Top 12 Free Things to do in Mesa

Last Updated on February 8, 2024 by Emily Johnson

Mesa, Arizona is a vibrant city in the Phoenix metropolitan area known for its affordable living, beautiful landscapes, and abundance of free activities.

ActivityDescription
Mesa Arts CenterCultural center with art exhibitions, music shows, and free public tours.
Usery Mountain Regional ParkHiking and biking trails with scenic views and native rock art.
Lehi CanalEight-mile canal with historical insights, ideal for walking or biking.
EVAC StargazingFree stargazing with high-powered telescopes at Riparian Preserve.
Arizona Museum of Natural HistoryMuseum showcasing Arizona’s natural heritage, including dinosaur fossils and a mining tunnel.
Vista del Camino Park Disc GolfTwo 18-hole disc golf courses in a scenic park setting.
Daley Park & Rose GardenPark with 700 roses over 100 varieties, ideal for relaxation and photography.
McCormick-Stillman Railroad ParkFree rides on historic trains and carousels, with railroad history exhibits.
Park of the CanalsHistoric park with ancient canals, prehistoric ruins, and petroglyphs.
Golfland Sunsplash Water ParkWater park with slides, wave pool, and mini-golf, offering free admission under certain conditions.
Commemorative Air Force MuseumMuseum with vintage military aircraft and interactive displays, free admission.
Dobson Ranch ParkPark with multipurpose trails for hiking and biking, plus a community garden.

With scenic canals, lush parks, fascinating museums, and year-round sunny weather, Mesa has something for everyone to enjoy at no cost.

Explore the Mesa Arts Center

Name and Location: The Mesa Arts Center complex spans over 200,000 square feet in downtown Mesa as the largest multidisciplinary arts center within Arizona.

History and Significance: Constructed in 2005 as part of Mesa’s strategy to energize its downtown district, the Mesa Arts Center campus transformed central Mesa into a thriving hub for performing and visual arts. Multiple museums and galleries spotlight contemporary creativity across mediums. The striking external architecture itself qualifies as art.

What to Expect: Visitors view rotating exhibits emphasizing contemporary art in the MCA Museum, ICAA Museum and other gallery spaces within Mesa Arts Center while admiring the futuristic exterior design incorporating Mesa’s landscape. Performances, festivals, arts classes and special events occur daily.

Visitor Information: The Mesa Arts Center remains open daily excluding some holidays. Entry is free to peruse public spaces, with varying ticket pricing for scheduled performances and events accessible via Center Street. Free and paid parking options surround the complex.

The Mesa Arts Center is one of the largest and most stunning cultural centers in the Southwest. Spanning four acres, this performing and visual arts complex hosts contemporary art exhibitions, live music shows, theater performances, festivals and more. Visitors can view innovative works by local artists in the contemporary Art Museum and Art Gallery free of charge. The Center also offers free public tours on the first Tuesday morning of every month, allowing you to explore this architectural gem and learn about upcoming events.

Hike at Usery Mountain Regional Park

Name and Location: Spanning over 3,600 acres of rugged Sonoran Desert terrain just beyond Mesa city limits, Usery Mountain Regional Park contains nearly 30 miles of diverse hiking trails.

History and Significance: Since opening for public recreation in 1985, Usery Mountain Regional Park has welcomed legions of outdoor enthusiasts seeking beautiful desert vistas, saguaro cacti forests and wildflower displays while accessing its network of hiking trails across the Usery and Pass Mountains. Birding opportunities abound as well.

What to Expect: Usery Park visitors can select hiking trails catering to all ability levels. Choose from challenging ridgeline climbs, leisurely nature walks, and moderate paths including the popular Pass Mountain Trail stretching nearly 5 miles roundtrip with elevation changes.

Visitor Information: Open daily sunrise to 10 pm, the park charges a $7 per vehicle entry free on weekends. Numerous hiking trailheads stem from the main parking lot. Restrooms and seasonal water fountains available. Visitors must bring all drinking water.

Located just northeast of Mesa, Usery Mountain Regional Park contains nearly 4,000 acres of stunning Sonoran desert landscape. The park features dozens of miles of hiking and mountain biking trails that range from flat and easy loops to steep climbs with panoramic views. Visit the Pass Mountain Trailhead to access some of the most scenic paths extending into the Usery Mountains. Along the trails, you’re likely to spot vibrant wildflowers, saguaros, wildlife and ancient native rock art. entrance to the park and access to the trails is completely free.

Stroll along the Lehi Canal

Name and Location: Constructed during the late 1800s, the Lehi Canal stretched over 50 miles to deliver Salt River water supporting agricultural needs around Mesa and the East Valley. Today, segments of the canal feature pleasant walking paths.

History and Significance: Mormon settlers digging the Lehi Canal by hand in the 1880s established critical early irrigation supporting farms and commerce around Mesa using Salt River water diverted by the ancient Hohokam people centuries before them. Modern walkways installed along remnants of this canal now invite pedestrians and bikes.

What to Expect: Visitors walking segments of the Lehi Canal Legacy Trail winding through Mesa enjoy a thin ribbon of urban wilderness teeming with desert plant varieties like saguaros plus small wildlife sightings. Pathways also grant unusual views into neighborhood backyards abutting the waterway around Pecos Road near Country Club Drive.

Visitor Information: As a thin trail spanning just under 2 miles one-way mostly between Southern Avenue and University Drive, the Lehi Canal segment lies easily accessible to Mesa residents with free public access dawn through dusk daily. Street parking available at access points.

Walk or bike along the Lehi Canal for a unique way to experience Mesa’s heritage. Starting from Granite Reef Dam, this eight-mile canal traverses parks, neighborhoods and shopping areas. Along the walking path are pretty bridges, interpretive signs about local history, and numerous spots to stop for a picnic. The canal banks also come alive with birds and urban wildlife. For a relaxing outdoor excursion that offers insight into how Mesa harnessed irrigation to enable settlement and growth, take a ride or stroll along the Lehi Canal.

See the Stars at EVAC

Name and Location: The East Valley Astronomy Club operates an observatory in Falcon Valley 24 miles east of Mesa, open free to the public on Saturday nights year-round for stellar telescope viewing.

History and Significance: Constructed by amateur astronomers, the Gilbert Rotary Centennial Observatory owned by EVAC serves science and education for curious visitors gazing skyward on dark nights far from city lights. Housing quality telescopes, the observatory lets visitors personally witness astronomical features guided by friendly hosts.

What to Expect: Arriving near sunset allows seeing the observatory’s powerful scopes focus first on planets as they emerge, then star clusters, galaxies, nebulae and other cosmic features appearing in the night sky from the high desert site. EVAC astronomers answer questions while visitors take turns peering through optics revealing nature’s marvels.

Visitor Information: Free attendance every Saturday night year-round. Located off US 60 at 205 N. George Knox Road. Arrive just before dusk. Visible sky attractions vary by date. See calendar at eastvalleyastronomy.org where inclement weather cancellations also posted.

For breathtaking stargazing without spending a dime, head to the East Valley Astronomy Club’s Stargazing Center. Located on the grounds of the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch, this facility is open to the public free of charge every Friday and Saturday night once it gets dark. Volunteers from the club set up high powered telescopes and are on hand to offer information about constellations, planets and celestial events. Visitors will also enjoy gorgeous views of the night sky over the desert along with telescope guidance that brings stars, clusters and galaxies into focus.

Visit Arizona Museum of Natural History

Name and Location: The Arizona Museum of Natural History resides in Mesa, Arizona as a regional center to inspire appreciation of the Southwest’s rich natural heritage across geology, anthropology, paleontology, biology, astronomy and conservation.

History and Significance: Founded by five Mesa families in 1997, this educational natural history museum started small but steadily grew over 20+ years into an invaluable 50,000 square foot facility educating 150,000 annual visitors. Permanent and temporary displays engage patrons across all ages. The Dinosaur Mountain exhibit highlights real fossils found in AZ.

What to Expect: Expect lifelike dinosaur replicas, a mineral-glowing cave, walk-through timeline of regional nature changes, and special travelling exhibits within an engaging modern museum. The signature hall follows evolution from the region’s earliest geology through dinosaurs and early Native Americans to star-filled astronomy. Fun activities for kids.

Visitor Information: Open 6 days a week year-round (closed Mondays) from 9am-5pm. General admission $10, senior/student pricing available. Located at 53 North MacDonald Street.

To learn about Arizona’s rich natural heritage spanning thousands of years, pay a visit to the Arizona Museum of Natural History. This museum centerpieces an authentic Mastodon skeleton while also featuring exhibits on native animals, towering dinosaur fossil displays, huge petrified logs, meteorites and a simulated mining tunnel. Visitors can enjoy access to the entire museum for no admission cost. This makes it a great choose for families looking for an educational yet engaging activity. The museum also hosts free monthly programs like archaeology lectures and stargazing nights.

Play Disc Golf at Vista del Camino Park

Name and Location: Vista del Camino Park positioned northwest of downtown Mesa contains a quality 18-hole disc golf course traversing through desert arroyo terrain next to the library and community center buildings.

History and Significance: Installed in the early 1990s soon after disc golf caught on as recreation combining Frisbee throwing skills with traditional golf rules, Vista del Camino’s challenging course uses natural desert washes and elevation changes across its layout looping approximately two miles around the park to pleasantly physic participants.

What to Expect: Disc golfers at Vista del Camino Park attempt tossing specialized Frisbees into raised metal basket holes across diverse holes – some long, some tricky, all while enjoying Sonoran Desert scenery. Expect casual play for all ages on this free course. Bring your own discs or borrow from the community center.

Visitor Information: The park and 18-hole disc golf course stay open daily 5am to 10:30pm as public recreation facilities in northwest Mesa with free access. Restrooms and water fountains available seasonally. Located off North Center Street near University Drive, less than 15 minutes from downtown.

Vista Del Camino Park is home to two free disc golf courses suitable for all skill levels. You can play a round on these 18-hole courses winding through the park while enjoying mountain views and taking in sites like the Shrine of Remembrance and the Commander’s House. The park has a second entrance on Country Club Drive with parking close to the disc golf tee areas. Bring your own discs or rent them affordably from the on-site pro shop. This sport provides fun outdoor recreation along with picturesque scenery.

See Daley Park & Rose Garden

Name and Location: Historic Daley Park found along Center Street in downtown Mesa dates back over 100 years, containing tranquil walking paths through arbors exploding with color from 200+ rose varieties thriving within its International Rose Garden.

History and Significance: Developed by long-time resident Dr. A.J Daley during Mesa’s early 1900s, welcoming trellises and flowerbeds expanded over generations to become an officially recognized International Rose Garden in 1971 containing over 4,000 rose bushes sustaining countless romantic marriage proposals, senior photos and family gatherings.

What to Expect: Fragrant blooms like Mr Lincoln, Veterans Honor and Gemini roses delight visitors strolling the curved stone pathways through Daley Park from April through November when blossoms peak. The central Tropical Garden dazzles as well with lilies, hibiscus, aromatic citrus trees and bougainvillea surrounding its picturesque wedding gazebo.

Visitor Information: Free public access from 5am-11pm daily to Mesa’s oldest park spanning 5 acres downtown around Sirrine House event center. Peak rose blooming seasons run April-May and October-November. The park lies just west of Country Club Drive near Mesa Arts Center.

For gorgeous gardens and tranquil city views, visit Daley Park found at the intersection of Stapley and Main Street. Nestled against the Mesa Arts Center; this small green space contains the Rose Garden displaying 700 roses representing over 100 varieties. Walking paths wind through flower beds, rose arbors and tree groves where visitors can picnic, read or swing in the shade. This is an ideal spot for open-air painting, photography or just relaxing amid fragrant roses.

Ride the Rail at McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park

Name and Location: Since 1972, McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park has educated generations in Mesa about railroad history and operations via vintage locomotive rides around its park perimeter and expansive museum displays at 7301 E. Indian Bend Road.

History and Significance: Founded by the Stillman family to preserve railroads vital role settling America’s frontier, this widely acclaimed 30-acre park transports visitors back through locomotives, cars, artifacts and structures showcasing how steam-powered trains profoundly advanced travel, commerce and lifestyles from the late 1800s onward.

What to Expect: Railroad Park visitors ride trains pulled by different engines on weekends and holidays while learning railroad mechanics from conductors. Indoor/outdoor displays also showcase signals, crossing gates, switching stations and rolling stock that expanded commerce thanks to reliable coast-to-coast railways spreading after the Civil War.

Visitor Information: Open daily 9am-5pm excluding Thanksgiving/Christmas. Train rides operate weekends 11am-5pm plus some holidays. Admission $10 adults, $5 ages 2-12 years covering all attractions and rides. Birthday packages available.

At McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park, you can take a spin on a 1911 Baldwin steam train or 1950s Charlatan carousel at no cost. This park is dedicated to the preservation of local railroad history. Visitors can explore original train cars and cabooses, see model railroad exhibits, and clamber on stationary trains open for exploration. On weekends and select weekdays, the Charlatan carousel and Paradise & Pacific Railroad offer free rides. There is also an intricate model railroad depicting the historical construction of the transcontinental railroad.

See Ancient History at Park of the Canals

Name and Location: The Hohokam constructed over 200 miles of canals diverting Salt River water starting around 700 AD to support crops and commerce for an expansive village spanning the area now containing Mesa’s Park of the Canals greenspace at Schnepf and Stapley.

History and Significance: Before modern cities developed atop ruins still being discovered, native Hohokam people sustainably farmed the harsh desert for nearly 1,000 years along these lifegiving canals appreciating the Salt River’s importance. Now protected ruins within Mesa’s Park of the Canals reveal their ancient innovations.

What to Expect: Preserved segments of original Hohokam canals line this quiet 12-acre park, plus visitors discover grassy mounds signaling ruins sites being excavated for study before reburial to protect heritage. Interpretive signs detail their agriculture, tools, homes and pivotal role settling Arizona’s Valley of the Sun. Guided ruin tours available.

Visitor Information: Free public entry daily 6am-10pm at Schnepf and Stapley roads. On-site parking. Restrooms available. Respectful visitors welcomed. Small museum displays artifacts 6am-6pm explaining this ancient native civilization who thrived centuries before Europeans arrived.

Sprawling across the historic Mesa Canal, this open space preserve and museum chronicles canal engineering achievements crucial to establishing Mesa. Visitors can hike interpretive trails lined with prehistoric ruins, thousand-year-old petroglyphs and replicas of ancient canals. The Park also spotlights the history and construction of pioneering canals built by Mormon settlers which made settlement and agriculture possible in this arid region. With cultural points of interest plus native trees and desert vegetation, this park ties together Mesa’s ancient past and its founding origins.

Visit Golfland Sunsplash Water Park

Name and Location: Golfland Sunsplash remains Arizona’s largest water park, delivering over one million gallons of waterslide fun across 430,000 square feet at 155 West Hampton Avenue in Mesa.

History and Significance: Originating from miniature golf and batting cages along this site in 1983, enormous expansion into Arizona’s top amusement park came by adding go-karts, an arcade, and most significantly the huge 33-slide Sunsplash waterpark in the 1990s satiating summer heat relief for generations.

What to Expect: Giant water slides like Sidewinder, Lazy River, and Plunge along with activity pools promise summer fun for all ages. Arcade games, miniature golf, bumper cars, rides and concessions satisfy all day during the season. Cabana rentals allow home-base comfort to refuel for more slides.

Visitor Information: Open March through September. All guests over 42 inches tall can enjoy every Sunsplash slide. Save with online ticketing at golfland.com/sunsplash. Free parking surrounding facility. Armband Day Passes allow all-day waterslides access at discount from standard one-day admission costs.

When the summer heat arrives, Mesa families flock to Golfland Sunsplash where admission includes access to nine water slides, a wave poll, and a lengthy lazy river. This 32-acre water park provides aquatic fun for all ages with kids’ play structures, a double Flowrider surf simulator, and even mini-golf stations around the site. Guests can pack a picnic or purchase food in the park while spending hours drifting on inner tubes under towering Palm trees. Sunsplash makes for an affordable and refreshing family getaway during hot Arizona summers.

See Aircraft Up Close at Commemorative Air Force Museum

Name and Location: The Arizona wing of the Commemorative Air Force operates an aviation museum dedicated to exhibiting and flying vintage military aircraft at Falcon Field airport in Mesa.

History and Significance: Founded by WWII pilots in the 1950s aiming to acquire and preserve historic combat airplanes, the Commemorative Air Force museum has restored examples from multiple eras like the Cold War-era F-86 Sabrejet. Visitors gain educational perspective into 20th century conflicts via authentic aircraft and artifacts thanks to thousands of volunteer hours.

What to Expect: Walking the museum’s exhibits and Restoration Hangars reveals fascinating warbird aircraft ranging from the wwii B-17 Flying Fortress to 1950s fighter jets. Many airplanes remain operational, seen periodically at Air Show events. Signage and docents answer visitors’ aviation history questions surrounding the impressive collection.

Visitor Information: Open 9am-4pm daily except major holidays; $15 entry includes access to numerous other aviation exhibits on the Falcon Field campus like flight simulators. Free parking surrounding the Commemorative Air Force hangars.

Located at the Falcon Field Airport in east Mesa, this museum displays vintage military aircraft from World War II and beyond. Visitors can get up close to planes like the P-51D Mustang and B-17 Flying Fortress Bomber while learning about their unique capabilities and history. Many of the aircraft on exhibit are the last of their kind remaining. Interactive displays provide an enriching experience where visitors may enter certain aircraft’s cockpits or take a virtual flying lesson. The entire family will appreciate seeing aviation history come alive at this nonprofit museum with no admission fee.

Hike and Bike at Dobson Ranch Park

Name and Location: Spanning over 50 acres within Mesa city limits, Dobson Ranch Park provides abundant recreation amenities from soccer fields to tennis courts, but its extensive trail system appeals most to hikers and mountain bikers overlooking the city.

History and Significance: Once part of the vast fields and citrus groves cultivated by Mesa’s founding Mormon settlers, Dobson Ranch Park preserved much of the untouched desert expanse as scenic land hikers and bikers now traverse across rolling elevated trails with panoramas taking in downtown Mesa and mountain preserves beyond the city.

What to Expect: The 3-mile Trail 100 Loop circles the park perimeter undulating across typical stunning desert scenery coated in saguaros, ocotillos, palo verdes and wildflowers after winter rains. Path options cater to all skill levels across loops linked by connectors favoring foot travel or tires.

Visitor Information: Free daily access sunrise to 10:30pm for hiking and biking. Parking lots positioned at Dobson Road entries. Restrooms and seasonal water fountains available. As expansive preserved Sonoran Desert terrain, summer heat dangers can be extreme so prepare adequately.

Name and Location: Spanning over 50 acres within Mesa city limits, Dobson Ranch Park provides abundant recreation amenities from soccer fields to tennis courts, but its extensive trail system appeals most to hikers and mountain bikers overlooking the city.

History and Significance: Once part of the vast fields and citrus groves cultivated by Mesa’s founding Mormon settlers, Dobson Ranch Park preserved much of the untouched desert expanse as scenic land hikers and bikers now traverse across rolling elevated trails with panoramas taking in downtown Mesa and mountain preserves beyond the city.

What to Expect: The 3-mile Trail 100 Loop circles the park perimeter undulating across typical stunning desert scenery coated in saguaros, ocotillos, palo verdes and wildflowers after winter rains. Path options cater to all skill levels across loops linked by connectors favoring foot travel or tires.

Visitor Information: Free daily access sunrise to 10:30pm for hiking and biking. Parking lots positioned at Dobson Road entries. Restrooms and seasonal water fountains available. As expansive preserved Sonoran Desert terrain, summer heat dangers can be extreme so prepare adequately.

Opened in 2020, Dobson Ranch Park in Mesa provides free access to 128 acres of vibrant Sonoran desert landscape. The park contains 6.3 miles of multipurpose trails perfect for hiking, running and mountain biking. Paths meander through scenic natural washes dotted with native vegetation like Palo Verde trees and prickly pear cacti. Interpretive signs describe cultural sites and native plants within the park. Dogs can access over 2 miles of trails making this park a popular spot among trail running groups and mountain bikers. Visitors will find athletic fields, play areas, ramadas and a community garden rounding out amenities.

Attend the Arizona Renaissance Festival

Name and Location: Each February and March since 1989, a merry olde English village springs forth 20 miles east of Mesa to envelop attendees in the annual Arizona Renaissance Festival and Artisan Marketplace off U.S. 60 on weekends plus Presidents Day.

History and Significance: Created and operated yearly by organizers from Renaissance Entertainment Corporation based in the Phoenix area, the lively Arizona Renaissance Festival invites guests to step back into 16th century life celebrating arts, crafts and performing acts across tangy turkey legs washed down by frothy pints of ale as costumed characters populate “the village”.

What to Expect: Beyond cheering jousting knights, lively entertainment fills weekends with music, comedy, magic, acrobatics and wildlife shows spread throughout the 30-acre forested grounds between shoppes and taverns. Imaginative merriment paints smiles across multi-generational faces delighting in old-world escapism.

Visitor Information: Open Saturdays, Sundays and Presidents Day from 10am to dusk for eight consecutive weeks. General admission runs $32 for adults, less for children/seniors. Free parking surrounds festival entrance with shuttle service deeper into grounds.

For eleven weekends each February through late March, the Arizona Renaissance Festival transforms east Mesa into a 16th Century European village complete with knight jousting, musical entertainment, costume characters and village shops. Single day entry typically costs $30 or more, but you can receive free admission by volunteering for a six hour festival shift. Options range from children’s entertainment aide to ticket booth worker. Volunteering provides the perfect way to experience this colorful festival at no cost while supporting the arts.

With stunning desert scenery, intriguing museums and lively cultural attractions, Mesa overflows with free things to do all year round. These destinations offer year-round ways to have fun while exploring history; art, and the great outdoors.

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