There’s a recession on, haven’t you heard–and Phoenix, AZ, was one of the hardest hit. That’s right: after growing faster than any other city besides Las Vegas in the first half of the last decade, the Phoenix economy took a whopper right to the gut when it all came crumbling down in’08. Housing prices dropped from a median peak of $262k to $150k, meaning that the city as a whole has been forced to live a lot less large.
But that doesn’t mean that you have to. Leave the recession to those who don’t read our blog. We’ll show you how to live it up large–while still keeping to your budget.
With 300 days of sunshine and summers where 110F is considered cool, the primary concern of most Phoenicians is to beat the heat. Head out to Kiwanis Park in Tempe with its lakes, open airy fields, tree-shaded paths, covered pavilions, and pools. If the heat is still too oppressive out there then head inside to their massive wave pool–it’s only $5 to get in after 3pm ($4 for kids, who will appreciate the experience most).
The greater Phoenix area is home to a ton of museums, but the best are rarely free and commonly quite expensive. The best way to see them for cheap is to get a library card (at almost any public library in the area) and check out a Culture Pass. The Phoenix Culture Pass will get you and one other person free entrance into the Arizona Historical Society, the Arizona Museum of Natural History, the Arizona Science Center, Cave Creek Museum, the Children’s Museum of Phoenix, Deer Valley Rock Art Center, Desert Botanical Garden, Desert Caballeros Western Museum, Phoenix Art Museum, Phoenix Zoo, Pueblo Grande Museum, and the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (phew).
If books aren’t really your thing (and thus you don’t hold a library membership) some always-free museums around Phoenix include the Arizona State Capitol, the Arizona Military Museum, Arizona Museum for Youth in Mesa, the Arizona Railway Museum in Chandler, the ASU Museums of Art and Anthropology, the Chandler Museum (in Chandler, duh), the Fiesta Bowl Museum, the Gallery at City Hall, the Phoenix Police Museum, the Rawhide Museum, the Sahuaro Ranch ParkHistorical Area in Glendale, the Scottsdale Historical Museum, the Shemer Art Center and Museum, the Wells Fargo History Museum, and finally the Zelma Basha SalmeriGallery of Western American and Native American Art. At the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art admission is free all day on Thursdays; on Fridays and Saturdays admission is free from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. With a list like that, your weekends should be covered with free activities for the next year.
The two best museums in Phoenix are the Phoenix Museum of Art and the Heard Museum. The former is one of the best art museums in the Southwest, while the latter is one of the best museums of indigenous American cultures period.Unfortunately, they’re both $15 a ticket. But don’t worry: the Phoenix Museum of Art is pay-what-you-want every Wednesdays from 3-9pm and the first Friday of every month from 6-10pm. You’ll only ever get in for free at the Heard Museum, on the other hand, if you just happen to be a Native American.
First Fridays Phoenix claims claims to be the largest Art Walk in the nation, and it very well may be. An enormous outdoor concert erupts from 7th St and Roosevelt St to Central Ave and along Roosevelt St and Grand Ave. Add to that the fact that over 70 art galleries, shops, bars and restaurants throw open the doors and draw people in with specials and you’ve got the biggest (and free-est) party in Arizona.
Long Wong’s is one of the most famous hole-in-the-walls in Phoenix, and you won’t believe how cheap it is: a dozen wings for just $6.75, or try the Great Deal combo with a cheeseburger, 4 wings, and a large drink for just $6.99.
Pro’s Ranch Markets are more than just grocery stores–their cocinas also happen to offer some of the tastiest (and cheapest) food in the area. Asian Cafe Express has won the New Times’ ‘Best of Phoenix’ award but still serves meals for less than $4.
Finally, should you find yourself in Tempe the Chuckbox can’t be missed. Huge, 1/3 pound burgers–renowned as the best around–are just $4.39.
You get thirsty out in the desert. Quench your thirst with $2 wells and domestics at the Hidden House Cocktail Lounge. Go on Wednesdays and Thursdays and can catch the free stand-up comedy show. Tired of bland domestics? Four Peaks Brewing Company in Tempe serves up their local craft brews for just $2.75 a pint and $10 a pitcher from 3-7pm and from 10 to close. Or try the Rose and Crown Pub, which offers an authentic pub experience straight out of Merry Old England, as well as a kick-ass happy hour: all well drinks and drafts $3.50 2-7pm M-F or $2 wells and $3 drafts after 9pm on Tues and Thurs. And that’s real beer, not that watery yankee piss.
The Rogue Bar in Scottsdale may be a dirty, disgusting dive, but they offer up a surprising selection of live music—and $1 PBR’s. Finally, the Bikini Lounge is Phoenix’s ultimate dive bar. Engaging staff, friendly—to put it one way—clientele, a sick DJ that spins from 9pm to 2am, and 32oz pitchers of PBR for just $3—need we say more?
There’s only one line to Phoenix’s light rail system but it’s incredibly long, running from Mesa through Tempe and downtown Phoenix and up through the northern suburbs, with a whopping 28 stations. And, fortunately enough, it has stations within walking distance to attractions like the Heard Museum, Phoenix Art Museum, the Arizona Science Center, Chase Field, US Airways Center, Sun Devil Stadium. Still, unless you’re lucky enough to both live and work close to a station–and this is not a likelihood–it’s best saved for specialty trips. One-way passes cost $1.75 while day passes only cost $3.50.
Phoenix’s bus system looks extensive on a map—until you see how spread out the city itself actually is. Buses extend public transportation’s reach beyond the light rail, but fall prey to traffic. Most lines stop running by 9pm and many suburban lines don’t even run past 7pm—so don’t stay late at work.
Zipcar offers car-sharing services around the ASU campus in Tempe and Downtown, but there are fewer vehicles available than in other cities. There’s an application fee of $25, but a year’s subscription only costs $50 and hourly rates start at $7.50 or $69 a day–which could save you a lot in the long-term, with car insurance and maintenance costs being what they are.
Stay up to date on bargain deals in Phoenix with the Phoenix New Times and Phoenix Metromix.
Brian Shreckengast is a writer at Self Storage Deals.