Thrifty Traveler’s Guide to Exploring Phoenix on a Budget
When people ask me where I love to go during the snowy winter months, Phoenix is always at the top of my list. It’s a cheap (nonstop) flight away from my city and checks the boxes on all my cheap warm-weather getaway must-haves: awesome food, spectacular hiking, and fun attractions on a budget.
Check out my recommendations in Phoenix and make it your next U.S. city to explore on the cheap.
Looking to dine deliciously, but not break the bank? I’ve got some recommendations for you!
Sonora Taco Shop
The Sonora Taco Shop was recommended to me by a friend and current Phoenix local who said Sonora makes the best tacos he’s had in Phoenix. He wasn’t wrong! Sonora is a little hole-in-the-wall with a short menu written on a chalkboard overlooking the kitchen. But don’t let its simplicity fool you: this place is a must-visit during your stay in Phoenix.
You have the choice between tacos, burros, vampiros (tostadas with cheese and beans), and carmelos (similar to a quesadilla). For each of these options, you can choose between three types of meat: carne asada (steak), chicken, and pastor (marinated pork). All three meat options were delicious, and I loved the carmelos best.
Food & Games at the Churchill and Culinary Dropout
Looking for some good eats with a side of fun? Check out these unique dining experiences: The Churchill and Culinary Dropout. Both offer several dining options under one outdoor shed roof, and tons of games to play for free!
Grab an acai bowl, beer, or appetizers from one of the several restaurants that are part of this conglomerate and play some bags and ping pong. Come during happy hour for cheap drinks and apps and free entertainment.
Los Reyes de la Torta
This was another local recommendation, and again — spot on! Los Reyes de la Torta specializes in tortas but makes amazing sopes and quesadillas as well. The homemade corn tortillas are insanely large and delicious. See hand for size reference!
Postino Happy Hour
We love window shopping and dining in the popular Scottsdale Old Town area, but many of those restaurants are pretty spendy. Several fellow Thrifty Traveler subscribers recommended Postino to me, and it did not disappoint! Just a few blocks from the heart of Scottsdale Old Town is one of Postinos few locations in the Phoenix area. We were absolutely blown away by our experience at Postino’s. Get the Butcher Board for a delicious charcuterie platter, try the cauliflower appetizer, and mix & match the many options for bruschetta that will rock your world! As an added bonus, they had gluten-free bread.
They have insane happy hour specials as well. Postino’s offers $5 glasses of wine and $5 pitchers of beer every day until 5 P.M. They also do a $20 board & bottle special on Mondays and Tuesdays after 8 PM. Get a bottle of wine and a bruschetta board (usually $15 itself) for just $20. That’s a steal for dining out at a highly rated restaurant on the cheap!
Free Outdoors Exploring
I always say that the best free activity on a vacation or getaway is exploring. And there’s nowhere better to do that than Phoenix. With so many spectacular mountains and hiking trails nearby, it’s the perfect sunny day activity that will make you feel great and provide some stunning views of the city from above.
Phoenix is pretty spread out, so I’d recommend renting a car to drive to these different trails. We made a habit of hiking in the morning and getting a good sweat in before heading to a local spot for lunch. Bring your own water bottle, hat, and sunscreen, and read the trailhead maps to select a route that matches your difficulty preference.
Some of our favorite trails are: Camelback Mountain, Piestewa Peak trails, Papago Park (check out the Hole in the Wall!), and Phoenix Mountains Preserve trails.
Attractions on a Budget
Ready to explore more of Phoenix? Here are the must-see attractions — and how to do them for less.
Roosevelt Row is an arts district in downtown that is home to stunning outdoor murals, quaint cafes, and art exhibits and galleries. I highly recommend spending an afternoon exploring this area, taking photos with the art, browsing the galleries, and grabbing a bite to eat in the area. Start out at The Dressing Room for lunch, grab a coffee at Be Coffee next door and walk through the indoor gallery attached. Get a sweet treat at Melt Ice Cream Shop, and explore the area!
Explore the gorgeous mansion on top of a hill, built by Mr. Wrigley (yes, of Wrigley gum!) himself in 1929. You can have a glass of wine and appetizer on the patio — be sure to try the Juicy Fruit cocktail.
Next, wander inside the mansion and have a look around. Tours are available for $15 a person, but we came late enough in the afternoon that all tours were out already, and the kind hostess let us and others look around the mansion at no cost. This stellar abode is outfitted with spectacular tiled bathrooms, vibrant colors, and special features.
In a similar vein, you’ve got to check out Taliesin West while in Phoenix. This was famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home and is open for tours. Check out the several tour options, and students — be sure to bring your student ID for a discount.
Desert Botanical Garden
Last but not least: the Desert Botanical Garden! I’d venture to say that this was the highlight of our trip to Phoenix this year. The botanical gardens were vast, and it was such a blast exploring and discovering all the different cacti, succulents, plants, and trees on the garden paths. I must say, this is one of the coolest botanical gardens I’ve been to.
Tickets aren’t cheap at $24.95 per person, but plan ahead and visit on the second Tuesday of the month, and get FREE admission!
I highly recommend visiting the Desert Botanical Garden in the morning or afternoon and then coming back in the evening to see the Electric Desert. At night, the garden comes to life, with a unique light and sound show throughout the botanical garden that will wow you. Be sure to purchase the All Day Pass for $34.95 that includes both the day pass and night Electric Desert pass.
Have you been convinced? Make Phoenix your next U.S. getaway and explore all this city has to offer. Want to see all of these recommendations — and more! — on a map? Check out the Google My Maps I made for exploring Phoenix.
Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews, or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.