After living in Arizona for 2 years, I’ve become an expert on all the things to do in Phoenix. It is the 5th largest city in the United States, but it is very spread out! For your reference, the spots I am sharing are located all over the greater Phoenix area including Scottsdale (about 30 minutes away) and Tucson (about 90 minutes away) plus lots of things in between.
Desert Botanical Garden
The Desert Botanical Garden has 140 acres of grounds and exhibits to explore. There is a rotation of new artists every few months, so return visits to the gardens certainly won’t be boring. Plus all the plants bloom at different times of the year so there is always something different to see. There are plenty of walks, and a very nice restaurant and shop. There are lots of events (including a food festival!) continually happening in this park located in Papago Park, a 1200 acre desert park for hiking.
If you are a fan of any kind of sport, they have a professional team in the Phoenix area. But what drives the heart and soul of most people during the month of March is spring training! From Mesa to Peoria, Surprise to Salt River, and everywhere else in between, there are 15 professional baseball teams at play in the Cactus League. Cheaper tickets, closer access to the players, I love spring training. Even my I-am-not-sure-about-this-sport French husband enjoyed himself far more at spring training than at an Oakland A’s game at the Coliseum.
It was so enlightening to visit the winter home of Frank Lloyd Wright. The organic architecture of Taliesin West, located in Scottsdale, was so different than what I’ve seen with commissioned work like the Guggenheim in New York. The tour and tour staff is phenomenal. The docents shared tons of information and anecdotes about Mr. Wright’s life and work. You can sit on the furniture, touch walls, feel textures, and be immersed in the world of this brilliant architect.
I am not a huge fan of animal parks, something about them makes me sad. I did have an amazing visit doing the Backstage Pass at the San Diego Zoo, but I generally don’t seek out zoos – even though Phoenix is supposed to have a pretty good one. But I could not resist a visit to Butterfly World in Scottsdale. An interactive museum slash zoo, it is a really fun and informative place. We decided to watch the monarch butterfly movie and left the session armed with knowledge about the death-defying feats these butterflies go through every year for their migration and what I/we/people can do to help.
Then, of course, there is the butterfly area where you can walk around and get up close to hundreds of butterflies – that was pretty cool!
Phoenix Art Museum
There are many fantastic museums in the Phoenix area, but my favorite is the Phoenix Art Museum. It is not too big, not too small and has a constant flow of great exhibitions. There are plenty of nooks and crannies to sit quietly and enjoy the art or enjoy the view and I haven’t been there yet when it felted crowded. Don’t miss the butterfly installation in the lobby where you can have some Instagram fun as well.
Japanese Friendship Garden
If you’re looking for a break from the Phoenix desert, the Japanese Friendship Garden is the place for you! As soon as you enter, it feels like you’re no longer in the desert but have been transported to an authentic Japanese garden. The garden, named Ro Ho En, is a 3.5-acre garden in a lush and tranquil setting. It includes features like a Koi pond with more than 300 fish, lanterns, stone footbridges, and even a tea house offering ceremonies. Educational tours are offered for those who want to learn more about this beautiful and serene place. The Japanese Friendship Garden was created through a joint project between Phoenix and Himeji, its sister city in Japan since 1976. The two cities join together for cultural and educational exchanges and this project is a great example of the bond between the cities. Sit and be enchanted by the rushing water of the 12-foot tall waterfall, close your eyes and enjoy this lush oasis. Now you know where to find me when I need a break from the desert!
Contributed by Sam of My Flying Leap
One of my favorite things to do in Phoenix is hike Camelback Mountain. Visitors can find Camelback Mountain about 25 minutes northeast of downtown Phoenix near the resort town of Scottsdale. The best thing about an early morning hike up Camelback Mountain is the incredible view from the top. The highest point stands at 2,706 feet. Once you reach the peak you’ll be able to see the surrounding desert landscape for miles. It’s gorgeous up there, so be sure to take some pictures before you make your way back down.
There are two popular trails that lead up to the peak. The first is the Echo Canyon Trail, which is 1.14 miles. The other trail is the Cholla Trail which is 1.4 miles. No matter which trail you choose, the hike will take anywhere from 90 minutes to 3 hours, depending on your fitness level. Both trails are considered strenuous and will require that you climb over boulders and up a lot of steps. Appropriate hiking shoes are a must as is plenty of water. A hike up Camelback Mountain is the perfect way to see a different side of Phoenix. Not to mention, it’s a great workout.
Contributed by Eden of Rock a Littel Travel
Hike around the Hole-in-the-Rock at Papago Park
Spreading across both cities of Phoenix and Tempe, Papago Park covers an area of 6 square kilometres, and offers many hiking trails, bicycle paths, picnic areas, lakes, as well as a large zoo, a fire museum, and a Desert Botanical Garden. When I visited Phoenix last May, my favorite activity among all the free things to do in Phoenix was to explore the park’s many fantastic geological formations, especially the Hole-in-the-Rock. In fact, the Hole-in-the-Rock is a naturally eroded rock formation of conglomerate sandstone. But it is also an archaeological site. The local people who lived in the Salt River Valley from around 1 AD to 1450 AD, also called Hohokam, used this geological feature as a calendar devise. They realized that the ray of light coming through the hole in the ceiling of the rock-shelter changed its position on the floor throughout the year. So, to mark the summer and winter solstices, as well as the equinoxes, the Hohokam people ground a bedrock metate slick at the exact location where the ray of lights fell. When standing on the top of this geological and archaeological site, you also get to catch a wonderful panoramic view of the surrounding area. So if you’re in Phoenix, make sure to go to the Hole-in-the-Rock. If you don’t feel like hiking around, you can park your car at the foot of the site. The Hole-in-the-Rock is less than a 10-minute walk from there.
Contributed by Mei & Kerstin of Travel with MK.
There are, of course, plenty of day trips from Phoenix, but Mesa should absolutely be considered in the running. There are a ton of amazing things to do in Mesa no matter what you’re interested – outdoors, local shopping, plenty of unique and sustainable initiatives to support, eateries to check out, creative street art, and seasonal events. There are a lot of unique activities to do in Mesa. Agritopia is a modern, village-like community that includes its own neighborhood, school, citrus groves, public gardens, coffee shops, restaurants, and more. Head downtown and check out the street art, vintage stores, and unique shops like Mezona Market. Drive out to Schnepf Farms to pick your own veggies or peaches, eat at their restaurant, buy some canned goods, or attend one of their many events. Mesa is the 3rd largest city in Arizona and is only 15 miles east of Phoenix making it a perfect and easy day trip! It’s actually really easy to get from Mesa to Phoenix even without a car. You only have to hop on the Valley Metro Light Rail which takes you all the way for only $2 one way. Pretty sure that’s one of the best deals ever.
Contributed by Ashley of Wild Hearted.
Here are lots more suggestions for things to do in Phoenix from the travelers on AFAR.
How about you? Do you have a suggestion for something to do in the Phoenix area?
More [greater] Phoenix Stories
- Visiting in the summertime, here are things to do in Phoenix in the summer.
- Get your cowboy on! There are rodeos all year round!
- Check out Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home, Taliesin West.
- Best tamales in Phoenix, yum!
- Cool down with the best ice cream in Phoenix.
- I don’t have kids but there is a lot of good stuff on Travel Mama’s Scottsdale with Kids guide. When you are finished with the Phoenix area with kids, head into Northern Arizona which also has awesome things to do with teens.
- Have an insanely fun weekend in Tempe!
- 50+ Day Trips from Phoenix
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