Since my hubby and I are currently on a three year spending ban while we pay off $117,000 of student loan debt, we don’t generally travel.  However, we went to Arizona last year because my step grandpa passed away and we were there for his funeral.

It was a sad occasion, but we were able to do some sightseeing while we were there.  Here are my top ten favorite budget-friendly activities to do in Arizona.

The Desert Botanical Garden

This beautiful garden is 147 acres of Papago Park in Phoenix.  There are over 10,000 cacti in the garden, as well as numerous other types of plants.  The garden includes collections of plants from California, Australia, and South America.  If you’re a student, make sure to bring your student ID with you for a discounted admission fee.

Phoenix Art Museum

This 285,000 square foot art museum is the largest visual arts museum in the southwest U.S.  Exhibits include American, Asian, European, and Latin American art.  The museum also includes contemporary art and fashion design.

Admission is $18 for adults, $13 for students with a valid ID, and $9 for children.  However, free admission is offered several times per month.  See the website for more information.

Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art

For a more modern art museum, check out SMoCA, located in the Old Town district of downtown Scottsdale.   SMoCA is Arizona’s only permanent museum dedicated solely to modern art, design, and architecture.  It has five main galleries and an outdoor sculpture garden.

Admission is $10 for adults, $7 for students, and free for those 15 and under.  Admission is free for all on Thursdays (all day) and after 5:00 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

Fountain Hills

Located just 40 minutes from Phoenix, Fountain Hills is a gorgeous city.  Fountain Hills is famous for, of course, its fountain.  The fountain used to hold the Guinness world record as the tallest fountain in the world, but there are now taller fountains.

The fountain’s water can reach 560 feet in height, and it’s surrounded by a 30-acre lake.  The fountain spurts water for 15 minutes every hour, on the hour.

Fountain Hills also has many beautiful lookout points that make great places for photos.  Simply pull over to one of the scenic lookouts and get out your camera.  The city’s beautiful hills, cacti, and mountains make for gorgeous photos.  While you’re in Fountain Hills, check out the popular restaurant DJ’s Bagel Café.

DJ’s Bagel Café

This bagel café is by far my favorite restaurant in Arizona.  They offer much more than just bagels – they also sell a variety of sandwiches, wraps, and amazing desserts.  If you’re a chocolate lover, make sure to try the cannoli –it’s incredible!  The prices are also quite reasonable.

This cannoli is amazing!

Historic Sahauaro Ranch

This free ranch in Glendale is well worth the visit.  There are numerous old, historic buildings (unfortunately, you can’t go inside the buildings).  There are palm trees everywhere and the scenery is gorgeous.  This seems to be a popular place for professional photo shoots – we happened upon a couple of them while we were there.  The area is also full of wild peacocks!

Salad and Go

Salad and Go is awesome!  It’s a healthy, cheap, “fast food” drive through.  They keep their overhead costs low by building extremely small restaurants – the restaurants do not have ANY indoor seating.  You can either go to the drive through or order at a separate window and eat outside.  This works out just fine in warm, sunny AZ!

The food is amazing – they offer salads, wraps, smoothies, and more.  Even my mom (who would’ve preferred to eat at McDonald’s) loved it.  She ordered a wrap and a smoothie, and she was pleasantly surprised by how delicious the healthy food was.


Words can’t describe how unbelievably gorgeous Sedona is.  From Phoenix, it takes a few hours to get there but it’s well worth the drive.  The red rock mountains are stunning, and there’s also a cathedral built into one of the rocks, which is interesting to see.  There are plenty of places for hiking and there’s also a plethora of unique little shops to browse.

If you have time, check out Slide Rock Park located in Oak Creek Canyon just seven miles north of Sedona.  The park is gorgeous and includes plenty of fun things to do such as hiking and swimming.  Make sure to bring a sweatshirt – the elevation is high (nearly 5,000 feet), so it gets a little chilly.

Two warnings: Sedona is packed full of tourists, and the drive there is pretty terrifying if you don’t like heights (quite a bit of the road is right next to huge cliffs with no guardrails).  If you don’t mind either of those things, it’s definitely worth checking out.

At Slide Rock State Park.

The Town Dump

The Town Dump (located in Cave Creek – 27 miles northeast of Phoenix) is definitely the most interesting and unusual store I’ve ever been to.  Think of the dump as essentially a giant garage sale full of expensive (and mostly bizarre) art.

While much of the art is tacky and costs anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars, it’s fun to just take a look around.  They do have a few items that are less expensive – I once found a $4 tiny sombrero for my mom’s chihuahua.

The Horny Toad

The Horny Toad is the oldest restaurant in Cave Creek and has been the location for many “Old West” movies and photo shoots.  The Horny Toad offers delicious food, outdoor dining options, and seasonal entertainment.  It’s also close to the shops in Cave Creek.

The Best of AZ

One thing that motivates me to pay off my debt and pursue financial freedom is my desire to travel (without having to worry about how I’m going to pay for it).  AZ is my favorite place that I’ve been to so far.  I’m looking forward to going back again someday.

Do you have any suggestions for any frugal things I can do next time I’m there?

What are your favorite budget-friendly things to do in AZ?

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