Scottsdale and Phoenix, Arizona, are two of the hottest towns in America—literally and figuratively. Both have several free attractions to help you have an affordable family vacation. These free fun things to do are year round; in Scottsdale and Phoenix, 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 these free fun activities.

 From museums to beautiful desert hikes, find out the best fun free things to do in the Phoenix and Scottsdale, Arizona area for your next vacation.

Free in Arizona: Scottsdale

Scottsdale 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 warm summers. The lowest temperature ever recorded in Scottsdale was 19 degrees and the highest recorded temperature was a whopping 119. Though affluent, the artistic community of Scottsdale remains extremely diverse, particularly in contemporary art.

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, it is 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 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, the 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, where 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 after 5 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

4. McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park – Open 365 days a year. Visit a variety of shops and a museum, play in one of the playgrounds, or relax in the grass. 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.

free fun things are easy to find in Arizona

Hiking the McDowell Sonoran preserve will get you up close to the famed Saguaro cacti – but don’t touch! Credit: Judy Antell / Vegetarian TravelingMom

5. McDowell Sonoran Preserve – In 2009, the city of Scottsdale celebrated the opening of the gateway to the McDowell Sonoran preserve. Visitors can experience the magnificent Sonoran Desert by entering the largest and most significant entry point to the Preserve, encompassing 36,400 acres of desert. Enjoy the desert’s flora and fauna from the colorful wildflowers and Saguaro cacti to quail and desert critters. Free shade ramadas, a dog comfort station, and an equestrian staging area.

Free in Arizona: Phoenix

Scottsdale is adjacent to Phoenix, Arizona, the fifth most populous city in the United States. Its location on the northeast edge of the Sonoran Desert gives Phoenix the hottest climate in the nation – 120 degrees at times. Phoenix is also known for its political culture, having produced such notable leaders as John McCain and Sandra Day O’Connor. As evidenced by its free offerings, Phoenix shares a love of the arts with neighboring Scottsdale.

6. Phoenix Art Museum – This museum offers 203,000 square feet of visual arts exhibits, featuring artists such as Rembrandt, Norman Rockwell, and Monet. It is free on Wednesday evenings, from 3 – 9 p.m., First Fridays, from 6 – 10 p.m. and Second Sundays, from noon to 5 p.m. The Sunday free days are particularly family friendly, featuring  art making activities with local artists, scavenger hunts, live performances, story time and free tours.

7. First Friday Art Walk – Join locals on the First Friday of every month from 6-10 p.m. for the nation’s largest self-guided art walk. You can also ride the free trolley, great for kids. On First Fridays, the Heard Museum of Native Cultures and Art is also open free; explore paintings, drawings, and sculptures by Native American artists. Kids usually like the textiles, dolls, and jewelry exhibits.

Free in Arizona - go on a hike!

For a priceless view, hike Camelback Mountain. Credit: Judy Antell / Vegetarian TravelingMom

8. Hike Camelback – Camelback Mountain, with an elevation of 2,704 feet, is a rigorous, but short hike. And it is easy to get to, with two trails, Camelback Mountain, Echo Canyon and Cholla, each with a free parking area. Be sure to bring plenty of water, sunscreen and hats. You can also take a free trolley ride to either trailhead.

9. Arizona Capitol Museum – always free, the Arizona Capitol Museum has artifacts from the USS Arizona, sunk during the invasion of Pearl Harbor as well as interactive exhibits about voting and Arizona’s role in WW II. There are free guided tours daily.