Phoenix is the fifth largest city in the US, the largest state capitol, and one of the fastest growing cities in America. This desert hotspot and the surrounding area are home to almost two hundred golf courses, dozens of spas, a vast variety of restaurants and plenty of nature to explore. Thousands of baseball fans flock to the area each spring to see the fifteen major league teams that call Arizona their spring training home. If you’re eyeing a trip to the Valley of the Sun read on for Beyondish’s guide to everything Phoenix has to offer.
5 Things You Must Do in Phoenix
Visit the Museums
Phoenix is home to some world-class museums with activities for all ages. For a riveting experience, head to the Musical Instrument Museum where you can see and hear over 8,000 instruments from more than 200 countries. The renowned Heard Museum has dedicated its ninety plus year existence to the advancement of American Indian art and has become internationally recognized for its collections, programming and collaborative efforts. Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West immerses guests in the story of the Greater Western region with art and artifacts including paintings by Maynard Dixon, photographs by Barry Goldwater and ceramics made by Hopi artisans. For educational fun that will engage the whole family, head to the Arizona Science Center where hands on exhibits about nature, technology and the human body along with an IMAX theater and an incredible planetarium will keep you busy learning and laughing all day long. Younger children will enjoy the Children’s Museum of Phoenix where interactive installations engage minds and muscles for wildly creative play.
Tour Taliesin West
Taliesin West, architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home and desert laboratory, was built in 1937 and has since been dedicated a UNESCO World Heritage site and a National Historic Landmark. The home, which was built and maintained almost entirely by Wright and his apprentices, is deeply connected to the desert and its innovative architect. Swing by for a self-guided audio tour or book an insight tour with an expert.
Take a Hike!
The desert surroundings make the valley an excellent place for high quality hiking. Start with a short stroll at the ADA accessible archeological park trail at the Pueblo Grande Museum where you’ll see excavated and replicated structures built by the prehistoric Hohokum people in the first and second centuries. If you’re looking for breathtaking views, head to the short Hole-In-The-Rock trail at Papago Park, which showcases the Phoenix Metropolitan area through a wind carved butte, or climb the groomed pathway up Pinnacle Peak for panoramic views of the desert. More advanced hikers can take on the two difficult trails up Camelback Mountain to reach one of the highest and most popular vantage points in the area or climb the Piestewa Summit Trail at Phoenix Mountains Preserve where schist rock makes for a stair-like trail.
See the Art
Start your tour of the local art scene at Roosevelt Row, a walkable arts district that shows off local products and makers. Fuel up nearby at The Churchill, an outdoor food hall, or Pizzeria Bianco, which has been making the list of the best pizza in the country for twenty years. Head to another arts district in Old Town Scottsdale to check out the numerous galleries showcasing Western, contemporary and fine art. ArtWalk on Thursday evenings throughout the year is a great time to stroll through the area before dining at one of the nearby restaurants including two helmed by chefs recognized by the James Beard Foundation: FnB and Rancho Pinot. If you’re in town during the first few months of the year, make sure you get tickets to Celebration of Fine Art, a thirty year old, juried art fair called “One of the West’s Premiere Art Events.” You can also visit some of the many studios in the valley through the Hidden in the Hills Studio Tour in the fall or year round at places like Cosanti bronze and ceramic studio.
Get to Know the Flora and Fauna at the Desert Botanical Garden
The Desert Botanical Garden is home to over 50,000 plant displays and 485 rare and endangered species on 140 acres of fertile desert. It’s five trails show off beautiful cacti and flowers as well as plants long used for food, medicine and building. The garden is also home to holiday light and art installations that merge the landscape and art in dazzling displays.
5 Things You Might Not Have Considered in Phoenix
Hang Out with Animals
The Phoenix Zoo is one of the largest non-profit zoos in the country and cares for more than 3,000 animals representing nearly 400 species. Walk the trails, hop on the Safari Cruiser for a tour, see a movie at the 4-D theater or ride the endangered species carousel while you make friends with all sorts of creatures. A zoo you might expect in the desert, but an aquarium? Believe it or not, there are two expansive aquariums in the valley offering stark contrast to the barren surroundings. Sea Life Arizona boasts 200,000 gallons of sea life filled tanks including a 360˚ ocean tunnel and a shipwreck exhibit filled with adorable yet poisonous creatures. OdySea Aquarium is a two million gallon aquarium that hosts 370 species and includes multiple touch exhibits, the world’s only revolving aquarium experience and opportunities to walk underwater and get up close and personal with ocean critters. Next door to the aquarium you can stroll through Butterfly World, the largest butterfly conservatory in the country, or visit Pangea: Land of the Dinosaurs for some prehistoric fun. If you’re more interested in local wildlife, book a tour at Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center where injured, orphaned and displaced animals are rehabilitated in the sanctuary and then released back into the wild. On your guided tour you might encounter mountain lions, coyotes, owls, hawks and even bears – oh my!
Soak Up Southwestern Archaeology
Head to the Deer Valley Petroglyph Preserve to observe petroglyphs left by the Hohokum, Patayan and Archaic peoples who once lived in the area. Visitors to the 47-acre nature preserve can view over 1,500 of these etchings as well as a range of desert wildlife in their natural habitat. Drive a little further from the heart of the city to one of our nation’s first national monuments: Montezuma Castle. Though the site had been looted over the years, Montezuma Castle is still one of North America’s best preserved prehistoric cliff dwellings. The legacy of the Sinagua people is on display in the twenty room structure and nearby prehistoric irrigation canals of Montezuma Well.
Ponder a Castle in the Middle of the Desert
Inside the city limits, not too far from the airport sits a four-story, 5,000 square foot castle that looks awfully similar to a wedding cake. This is the Tovrea Castle. It was envisioned as a hotel but spent most of its ninety year history as a private home before being purchased by the City of Phoenix as a landmark. The property also features a lavish cactus garden that was once inhabited by desert plants from all over the world. Since the city took control, the garden has been replanted with some of those original species and is continuing to grow and develop. Tours are offered through a lottery system, but if you can’t snag a ticket you can always drive by and wonder about the magnificent structure and its origins.
One of the best ways to appreciate the desert scenery is from above, high up in a hot air balloon! Book a trip with one of the valley’s many proprietors and set your alarm early for a sunrise view of the desert landscape. Not a morning person? Book a sunset ride for an equally spectacular vista. The spring brings the Arizona Balloon Classic, which fills the sky with colorful balloons that can be seen throughout the valley and benefits a local cause. 20,000 spectators, many of whom are probably afraid of heights, wander through the field as the balloons inflate and lift off then enjoy the festivities on the ground including a family fair, food festival, live entertainment and fireworks.
Go Off Roading
If you aren’t a hiker but still want to experience desert immersion, book a guided jeep tour for some off roading fun. Strap in for a bumpy ride full of steep climbs, innumerable cacti and maybe even some wildlife. Pink Jeep Tours in Sedona are a classic, but closer offerings include daytime tours, sunset rides and night vision wildlife excursions all guided by expert drivers who will teach you about the history of the landscape.