beer. The free event runs from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on the third Thursday of each month except for July. Each Birds 'N' Beer event will feature a different topic. To know what will be discussed next, visit Audubon AZ on Facebook or check out the Rio Salado website.
Get to Know Your Local Hangouts
Support new and local businesses, meet your fellow Phoenix residents over food and drinks, and enter to win raffle prizes with the monthly event, Get Your PHX. Past Get Your PHX gatherings have visited Rollover Donuts, the Newton, and Lisa Sette Gallery. To stay in the loop, see the Get Your PHX website.
Make Some Friday Night Magic
At 7 p.m. every Friday night, Samurai Comics brings creatures and spell-casters to the table for an hour-long game of Magic the Gathering. Whether you're a novice or a nuanced expert in the tradable card game, the Phoenix comic bookstore invites you pull up a chair and show others what you've got. For details, visit the Samurai Comics website or call 602-265-8886.
Take in a Flamenco Performance
Angelina Ramirez, Carlos Montufar, and Olivia Rojas are heating things up with music and dance. Flamenco Por La Vida happens from 6 to 8 p.m. on Saturdays at Crescent Ballroom. For details, visit the Flamenco Por La Vida website.
Take Your Rig on the Phoenix Downtempo Ride
Every Monday night, the Phoenix Downtempo Ride cruises around for approximately an hour at about 8 miles per hour, stopping at one or two (or more) bars along the way. Themed nights have included the Repeal Day Ride to Valley Bar, Village People Ride, and Summer Solstice Park Ride. Meeting places like Encanto Park and Roosevelt Park vary, and departure is 7 p.m. Visit the Phoenix Downtempo Ride Facebook page for info on the next ride.
Soak Up Some Tunes at Kobalt
Kobalt kicks the karaoke up a notch with its weekly karaoke event. Stop by at 9 p.m. to hear local talent belt out their favorite numbers on stages. Who knows? Maybe with enough liquid courage, you might find yourself doing the same. For details, visit the Kobalt Bar website.
Untidy Secrets Storytelling
This monthly storytelling event is hosted at Ash Avenue Comics in Tempe. Local writers and neighborhood types share stories from their personal lives, and themed topics have included “I’m a Loser, Baby,” and “Ode To My Family.” This all-ages event is also BYOB, and happens the final Friday of every month. Visit the Untidy Secrets Storytelling Facebook page for the next event.
Black Mountain Star Party
Now this one just sounds cool. The Phoenix Astronomical Society is there to set attendees right with assistance spotting constellations during the monthly Public Star Party. Attendees can expect a free, fun night of stargazing held at Paradise Valley Community College at Black Mountain. For more information, visit the PVCC website.
Billiards or Bust
There is free pool to be played in this town, if you just know where to find it. Time Out Lounge in Tempe offers free pool all day every Sunday. Visit the website or Facebook page of your favorite pool hall or bar with a few tables to see when they hold free pool.
West Valley Art Museum
There's seemingly more and more to do on the west side, and the West Valley Art Museum – located in the Peoria City Hall Art Gallery – is a free option. The museum features more than 2,000 artworks from more than 60 countries, as well as special events, touring exhibits, workshops, and more. Visit the WVAM website for hours and more information.
Free National Park Entry Days
There are roughly 16 fee-free days for national parks in Arizona and elsewhere, which include Martin Luther King Jr. Day, National Park Week, NPS’ birthday, National Public Lands Day, and Veterans Day. NPS sites like Casa Grande Ruins National Monument and Tonto National Monument are the closest to metro Phoenix, and the rest are but a day trip away. Visit the National Park Service website for more information.
Your First Hash
The Phoenix Hash House Harriers is a “drinking club with a running problem” – or a 21-and-over, 30-something-member group of people who love running trails, drinking beers, and just hanging. First-time runners won’t have to bring their billfold, as your first hash is free (though the full moon hash is an exception), and there are no membership fees. In fact, water, beer, and some food will most likely be provided. Visit the HHH website for upcoming runs and more details.
If you need free transportation to your free activity, flag down a City of Tempe Orbit Bus. The buses travel throughout the Tempe area and can be hailed the same way you would a cab, and they travel to popular destinations like Mill Avenue, Tempe Marketplace, ASU, and more. For more information about lines and locations, visit the City of Tempe website.
The Bat Cave
Phoenix has some great urban bat-watching areas, the most impressive of which is the Maricopa County Flood Control Tunnel (a.k.a. the Bat Canal) in Arcadia near 40th Street and Camelback Road. From May through October, a couple thousand Mexican free-tailed and western pipistrelle bats exit the tunnel at sunset. They start as a trickle and grow to resemble an all-out cloud of bats. Just be sure to whisper, and do not use flash photography. Visit the Arizona Game and Fish Department website for more information.
Editor's note: This post has been edited from its original version, which first appeared in January 2016.
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