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Scottsdale, Arizona, is of the hottest towns in America—literally and figuratively. It has many luxury resorts, along with free attractions to help you have an affordable family vacation all year round.
Scottsdale, part of greater Phoenix, is an upscale tourist destination. With its shopping, architecture, and pristine homes, it is a premier example of Western-American style. Its climate includes mild winters and very, very warm summers. From the McDowell Sonoran Preserve to museums, you can find free things to do in Scottsdale. Just remember, it is so hot in summer that outdoor activities are best curtailed from late morning to early evening. Grab your sunscreen, a hat and a reusable water bottle to hit these free fun activities. In winter, be sure to have a light jacket.
The free things to do in Scottsdale appeal to toddlers to adults. Scottsdale has museums geared towards kids, teens and art lovers of all ages. The artistic community of Scottsdale remains extremely diverse, particularly in contemporary art. And outdoor activities are for all ages.
1. Downtown Scottsdale
Scottsdale’s roots began to take shape at the intersection of Scottsdale and Camelback roads more than a century ago. Today, in the shadows of former citrus tree farms and cotton fields, I found an epicenter of activity, rich with history and the spirit of the Old West. Downtown Scottsdale is also home to a collection of public art with 70 permanent and 30 temporary artworks encompassing a wide range of expressions from bronze to contemporary.
2. Scottsdale Trolley
The free trolley travels around downtown Scottsdale. From specialty shops to restaurants and art galleries, the trolley is a convenient way to get around the city. It runs every 10 minutes, Monday-Sunday, except for holidays. You can go to Old Town, the waterfront, and even Scottsdale Stadium during spring training.
3. Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art
Located in Scottsdale’s Old Town district, this museum features modern and contemporary art, architecture and design from around the globe. It includes a public “skyspace” (one of only a handful in the world) by the acclaimed artist James Turrell. Visitors can experience the ever-changing light of the desert sky. Children under 15 are admitted free every day. The museum is free for all on Thursdays and on the second Saturday of every month
4. Ellie & Michael Ziegler Fiesta Bowl Museum
College football fans should head to this free museum. Open weekdays only, the museum is a treasure trove of football memorabilia.
5. McDowell Sonoran Preserve
The McDowell Sonoran Preserve has over 30,000 acres. You can hike, bike on over 200 miles of trials, and climb rocks. There is no charge for parking or exploring the magnificent Sonoran Desert. Enjoy the desert’s flora and fauna from the colorful wildflowers and Saguaro cacti to quail and desert critters. Dogs are welcome, but when it is over 90 degrees, leave your dog at home or in the hotel in air conditioning. Dogs have to be on leash at all times, while leashes can’t be over six feet long.
6. Scottsdale Quarter
Cool off at Scottsdale Quarter, an open-air shopping and restaurant destination. The park-like center has a giant splash pad. There are also free concerts on Saturday evenings in the fall.
7. McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park
Visit the Model Railroad Exhibit, a variety of shops, and play in one of the playgrounds. A railroad-themed playground has trains, ladders and slides. There is also a miniature Western Town play structure, built along the tracks of the Paradise & Pacific Railroad. You do have to pay to ride on the Paradise and Pacific Railroad and antique carousel, but if you are taking a child under age 3, you only have to pay for the adult ticket.
8. Kierland Commons
This outdoor shopping and restaurant lifestyle center hosts free concerts and events throughout the year. There are concerts on Saturday evenings in the fall. Kierland Commons is across the street from The Westin Kierland Resort & Spa.
Seasonal free things to do in Scottsdale
9. Native American Dance and Music
Experience free Native American dance performances, Fridays at 5 pm. at the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort & Spa. Different Native American tribes present music, dance and storytelling. September through June.
10. Canal Convergence
This annual public art festival is held every November. The free ten day Scottsdale Public Art show is a confluence of water + art + light. Expect large-scale, interactive artworks, hands-on activities and workshops, artist talks, and live music and dance performances.
Read More: There are a slew of free things to do in Phoenix too.