Phoenix, Arizona, known as the Valley of the Sun, is an unbeatable travel destination that should be on any bucket list. Phoenix is a sprawling urban city with a mix of modern high-rise buildings, Native American and Spanish colonial influences, complete with a bit of the Wild West.
Ringed by beautiful mountains and the Sonoran Desert, Phoenix is sure to delight city-dwellers and outdoor enthusiasts alike.
1. See the Valley from the top of the world on a scenic hike
No matter what side of the Valley you’re in, there are mountains around and trails to be hiked. The desert landscape is breathtaking and the scenery changes from season to season. If you’re visiting in spring, be sure to head to the San Tan Mountains (south east) to take in the wildflowers. For hikes in the middle of the city, Camelback Mountain (city central) and Piestewa Peak, formerly known as Squaw Peak (city central) are not-to-be-missed.
A bit of a drive outside central Phoenix, enjoy the nearly-untouched beauty of the natural preserves like McDowell Mountains (Phoenix north), South Mountain (south), the Estrella Mountains (south west), and the Superstition Mountains (east). There are trails for every level of difficulty, so make sure to look into the different hikes available before you set out. Bring plenty of water (even during the winter months) as the dry climate can seriously affect visitors at first.
2. Expand your horizons at the city’s diverse museums
Phoenix is home to a large assortment of museums, from culture and history to science and military, not to mention music, the Wild West and professional museums for police and firefighters.
There are too many to mention and way too many to visit in one trip! In the meantime, be sure to check out the top-rated museums in the Valley.
The Heard Museum (2301 N Central Ave), located in Central Phoenix, is the best place to learn about the multiple tribes that make up Arizona’s diverse Native American culture. The exhibits are stunning and feature native artwork, clothing, pottery, and artifacts. For more Native American history, as well as historical ruins that you can visit, check out the Pueblo Grande Museum and Archaeological Park (4619 E Washington St) in Downtown Phoenix.
North Phoenix has a destination for music lovers, world culture enthusiasts and lifelong learners. The Musical Instrument Museum (4725 E Mayo Blvd) is fun for all ages and hosts a major collection of musical instruments from all over the world, complete with audio vignettes for your listening pleasure. Another instructive place to visit is the Arizona Science Center (600 E Washington St), located in Downtown Phoenix. The Arizona Science Center has hundreds of interactive exhibits in five galleries, each with a unique theme, also boasting an IMAX theatre and a planetarium.
3. Savour the Southwest at historic and iconic restaurants
Phoenix has a plethora of amazing restaurants: from high-end and decadent to corner taco stands that never disappoint. For historic fine dining, be sure to visit Lon’s at the Hermosa Inn (5532 N Palo Cristi Rd, Paradise Valley, AZ). The building was originally home to the private, turn-of-the-century escape of painter Lon Megargee.
The intimate and luxurious Hermosa Inn retains all the magic that inspired Arizona’s “dean of cowboy artists.” Today, this secluded AAA Four-Diamond boutique hotel, nestled in the foothills of Camelback Mountain, enchants guests from every corner of the globe.
Its signature restaurant, Lon’s at the Hermosa Inn offers exquisite culinary options, served in a rustic wine cellar or on the patio surrounded by twinkle lights and views of the nearby mountains. Some other historic dining options include El Chorro Lodge, 1937 (5550 E Lincoln Dr, Paradise Valley, AZ), The Stockyards Restaurant, 1947 (5009 E Washington St #115) and Durant’s, 1950 (2611 N Central Ave), all of which serve up a healthy portion of western charm and delicious cuisine.
4. Get in the game with year-round sports attractions
No matter what time of year you visit the Phoenix Valley, there are sporting events for every fan. During football season, head to Sun Devil Stadium on the Tempe Campus of Arizona State University for an ASU Sun Devils football game or venture to the west side for an Arizona Cardinals NFL football game at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale. It is another amazing and unique facility, and you can take a tour even when it isn’t football season. That’s also where the Fiesta Bowl and the Super Bowl are played, and nearby the Arizona Coyotes NHL hockey team plays at the Gila River Arena.
If you are a baseball fan, a visit to Chase Field for an Arizona Diamondbacks baseball game in their state-of-the-art facility will be a special treat. For NBA fans, the Phoenix Suns basketball team plays at the Talking Stick Resort Arena, which is situated at walking distance from the Chase Stadium in the middle of the city.
5. Relax on the water in the middle of the desert
Despite being a desert city, Phoenix has no shortage of natural and manmade watering holes where you can enjoy boating, fishing, sailing, water-skiing, tubing, kayaking, or paddle boating. Tempe Town Lake, created from a dam in the Salt River, is a great place for rowing, sailing, paddle boating and picnics by the water.
Depending on the season, tubing down the Salt River is a ton of fun. This slow-moving river is the perfect place to soak in the gorgeous scenery (including desert landscapes and wild horses) and to float down the river (hopefully with a stocked drink cooler in-tow).
There are lots of lakes in the surrounding area too, which make fabulous day-trip excursions. Check out Canyon Lake, Bartlett Lake, Lake Pleasant, and Saguaro Lake for water sports, picnics, and scenic hikes.
6. Shop ‘til you drop… then shop some more
Scottsdale is a shopping paradise, with a plethora of options to choose from: Scottsdale Fashion Square, The Promenade, Scottsdale Waterfront, Kierland Commons, and Scottsdale Quarter. Old Town Scottsdale is a must-see location while you’re visiting the Phoenix metro area. It’s a walking district of eclectic shops and southwest culture. You can enjoy Scottsdale ArtWalks every Thursday evening, year-round (except on Thanksgiving) from 7 to 9 p.m.
Each week, Scottsdale Gallery Association members host special exhibits, many with artist receptions and join together for an informal come-and-go “open house” throughout the district. The Scottsdale Trolley provides a free year-round service in the downtown area.
A few miles south, near the Tempe Campus of Arizona State University is the other major walking-district, Mill Avenue (Downtown Tempe), a favorite hangout of locals and tourists alike. Mill Ave is packed with local shops, boutique restaurants and party goers. It’s a great place for strolling, shopping, and grabbing a streetside patio table for some excellent people-watching.
7. Experience the natural beauty of the desert
Papago Park (625 N Galvin Pkwy), a 1,200-acre park is a perfect location for a day outside. See wildlife such as wild rabbits and big horn sheep while you hike, fish in the lagoons or cycle on the many trails the park has to offer.
Located within Papago Park in Central Phoenix, the Desert Botanical Garden (1201 N Galvin Pkwy) is home to 139 rare, threatened and endangered plant species from around the world and hosts a multitude of seasonal activities for the whole family. There is no finer place to enjoy desert beauty than the Desert Botanical Garden.
One of the younger zoos in the United States, the Phoenix Zoo (455 N Galvin Pkwy) is also located in Papago Park, and is open every single day of the year. Totally supported by donors and private organizations, the Phoenix Zoo has been extremely active in wildlife conservation programs. If you’re visiting at Christmas, check out Zoo Lights! For any visit, it is recommended to get there early to see the animals before they hide in the shade during the heat of the day.
8. Go back in time at some of the city’s historical sites
Heritage Square, part of Phoenix’s original site, is a grassy, park-like area in the middle of the city, with eight lovingly restored houses from the city’s early days. These buildings typically date back to the late 1800s and early 1900s, and many now house shops and restaurants.
For architecture buffs, make sure you leave space in your itinerary for Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West (12621 N Frank Lloyd Wright Blvd, Scottsdale). Located just a few miles northeast of Scottsdale in the McDowell Mountains, you can visit a living memorial to a great American architect. This sprawling complex was designed and built by Frank Lloyd Wright and currently houses The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, The Frank Lloyd Wright Memorial Foundation, and The Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture.
Frank Lloyd Wright and history fans alike will also be keen to explore the Arizona Biltmore Hotel (2400 E Missouri Ave). Located in Central Phoenix, this luxury hotel is a great place to explore the rich and colourful history of Arizona. Designed by Albert Chase McArthur, who studied under Frank Lloyd Wright, this resort is set on 39 acres of manicured gardens and tiled pools, a half-mile from Wrigley Mansion (2501 E Telawa Trail). The hotel is also close to shopping and restaurants at the Biltmore Fashion Park Mall.
9. Wet your whistle at award-winning craft breweries
The explosive craft brewing scene in the US (and around the world) has not left Phoenix behind. Home to dozens of original craft breweries, you’re bound to find a brew for everyone’s palate.
In the heart of Tempe, you’d be sorry to miss Four Peaks Brewing Co. (1340 E 8th St #104), with its crowded warehouse-like taproom, amazing menu, and flavourful flights. Their most famous beer, Kiltlifter, can be found at stores too!
On the southeast side of town, visit Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co. (721 N Arizona Ave #103), which only uses locally-sourced ingredients from Arizona vendors and was named best new brewery in the world in 2014 by RateBeer.com.
Further south and east in the Old Town Chandler district is SanTan Brewing Co. (8 S San Marcos Pl, Chandler), a zany brewery and fun taproom that is not-to-be-missed. Here, you’ll find delicious (and ludicrously named) beers such as Sex Panther, Mr. Pineapple, and Count Hopula.
10. Get your fine arts fix
Built in 1928, the Orpheum Theatre (203 W Adams St) hosts a great variety of first class productions, drawing thousands of people to a vibrant downtown venue for ballet, theatre, and orchestral performances.
Home to Arizona’s only full-time, professional symphony, Phoenix Symphony Hall (75 N 2nd St, Phoenix) offers classical, pops, chamber, and family programs from September to May, and is located in the Phoenix Civic Plaza Convention Center.
Another triumph of architect Frank Lloyd Wright, ASU Gammage (1200 S Forest Ave) is a performance-lover’s dream. Featuring award-winning hits, talented performers, and an exquisite venue, Gammage brings the best of Broadway to Arizona!
The Phoenix Art Museum (1625 N Central Ave) has an outstanding collection of more than 18,000 works of American, Asian, European, Latin American, Western American, modern and contemporary art, and fashion design.
Bonus: Spring Events in Phoenix
The best weather in the world can be found in Phoenix in the springtime. That also means tons of tourists and a bit more traffic… but it also means opportunities to attend some pretty spectacular events. If you’re visiting Phoenix in the spring, be sure to check out the Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show, the Waste Management Phoenix, the Barrett Jackson Classic Car Auction and Baseball Spring Training – Cactus League. No matter what activities and sites you choose, you won’t be disappointed in this fabulous desert oasis.