Your guide to the best free and cheap things to do

After spending a year near home, it only makes sense that many of us would be eager to go out and explore.

For some, that might mean getting on a plane or leaving a state, but it doesn’t have to be. There are many options when it comes to staying in Arizona, and in many cases you don’t even have to leave the Valley.

If you want to cool off by getting wet there are new options like donut boats and surf simulators, as well as the old standbys like splash pads and lazy rivers. For the ultimate river experience, you can take the natural route and take Salt River Tubing.

If you want to take a ride, explore popular destinations across the country. Go hiking in the highlands or explore the main roads of several small towns in Arizona.

If you are staying in the city there is a multitude of public art opportunities that might grab your attention or visit a museum.

We have compiled lists of some of the many things you can do this summer. But it’s an evolving list. Check back often to see what’s new over the summer.

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

Discover these best Arizona road trips for the summer

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

Road trip through the ghost town: Back then, Arizona represented the rugged edge of the border. Whenever ore was discovered, communities emerged. As long as gold, silver or copper was flowing, it seemed as if the boom times would never end. But as soon as the mines were closed, the cities fought. Not all survived. Their sun-bleached bones shape the landscape. Here are five Arizona ghost towns that are well worth the drive.

Free and cheap in Flagstaff: A few days with cooler temperatures and a wonderful mountain backdrop don’t have to be a heavy burden on your finances. There are plenty of affordable things to do in and around Flagstaff.

See the north edge: The Grand Canyon’s North Rim is only open five months a year, and summer is the right time. Our guide to visiting the North Rim has everything you need to know about accommodations, camping, hiking, and activities.

Unusual accommodations: sleep in a galley, yacht, wigwam, or fancy tent. Hike to a yurt in the backcountry. Invite your neighbors to a lively cocktail party. Watch the wildebeest graze over breakfast. If your taste for accommodation goes beyond the ordinary, here are some of the coolest places to stay in Arizona.

Arizona’s Best Main Streets: When travelers want the heart of a city, head to Main Street. Here his soul is exposed by history, architecture and company. It’s the community’s best chance to make a great first impression. Here are the best downtown Arizona areas within walking distance.

Here are the best summer hikes in Arizona

Walks under the radar: Devils Bridge and Cathedral Rock are cult for a reason. But sometimes you just don’t have to walk in a conga line of people. Here are the best hikes in Sedona that you’ve probably never heard of.

Dip your toes: You don’t have to be far from Phoenix to enjoy a waterfront stroll and swim hole. There are several options in the Verde Valley and we’re not talking about heavily used Fossil Creek or West Fork of Oak Creek here. Here are five riverside walks to try this summer.

Flower power: Head north for a variety of flower-filled forest walks. The myriad of colorful wildflowers and endless mountain views that you will be enjoying will have you enlivened in no time. Here are three Flagstaff hikes that are at their best in the summer.

All the way up: Looking for a challenge? This high altitude hike in the White Mountains will make you puff and puff. A respite gives you the opportunity to enjoy the flowery fields, lush meadows and deep forests of this diverse ecosystem. That’s how it’s done.

Donut boats, pools, and splash pads to cool off

Not such a donut: Boat Rentals of America at Tempe Town Lake has introduced a fun activity for friends and family: donut boats. These round electric boats can accommodate up to 10 people, are shaded with a canopy and have a table in the middle. Single and double kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, and pedal boats are also available. Here are prices and rental information.

Tubing is a great reason to spend a hot day in Arizona.pixdeluxe / Getty Images

Pro Tips for Tubing: When you go Salt River tubing near Mesa, spend 1½ to four hours in the mountain creek of the Lower Salt River and possibly catch a glimpse of wild horses in the Tonto National Forest. Here’s our guide, including pro tips on the do’s and don’ts of tubing.

Where to bathe: Cities from Buckeye to Gilbert have their public swimming pools open for the season, with most offering public swimming lessons. Some even have night swimming. However, most of Phoenix’s pools will remain closed. Here’s our comprehensive guide to Valley Public Baths with hours of operation, locations, and COVID-19 precautions.

Surf on! From lazy rivers to thrilling slides, Metro Phoenix’s water parks are fun for the whole family. Here’s where to go and what is on offer in each park. Would you like to spend the day in a resort? We also have a guide on how to get day passes.

Splash, Splash: If you’re looking for a gentler experience to cool your little ones off, let them run through one of the dozen of wading pools around town. Chances are you won’t have to go far to find one, and many of them are free.

Accommodation offers: The time-honored tradition of snagging cheap summer rates at local resorts could look a little different this summer. After a year of travel restrictions imposed by COVID-19, resort managers aren’t entirely sure what to expect. Here’s what they told us about Staycation 2021.

It’s a family affair: With restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic further easing limited entertainment options on the Phoenix Subway, families can expect more activities with children this summer. Places like the Phoenix Zoo, World Wildlife Zoo, Aquarium, and Safari Park are some places to consider. Here is a list of 11 fun things to do with kids.

Explore the vibrant art scene on Metro Phoenix

Put the ‘AR’ in ‘Art’: Learn the stories behind prominent pieces in the Scottsdale public art collection on this AR tour. Download the hoverlay app on your phone for the experience. Take a guided tour of the art of Scottsdale.

Don’t miss any murals: Metro Phoenix artists have expressed themselves through a variety of murals in downtown Phoenix. Here are some of the top performers like Clyde, Lalo Cota, Nyla Lee, and more.

An impressive portrait: The artist Antoinette Cauley met the writer and activist James Baldwin during a trip to Paris. When she returned, she was commissioned to paint a 10-story mural of Baldwin in downtown Phoenix.

In honor of the “original people” of the valley: It took the muralists Thomas “Breeze” Marcus and Miles “El Mac” MacGregor a month to paint a 14 meter high mural about the “original” inhabitants of the valley in downtown Phoenix. Here is the story of this impressive work.

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

When art meets activism: Phoenix artist Ashley Macias uses surreal imagery to make a point. Macias’ work was featured in the murals in downtown Phoenix, including a collaboration with six artists, “Art is Protest”. This is how you can see the work of Macias.

Published June 14, 2021 at 11:29 UTC
Updated June 14, 2021 at 11:29 UTC

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