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 Bitter Butter, where I share the history of pastry. Yes, really!
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
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.
If you’re looking for a more in-the-city-with-a-roof experience, Airbnb does a body good. Here’s an entire apartment for $37 and here’s a luxury condo for $50! And if you’ve never used Airbnb 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.
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.
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.
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!
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!).
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!)
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.
$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.
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.
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.)
$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!