Scottsdale, Arizona is known for its expansive golf courses, exclusive spas, and high-end shopping. But most people don’t realize that there are a ton of fun things to do in Scottsdale for free, no matter what your interests are and regardless if you’re a resident or first-time visitor.
The following list of fun activities to do while in Scottsdale is extensive and offers something for everyone, whether you want to take advantage of the breathtaking desert scenery or stay inside and out of the heat. And best of all, every item on this list is absolutely free!
1. Ellie & Michael Ziegler Fiesta Bowl Museum
If you love football, you’ll love The Fiesta Bowl Museum. Celebrating one of the country’s biggest bowl games, this intimate museum lets you get up close to memorabilia and game stats from past years. Especially impressive is their collection of uniforms, helmets, and trophies.
The staff is friendly and usually happy to stock you up with free souvenirs before you leave!
Free Admission: Daily
2. Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art
The Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art hosts works of art, design, and architecture. The museum’s minimalist design houses a permanent collection as well as rotating exhibits of contemporary artists. Don’t forget to check out the Turrell Skyspace in the courtyard, an outdoor art installation that showcases the sky itself.
Free Admission: Thursdays and second Saturdays of the month
3. Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West
Scottsdale’s Museum of the West celebrates the landscape and people of the Western United States, Canada, and Mexico. Browse historical artifacts like Hopi pottery from the 1700’s, antique military saddles, and Western film memorabilia. Whether you’re into the authentic history of the Wild West or are just a Western film buff, you’ll be glad you stopped by this gem of a museum.
The venue also features artwork from artists like Edward Curtis and Gilbert Waldman, who celebrate the area in their work.
Free Admission: Thursdays, November-April with proof of Scottsdale residency
4. Scottsdale Parada Del Sol Rodeo Museum
The Parada del Sol Rodeo Museum has the expected antique rodeo paraphernalia, including bull ropes and saddles, some of which date from the 1950’s. But the star of the show is the artwork of Kenneth M. Freeman. Freeman designed many of the rodeo’s posters back in the day, and they’re truly works of art. The museum is conveniently located and small enough to fit in between errands or other sightseeing activities.
5. Penske Racing Museum
If you like race cars, you’ll love the Penske Racing Museum. It has two levels of race cars, trophies, and art celebrating the sport. An excellent way to spend an afternoon, this museum will interest racing fans as well as the spouses they bring along with them. Most cars have informational signs next to them, making things easier for those unfamiliar with auto history.
Free Admission: Daily
6. Scottsdale Historical Museum
Housed in a two-room schoolhouse from 1909, the Scottsdale Historical Museum shows visitors what life was like for early Scottsdale pioneers. Personal household items from the city’s founders are on display, one of the schoolrooms is set up as it would have been a hundred years ago, and there’s even a recreated farmhouse kitchen from the era.
The cozy museum won’t take long to get through, but it’s packed with historical goodness that any history lover will appreciate. This is a perfect stop to make before beginning the historic walking tour (mentioned later our list).
Free Admission: Daily
7. Scottsdale Artwalk
Scottsdale’s Artwalk is one of the oldest art walks in the country, starting back in 1975. Every Thursday from 7-9 pm, enjoy a stroll in the fresh desert air as you walk through Downtown and the Arts District from one participating gallery to another. Take in the art, the people, and the general community vibe.
In addition to art, you’ll often find free wine and appetizers, street musicians, horse-drawn carriages, and trolleys that will take you back to your car. There are also plenty of restaurants on the route if you decide to splurge a little.
8. McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park
Scottsdale’s McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park is fun for the whole family, with its 30 acres of landscaping dotted with antique railcars. Your kids will enjoy the two playgrounds, one of which is made to look like the Southwestern adobe. There’s also a free railroad museum and railroad model exhibit, which are both worth looking at.
Concessions, special events, and rides like the carousel and miniature railroad will cost a little bit, but they’re all reasonably priced.
9. McDowell Sonoran Preserve
If you’re looking to get out into nature, you might want to head to the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. Over 30,000 acres of this beautiful desert landscape contains over 200 miles of trails, where you can take a relaxing walk or push yourself on a strenuous hike.
Some notable hiking trails in the preserve are:
- Tom’s Thumb Trailhead
- Brown’s Ranch Trailhead
- Gateway Trailhead
Most recreational areas of the preserve offer facilities like restrooms and shade ramadas, but it’s highly recommended that you bring your own water since it’s usually not available; this is especially important during the scorching summer months, but good practice all year round.
10. Pinnacle Peak Park
Pinnacle Peak Park is another spectacular spot for outdoor lovers, with a 1.75-mile out-and-back trail surrounded by 150 acres of Sonoran Desert wilderness. Experienced rock climbers can bring gear and climb in specified areas of the park, while less adventurous types can hike or picnic on the ground.
The park offers restrooms, water, and an information center. Besides hiking and rock climbing opportunities, the park regularly schedules educational events such as full moon hikes, astronomy evenings, wildlife programs, and blacksmithing demonstrations.
11. Desert Botanical Garden
Those looking to enjoy beautiful desert flora without having to hike for it will enjoy the Desert Botanical Garden on the border of Scottsdale and Phoenix. The paved trails are wheelchair accessible and stroller friendly, so everyone in your group can enjoy the outing.
The garden will prove to visitors once and for all that cacti aren’t the only things that grow in the desert. Each one of their many trails specializes in a different kind of plant, such as:
- Plants used by indigenous people for medicine, food, and building materials for centuries
- Sustainable desert living
The garden occasionally offers special events and exhibits, but these usually cost a fee.
Free Admission: 2nd Tuesdays of the month
12. Old Town Farmers’ Market
From October through May, local farmers sell their wares at the Old Town Farmers’ Market. The organic produce takes center stage, naturally, but there’s also an impressive selection of artisanal breads, jams, tamales, and fresh flowers. Even if you’re not there to buy anything, it’s a pleasant place to walk around and people watch and window shop.
13. Fashion Square
As the largest shopping mall in Arizona, Scottsdale’s Fashion Square is a popular stop for tourists and locals. While the high-end shops are not exactly trying to save you any money, browsing is free, and walking the mall is a great way to stretch your legs while staying out of the summer heat.
14. Native American Cultural Presentations
Different venues around Scottsdale host Native American Cultural presentations, which include dance, music, and storytelling. The annual Native Trails Festival is held at Civic Center Park, but the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort and Spa also has occasional events. The Arizona Indian Tourism site is an excellent place to look for current events related to Native American history and culture.
15. Scottsdale Civic Center Mall
The Scottsdale Civic Center Mall is a few acres of lush grass interspersed with sculptures and a manmade pond. The park hosts free events throughout the year, such as the Native Trails Festival.
There are plenty of photo opportunities and places to sit and relax, and the well-maintained sidewalks make it easy to get around in a wheelchair or while pushing a stroller.
16. Xeriscape Garden
The Xeriscape Garden at Chaparral Park is a small, educational garden with native plants and educational signs.
Xeriscaping, if you don’t know, is landscaping that doesn’t require irrigation, which is especially important in desert climates where resources are scarce. A walk through the garden is a lovely way to spend the morning, not to mention inspiring desert landscaping projects at home.
17. Cosanti Bells
Technically located in Paradise Valley, Cosanti Bells is just barely outside the border of Scottsdale city limits. Wander the unique grounds of this charming gallery and studio, look at the collection of brass and ceramic bells, and even watch how brass bells are made. Entrance is free, but guided tours cost extra.
18. Canal Convergence
Canal Convergence is an annual public arts festival that happens every November in the exclusive Waterfront neighborhood. The event is free for all and includes:
- Large scale public art installations
- Performance poetry
There are talks and workshops as well, often centered around the event’s mission to promote community and inclusion through art.
19. Free Guided Trolley Tour
On the second Saturday of the month, the Scottsdale trolley takes visitors through downtown for a free art and culture tour. While the tour does go into a bit of the city’s history, the main thing you’ll take away from it is a familiarity with the city’s layout. This can be helpful when planning the rest of your trip since it will take you through all the major neighborhoods:
- Old Town
- Arts District
- Civic Center
- 5th Avenue Shops
The tour is interesting for visitors and helpful for new residents trying to get the lay of the land.
20. Public Art Walking Tour
The Scottsdale Public Art Walking Tour is a self-guided tour that takes you around Downtown Scottsdale. The tour takes about an hour from one end to the other, but you can do it in more or less time depending on your pacing. Although there are hundreds of public art installations in Scottsdale, this particular tour focuses on ten of the most well-known ones.
Keep in mind that the route is a straight line rather than a loop, so you’re not going to end up where you started. The trolly can take you back to where you need to go, but make sure to plan for the extra time it will take.
21. Historic Old Town Walking Tour
Another hour-long, self-guided tour, the Historic Old Town Walking Tour gives you a chance to explore some of the city’s historic locations and discover what they were in past iterations.
Notable locations include:
- Little Red Schoolhouse: Built in 1909, current home to the Scottsdale Historical Museum
- Rusty Spur Saloon: Originally built as a bank, turned into a saloon in 1951
- Mission Church: Built in 1933, the first Catholic church in the city
- Cavalliere’s Blacksmith Shop: continuously operated by the Cavalliere family since 1910
The looping tour circles around Old Town, taking you back to within a block of your starting place.
22. Explore Old Town
Old town is built around the historic locations in Scottsdale, but it’s got plenty more to offer in addition to history. It’s known for its wine scene and nightlife, but it’s also a perfect neighborhood to wander around exploring.
Many of the locations named in this list are in Old Town:
- Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art
- Civic Center
- Scottsdale Historical Museum
- The Arts District
- Fashion Square
Its walkability and proximity to fun free activities make Old Town an ideal starting point for a day of adventure.
23. Old Adobe Mission
Visiting the Old Adobe Mission is a moving experience for believers and non-believers alike. The church was hand-built by Mexicans who settled in the area in the early 1900s. The adobe brick construction lends a charming, old-world feel, and the stained glass windows give the place a magical vibe.
All are welcome to visit the church any time of year or during special events like:
- The Miracle of the Roses Pageant
- Choir concerts
24. Scottsdale Arts District
The Artwalk isn’t the only time you can visit the Scottsdale Arts District. It’s an exciting part of town every day of the week and is excellent for walking around and taking in the sights. Check out the numerous art galleries in the area, or find a shady place to sit and watch some of Scottsdale’s trendiest residents stroll by.
25. Summer Concerts
These events are free to the public and provide a relaxing way for the whole family to get out and take a break from computers, smartphones, and TV sets.
26. Scottsdale Quarter
Scottsdale Quarter is an outdoor shopping mall, which initially doesn’t sound like it will have much to offer unless you enjoy window shopping. But they have a couple of things going for them:
- A free splash fountain where your kids can cool off during the hot summer months
- A calendar of free outdoor events, including a fall concert series
27. Kierland Commons
Kierland Commons is another outdoor shopping center that’s loved by locals. Like Scottsdale Quarter, they offer a kids’ splash fountain and occasional free events in the courtyard.
28. Chaparral Dog Park
If you’re visiting Scottsdale, don’t forget to include your pup in the fun. Chaparral Dog Park is Scottsdale’s most popular dog park, with three acres of lush green grass, separated into areas for dogs who run and dogs that don’t. The park includes benches, a play area, and water fountains for you and your dog to enjoy.
Other major dog parks in Scottsdale are:
- Horizon Dog Park
- Vista Del Camino Dog Park
Surrounding the dog park is a human park with walking trails, playgrounds, and sports areas if hanging with your pup isn’t enough for you. But there’s nothing more fun for a dog than a dog park, and if your dog’s having fun, everyone is!
As you can see, Scottsdale, Arizona has something for everyone, so even if you’re on a budget, you shouldn’t have any trouble at all planning fun activities for you and your family, from window shopping to exploring all the history this city has to offer.
Be sure to include a few of these free activities on your itinerary next time you’re planning a trip to this beautiful region!