Phoenix has its buttoned-up business side (it is home to the state capitol, after all). But that doesn’t mean you need an expense account to enjoy everything the greater Phoenix metro has to offer. Scattered across the Valley of the Sun are dozens of museums, trails, markets, and historic sites that don’t cost a thing to enjoy. If you’re looking to explore Phoenix without breaking the bank, these are the fifteen best free attractions.
1. Westward Ho
A beloved Phoenix landmark, this beautiful 15-story hotel has weathered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune since its construction in 1928. Once frequented by celebrities and politicians (JFK gave a public address here in 1961), it fell into disuse in the late 1970s and was reborn as low-cost housing for the elderly.
2. Heritage Square
This cluster of late-Victorian and early-20th-century homes stands in stark contrast to the soaring modernity of downtown Phoenix. With the buildings now sensitively repurposed (the Bungalow contains a crafting space and shop, while others serve as a gallery, restaurants and visitor center), it’s possible to see inside many, including the fully restored, stately Rosson House.
3. The Phoenix Art Museum
Arizona’s premier repository of fine art includes works by Claude Monet, Diego Rivera and Georgia O’Keeffe. Make a beeline for the Western Gallery, to see how the astonishing Arizona landscape has inspired everyone from the early pioneers to modernists. Got kids? Pick up a Kidpack at Visitor Services, examine the ingeniously crafted miniature period Thorne Rooms or visit the PhxArtKids Gallery.
Entry is by donation every Wednesday from 3pm to 9pm, the first Friday of each month from 6pm to 10pm and the second Sunday from noon to 5pm. Free guided tours are also offered three times daily, plus twice more on Wednesday evenings.
4. Camelback Mountain
This 2704ft twin-humped mountain sits smack in the center of the Phoenix action. The two trails, the Cholla Trail (6131 E Cholla Lane) and the Echo Canyon Trail (4925 E McDonald Dr), are short but steep, with 1264ft of elevation gain over a mere 1.2 miles and lots of hands-on scrambling over boulders. A great workout followed by stellar views.
5. Heard Museum
This extraordinary museum spotlights the history, life, arts and culture of American Indian tribes in the Southwest. Visitors will find art galleries, ethnographic displays, films, a get-creative kids’ exhibit and an unrivaled collection of Hopi kachinas (elaborate spirit dolls, many gifted by Presidential nominee Barry Goldwater). The Heard emphasizes quality over quantity and is one of the best museums of its kind in America.
The moving Boarding School Experience gallery examines the controversial federal policy of removing American Indian children from their families and sending them to remote boarding schools in order to ‘Americanize’ them. Keep a lookout for occasional events that enliven the grounds, such as Indian fairs and competitions of spectacular hoop dancing. Free guided tours run throughout the day and are recommended. Overall, you can easily beguile two to three hours exploring. Also check out the well-stocked bookstore and superb gift shop.
Parking is free. The Valley Metro light-rail stops beside the downtown museum at Encanto/Central Ave. The museum offers free admission is 6–10PM every first Friday of the month (except March), and the fourth Sunday of the month 11AM – 5PM, June through September.
6. Desert Botanical Garden
Blue bells and Mexican gold poppies are just two of the colorful showstoppers blooming from March to May along the Desert Wildflower Loop Trail at this well-nurtured botanical garden, a lovely place to reconnect with nature while learning about desert plant life. Looping trails lead past a profusion of desert denizens, arranged by theme (including a Sonoran Desert nature loop and an edible desert garden). It’s pretty dazzling year-round, but the flowering spring season is the busiest and most colorful.
Admission is free the second Tuesday of every month.
7. First Fridays
Up to 20,000 people hit the streets of downtown Phoenix on the first and third Fridays of every month for this self-guided art walk, incorporating more than 70 galleries and performance spaces. Three trolleys ferry the cognoscenti from venue to venue.
8. Piestewa Peak
Dotted with saguaros, ocotillos and teddy bear cholla, this lovely summit was previously known as Squaw Peak. It was renamed for local American Indian soldier Lori Piestewa who was killed in Iraq in 2003. Be forewarned: the 1.1-mile trek to the 2608ft peak is very tough but hugely popular – the park can get jammed on winter weekends.
Parking lots northeast of Lincoln Dr between 22nd and 24th Sts fill early. The peak is bordered by two recreation areas, Phoenix Mountains (2701 E Squaw Peak), where the Summit Trail begins (dogs not allowed), and Dreamy Draw (2421 E Northern Ave).
9. Scottsdale Historic Museum
One of the buildings with genuine history in Old Town Scottsdale is the Little Red School House, now home to the Scottsdale Historical Museum, where low-key exhibits highlight Scottsdale’s origins and early history, showing the radical change in the cityscape since the mid-20th century. Kids may enjoy ringing the old school bell.
10. South Mountain Park
At more than 25 sq miles (larger than Manhattan), this park is great for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding. The 51-mile network (leashed dogs allowed) dips through canyons, over cacti-studded hills and past granite walls, offering city views and access to Indian petroglyphs. The main entrance is at 10211 S Central Ave; the Pima Canyon entrance is at 4771 E Pima Canyon Rd.
11. Old Town Scottsdale
Tucked among Scottsdale’s malls and bistros is its Old Town, a Wild West–themed enclave filled with cutesy buildings, covered sidewalks and stores hawking mass-produced ‘Indian’ artifacts. There’s also a museum, public sculptures, saloons, a few galleries stocking genuine American Indian art, and horse-drawn buggies and singing cowboys in the cooler months.
12. Phoenix Art Walk
Phoenix has worked its way up the ladder of art cities that matter. In particular, Scottsdale has galleries laden with everything from epic Western oil paintings to cutting-edge sculpture and moody Southwestern landscapes. Around 100 of these galleries stay open every Thursday from 7pm to 9pm for Art Walk, which centers on Marshall Way and Main St.
Free trolleys and horse-drawn carriages help out the footsore.
13. Children’s Museum of Phoenix
Designed to encourage active involvement rather than passive contemplation (text-heavy signs are ditched in favor of interactive exhibits and invitations to paint, climb, play and even ride tricycles), this three-story juvenile Jurassic park is an ideal way to beguile the kids, from babies to under-10s, for a few hours. Free entry 5pm to 9pm the first Friday of each month.
14. Phoenix Farmers Market
The largest farmers market in Arizona brings the state’s best produce to one open-air jamboree of good tastes. Alongside fresh fruit and vegetables, you can find indigenous foods, wonderful bread, spices, pastes and salsas, organic meat, BBQ trucks and plenty more to eat on the spot. Jewelry, textiles and body products also make appearances. Even if you don’t buy a thing, it’s a site to behold – though of course it’s nice to support the vendors.
15. Kierland Commons
This outdoor mall in northern Scottsdale offers a mix of fashion, dining and events.
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Source : Lonelyplanet