Phoenix is known for its top-notch resorts, gorgeous golf courses, and proximity to the Grand Canyon. But Arizona’s capital city is also home to plenty of unusual, lesser-known attractions that are as affordable as they are interesting.
From a late governor’s gravesite to mysterious ruins, we’ve rounded up the best off-the-beaten-path sights and activities in Phoenix that are free or nearly free to explore.
Disclaimer: As you may know, Phoenix has seen deadly heat waves throughout the summer of 2023. Some of the activities below include hiking, so we want to remind you to be aware of the forecast before you leave, stay hydrated, and take other precautions to mitigate the effects of the heat.
625 N. Galvin Pkwy.
Hours: 5 a.m.-11 p.m. daily
There’s plenty to do at Papago Park, but a visit to Hunt’s Tomb should be at the top of your list. The tomb—a white, 20-foot-tall pyramid—is where Arizona’s first governor, George W.P. Hunt, is buried along with his wife, their daughter, and his wife’s parents. If you’re not familiar with Hunt and his accomplishments, be sure to read the plaque that highlights some of his top career achievements, such as being elected governor seven times—a national record.
Since the tomb is located on top of a hill, you can enjoy stunning views of the surrounding area once you arrive there.
10919 S. Central Ave.
Hours: 5 a.m.-11 p.m. daily
From nudist resort to mining camp to speakeasy, there are many theories about the origins of Lost Ranch. According to the City of Phoenix, it was once a 2,000-square-foot structure, but today, the ruins pictured below are all that remain. Located at South Mountain Park in the South Mountain Preserve, Lost Ranch Ruins is a fairly easy hike from the Bursera Trailhead.
10023 N. 13th Place
Hours: 2-6 p.m., first Friday of each month
Sunnyslope Rock Garden is a sight to behold. This hidden gem was created by a man named Grover Cleveland Thompson over the course of 22 years. As you explore this collection of eccentric folk art, you’ll find everything from human figurines to miniature buildings to windmills made from salvaged materials including seashells, glass shards, and pottery. Thompson passed away in 1978, but the property’s new owner has left it largely untouched.
9200 N. 40th St.
Hours: 5 a.m.-11 p.m. daily
Phoenix is full of hiking trails, but many can be overcrowded. The 40th St. Trailhead, located within the Phoenix Mountain Preserve, is a less congested but equally stunning alternative to some of these busy trails. Get off the beaten path and take in some incredible views of the North Valley and downtown business corridor.
113 N. Sixth St.
Hours: 10 a.m.-3 p.m., Friday-Saturday; noon-3 p.m., Sunday
Exploring Heritage Square is like traveling back in time. If you want to see what the original town of Phoenix looked like, this last remaining residential block from that old town offers you the opportunity to do just that.
The Rosson House Museum, pictured above, is a great starting point. With historically accurate furniture and household items—including an original Queen Anne-style wooden staircase and parquet floors—the museum offers an authentic look at life in Phoenix back in the day. Once you’re done exploring the museum, check out some of the other historic homes and the Memorial Rose Garden, then refuel at one of the nearby restaurants.
Cost: Tours of Rosson House Museum are offered on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays for $15. However, it is free to meander around Heritage Square on your own any day of the week.
1125 N. 3rd Ave.
Hours: 8 a.m.-noon, Tuesday-Thursday; 8 a.m.-noon & 5-7:30 p.m., Friday-Sunday
The Desert Botanical Garden is Phoenix’s most well-known garden, but it’s not the only one worth visiting. The Japanese Friendship Garden—a sister city project between the city of Phoenix and Himeji, Japan—is a secret oasis in the heart of downtown Phoenix. Throughout the 3.5-acre garden, you’ll find a koi pond, a teahouse, a waterfall garden, and much more. A stroll through Phoenix’s Japanese Friendship Garden is sure to leave you feeling tranquil and relaxed.
Cost: $10 for adults, $8 for seniors, $7 for children ages 7-17, free for those 6 years or younger
3698-3694 East Colter St.
When you think of wildlife in Phoenix, black bears, coyotes, and rattlesnakes probably come to mind. But did you know thousands of Mexican free-tailed bats also call Phoenix home? Every night, these bats fly out of the Maricopa County Flood Control Tunnel around sunset, creating a spectacle that’s simply a must-see. And it’s free. The bats can be seen as early as March and as late as October, but the best time to catch a glimpse of them is between June and August.
Pro tip: Claim a spot on the south part of the fence along the canal and remain quiet. If it’s too noisy, the bats might stay in the cave to protect themselves from perceived danger. Parking in the area is limited, so expect to walk five or 10 minutes.
1700 W. Washington St.
Tour Arizona’s Capitol grounds and explore the city’s iconic landmarks on this scavenger hunt hosted by Let’s Roam. The app-led adventure allows participants to discover art and culture and learn more about Phoenix’s history as you walk from landmark to landmark. At each location, you can scan statues, plaques, and pieces of art to solve trivia questions and learn fun facts about Arizona’s capital city. This scavenger hunt is a fun-filled, interactive way to check all the can’t-miss Capitol-area sights off your bucket list.
Cost: Tickets start at $28.87 per person.
GPSmyCity also offers self-guided walking tours that allow you to see the best of Phoenix on foot and at your own pace. The company offers three free expert-designed tours, but you can also create your own by selecting the sights and attractions that interest you most.
Some stops you can add to your custom map include The Barrister Building, also known as the Psycho Building because of its appearance in the film Psycho; the historical church St. Mary’s Basilica; and The Wrigley Mansion, a landmark building constructed by chewing-gum tycoon William Wrigley Jr.
1420-1400 E. Oak St.
If you love art but traditional galleries aren’t your thing, consider checking out the Oak Street Alley Murals. Located on the outskirts of Phoenix, this alley is home to colorful murals created by local artists. From social justice-inspired murals like one honoring George Floyd to pop culture-influenced pieces depicting characters such as Lisa Simpson, the artworks dotting this small stretch of Oak Street are as diverse as they are creative. A walk down Oak Street Alley will offer plenty of inspiration as well as Instagram-worthy photo ops.
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