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Friday, November 21, 2014

Things to do In Phoenix, AZ

Alisha McDarris

Overlooking Phoenix, AZ from Shaw Butte

Phoenix is pretty big. It’s got restaurants, spas, shopping, nightlife, everything you could ever want on a vacation if you’re planning to drop some dough. However, there’s certainly plenty for us penny-pinchers, too, especially for those of us who would rather spend our time out of doors. So pack your athletic wear and trail shoes and get ready to get outside!

Getting Around

  • Phoenix Airport: Unlike many other airports that bear a city’s name but aren’t actually located near the city, this one is right smack dab in the middle and easily accessible from just about anywhere.
  • Light Rail: This metro rail runs throughout the city and between the Light Rail, LINK, and City buses, you’ll definitely get to where you need to go. Plus, a fare includes a ride on any and all of the three modes of transportation. You can hop on at the airport, too, making it quick and easy to get into town if you’re arriving by air. Single ride tickets are $2 and passes for the day are $4. You can purchase them at fareboxes at the stops, but make sure to have exact change.
  • Scottsdale Trolley: On the edge of Phoenix is eclectic Scottsdale that offers shopping, dining, old town experiences and art galore. Sure, you can hoof it around the handful of districts, but if you’re not feeling it, the trolley around town is free.

Free Things to do in Phoenix

On first glance, there doesn’t appear to be much to do for free around town. Museums and galleries all charge admission, but once you do a little digging you’ll find there’s more to free Phoenix than initially meets the eye.
  • Seasonal Activities: Depending on what time of year you’re visiting there are a wealth of entertainment options. September offers free professional ballet performances by Ballet Arizona in parks around the city. Towards the beginning of September you can catch a handful of the Arizona Coyotes’ free practice games. In February, before baseball spring training games begin (which aren’t free, but are pretty cheap), you can attend practices for free for most all of the 15 pro teams that train in and around Phoenix in the city’s 10 stadiums.
  • Rio Salado Audubon Center: Just on the edge of downtown is this quiet little center complete with a handful of informative and interactive displays and a cute little naturalist-inspired gift shop. But the real fun begins outside the building where walking and biking trails offer guests a chance to examine Arizona plants and wildlife up close. They also offer seasonal events like October’s Enchanted Trail for families, Saturday morning birding every week, Animal Encounters the second Saturday of every month, Birds ‘n’ Beer talks the third Thursday of each month (admission is free for this one, but beers are $3 a piece), and more. 3131 S Central Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85040. 

  • Get out and hike: There are dozens of places to wear down the tread of your hiking boots in Phoenix whether you’d prefer to take it easy or challenge yourself. Climb Camelback or Piestewa Peak for an uphill battle you won’t soon forget. Wander around the Papago Buttes or scurry to the top of one for a less strenuous option or take the Waterfall Canyon Route. South Mountain offers several options, too. Some are open to mountain bikers, too, so enjoy on two feet or two wheels. Find a list and maps here.

  • Phoenix Public Market: For everything from baked goods and jewelry to fresh vegetables and sorbet, this weekly market is the place to be. It’s pretty packed on Saturdays and parking can be tricky, but supporting the local economy (not to mention the fresh pasta) is totally worth it. 721 N Central Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85004.
  • First Fridays: The community comes out in full force for this monthly street fair of sorts. Artists, local businesses and vendors crowd parking lots up and down Roosevelt Street and beyond with information about upcoming events, homemade wears for sale, art and food trucks for the public’s enjoyment. Coffee shops and bars are packed, foot and vehicle traffic is slow and heavy, and galleries are open late. It’s a wild night but promises to offer a titillating experience for the senses.
  • Scottsdale: There’s a little something for everybody in this greater Phoenix town. There’s posh shopping, lots of galleries and public art, and Old Town where you can get a little taste of the Old West with shops and architecture that are a throwback to days gone by. There are several “districts,” but a free trolley makes it easy to park (which is also free) and ride around town.

Our Favorite Things

Spend the cash. It’s not much for these attractions and it’s worth it.
  • Harkins Theatres offer TNC, Tuesday Night Classics, every week at 7pm for only $5. Some aren’t so classic (take “Elf” for example), but others (like “A Christmas Story”) are close. Upcoming shows are listed on the theatre website and there are several locations throughout the city, so grab some popcorn and enjoy!

Grab a Bite

There is no shortage of excellent options for dining in Phoenix. But not all of them are cheap, so we rounded up a few quality options that might save you a few bucks.
  • Cartel Coffee: This won’t be the cheapest latte you enjoy in the city, but it’ll be one of the most unique. They roast their own beans and serve up caffeinated beverages that are pretty darn delicious, pour-over brew included. There are several locations to choose from, just don’t bring your PC along unless you don’t mind being the oddball in the bunch. Apple power! 1 N 1st St, Phoenix, AZ 85004.

  •  Lux Coffee: One of the best plain lattes we’ve had in a while came from this impressive shop that also serves food, pastries, wine and more. They roast their own beans on site (you can see into the roasting room and smell the beans from your car in the parking lot) and provide an excellent option for true coffee lovers. 4402 N Central Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85012.
  • Shine Coffee: You get it, right? There are a lot of local coffee shops in Phoenix. But here is another if you like to sip something a little out of the ordinary. Cardamom latte or rose-infused coffee, anyone? Of course they also offer iced tea and snackage and the baristas are friendly. You order at a window outside, but there’s a community “living room” in the building next door if you want to sit, sip and relax. 10 W Vernon Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85003.

  • Green: This place serves up vegan fare only, but it’s delicious. Maybe best known for their Big Wac, a vegan spin on, well, you know, they also have healthy rice and noodle bowls, tasty appetizers like Crab Puffs, and comfort food like the No Harm Chicken Parm Po Boy. Plus, there’s vegan ice cream right next door at Nami. What’s not to love? Average prices for meals is around $8.50. 2022 N 7th St. Phoenix, AZ

  • Whole Foods Market Highland Tavern: Not just a health food store, this one has a tavern, too! And weekday $10 specials make it especially tempting. For example, on Thursdays you can get a 16” two-topping pizza for $10! That feeds the two of us for two meals. And vegan cheese is an option, too, of course. And it is a tavern, so beer and wine options abound. 4701 N 20th St, Phoenix, AZ 85016.
  • Chicago Hamburger Company: Apparently the home of the Windy City Slider, you can pick up a slider for $1.09 a piece or a little cheeseburger for $1.24. A couple of those and you’ve got a meal for $5. There are full-size burgers, too, even a veggie burger for $5. Josh said they weren’t as good as White Castle (for the midwesterners), but definitely a cheap and tasty option. 3749 E Indian School Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85018.
  • Thai Lahna: With portions big enough to share if you’re not absolutely starving, grab a noodle dish or some curry and spring rolls and you’ll come in at around $10-$12. Maybe not the cheapest ethnic food in town, but it’s delicious (which, as we know, is not always guaranteed with ethnic food). 3738 E Indian School Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85018.

Ways to Save

  • Phoenix New Times: Pick up one of these free weekly magazines when you get to town for a listing of upcoming events for the week (including free and cheap ones), coupons (perhaps for free donuts), and interesting articles.
  • Find deals for Phoenix events, experiences and more so if you’re going to pay, you don’t over pay.
Is there anything we missed? Add it in the comments below. Enjoy your trip!

Alisha McDarris / Author & Editor

Alisha is a freelance writer and photographer based in Austin, TX. She loves her tiny house, vegan food and experiencing the community of travel in far away places. She’s also pretty sure she’s addicted to coffee. [Portfolio]


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