Arizona is one of the American Southwest's most scenic states, known for its stunning red rock butte formations and expansive desert landscape. Visitors can explore the state's scenic terrain as part of several designated All-American Road drives, including the lovely Red Rock Byway and preserved portions of iconic American Route 66. In lively metropolis Phoenix, many museums offer free admission daily or as part of special events such as the monthly First Friday Art Walks gallery crawl series. Sedona is home to gorgeous attractions like the Church of the Holy Cross, said to be the site of a New Age energy vortex, while Tempe offers delightful free-admission museums and attractions connected to the Arizona State University campus.
1.The Arizona Capitol Museum
The Arizona Capitol Museum preserves the former home of Arizona's Territorial government, which operated until Arizona became part of the United States in 1912. Today, it is operated as a museum facility showcasing exhibits on the evolution of the region from territory to state, primarily housed within the building's 1901 portion, which formerly served as the home of all three branches of the territory's government. More than 20 exhibits showcase historical and contemporary artifacts from state-owned collections, including artifacts related to the sinking of the USS Arizona, a pivotal event in the state's declaration of statehood. Visitors can also explore the building's historic House Chamber or learn about changes to the Arizona Constitution throughout its 100 years of statehood.
1700 W Washington, Phoenix, AZ 85007
2.The Arizona Latino Arts and Cultural Center
The Arizona Latino Arts and Cultural Center is a lovely community arts and culture center that celebrates Arizona's Latin American populations, encouraging advocacy, education, and collaboration through its community programming. Visitors can explore the center's gorgeous Galeria 147 for free throughout the year and view art exhibits of pieces crafted by local and regional Latin American artists. Live performances are showcased at the center throughout the year, including free-admission and nominal fee concerts, theatrical performances, and readings. Each year, the center hosts a variety of free-admission public special events, including the annual Dia de los Muertos Festival, which offers family-friendly activities in celebration of the Mexican Day of the Dead. The center's lovely gift shop carries a plethora of works by Arizona artisans and Latin American artists south of the border.
147 E Adams St, Phoenix, AZ 85004, Phone: 602-254-9817
3.Arizona State University Art Museum
Arizona State University Art Museum is the primary art museum of Tempe's Arizona State University campus, housing a permanent collection of more than 12,000 objects across historic, contemporary, and modern art forms. The museum's collections were originally established in 1950 and are located across two buildings on the college's campus, including the Nelson Fine Arts Center and the Ceramics Research Center. Extensive Latin American art holdings include important collections of Mexican ceramics and folk art, contemporary Cuban art, and Mexican art from the 20th century, including pieces by international luminaries like Diego Rivera. More than 5,000 prints are also held within the Jules Heller Print Study Room, including pieces by Francisco Goya, William Hogarth, and José Guadalupe Posada.
51 E 10th St, Tempe, AZ 85281, Phone: 480-965-2787
4.Buddy Stubbs Historical Motorcycle Museum
Buddy Stubbs Historical Motorcycle Museum showcases more than 3,000 square feet of motorcycle-related exhibits, located at Phoenix's Buddy Stubbs Harley-Davidson dealership. The free-admission museum is open to the public throughout the afternoon seven days a week, showcasing the history of the iconic American motorcycle brand, which has been in operation for more than a century and defined American motorcycle riding in the 20th century. It was opened in 1966 by Harley racing legend and famed Hollywood stuntman Buddy Stubbs, housing his permanent collection of vintage motorcycles. Today, visitors can view more than 130 rare motorcycles manufactured by 37 different companies, including rare Harley-Davidson models and vehicles made by companies such as BMW and Indian.
13850 N Cave Creek Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85022, Phone: 602-497-1996
Camelback Mountain is a lovely mountain peak near Phoenix, known as one of the city's top destinations for outdoor recreation, including chances for hiking and rock climbing. The mountain anchors the city's Camelback Mountain Echo Canyon Recreation Area, which is sandwiched between Phoenix's Arcadia neighborhood and the nearby town of Paradise Valley. It is named for its resemblance to the head and hump of a kneeling camel and has become a popular landmark of the Phoenix metropolitan area, opened to the public as a city park in 1968. Two hiking trails lead to the mountain's summit, including the 1.14-mile Echo Canyon Trail and the 1.4-mile Cholla Trail. Roundtrip hikes typically take between 1.5 and three hours, showcasing steep grades and strenuous stretches for advanced hikers.
6.The Chapel of the Holy Cross
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The Chapel of the Holy Cross is a famed Roman Catholic chapel constructed into the buttes overlooking the city of Sedona, operated as part of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix within Sedona's St. John Vianney Parish. The chapel was constructed as a gift to the Diocese by architect Marguerite Bruswig Staude, known for her apprenticeship under famed American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. It was awarded the prestigious Award of Honor by the American Institute of Architects in 1957 and was declared as one of Arizona's Seven Man-Made Wonders in 2007. Its unique architectural design seems to be wedged into the surrounding rocks, while its intimate, sparse interior pays tribute to the stunning natural views offered outside its windows. Many New Age devotees believe that the church sits atop a natural vortex, which creates a unique flow of energy from the Earth's interior and has healing and mystical properties.
780 Chapel Rd, Sedona, AZ 86336, Phone: 928-282-4069
7.Coronado Trail National Scenic Byway
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Coronado Trail National Scenic Byway is a lovely stretch of National Scenic Byway that winds for over a hundred miles between Arizona's twin cities of Springerville and Eager at its northern end and Morenci and Clifton at its southern terminus. The narrow, winding road meanders along United States Route 191 and is said to showcase more than 450 curves, offering one of the state's most exciting and picturesque highway drives. It is one of Arizona's highest highway drives, reaching a maximum height of 9,383 feet above sea level near Hannagan Meadow in Greenlee County. It is named in honor of Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, who originally explored the region in the mid-16th century. Though the entire road is paved, its exposed and unsecured driving stretches and rapid twists and turns make it not for the faint of heart, but offer amazing rewards in terms of area natural scenery at areas such as the majestic Apache National Forest.
8.First Friday Art Walks
First Friday Art Walks are downtown Phoenix's premiere monthly cultural event, offering opportunities to peruse the city's lovely art galleries and boutiques for free and view monthly art exhibit openings. The event has become one of the nation's largest self-guided art walks throughout its tenure, overseen by the nonprofit arts organization Artlink, Inc. More than 80 galleries, studios, and art spaces participate in the art walk throughout the year, attracting a diverse population of Phoenix residents and visitors, ranging from college students to retired residents to out-of-state art lovers. Visitors can explore participating sites in districts such as Roosevelt Row and Grand Avenue with self-guided tour maps, available each month at participating sites or on the event's website. Some of the city's museums offer free admission events as part of Art Walks, including the lovely Phoenix Art Museum. Complimentary trolley tours offer access between different galleries, while park-and-ride hubs provide easy transportation to area Valley Metro Rail stations.
9.Historic Orpheum Theatre Tours
Historic Orpheum Theatre Tours explore the gorgeous 1929 Orpheum Theatre, one of Phoenix's premiere cultural destinations for nearly a century. The classic 1,364-seat theater was purchased by the Paramount Pictures motion picture chain in the 1940s and transformed into a beautiful motion picture cinema, showcasing first-run films until its transformation into a Broadway theater in the 1960s by the Nederlander organization. Hispanic-themed events and movies were hosted at the theater in the 1970s and 1980s, until the theater fell into decay in the mid-1980s. In 1984, the City of Phoenix restored the theater to its historic glory, reopening it in 1997 with a performance of Broadway favorite Hello, Dolly. Today, it serves as the home of the Phoenix Opera and Ballet Arizona and showcases a full season of live music and theatrical performances. Visitors can tour the theater for free on Tuesday afternoons, learn about its history of operations, and view its gorgeous historic architectural elements up close and personal.
203 W Adams St, Phoenix, AZ 85003, Phone: 602-262-6225
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10.Historic Route 66 All-American Road
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Historic Route 66 All-American Road preserves some of the most beautiful surviving stretches of the "Mother Road," constructed throughout the 20th century and stretching from one United States coastline to the other prior to the implementation of the Interstate Highway system in the mid-2oth century. Arizona visitors can drive stretches of the road, which are preserved today along Interstate 40, and meander along a variety of preserved roadside attractions hearkening back to the glory days of American roadside travel in the 20th century. Some of the region's most noted attractions include the kitschy "Sleep In A Teepee" Wigwam Village Motel, located within the city of Holbrook, and the remains of the classic Two Guns and Twin Arrows roadside attractions. Visitors can also access the lovely Painted Desert and Petrified Forest National Park from the route or travel to destinations such as modern resort town Lake Havasu City for outdoor recreational experiences.
11.Flagstaff's Lava Tubes
Flagstaff's Lava Tubes preserve unique natural wonders associated with volcanic lava flow in the Arizona region, formed via a volcanic vent located near Hart Prairie. The unique 700,000-year-old formations created tubelike tunnel formations from the flow of lava, cooling into a mile-long tunnel that hardened completely and can be explored throughout the year on foot today. The cave stretches for approximately three-quarters of a mile and stays a cool 35-45 degrees Fahrenheit year-round due to its unique natural protection and composition. Instead of traditional stalagmites and stalactites that are showcased in limestone caves, the lava tubes are home to lavascicle and splashdown formations created from liquid rock frozen in motion as lava cooled. Visitors should bring several sources of light when exploring the lava tube, as the tube creates pitch black conditions that can be easy to get lost in if one light source fails.
171B Forest Rd, Flagstaff, AZ 86001
12.Navajo Nation Zoological and Botanical Park
Navajo Nation Zoological and Botanical Park is the United States' only tribally-owned zoological park, operated by the Navajo Nation since the early 1960s. The park, which is located within lovely Window Rock within the Navajo Nation, showcases a population of more than 100 animals belonging to 50 species, most of which are native to the lands of the Navajo Nation. Nearly all animal residents were found injured or orphaned within Navajo Nation lands and are cared for onsite, as their injuries prevent them from returning to the wild. More than 50,000 annual visitors explore the park each year for free Mondays through Saturdays and view animals such as Mexican wolves, bobcats, Gila monsters, red foxes, coyotes, and cougars. All exhibits are labeled in the indigenous Navajo language, honoring the Navajo Nation's cultural traditions.
34 AZ-264, Window Rock, AZ 86515, Phone: 928-871-6573
13.Old Trails Museum
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Old Trails Museum is the official historical museum of the Winslow Historical Society, originally opened in 1969 under the supervision of the Navajo County Historical Society. It is housed within the city's former 1921 Union Bank and Trust Building, which operated as a bank facility throughout much of the 20th century before being donated to the Historical Society in 1985. Since 1989, the building has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Winslow Commercial Historic District. Original design elements such as a mosaic tile floor and original bank vault are preserved within the building, serving as living history exhibits. Exhibits on display in the museum include The Story of Winslow, which examines the region's prehistory, pioneer era, and modern culture. Other exhibits investigate the area's recent downtown revitalization, trading post history, and African American culture.
212 N Kinsley Ave, Winslow, AZ 86047, Phone: 928-289-5861
14.Phoenix Art Museum
Phoenix Art Museum is the largest visual art museum in the Southwest United States, known for its impressive collection of international art exhibits, including pieces from the Americas, Asian, Europe, and Latin America and exhibits of historic, contemporary, and modern art. The museum, which opened to the public in 1959, also serves as a major community center for the Phoenix area, showcasing a year-round lineup of live theatrical and music performances, family-friendly festivals, and independent film showings. Though the museum typically charges visitor admission, visitors can explore its exhibits for free as part of First Friday Art Walks once a month between 6:00pm and 10:00pm. Special exhibits are open to the public for free alongside standard collections. Poetry readings and lectures are also showcased, featuring local artists and writers. Free parking is available at the Central Arts Plaza, with free trolley transportation offered as part of Artlink First Friday Trolley service.
1625 N Central Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85004, Phone: 602-257-1880
15.The Phoenix Police Museum
© The Phoenix Police Museum
The Phoenix Police Museum is a unique museum detailing the history of the Phoenix Police Department from its 19th-century inception through the present day. The museum, which is located on the first floor of the city's historic City Hall building, was originally opened to the public as a temporary exhibition in 1993 and reopened in its current incarnation two years later. Exhibits on display include an historic jail rock that once held shackled prisoners, an exhibit of Arizona Rangers tools, a mock marshals office replica, and a restored 1919 Model T Police Cruiser. The museum also showcases a special exhibit on the connection between the Phoenix Police and the United States' Miranda Rights amendment, established by the Supreme Court in 1963 following a seminal area police case.
Historic City Hall, 17 S 2nd Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85003, Phone: 602-534-7278
16.Red Rock Scenic Byway
Red Rock Scenic Byway is a nationally-designated scenic byway overseen by the National Scenic Byways Program, which chooses significant stretches of American roads for designation as prestigious All-American Road driving experiences. The route meanders along lovely State Route 179 throughout Arizona, stretching north to south from Sedona at Interstate 17 to Coconino and Yavapai Counties before its terminus approximately 15 miles north of Camp Verde. Stunning red rock and sandstone formations are showcased throughout the 7.5-mile drive, which meanders through the lovely vistas and hills of the Coconino National Forest. Visitors can drive along the banks of beautiful Oak Creek and explore some of the Sedona area's most acclaimed attractions, including golf courses and supposed New Age vortexes. Lovely scenic pullouts are offered along the way, along with opportunities for hiking and biking.
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17.Second Friday Night Out
Second Friday Night Out has been named as the Phoenix area's best block party, bringing visitors to downtown Mesa each month for a spectacular Friday evening of art and culture. The free event takes place on the second Friday of each month, offering informational booths and maps for exploring participating area attractions at a visitor booth on the city's Main and Macdonald Streets. More than 70 art booths are showcased throughout the event, along with opportunities to view art exhibit openings at a plethora of local galleries. Many restaurants stay open late as part of the event, offering event-exclusive specials and festivities. Visitors can also enjoy family-friendly craft activities, film showings, and themed dog-friendly events each month. Food trucks line the city's streets, selling delicious local artisan foods.
18.The Arabian Public Library
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The Arabian Public Library is the architectural gem of the Scottsdale Public Library system, which is home to five branches and circulates a collection of more than 2.5 million items each year to area citizens. The city's five libraries are named after horse breeds, a nod to the city's Old West culture and heritage. Its Arabian Library, opened in 1996 on the campus of Desert Canyon Elementary and Middle Schools, received the prestigious International Interior Design Association Metropolis Smart Environments Award in 2008. The library's lovely design is meant to evoke Northern Arizona's desert slot canyons and the vistas of the Monument Valley, anchored around a spacious central court and showcasing red terracotta walls opening to the sky above. Its unique library program is based on a contemporary bookstore concept, showcasing a 120,000-volume library collection, full bookstore elements, and a full-service coffee bar.
10215 E McDowell Mountain Ranch Rd, Scottsdale, AZ 85255, Phone: 480-312-7323
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19.The Gallery at City Hall
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The Gallery @ City Hall showcases rotating exhibitions of artwork from the City of Phoenix's historic municipal art collection, which contains approximately 1,000 pieces of art crafted by area Arizona and regional Southwest artists. The gallery, which was opened in 2012 as part of the Arizona Centennial celebration, is open to the public for free on weekdays during the morning and afternoon hours. Its permanent art collection dates back to the 1920s, showcasing a collection of oil and watercolor paintings, folk art pieces, photographs, etchings, lithographs, and sculpture works. Previous rotating exhibits showcased at the gallery include Feel the Heat: Desert Prints, Landscape and Lens: The West Photographed, and Phoenix Icons: The Art of Our Historic Landmarks. Free street parking is available surrounding the gallery, which can also be accessed via Phoenix public transit.
200 W. Washington Street, Phoenix, AZ 85003, Phone: 602-262-6011
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20.Wells Fargo Museum
© Wells Fargo Museum
Wells Fargo Museum preserves the communication, transportation, and cultural history of the Phoenix area, housed within the city's main Wells Fargo bank branch on West Adams Street. The museum is one of several free museums of its kind offered at Wells Fargo bank branches throughout the United States, specially tailored to the cultural legacy of the region it serves. Visitors can explore the free-admission Phoenix museum throughout the week during business hours on weekdays, with the exception of major bank holidays. Exhibits include an impressive collection of Western-themed oil paintings depicting the pioneer and cowboy culture of the American Old West, including the largest collection of works by illustrator N.C. Wyeth. A Wyatt Earp-themed exhibit explores the region's connection to one of the Wild West's greatest sagas, while a replica mine shaft is home to an impressive collection of minerals gathered from the beautiful Bradshaw Mountains.
145 W. Adams St, Phoenix, AZ 85003, Phone: 602-378-1852
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20 Best Free Things to Do in Arizona
- The Arizona Capitol Museum, Photo: Clinton/stock.adobe.com
- The Arizona Latino Arts and Cultural Center, Photo: Llstock/stock.adobe.com
- Arizona State University Art Museum, Photo: humannet/stock.adobe.com
- Buddy Stubbs Historical Motorcycle Museum, Photo: reddees/stock.adobe.com
- Camelback Mountain, Photo: karagrubis/stock.adobe.com
- The Chapel of the Holy Cross, Photo: Frédéric Prochasson/stock.adobe.com
- Coronado Trail National Scenic Byway, Photo: Richard Wright and Danita Delimont/stock.adobe.com
- First Friday Art Walks, Photo: themorningglory/stock.adobe.com
- Historic Orpheum Theatre Tours, Photo: Marko/stock.adobe.com
- Historic Route 66 All-American Road, Photo: Brad Pict/stock.adobe.com
- Flagstaff's Lava Tubes, Photo: Mark/stock.adobe.com
- Navajo Nation Zoological and Botanical Park, Photo: Alexandre/stock.adobe.com
- Old Trails Museum, Photo: Reid Dalland/stock.adobe.com
- Phoenix Art Museum, Photo: JackF/stock.adobe.com
- The Phoenix Police Museum, Photo: The Phoenix Police Museum
- Red Rock Scenic Byway, Photo: John/stock.adobe.com
- Second Friday Night Out, Photo: Autthaseth/stock.adobe.com
- The Arabian Public Library, Photo: Yeko Photo Studio/stock.adobe.com
- The Gallery at City Hall, Photo: Monkey Business/stock.adobe.com
- Wells Fargo Museum, Photo: Wells Fargo Museum
- Cover Photo: vpereluka/stock.adobe.com