11 Best Fun and Exciting Places for Kids in Phoenix Free of Charge

desert botanical garden

Phoenix, Arizona, has many different family-friendly activities and places to explore that won’t break the bank. The weather here is dry and warm most of the year, making it a great place for outdoor activities that are often free of charge and multiple museums and cultural centers that are free for kids. 

Phoenix is made up of the perfect balance between natural parks and downtown city activities that you can do with kids for free. There’s plenty of options for hiking beautiful trails, relaxing at a park, or checking out a few of the different museums and historical sites that Phoenix proper has to offer. Check out the list below for information on various activities that kids will love that are also budget-friendly. 

Spend Time Among Native Plant Species at Desert Botanical Garden 

Phoenix’s climate makes for the perfect environment where different plant species and other living things thrive. Take a walk through Desert Botanical Gardens located off Galvin Parkway for a day of plant-filled fun. 

The space is 140 acres of natural plant species, and it houses more than 50,000 different plants. It also serves as a safe place for almost 500 endangered species. 

desert botanical garden - prickly pear cactus

Desert Botanical Gardens is a great site to walk around with kids, and they even have dining options, live music, and kid-friendly gardening activities you can sign up for. To visit, make sure to make a reservation online.

One trail includes plants that are mainly cactus and wildflowers that thrive particularly well in the hot and dry desert, while another trail includes information about sustainability practices that are meant to teach visitors how to work with nature and live harmoniously with it. 

The different trail options ensure each visitor gets to learn about and see what they’re most interested in. Hike up the Sonoran Desert Loop Trail to the top of a mountain and take in the breathtaking views of the environment. 

Monarch Butterfly

After hiking a few different trails and learning about different species of plants and wildlife, you can take a break from the heat and peruse the Schilling Library. There’s a wide variety of books and magazines with information on wildlife natural to the area. 

Depending on the time of year, there’s also a variety of free events the botanical garden puts on for visitors. There are days where visitors can bring their dogs, enjoy live music, or enjoy different festivals and celebrations of nature. Check the websites calendar to see if there are any events you and your kids might want to attend. 

Desert Botanical Gardens includes many different activities that kids will enjoy and learn from. Walking the trails, learning about wildlife, and what’s new in sustainability practices is a great way for kids to learn while also having fun and enjoying the views and fresh air. 

Appreciate Contemporary Art at the Phoenix Art Museum 

Museums are great places to spend some time learning about the culture and art of a city, and the Phoenix Art Museum is no different. 

It’s been open for almost six decades and houses a variety of pieces from contemporary art to historical artifacts. They even have some immersive experience pieces which are great to interact with. It’s also known as one of the largest art museums with more than 20,000 pieces and objects included in their variety of collections and exhibits. 

This museum has so many different exhibitions and collections that it’s easy to get lost wandering through them all for an entire afternoon. 

The museum includes pieces from some of the biggest names in the art world that even those who aren’t directly involved in the art scene will be awed with appreciation. Pieces from Monet and even Yayoi Kusama’s infinity mirror, which you’ve probably seen on social media, are a few of the most notable pieces this museum has. 

The museum is free to all on multiple days of the week, and they also have donation-based admissions as well as $5 admission for adults and free for kids on Wednesdays. Check the calendar on the museum website for more information on which times and dates are free to the public. 

Along with the vast number of pieces the museum has on display, they also host a large number of events that include live music, art classes, and educational events. They even have an event named Slow Art that’s free with an online reservation where groups of people come together to appreciate a piece of art. 

This event includes a guided meditation on a specific piece that teaches visitors how to observe and learn from art. 

Check Out a Live Show at the Mesa Arts Center 

Just a short thirty-minute drive from Phoenix is the Mesa Arts Center. It’s a visual and performing arts center that houses a large number of contemporary art. It’s more than 200,000 square feet big and includes a theatre, museum, and conducts a wide variety of events free to the public. 

It’s a large modern style building that includes four theaters, five art galleries, and fourteen art studios. 

“Mesa Arts Center mission is to inspire people through engaging arts experiences that are diverse, accessible, and relevant.”Source: https://www.mesaartscenter.com/index.php/visit/campus

Similarly to other museums and cultural centers, the Mesa Arts Center conducts multiple free events for the public with the intention of drawing people in to learn about the arts. From visual to performing, classic to modern, this location has something for any visitor. 

Along with the different festivals and events, they also have ongoing art classes for kids and different educational events, so children of different ages are able to learn the visual and performing arts. 

At the Art Center, there’s dancing, classical music, live theatre performances, as well as modern contemporary visual art galleries. The sheer variety of activities, classes, galleries, and studios means that anyone can walk in and find something they want to spend time with. 

Explore the grounds of this large center (there are multiple buildings, so you’ll probably need one of their maps of the campus) and check out the different ways Mesa fosters artistic expression. 

Take a Hike Through Camelback Mountain 

For the adventurous outdoor-loving kids, Camelback Mountain has some fun trails that lead to fantastic views of Phoenix. These hikes are great for kids and all types of visitors because they’re relatively quick and simple trails. 

You don’t have to worry about getting too lost or losing patience on a more long-winded trail. 

Hiking this mountain is a worthwhile activity to do with your kids, as hiking and other outdoor activities are some of the top-rated things to do in Phoenix. This hike is a great way to slow down, enjoy nature, get a little bit of exercise, and enjoy the fresh air. 

Camelback Mountain

There’s a variety of cactus and flowers that are native to the area that many people enjoy viewing while on the hike. The trail can become steeper in different areas, but visitors often report that adventurous and high-energy kids love the challenge and often have fun climbing around the trails and exploring different bushy areas and rocky spaces along the way. 

Hikes are great ways to spend time with the nature of Phoenix and see some great views. The desert climate makes the air crisp and dry, so make sure to bring along water to stay hydrated. 

Outdoor exercise is also a great way to spend time with kids who enjoy exploring and looking around new places they’ve never seen. 

Camelback Mountain has some great trails that will give kids an outlet for their energy and won’t break the family bank. 

Camelback Mountain

Ride on Horseback Through South Mountain Park 

A great park with some wonderful hiking trails to bring to kids to is South Mountain Park and Preserve. It’s the largest municipal park in the United States at 16,000 acres big. That means there’s plenty of terrains to explore. 

Not only is it a great hiking spot, but you can also bike and ride horses. With kids, it’s always great to have a few options so they can pick which activity sounds the most fun. Kids can learn how to ride horses through the fantastic desert trails, and some of the stables offer the chance to see ancient petroglyphs while touring the desert on horseback. 

Feel like Indiana Jones while you and your kids ride through the desert and see if you can find these ancient examples of art hidden among the rocks. Looking out over the desert and enjoying nature is a budget-friendly and fun way to spend time with family. 

If riding bikes or horses isn’t your first option, there are also smooth paved roads that lead to multiple different viewpoints, which are great places to take a walking break, drink water and eat some snacks, all while looking out over the entirety of Phoenix. 

Getting to the top of a mountain and taking in the breathtaking views are often half the fun of hiking and following the different trails. 

South Mountain Park

This park puts its visitors first by closing off the entrance road every Sunday (an event they refer to as “Silent Sunday”) and preserves it for non-motorized activities. This provides the easiest access for not only hiking but cyclists and joggers also take advantage of the smooth entrance area. It’s a great way to spend a Sunday with the family. 

There are a variety of trails you can explore on your own or with a guide, and they are varying degrees of difficulty. Check out the parks’ website to see the different options you have and that your kids might enjoy before you arrive. It’s such a large park with many different ways to enter that it’s a good idea to plan ahead a little, so you don’t have to spend too much time looking for where you want to start hiking or biking the trails. 

You can find easy-to-use maps that will lead you through to the easiest access point, depending on which trail you’d like to follow. One tip: the Holbert and Hidden Valley via Mormon Trail are some of the top picks among visitors. 

After checking out the trails, you can also spend some time at the South Mountain Environmental Education Center. This place is a great way to learn about conservation efforts and the importance of preserving the desert environment, especially after spending some time in nature itself. 

Kids and families will have a great time exploring the intricate network of trails and enjoy the amazing views once they get to the top of the trails. 

Check Out a Historic Pyramid at Papago Park

Another wonderful free park that’s ripe with options for exploring and enjoying nature is Papago Park.  

It includes a 2-mile trail and is almost 1500 acres big. It has been designated as a Phoenix Point of Pride, which is a group of locations and attractions the residents of Phoenix themselves vote in as landmarks that they believe showcase the best places to explore that Phoenix has to offer. 

Papago park

This park is also home to important rock formations and native species of plants. This large park includes a zoo, a few small lagoons and ponds, picnic areas, and a pyramidal tomb named Hunt’s tomb. It’s a small white pyramid that’s protected by a circular gate. Arizona’s first governor, George Hunt, had the pyramid created, and his entire family was eventually buried there. 

Visiting these sites is a great way to enjoy nature while also learning about the different aspects of Arizona’s history. 

Along with the zoo and pyramid, there’s a wide variety of other places within the park that kids will have fun exploring. The Arizona Heritage Center, Museum of Firefighting, and Archeological Museum are great places to check out and explore with kids that are a great complement to the hiking and outdoor activities of the park and trails. 

Each of these locations within the square footage of Papago Park includes educational exhibits where kids can learn about a variety of topics that are relevant to Arizona history and culture. 

Between the historic site of the pyramid, the zoo, lagoons, picnic tables, and hiking and biking trails, Papago Park has something for everyone. Its beautiful desert scenes make it a perfect spot to hang out outside and have a small picnic with the family while overlooking the sunset and natural setting. 

Feel Like a Part of the Old West at Goldfield Ghost Town

Take a step back in history and take a stroll through a reconstructed 1890s mine town. This reconstructed ghost town includes a historical museum and old west gunfight performances that make you feel like you walked right out of a classic western film. 

Walking through this site is just like walking through any small town, only they’ve reconstructed it to give a look and feel of an old west environment. There are saloons, shops, and historic buildings, and museums. It’s the ultimate game of pretending that any kid will enjoy it. 

Goldfield Ghost Town

You can even ride old trains and search for gold. If you’re leisurely walking through the main street, you’ll also get a free show where actors perform old west gunfights right there in the street. 

It’s an immersive and adventurous experience that many visitors enjoy. This town is modeled after a real mine town that experienced highs and lows throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s until it finally died. 

The attractions and sites for exploring in this mining town are practically endless. Some of the most popular events and exhibits to check out are: 

  • The Superstitious Railroad
  • Goldfield Mine Tour
  • Reptile Exhibit
  • Goldfield Historical Museum 

Admission to different activities for adults vary, but kids under a certain age are often free of charge. 

You can even pan for gold or go zip-lining if you’re feeling extra adventurous. But even if none of these special activities are up to your or your kids’ ally, simply walking through the town and observing what an old west mine town would have looked like is a fun experience for anyone. 

Goldfield Ghost Town

It’s always fun to go back in time and pretend you are in a different part of history. Goldfield Ghost town is a goldmine for any history buff or old west enthusiast. Kids have fun watching the actors in the streets and learning about the different merchants and shops that would have been open back in the 19th century. Don’t forget to grab yourself some ice cream while you’re at it!  This town makes interacting with history even more fun; kids and families will have a blast simply walking through town. 

Check out Kid-Friendly Technology Exhibits at the Arizona Science Center 

The Arizona Science Center is located in downtown Phoenix within the Heritage and Science Park. This science center houses a multitude of science exhibits, a theatre, and a planetarium. Our science center is especially great for kids as many of the exhibits are geared toward educating youth about science and technology. 

Exhibits like “My Digital World” gives you a glimpse through the history of different communications technologies. This allows you to see how much science and technology have improved and advanced over the years. 

The Dorrance Planetarium opened its doors in 1997 and has become one of the most advanced planetariums in the country. Hang out under this dome and experience light and music in immersive and exciting ways. 

If you like to have some more structure to exploring the museum, there are guided and self-guided touring options that provide information on the different exhibits as you walk through the building. 

Don’t forget to also peek at the museum’s calendar for free events and programs that you and your kids might want to take part in. 

The Arizona Science Center is a really great place to explore and educate yourself and your kids about different technology and science topics right in the heart of downtown Phoenix. Your kids will have a blast interacting with the immersive exhibits, shows, activities, and more. 

Walk Through Historic Heritage Square 

Another budget-friendly activity that kids are sure to love is a relaxing stroll through Historic Heritage Square. Known as the city’s historic center, there’s a large number of buildings, shops, museums, and restaurants that every visitor should check out. 

It’s the oldest standing block of buildings in Phoenix, and its charm and character are sure to make every visitor feel like a local walking through the streets. This block of the city’s history is a standing monument to what the style of Phoenix architecture was like in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. 

This area is quaint and cozy and perfect for a stroll with the family. Check out the local shops for different antiques that display the old town’s character and charm. Walking around, you’re likely to come around an old Victorian tearoom, the Arizona Doll Museum, and some of the oldest houses to remain standing that display the city’s historic architecture. 

Some visitors also suggest starting at the Burgess Carriage House, where you can find maps and more information about the best sites to explore within Heritage Square. 

When the weather is pleasant, Heritage Square is a lovely place to walk around with kids and observe the different styles of houses and buildings while enjoying a peaceful afternoon. 

Ride a Carousel at Enchanted Island Amusement Park

Rides, games, and adventure waiting for kids of all ages at Enchanted Island Amusement Park. Admission is free to everyone, and kids are able to ride a variety of rides like Encanto Carousel and the C.P. Huntington Train. 

This medium-sized amusement park is the perfect place to release some energy with rides and games that all kids will enjoy. Along with different rides, there’s even a rock-climbing wall and a splash zone. Kids can cool off from the desert heat with this small-sized shallow pool with Flower Showers and Water Mushrooms. 

The C.P. Huntington Train ride is the amusement park’s most popular attraction. Clocking at 7-minutes long, the train provides a tour of the entire amusement park. It’s a great way to get the lay of the land and experience what a steam engine train ride would be like. 

Don’t forget to also take a ride on the oldest continuously operated carousel in Arizona. The Encanto Carousel is a charming ride that provides safe fun for kids. It has served as a fun experience for all riders since 1948 and was completely refurbished in the ’80s.   

This amusement park also has plenty of snacks to alleviate your hunger after an afternoon of riding rides and playing games. There are also ongoing seasonal events you can attend with your kids. 

Enchanted Island Amusement Park has options for the adventurous like bumper boats and airplane rides as well as more simple activities like carousel and train rides for anyone that wants to sit back and enjoy the day. With something for everyone, this amusement park is a great place that kids will love spending time in. 

Immerse Yourself in Arizona History at the Arizona Capital Museum

Right in the heart of downtown Phoenix, the Arizona History Museum is a family-friendly place to visit that’s free to the public. 

This museum chronicles the different periods of Arizona’s history as a territory of Spain, Mexico, and later as an American state. There are also some World War II exhibits for history buffs and kids who want to learn more about the different periods in American history and how Arizona played a role. 

The museum includes a variety of artwork, historical artifacts, and immersive exhibits that are sure to interest any kid or visitor. 

Arizona has a rich state history, and this historic building pays homage to that history. It’s where visitors can come to learn about state government, culture, and politics. The building itself is also an architectural masterpiece with luxurious high ceilings and a beautiful courtyard right out front. You could walk around this museum for hours and still not see everything it has to offer. 

Final Thoughts 

Arizona has a lot to offer locals and visitors. There are plenty of free activities to keep your children, tweens included, happy, and engaged on your Arizona vacation. 

The natural hikes and outdoor activities are great ways to get in some exercise, see some scenic views, and spend time in the fresh air. The museums and art centers are great options for those who want to escape the heat and learn about the arts and Arizona culture. 

Kids will have a great time exploring nature, riding bikes, engaging in artistic programs and activities, as well as learning about different science and history topics that are relevant to Phoenix. The city offers an option for anyone, and many activities are easily within driving distance of each other. 

Use this list to plan a day exploring Phoenix with your kids that includes a little bit of exercise, learning, and a ton of fun along the way.