The Cheapskate Guide To: Phoenix

cheap things to do in phoenix
As you’re reading this – in late January – it’s currently 70 degrees and sunny in Phoenix, Arizona. In addition to being home to nearly year-round sun and warmth, Phoenix is home to $26 Airbnb rentals (with a pool!), $3 movies, $4 burritos, and gorgeous, free museums and arboretums.

Are you convinced?


Well, hi! I’m Dressler, and my internet home is Dressler Makes Things, where I (surprise!) make both edible and inedible things, and document the process.

In real life, I’m an Arizona native, currently living near Phoenix. And, yes, our outside temps are over 100-degrees-Fahrenheit for a pretty big portion of the year—and you should COME HERE ANYWAY. We’ve got killer Mexican food, developing public transportation, a burgeoning art scene, gorgeous mountains, and the most beautiful skies to ever sky.

Let’s get into it.

CHEAP PLACES TO STAY IN PHOENIX

Camping
Want to sleep closer to nature, but still want showers and flush toilets? Usery Mountain Regional Park is your dream come true. Grab some friends and some tents (or trailers) and split the oh-so-scandalous price of $30 for one of their 73 camping spots. This one is about a 30-minute drive from the heart of Phoenix, but the scenery is super worth it.

Rented Rooms
If you’re looking for a more in-the-city-with-a-roof experience, Airbnb does a body good. Stay on this comfy futon in the heart of the arts district, rent this adorable cottage, or revel in the much-needed pool access that comes along with this Spanish-style apartment.

Related: Airbnb is always an affordable option and if you’ve never used it before, here’s a $40 credit towards your first booking!

CHEAP THINGS TO DO IN PHOENIX

ASU Art Museum – free/donation appreciated
Even aside from the fact that this museum features Actual World Class Artists (and recently acquired some Andy Warhol prints), the twisty-turny-secret-tunnel architecture is guaranteed to make you happy. Three words: underground water fountain.

ASU Arboretum – free
People who haven’t visited the Southwest sometimes think we have no trees. We totally have trees! (Sort of.) In fact, ASU’s Tempe campus has a tree museum. They’re not tall and majestic, but they have labels, and there’s even a nice sitting area where you can veg out with some coffee.

Cheapskate Guide to: Phoenix // yesandyes.org

Hike our beautiful desert – free
A few suggestions: South Mountain’s Trails, Piestawa Peak, and Echo Canyon at Camelback Mountain. Check out the wild rock formations at Papago Park. Revel in the craggy mountains. Bring lots of water.

Lawn Gnome Stories – free
Every Wednesday, this sweet indie bookstore has a storytelling event. Go, order a tasty beverage, and listen to hip locals entertain you with their joys and woes.

Walk around Tempe Town Lake – free
Stroll around the man-made Tempe Town Lake beach park. Listen to the train go by. Walk across the color-changing bridge. Watch one of our famous Arizona sunsets. (Really, nobody makes ‘em like we do.

Cheapskate Guide To: Phoenix // yesandyes.org

Check out the Fountain Hills Fountain – free (minus the cost of gas)
I know what you’re thinking. “Sure, museums and stuff are fine, but where can I see a COMICALLY LARGE FOUNTAIN?” I’ve got you covered. See this giant water monster in the small, aptly-named town of Fountain Hills—about a 30-minute drive from Phoenix.

Pollack Tempe Cinemas – $3
Not only do you get to see a movie for $3, but you get to go to this theater. After you buy your ticket, you walk into a room filled with painted sculptures of characters from Great Movies Past—Marilyn Monroe, Darth Vader, E.T…even Jack Sparrow. Get a selfie with Superman, and then go on to enjoy your cheap, cheap movie.

Luhrs Tower – free
Have you ever noticed how so many tourist attractions are basically “climb up high and look at things”? Well, I feel obligated to include at least one. It’s not the Empire State Building, but it’s the next best thing. Check out this insanely cool art-deco style building that’s filled with history. Walk in, pretend you’re from the 1920’s, climb up high. Look at things.

Cheapskate Guide To: Phoenix // yesandyes.org

Ride the Light Rail and take your own Public Art tour – $4
Every station is different, and they’ve all got something exciting to offer. Get an all-day pass for $4, and hop on and off as many times as you want! And if you’re at the University/Rural stop just before sunset, you HAVE TO walk over to James Turrell’s “Air Apparent.” Sit inside and enjoy the incredible, subtle light show that plays beautifully off of the changing sky.

FREE THINGS TO DO ON PARTICULAR DAYS OF THE WEEK

Monday: Meet Me Downtown Phoenix. I know I usually don’t exercise on vacation. But you can buck the trend with this easy 3-mile walk/run through the beautiful city center. Plus, meet locals!

Tuesday: Absolutely, absolutely check out the gorgeous Desert Botanical Garden.* Then, get a free swing-dancing lesson at the Duce!

Wednesday: Take the light rail to the Mill/3rd stop for the open mic night at Tempe Center for the Arts. It’s packed with experienced, impressive musicians. The music starts at 6:30pm and continues well until 10pm.

Thursday: Experience the Scottsdale Art Walk. Open galleries, special performances, and free admission to the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art? Oh, yes please.

Friday: Soak in more free performances and lots of energy at the art-focused First Friday!* OR, if you’d like something different, enjoy free admission to the AZ Science Center*, and have a blast exploring the interactive exhibits (especially the musical ones!).

cheap things to do in Phoenix

Saturday: Saturday mornings, indulge in one of many Farmer’s Markets. Definitely check out the Downtown Phoenix Open Air Market, and fill up on samples.

*only free the first week of each month

CHEAP PLACES TO EAT IN PHOENIX

Rito’s Market and Mexican Takeout
Skip the rice and beans—the portions are pretty big, and you’ll save some cash. This tiny Mexican joint has a full menu complete with pictures and a cozy seating area. Get the queso fundido with a cup of horchata.

La Santisima Gourmet Taco Shop
SO many tacos. (Legit, soft-shell, Mexican-style tacos.) Great flavors, incredibly friendly staff, contemporary Spanish-language music, free salsa bar. (Cilantro salsa? Yes please!)

Hummus Xpress
Imagine Chipotle…except Mediterranean and family-run. This gold mine is technically in Tempe, but their fully-customizable, crazy-flavorful, huge-portioned bowls are more than worth the fifteen minute drive. Split a bowl with a friend for a hearty meal under $5.

Cheap food in Phoenix

$2 coffee at Lux
Every other food at Lux doesn’t begin to resemble the word “cheap.” But their coffee is $2, delicious, and comes in a big happy mug with free refills until the end of time.

JoBot
Hey, remember when you came here on First Friday and it was THE MOST crowded? Come back on literally any other day, peruse their lovely menu, and order at the counter. Treat yourself to a breakfast sandwich, or one of their sweet crepes.

$3 ice cream sandwich at Slickables
Pair this one with your walk around Tempe Town Lake. Pick ANY two cookies, and ANY flavor of ice cream, and enjoy your hearty dessert for $3. Major win.

Cheap food in Phoenix

Cornish Pasty
From vaguely traditional bangers-and-mash pasties to straight-up Royale With Cheese pasties, you’ll have no trouble finding something incredible to munch on. To keep it cheap, split a pasty with your travel buddy. (Trust me. They’re enormous.)

Carolinas
$4 chorizo-and-bean burrito? $6 for an enchilada AND a tamale? Oh, yeah. You’re going. Don’t even pretend to think about it.

That’s totally a decent start to exploring this bright and beautiful city. Grab a plane ticket or some gas money (or even an Amtrak ticket if that’s more your speed), and I can’t wait to see you!

Arizona readers! Did we miss anything? Leave links to your favorite free/cheap stuff in the comments!

P.S. Cheapskate guides to Minneapolis + St. PaulPhiladelphia, and Oklahoma City

Photo credits: LASZLO ILYES // Kevin Dooley // LASZLO ILYES // Chris Brandt // Eileen Kane // M P R // John M. Quick // Devon Christopher Adams // RightBrainPhotography // Phoenix Public Market // Amanda LaCasse // Hummus Xpress // Ernesto Andrade // Jim Hammer // Devon Christopher Adams

10 Comments

lindsay

my mom moved to tucson a couple of years ago, and this will be my second time escaping february in the northeast (the worst month in these parts) and visiting her for a week. we’re spending our time mostly in tucson and sedona, but will be passing through phoenix between the two. i plan to visit again next fall to go to a cardinals game and spend more time in phoenix, so i’ll bookmark this til then!

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Trevor Huxham

I love this post! I’m actually going to be in the Phoenix area in the next couple of weeks for a meeting and was wondering what I might do in my off-time. I wasn’t aware of ASU’s museum or arboretum so my inner nerd will have to check those off the list for sure. Thanks so much for the tips!

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Amy

This is amazing! I’m going to Phoenix next month and I seriously just checked your blog yesterday to see if you had a Phoenix travel guide. Awesome timing. 🙂

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Mary

We honeymooned in Phoenix in June–so hot! We mainly went to see the Frank Lloyd Wright architecture in the area. Saw a movie in Cinemascope at the Cine Capri Theatre, which apparently has been knocked down–I’ve been thinking a lot about that since we saw the newest Tarantino movie in 70mm. We also had the best chicken I’ve ever had at a hole-in-the-wall in Tempe. Wish I remembered the name. Remembering the experience will have to do! Thanks for the post.

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Ashley

I am visiting the Phoenix area right now. I still have a few weeks to hang out here, so I am really happy to have some new ideas. Thanks for the much needed inspiration!

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TJ

I grew up in Phoenix. Anyone who goes there should be aware that it is very dangerous. NO One Should ever go West of Central Ave or South of Tempe. If you are a tourist don’t stay anywhere but Scottsdale or North Phoenix. Gangs are VERY bad and murders happen everyday.

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