Your guide to the best free and cheap stuff to do


After spending a year sticking close to home it just makes sense that many of us are eager to get out and explore.

For some that might mean hopping on a plane or heading out of state, but that doesn’t have to be the case. There are plenty of options if you choose to stay in Arizona, and in many cases you don’t even have to leave the Valley.

If you’re looking to cool off by getting wet, there are new options including donut boats and surf simulators along with the old standbys such as splash pads and lazy rivers. For the ultimate river experience, you can take the natural route and go Salt River tubing. 

If you want to take a drive, explore popular getaways throughout the state. Head to the high country for hiking or investigate the main streets of several Arizona small towns.

If you stay in town, there’s a wide variety of public art options that could catch your eye or check out a museum.

We’ve put together lists of some of the many options for things to do this summer. But it’s an evolving list. Check back periodically to see what’s new over the course of the summer.

Jill Cassidy, Arizona Republic travel editor, and Weldon Johnson, Arizona Republic entertainment editor

Explore these best Arizona road trips for summer

Hit the beach: You don’t need to drive to San Diego for a beach getaway. Arizona has quite a few beaches where you can take a swim and play in the sand. Here are a dozen of Arizona’s best beaches.

Ghost town road trip: Back in the day, Arizona represented the raggedy edge of the frontier. Communities sprang up whenever ore was discovered. As long as gold, silver or copper flowed it seemed like boom times would never end. Yet once the mines closed, towns struggled. Not all survived. Their sun-bleached bones dot the landscape. Here are five Arizona ghost towns worth the drive.

Free and cheap in Flagstaff: A few days of cooler temperatures and lovely mountain scenery don’t have to be a huge drain on your finances. There are lots of affordable things to do in and around Flagstaff.

See the North Rim: The North Rim of Grand Canyon is only open five months a year, and summer is the time to go. Our guide to visiting the North Rim has everything you need to know about lodging, camping, hiking and things to do. 

Uncommon accommodations: Snooze in a caboose, a yacht, a wigwam or a swanky tent. Hike to a backcountry yurt. Invite your neighbors over for a swinging cocktail party. Watch wildebeests graze during breakfast. If your taste in accommodations runs beyond the ordinary, here are some of Arizona’s coolest lodgings.

Arizona’s best main streets: When travelers are looking for the heart of a town, they head to Main Street. That’s where its soul is bared via the history, architecture and businesses. It’s the community’s best chance to make a good first impression. Here are the best walkable downtowns in Arizona.

Here are the best summer hikes in Arizona

Under-the-radar hikes: Devils Bridge and Cathedral Rock are iconic for a reason. But sometimes you just don’t need to be walking in a conga line of people. Here are the best hikes in Sedona that you probably haven’t heard of.

Dip your toes: You don’t have to get far out of Phoenix to enjoy a waterside walk and a swimming hole. There are several options in the Verde Valley and we’re not talking about the heavily used Fossil Creek or West Fork of Oak Creek. Here are five streamside hikes to try this summer. 

Flower power: Head north for a variety of flower-filled walks in the woods. The masses of colorful wildflowers and see-forever mountain views you’ll enjoy will have you feeling revitalized in no time. Here are three Flagstaff hikes that are at their best in summer.

All the way up: Looking for a challenge? This high-elevation hike in the White Mountains will have you huffing and puffing. Pausing for breath will give you a chance to take in the flower-filled fields, lush meadows and deep woods of this diverse ecosystem. Here’s how to do it. 

Donut boats, pools and splash pads to cool you down

Not that kind of doughnut: Boat Rentals of America at Tempe Town Lake has introduced a fun activity for friends and family: donut boats. These circular electric boats hold up to 10 people, are shaded with a canopy and have a table in the middle. Single and double kayaks, standup paddleboards and pedal boats are also available. Here are prices and rental info.

Tubing is a cool why to while away a hot Arizona day.
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Pro-tips for tubing: Salt River Tubing near Mesa entails spending 1½ to four hours floating on the mountain stream waters of the Lower Salt River and possibly getting a glimpse of wild horses in Tonto National Forest. Here’s our guide, including pro tips on the do’s and don’ts of tubing.

Where you can take a dip: Cities from Buckeye to Gilbert have opened their public pools for the season, with most offering public swim sessions. Some even have night swimming. However, most of Phoenix’s pools remain closed. Here is our comprehensive guide to Valley public pools with hours, locations and COVID-19 precautions.

Surfs up! From lazy rivers to exhilarating slides, metro Phoenix water parks are fun for the whole family. Here’s where you should go and what’s offered at each park. Want to spend the day at a resort? We’ve got a guide to getting day passes, too.

Splish, splash: If you’re looking for a gentler experience to cool off your little ones, let them run through one of the dozens of splash pads around town. Chances are you won’t have to drive far to find one, and many of them are free. 

Staycation deals: The time-honored tradition of scooping up bargain summer rates at local resorts may look a little different this summer. After a year of COVID-19 travel restrictions, resort managers aren’t quite sure what to expect. Here’s what they told us about staycation 2021.

It’s a family affair: As COVID-19 pandemic related restrictions that limited entertainment options continue to ease in metro Phoenix, families can expect to find more things to do with kids this summer. Places like the Phoenix Zoo, World Wildlife Zoo, Aquarium & Safari Park are some places to consider. Here is a list of 11 things fun things to do with kids.

Explore the vibrant arts scene in metro Phoenix

Put the ‘AR’ in ‘art’: Learn the stories behind prominent pieces in the Scottsdale public art collection with this AR tour. Download the Hoverlay app to your phone to get the experience. Take a guided tour of Scottsdale art.

Don’t-miss murals: Metro Phoenix artists have been expressing themselves through a variety of murals in downtown Phoenix. Here are some of the best from artists including Clyde, Lalo Cota, Nyla Lee and more.

A striking portrait: Artist Antoinette Cauley learned about writer and activist James Baldwin while on a trip to Paris. When she returned, she was commissioned to paint a 10-story mural of Baldwin in downtown Phoenix.

Honoring the Valley’s ‘original people’: Muralists Thomas “Breeze” Marcus and Miles “El Mac” MacGregor took a month to paint a 45-foot mural in downtown Phoenix about the ‘original’ inhabitants of the Valley. Here’s the story of that impressive work.

Detail-oriented: Artist Thomas Marcus, known as Breeze, likes to tell stories of his Native American culture through the intricate details in his work. Breeze’s work can be found throughout metro Phoenix. Here’s his story. 

When art meets activism: Phoenix artist Ashley Macias uses surreal images to make a point. Macias’ work has been showing up in downtown Phoenix murals including a six-artist collaboration, “Art is Protest.” Here’s how to see Macias’ work.

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