Scrambling for something local and entertaining to do with friends or family? We found more than 25 options for free fun in Mesa, the East Valley, and throughout Phoenix—with options for every age range and interest!
Love our local arts and attractions? Want to treat a special someone to a FREE trip to the Phoenix Art Museum, the Arizona Science Center or Desert Botanical Garden? Take advantage of the Act One Culture Pass.
Library cardholders can check out an Act One Culture Pass for FREE admission or tickets for two people at multiple participating arts and cultural institutions. You may check out one pass at a time and there’s a limit of two passes per month. Passes are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Culture Pass link
Book discussions, code camps, story times, crafting, computer classes, author signings—local libraries have tons of free events for every member of the family. Seasonal reading programs are extremely popular for elementary-school age groups and feature activities and prizes.
Brush up on your Boot Scootin’ Boogie or learn the AZ Two Step at Denim and Diamonds, 7336 E. Main St., Mesa. Free dance lessons Wednesday and Saturday nights, doors open at 6 p.m., lessons start at 6:30 p.m. Denim and Diamonds link
This is always a great place to take visitors to snap a few pics of them sitting next to Humpty Dumpty or draping their arm around any one of the 38 permanent sculptures scattered up and down Main St. in Downtown Mesa. Enjoy the shops and eateries along the way. Sculpture link.
Desert Trails Park is a neighborhood favorite at the northeast corner of McDowell and Recker in Mesa that has varied routes to explore. Young, inexperienced riders as well as experienced bikers love to hit the trails here. Plus, it makes a really fun short hike if you don’t bring your bike, with a fantastic view of the entire city of Mesa. The East Valley Canal Loop is a 21-mile loop that begins at the Guadalupe Road/Greenfield Road area in Gilbert and extends north to McDowell Road in Mesa and back down again. You can find the loop on Mapmyride.com, a great resource to find information on the many bike trails throughout the East Valley.
On the east side of Mesa, Usery Mountain Regional Park consists of 3,648 acres adjacent to the Tonto National Forest. It’s a hiker’s and photographer’s paradise, teeming with desert wildlife and a gorgeous place to watch a stunning Arizona sunset. Biking, hiking, camping, horseback riding—you name it, you can find it—on one of the 20 hiking trails. One of the most popular trails, the Wind Cave Trail, culminates in the Wind Cave, a natural feature formed by dripping water over thousands of years. The park holds many free, fun and informative lectures and activities at the Nature Center at the entrance to the park. Event link.
Interested in learning more about fishing, archery and other outdoor sports? Let the crew at Bass Pro Shop at 1133 N. Dobson Rd. in Mesa help with tips on safety and enjoyment. They have a Kids Night event every Tuesday from 5 p.m. – 8 p.m. that features live fish feeding and free popcorn. They also offer Boy Scout Merit Badge classes. Mesa Bass Pro event link
If you love planes, head out to Falcon Field, 4800 E. Falcon Drive in Mesa. The airport opened in 1941 and served as a World War II pilot training base. There are more than 700 aircraft based at Falcon Field, including fixed-wing single- and multi-engine aircraft, turboprops, jets and helicopters. Falcon Field Airport is home to a variety of aviation organizations and pilot groups who host a variety of events, from community pancake breakfasts to fly-ins, to share their aircraft and love of flying, mentor young pilots, and raise money for charity.
The public is welcome to enjoy two aircraft viewing areas at the Falcon Field Airport terminal building: a patio behind the terminal and a separate lawn area on the east side of the building. Both areas face the aircraft parking ramp and offer close-up views of fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters on the ramp, taxiways and runways. Free binoculars are available in both viewing areas.
Free gliders can be obtained inside the terminal office during business hours that children can fly on the miniature runway in the lawn area. Pack a lunch and make an afternoon of it! Falcon Field Airport information.
Thrill the baseball fan in your family by getting a major league player’s autograph! Sloan Park, 2330 West Rio Salado Parkway in Mesa, is the spring training home of the Chicago Cubs, with games scheduled in March. Time permitting, players and coaches may sign autographs up until 30 minutes prior to the game. Fans seeking autographs following the game may have the opportunity to find players in the designated player walkway from the ballpark to the home clubhouse, located outside the Home Plate Gate.
Connected to Sloan Park is Mesa Riverview Park, with an urban fishing lake, softball fields, fountains and other cool water features and a large playground for kids. The playground includes a 50-foot climbing tower, a 60-foot mesh rope climbing structure, restrooms, shaded picnic areas and lots of open play areas as well.
You don’t have to be a college student to attend many of the free events and activities at Mesa Community College, 1833 W. Southern Ave, Mesa. For example, there’s no entrance fee to MCC’s Art Gallery, which features a wide range of works in painting, ceramics, photography and electronic media. And it’s always great to take a stroll around The Rose Garden at MCC, home to 9,000 rose bushes, free and open to the public. For the starry-eyed, free “Astronomy Nights” in the 52-seat, state-of-the-art Planetarium are held on the first Friday night of every month.
Interested in desert animals and endangered species? MCC’s Red Mountain campus, 7110 E. McKellips Rd., Mesa, has a cienega that is a Wildlife Certified Habitat and home to endangered native desert pupfish and desert tortoises. There’s also a terrarium in the lobby of the Saguaro Building, with snakes, lizards and gila monsters! And throughout the year many sports, cultural and community-oriented events take place on both campuses. MCC Facebook event link
Chandler-Gilbert Community College, 2626 E. Pecos Rd. in Chandler, also hosts many events that are free and open to the public. For little to no cost, you can cheer on their soccer and volleyball teams, or attend a choir or orchestra performance. Many of the music performances take place at the Pecos Performing Arts Center. It’s an enjoyable way to support young talent, many of whom are on their way to careers in the arts. And who knows, you might decide it’s time to register for a couple of classes while you’re there. Chandler-Gilbert event link or Facebook event link
Little Howlers Hockey is an on-ice youth hockey program hosted in cooperation with the Arizona Coyotes Hockey Development Program, Arizona Amateur Hockey Association, One Goal and local hockey rinks. The program consists of four free one-hour sessions designed to provide kids ages 4-8 a risk-free introduction to the sport of hockey. There’s a program in Gilbert at AZ Ice Gilbert.
The staff in the Children’s IKEA department is full of fun craft ideas that they share with kids for no cost. Visit on the First Saturday & Third Sunday of every month from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. and find out what they’re up to! Link to IKEA Info
Are you all thumbs when it comes to plumbing and other household repairs? Home Depot offers free home improvement workshops for do-it-yourselfers of all ages and experience. They even have special do-it-HERSELF and kids workshops. Kids get a kit, an apron and a certificate. All for free, usually on Saturdays or Sundays. Check the schedule for specific East Valley stores. Do-it-Yourself Workshop Schedule
Design and decorate custom pottery at As you Wish Pottery Painting Place in two East Valley locations—Mesa and Chandler. They provide all the materials to help you keep your inner artist happy! Take note of their Specials page for free events and materials. As You Wish Pottery Specials
Love cars? Get your engines started. Here’s a link to Arizona Auto Scene’s detailed listing of events relating to car shows, road racing, drag racing, drifting and other motorsport-related events. Many are in East Valley cities and take place on weekends at varied times. Arizona Auto Scene events
Have you attended the Gilbert Riparian Preserve’s Butterflies and Dragonflies walk, Star Party or Bird Walk? If not, treat yourself to some time spent marveling at the wonders of nature. East Valley residents and visitors are fortunate to have such a treasure right in their own backyard. The preserve has diverse species of ducks, shorebirds and turtles in the ponds and hummingbirds, quail and woodpeckers along the trails. Learn about the importance of riparian habitats and water conservation in the Sonoran desert. Riparian Preserve Event Calendar
Walk away from city life and spend some time down on the farm. Schnepf Farms on Rittenhouse Rd. in Queen Creek is the East Valley’s favorite place for picnics, birthdays, get-togethers and small town festivals. Families have tons of fun roaming the orchards, picking peaches and even camping on the farm property. There are train rides, a petting zoo and hay rides. Some events, such as the Pumpkin & Chili Party have a fee, but many activities are free. Schnepf Farms’ activities
Described as 88 acres of pure fun for kids, this park offers play areas, volleyball, softball, tennis and fishing. For a small fee, there’s also a train that winds through the park and a carousel. An added bonus—it’s a great place to sit by the water’s edge and watch the sun go down behind palm and willow trees, with birds periodically swooping by. Located east of Lindsay Rd. between Guadalupe and Elliott in Gilbert. Coupon for train ride at Freestone
Mesa Dog Parks include Countryside Park, 3130 E. Southern Ave., and Quail Run Park,l 4155 E. Virginia St., both of which are off leash dog areas. Both offer separately fenced areas for timid dogs and more active dogs along with benches and water fountains for humans and pups.
Gilbert’s Cosmo Park is a 17-acre park complete with pet drinking fountains, 2 dog washing stations, waste disposal stations and a brick memorial area. The paw-print decorated park is visited by Gilbert residents more than 600,000 times a year. You can reserve a ramada and make a day of it, but please remember to clean up after your pets. The park is named after a local police dog hero, Cosmo.
The City of Chandler lists four dog parks that are available to residents. There’s a fake fire hydrant (Snedigar Dog Park only), see-saws, balance beams, tunnels, hurdles and plenty of parking at each. The parks are surrounded by 6-foot high chain link fences with one main entrance so dogs can’t escape unleashed.
Pocket Park for Pups in Queen Creek is a fun one-acre, lighted park with two separate play areas and enclosed fencing. Sossaman Cloud Park is also dog-friendly and has three fenced dog zones, including a water-feature area.
At 6 p.m. on the second Monday of each month, Gangplank, a collaborative community workspace, opens its doors to the creative community for an evening of arts and crafts. Bring your glitter and glue and get ready to mix and mingle with other crafters as you create crafts to your heart’s content. For details, visit CraftHackEV on Facebook. For other tech-related events at Gangplank, visit their event page.
Second Fridays in Downtown Mesa—Stroll down Main Street between Country Club Drive and Center Street to peruse the art of more than 70 vendors and partake in craft activities, entertainment and dining offerings. 6 p.m. – 10 p.m.
Downtown Chandler Art Walk welcomes 50 local artists to the town square at AJ Chandler Park on Arizona Ave. between 6 to 10 p.m. on the third Friday of the month. Stop by for high-quality art (artists must go through a jury process), musicians and dining options.
Gilbert Art Walk runs during the day October through March on the first and third Saturdays of the month from 9 a.m. – 1 pm. They’re family-friendly, pet-friendly and have tons of new artists each month. Located at the Gilbert Water Tower on Page Ave. in Downtown Gilbert, near all the popular restaurants (Postino’s, Joe’s Real BBQ, Farmhouse Restaurant, etc.) and the Hale Centre Theatre.
Queen Creek Festival takes place every Friday from 5:30 p.m. – 9 p.m. in front of the Queek Creek Library on Ellsworth Road. It’s a combo food truck/boutique market with music and lots of arts and crafts, plus restaurants within walking distance.
The Queen Creek Olive Mill is a unique place to learn about the history of olives in Arizona, grab a bite to eat and stay around for free, live music on Friday and Saturday nights. The owners, who have 7,000 olive trees on 100 acres, provide tours for a small fee and host special events throughout the year. Mill event link.
Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum in the Mesa Arts Center is always free and always fascinating. It’s a perfect way to spend a free afternoon, with five galleries of modern art collections with new exhibits every few months. 1 E. Main St. in Mesa.
Arizona Railway Museum, Chandler: Here’s a chance to blow the horn on a diesel engine and learn about Arizona railroads. The museum was founded by five rail fans who decided Arizona needed its own railway museum. View rare, antique rail pieces, a steam locomotive and tour a passenger train. Every Saturday and Sunday, noon – 4 p.m., Free.
i.d.e.a. Museum (formerly the Arizona Museum for Youth), Mesa: Treat your family to a trip to the i.d.e.a. Museum for original, fun, inspiring, and educational hands-on art. The museum has recently added science, engineering and design-thinking to the experience, with an increased use of technology to support these offerings and more opportunities for families to create together. Enjoy free Sunday admission once a quarter. The next free day is March 4, 2018. Check http://www.ideamuseum.org/freesunday.html for all dates.
Although these museums and attractions are not in the East Valley, it’s worth a short drive to see these unique destinations.
Phoenix Police Museum: While learning about the history of law enforcement in Phoenix, children can try on a real Phoenix Police uniform and get sworn in as a police officer while visiting the museum. There’s a 1919 Model T police car, police motorcycles, bomb robots and a full size helicopter.
Peacocks! Sahuaro Ranch Park Historical Area, Glendale: One of the Valley’s oldest ranches, this park has orchards, roses, historical farm machinery and a barnyard full of animals, including peacocks, who strut around and spread their colorful feathers to the delight of visitors.
Wells Fargo History Museum: Exhibits include an authentic 19th century stagecoach, a replica stagecoach you can climb on, an interactive telegraph and an art gallery with western-themed work.
Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix: Explore the Desert Botanical Garden and learn about the plants, birds and animals of the Sonoran Desert at this 140-acre botanical garden located in Papago Park. Walk the five trails that loop around the park and see desert wildflowers, rare cacti, woodpeckers, hummingbirds and butterflies. Free admission 2nd Tuesday of every month, 8 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Arizona Military Museum, Phoenix: The museum is rich with military culture and historical significance to Arizona. It served as a National Guard arsenal until World War II, when it was converted into a maintenance shop for German prisoners of war confined at a nearby POW camp.
Arizona Cardinals Training Camp, Glendale: Check out your favorite players and get pumped for the upcoming season by attending the Cardinals Training Camp at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale. Plus, there’s a kids’ interactive zone with an inflatable obstacle course and other football-related activities. After the game, it’s possible to snag an autograph with one of the players. Takes place in July and August at varied dates and times. Free admission, free parking.
East Valley Blogger Suggestions for Free Activities:
Chandler Macaroni Kid: East Valley Splash Pads
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Photos courtesy City of Mesa