Veteran Judith Hatch handed out flags to those assembled, saying Arizona lost a champion for the military.
"We definitely have lost a strong advocate, so we'll need someone who is going to step up to the plate," Hatch said.
The viewing later in the day will go on as long as people are waiting in line, said Rick Davis, McCain's former presidential campaign manager.
For some Arizona residents, McCain has been a political fixture in the state for their entire lives. He took office in the state in the early 1980s, first as a congressman and then as a senator in the seat once held by Goldwater.
Thursday morning will feature a procession through Phoenix on the way to a memorial service at North Phoenix Baptist Church, with the public invited to line the route along Interstate 17.
The memorial service will include tributes, readings and musical performances, including a tribute from former Vice President Joe Biden. Musical choices include a recessional to "My Way" by Frank Sinatra.
From there, McCain will depart Arizona from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.
Another viewing will be at the U.S. Capitol on Friday, with a final memorial service at the Washington National Cathedral.