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Free Museums in Phoenix, Arizona: 17 Great Finds Around the Valley

Published: March 23, 2023

Phoenix, Arizona, is home to dozens of fantastic free museums. You'll find those focusing on art, history, and others with a more specific theme, such as cars, the fire department, or the justice system.

You will find some in the heart of downtown Phoenix and others in the surrounding towns and suburbs, including Scottsdale, Chandler, and Mesa.

Many offer free admission, but some request a donation at the door. Those will allow you to pay what you can afford, however, don't feel you have to pay if you can't afford it. You are still welcome, and they want you to visit the museums.

Each museum will give you interesting information and offers you the chance to learn more about the local area and beyond!

Free Museums in Phoenix

1. Arizona Capitol Museum

One of the best free museums in Phoenix is the Arizona Capitol Museum. Its exhibits are dedicated to the rich history and culture of the state of Arizona.

Set inside the Arizona State Capital in downtown Phoenix, a visit here includes a look inside the old statehouse chambers and governor's office. For this museum, they restored both locations so you can see what they looked like when Arizona used this building for their early government duties.

Other interesting exhibits here include:

  • Arizona Takes Shape: This exhibit walks you through the history of the Arizona government. It takes you back to when the US formed this area as the Territory of Arizona in 1863 and how the area evolved until it became a US state in 1912.
  • USS Arizona, Flagship of The Fleet: This exhibit showcases articles from the USS Arizona, which was sunk during the Pearl Harbor attack. Learn more about this ship and see pieces that were on board at that time.
  • Minerals of Arizona's Historic Mining Community: This is a fun exhibit, especially if you are visiting with kids. Inside, you get the chance to learn more about the minerals native to Arizona. You can also touch two large native minerals on display.

Other exhibits include Steel Rails Connecting the Copper State, Lego Flag, and Celebrating Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Make sure to also leave time to walk around the Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza. This outdoor area is home to more than thirty memorials dedicated to important people in the history of Arizona.

Hours: Monday through Friday from 9 am to 4 pm

Location: 1700 West Washington Street

2. Gallery at City Hall, Downtown Phoenix

Located in Phoenix City Hall, this gallery gives you a chance to learn more about the history of the city of Phoenix. It is only open for a few hours each Friday.

The gallery features over 1,000 rotating pieces of art. Each art exhibit is on display for about five to six months. The city then changes out the exhibits to show additional pieces in its collection.

Since the pieces are on a rotation schedule, you can often see something new with each visit. You will find everything from paintings to photography to pottery on display.

Hours: Non-holiday Fridays from 11 am to 2 pm

Location: 200 West Washington Street, City Hall

3. ASU Art Museum: Two Locations with Free Admission

The ASU Museum offers contemporary art at two locations in Tempe, AZ. Admission is free at both locations.

All of its pieces center around the topics of social justice and equality. They are often experimental in nature and a way for socially conscious artists to showcase their work.

Nelson Fine Arts Center Location

The first location is the Nelson Fine Arts Center on the ASU Campus. This location offers three floors of rotating artwork. You will find paintings, sculptures, and other interesting and imaginative works that often start a conversation.

In addition to its rotating exhibits, the museum also has more than 12,000 pieces in its private collection. Some of this work includes historic and contemporary prints, works from Latinx and Latin American artists, as well as 19th and 20th Century Art of the Americas.

We love that they continually build their collection with new and exciting pieces from both well-known and up-and-coming artists.

Location: 51 E. 10th Street, Tempe

Ceramics Research Center at the Brickyard

Their second location is in downtown Tempe. This location is their Ceramics Research Center at the Brickyard.

It's the perfect stop for ceramics lovers and also for people who want to learn about and see them. It is also the perfect museum to start looking into ceramics if you don't know much about this type of art.

This ASU Art Museum also features art education programs for kids and families. Most are online, which allows people from all around the world to access their incredible programs.

Hours: Friday - Sunday from 11 am to 5 pm

Location: Brickyard Engineering, 699 S. Mill Avenue #108, Tempe, AZ

4. Chandler Museum

The Chandler Museum campus features a 10,000-square-foot main museum building, the historic McCullough-Price House, a large outdoor space, and the Tumbleweed Ranch.

This group of small and interesting free museums explores the history of the city of Chandler. They also feature traveling exhibits focused on culture, history, and art.

The museum usually has around six to eight exhibits each year. This allows you to visit several times each year and experience an entirely new collection.

Some of their previous exhibits include Picturing Home: Dust Bowl Migrants in Chandler, Arrival Stories: What Brought You to Chandler, and Working America.

They also offer ongoing "History Bites: Lunchtime History Talks for Adults," a book club, docent tours for adults, and several kids activities.

Hours: Tuesday through Saturday from 10 am to 5 pm and Sunday from 1 pm to 5 pm

Location: 300 South Chandler Village Drive, Chandler, AZ

Tumbleweed Ranch, Part of the Chandler Museum

Tumbleweed Ranch is on the southwest corner of Tumbleweed Park at 2250 S. McQueen Road. This section of the Chandler Museum features information about the city's agricultural roots.

It covers 14 acres, and its story starts with some of the very first farms in the area, which sprouted up in the 1890s.

Hours: Daily from 6 am to 6 pm

Location: 2250 S. McQueen Road, Chandler

5. Zeigler Fiesta Bowl Museum

If you want to get in the game, visit the Fiesta Bowl Museum in Scottsdale, AZ. It is small but packed with memorabilia dedicated to college football fans and this annual world-famous NCAA football bowl game.

As you walk around, you will find helmets for 130 Division 1 Schools (now officially known as the Football Bowl Subdivision or FBS), famous awards, trophies, and more.

Some of the most interesting trophies on display here include The Heisman, Eddie Robinson, the Fiesta Bowl, and the National Championship Coach’s Trophy.

It’s fun to take family and friends here to try and see if they can locate the helmets that belong to their favorite college team. Kids love identifying each helmet and jersey and seeing them close up and in person.

Hours: Monday through Friday from 8:30 am to 5 pm

Location: 7135 East Camelback Road, Scottsdale

6. Mesa Contemporary Arts (MCA) Museum & Exhibitions

The Phoenix New Times recognized the MCA as one of the best free museums in the Phoenix area in 2020. They feature a rotating collection of exhibits, usually up to five at one time.

This small museum is located within the larger Mesa Arts Center Complex. It features works from contemporary artists. It allows you to enjoy diverse works from local, national, and internationally recognized artists all in one convenient space.

Their five exhibition galleries span 5,500 square feet of space. We recommend allowing at least an hour or two to admire the works on display here.

Hours: Tuesday through Saturday from 10 am to 5 pm, and Sunday from Noon to 5 pm

Location: 1 East Main Street, Mesa

7. Arizona Military Museum

The Arizona Military Museum is a small museum dedicated to telling the story of Arizona's military history over the years.

Set inside a 1936 Public Works Project Adobe, this small museum opened in 1981. It's currently operated by the Arizona National Guard Historical Society.

The exhibits start with information about the Spanish conquistadors in Arizona and continue to Arizona's military contributions during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Some of the sections within the museum include information on the Spanish Colonial Period, The US-Mexican War, and the Civic War in Arizona. You'll also learn more about the Indian Wars in the Arizona Territory, the Rough Riders, and contributions to both World War I and World War II.

Hours: Saturday and Sunday from 1 pm to 4 pm

Location: 5636 E. McDowell Road on the Arizona National Guard Papago Park Military Reservation

8. Maricopa County Justice Museum and Learning Center

The Maricopa County Justice Museum and Learning Center is another fantastic free museum in downtown Phoenix. This museum covers the history of the legal system in Maricopa County.

Inside this beautiful building, you will learn more about the county's legal history, important court cases, and details about the Rule of Law, including individual rights guaranteed by the Arizona and US constitutions.

Some of the important legal decisions you'll find information about in the museum include the Miranda vs. Arizona case, which created what we now call Miranda Rights.

This ruling allowed the statement "You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say or do can and will be held against you in a court of law. You have the right to speak to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you" to become law to protect people being arrested from having their rights taken away from them.

You'll also learn about the impeachment of Governor Evan Mecham, who was a Republican governor of Arizona from January 1987 until his impeachment in April 1988.

This small museum also has an area dedicated to former US Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who spent much of her career in Arizona before being appointed Associate Justice to the US Supreme Court in 1981 by Ronald Reagan.

The museum is on the sixth floor of Maricopa County's Historic Courthouse, which was restored to what it originally looked like in 1929.

Hours: Monday through Friday from 8 am to 5 pm

Location: 125 W. Washington in downtown Phoenix

9. Pensky Racing Museum

The next free museum on our list is perfect for all race car lovers!

The Pensky Racing Museum offers you the chance to learn more about the history of the Penske Racing team. It spans more than 50 years with hundreds of wins, including 18 Indianapolis 500 victories.

During your visit, you will see some of these incredible cars that won numerous Indianapolis 500 races. There is also a replica of the 1963 car Roger Penske drove to win the 1963 Riverside 250.

The museum is small but inspiring because everything is so up close and right in front of you. There is also a cafe on site that is open on weekdays for lunch.

Hours: Monday - Saturday from 10 am to 4 pm and Sunday from 12 pm to 5 pm

Location: 7191 East Chauncey Lane, Phoenix

10. Buddy Stubbs Harley-Davidson Museum

After checking out the racing cars, we are going to rev up our engines and cruise on over to check out some "Hogs!" That means we have arrived at the Buddy Stubbs Harley-Davidson Museum, which is a thrill for anyone who loves Harley-Davidsons and motorcycles in general!

This 3,000-square-foot museum features more than 130 rare motorcycles. These historical gems come from 37 different manufacturers and cover more than 110 years of history.

They start with a bike built in 1903, and the collection continues until the most current motorcycles which are produced today.

This museum is set inside the Buddy Stubbs Harley-Davidson dealership, so after you finish at the museum, make sure to step inside their showroom to check out some of their newest models!

Hours: Monday through Saturday from 11 am to 5 pm and Sunday from 11 am to 4 pm

Location: 13850 North Cave Creek Road, Phoenix

11. Trolley Museum in Phoenix

The history of the trolley system in Phoenix started in 1887. Unlike today when everything is run on electricity, this was when the first streetcars were pulled by mules down the tracks around the city.

The system continued to grow, and by the 1920s, Phoenix had more than 30 miles of streetcar tracks. In 1929 alone, the system helped more than 6.6 million passengers get to and from destinations all around Phoenix.

However, the system took a big blow in 1947 when the trolley barn caught on fire and was destroyed. Sadly, only a handful of trolley cars survived, and the system deteriorated from there.

The beauty of this museum is that you will learn more about the history of these cars and see restored car #116. You'll see memorabilia from the time and learn what it was like in Phoenix as it progressed and grew to be one of the largest in the US.

Hours: Saturday from 11 am to 3 pm, October 1 through May 30 only

Location: 1117 Grant Avenue near downtown Phoenix

12. Phoenix Airport Museum

Who would have thought that an airport would have a museum? Well, Phoenix does, and it is a great one!

This art and history museum offers exhibits in three different areas within Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. You'll find some pieces at the Rental Car Center and others in both Terminals 3 and 4.

You will find both permanent and rotating exhibits in Terminals 3 and 4. Jill and I just love that these two main areas are filled with items from our gorgeous state, the wonderful native peoples, and our rich history.

One of the permanent exhibits is located at the Rental Car Center. So, even if you aren't renting a car, please try and make sure to stop by so that you can visit and enjoy it.

In addition to the pieces at the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, you will also find exhibits from this museum at both the Deer Valley and the Goodyear Airports.

They offer a fantastic way to kill a little time and learn about our local airport history on those long layovers!

Location: Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, Phoenix

13. Police Museum

Located on the first floor of the Phoenix City Hall, the Police Museum celebrates the history of the Phoenix Police and its dedicated officers.

It features thirty-five exhibits starting with the formation of the force in 1881. You will find historical photos, equipment used by the department over the years, stories from officers during their careers, and other interesting bits of information and history.

It is really neat to see mannequins in Phoenix police gear because that can give you an idea of how their uniforms have changed throughout the years. There are also cases of badges and medals, original motorcycles, police cars, and more!

Some of the top exhibits include:

  • Phoenix's First Marshall's Office & Jail
  • Arizona Rangers
  • Early Law Enforcement
  • Tin Lizzie
  • Police Helicopters, Cars, and Motorcycles
  • Technology Changes Over the Years

The museum is small, so you probably only need to spend about an hour checking out all of the exhibits.

Hours: Monday through Friday from 9 am to 3 pm

Location: 17 S 2nd Ave on the first floor of Historic City Hall, Phoenix

14. Scottsdale Historical Museum

The Scottdale Historical Museum is a small, free museum that covers the history of Scottsdale. Set inside a cute, two-room, red brick former schoolhouse, this museum contains paintings, photographs, and exhibits highlighting important events and people in Scottsdale's history.

Our favorite room is set up as an exact replica of the old school. Another room has artifacts and an old kitchen from Helen and Windfield Scott, who were important figures early in the history of Scottsdale.

Since the museum is only two small rooms, we’d plan for about a 30-minute to one-hour visit.

Hours: Open Wednesday through Saturday, September hours are 10 am to 2 pm, October through May hours are 10 am to 5 pm; Sundays September through May and 12 pm to 4 pm

Location: 7333 E Scottsdale Mall, Scottsdale

15. Shemer Art Center & Museum

The Shemer Art Center features a small, free museum with a rotating set of traveling exhibits. The museum's indoor exhibits focus on photography, paintings, and other mediums.

They often have one or two exhibits shown in their indoor gallery. Sometimes, you will also find an exhibit in their outdoor gallery space.

In addition to the small museum, the Shermer Art Center also features workshops, art history lectures, special events, and both adult and youth classes. It's truly a local Phoenix gem.

While the museum is free, they do request donations of $7 per person or $10 per couple to help support it.

Hours: Tuesday through Saturday from 10 am to 3 pm

Location: 5005 East Camelback Road, Phoenix

16. Tempe History Museum

The Tempe History Museum is a great place to learn about the history of Tempe, Arizona.

The museum offers four distinct exhibits:

  • Surviving in the Desert: This exhibit educates visitors on the fragile nature of the Sonoran Desert. Tempe is located on the edge of this desert, and this exhibit offers insight into its climate, geography, and how water shapes life all around it.
  • Building Our Community: Located in the Museum's Main Gallery, this exhibit looks back at a time when this area took shape and became a city. You'll learn about what life was like when settlers were heading west searching for gold and what was happening in the Tempe area.
  • College Town: This is all about the history of Arizona State University. It follows its story from being the first institution of higher learning in Arizona to the amazing university you see today.
  • Living Together: This is about the people of Tempe. It takes you through societal and individual struggles while trying to celebrate diversity as the people here worked to build a solid sense of community.

Hours: Tuesday through Saturday from 10 am to 5 pm

Location: 809 East Southern Avenue, Tempe

17. West Valley Art Museum

The West Valley Art Museum offers a wonderful collection of more than 1,600 items of art from around the world. The pieces are varied and include paintings, photography, textiles, costumes, and how people dress in other countries.

This small museum also brings in wonderful traveling exhibits from other locations.

This museum has a fantastic collection of artists who lived in Arizona. Some of these include Fritz Scholder, Ann Coe, and many others. 

Beyond that, the art at this museum is also focused on educating visitors about artwork from other places around the world. Because of that, their collection includes pieces from more than 75 countries.

It is a great museum to see art from both locals and from artists who live all over the world in one space.

You will find the museum in the Peoria City Hall Art Gallery.

Hours: Monday - Wednesday from 10 am to 4 pm, and Thursday from noon to 6 pm

Location: 8401 W. Monroe Street, Peoria, AZ

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