Best Things To Do in Phoenix
Phoenix has more to offer than simply resort life. Use each part of town for what it does best. Shop in Scottsdale, then party in Tempe. Check out the museums in downtown Phoenix, then hike in Carefree. Catch a major league baseball spring training game in Mesa, then watch football and hockey in Glendale. A stroll through the Desert Botanical Garden and a hike up Camelback Mountain are also musts. Laid-back travelers can spend money at the city's outdoor and indoor shopping malls. And those who are feeling lucky can try their hands at one of the reservation casinos.
Updated February 1, 2018
- #1View all Photos#1 in PhoenixParks and GardensTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDParks and GardensTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
The desert may seem like the last place you'd expect to find flora. Yet the Desert Botanical Garden is home to thousands of species of cacti, trees and flowers from all around the world. The garden's brightly colored plants sharply contrast the Sonoran Desert's cinnamon-red buttes, and numerous hiking trails – like the Plants and People of the Sonoran Desert and the Harriet K. Maxwell Desert Wildflower Loop trails – allow you to experience the region's natural wonders the way early settlers once did. The Desert Botanical Garden also hosts numerous events, including culinary demonstrations and outdoor concert series.
Recent visitors said the garden is fascinating and highly recommended seeking out the special exhibits when available. Several reviewers suggested visiting after the sun sets to see the garden illuminated, while others appreciated the groomed paths and well-marked signs. However, some travelers bemoaned the entrance rates and were disappointed the zoo and the garden do not offer a combined admission since they sit less than 2 miles from one another.
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As one of the highest peaks in Phoenix, Camelback Mountain is among the most scenic hiking spots in the city. Soaring more 2,700 feet in elevation, Camelback's summit offers spectacular views of Phoenix and Scottsdale and can be reached from the 1.2-mile (incredibly steep) Echo Canyon Trail. If you're looking for a slightly easier trek, the 1.5-mile Cholla Trail on the east side of the mountain offers a more gradual incline, at least until you near the summit. You can also try one of the several beginner-friendly trails that circle Camelback's base, such as the Bobby's Rock Trail. Hiking Camelback Mountain is best attempted earlier in the morning or later in the afternoon when the desert heat is bearable. But no matter when you decide to climb, make sure you have plenty of water and sunscreen.
Recent travelers who scaled the mountain said the arduous journey is well worth the incredible views, though they do warn this experience is not for the faint of heart. Reviewers also suggested bringing your camera, as the views at the summit and along the way are photo-worthy. Visitors also warn that you should be prepared to share the trails with lots of other hikers.
- #3View all Photos#3 in PhoenixMuseumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDMuseumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
The Musical Instrument Museum, located about 20 miles north of downtown Phoenix, invites visitors to check out its collection of more than 6,000 instruments from around the world. On the first floor of the museum, guests will find instruments, concert footage, clothing of renowned musicians and more. Visitors can see how instruments are preserved and restored in the first-floor Conservation Lab before actually playing instruments in the Experience Gallery, also on the first floor. Many parents said their children especially enjoyed experimenting with the instruments in the Experience and Encore galleries (the latter of which is geared toward kids prekindergarten to second grade), advising future visitors to make it the last stop in the museum because the kids will not want to leave.
On the upper floor, rooms are divided by geographic region, with each offering a unique collection of instruments. In each section, instruments are accompanied by streaming audio and video of the instruments being played to help put them in cultural context. The museum also showcases live music, hosting approximately 200 concerts every year in its theater. The featured artists represent an eclectic variety of genres. You can access a full concert schedule and buy tickets on the museum's website. In addition to general admission, the museum offers summer camp, school tours and group tours.
Adults can purchase general admission tickets for $20; tickets for teens 13 to 19 are $15, admission for kids ages 4 to 12 is $10, and children ages 3 and younger can visit for free. The museum is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. On-site facilities include a cafe, a theater and a gift shop. Parking is free.
- #4View all Photos#4 in PhoenixZoos and AquariumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDZoos and AquariumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
The Phoenix Zoo is a great place to enjoy nature without your little ones dying of boredom. There are four trails (measuring 2½ miles in total) that wind through the numerous habitats represented on this 125-acre chunk of land. The zoo houses a variety of animals, including baboons, Sumatran tigers, Asian elephants, Galápagos tortoises and Komodo dragons. Take younger tots to the Red Barn petting zoo or to the giraffe encounter where they can get some face time with the animals. When their little legs start to tire, consider the 25-minute narrated safari train tour, which only costs a few extra dollars and provides a good orientation of the zoo.
Recent visitors (especially those with kids in tow) had a great time at the zoo, and praised the clean and well-maintained grounds. Several reviewers recommended allotting at least two hours to see all of the exhibits. However, some travelers were disappointed with the added costs for everything from the safari train ride to the 4-D theater.
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Housed within a prime example of contemporary architecture is one of the largest art museums in the Southwest (with more than 18,000 works of art, some of them dating as far back as the Renaissance). From Diego Rivera to Frederic Remington, Georgia O'Keeffe to Frida Kahlo, the Phoenix Art Museum's permanent collection caters to a wide variety of tastes, and often welcomes top-notch traveling exhibits. Be sure to check out the popular Thorne Miniature Collection, and if you're traveling with kids, make sure to take advantage of the museum's youth-oriented activities.
Recent visitors praised the museum's size and layout and its ability to appeal to a variety of age groups. Reviewers also offered kudos for the on-site restaurant and gift shop.
- #6View all Photos#6 in PhoenixMuseumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDMuseumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
If you're a history buff or an art aficionado (or both), take advantage of the spectacular exhibits – and air conditioning – housed in the Heard Museum. According to many, the Heard Museum is one of the country's finest Native American museums and offers a comprehensible introduction to Arizona's original residents. With the help of pre-Colombian to contemporary art and a variety of traditional artifacts, the Heard Museum conveys the life and culture of Native Americans in the Southwest.
Recent visitors recommend setting aside at least half a day to see the exhibits housed here. Many also praised the docents and suggested joining a free tour to get the most out of your time here. You'll also want to take a spin through the gift shop, according to reviewers.
- #7View all Photos#7 in PhoenixHistoric Homes/Mansions, SightseeingTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDHistoric Homes/Mansions, SightseeingTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Frank Lloyd Wright loved the Sonoran Desert, and he used these 600 acres at the base of the McDowell Mountains as his winter home and school. With the help of his art and architecture students, Wright constructed apartments, studios and theaters using local materials to help the camp blend with its natural surroundings. This National Historic Landmark is still used as an educational space for budding artists and architects.
Recent travelers were particularly impressed with this attraction, calling it an "architectural gem" in the middle of the desert and praised both its charm and tour guides. Visitors were also quick to note that you do not need to be an architecture buff to enjoy a tour here thanks to the engaging guides and stunning surroundings. Reviewers also recommended making time to stop at the on-site gift shop.
- #8View all Photos#8 in PhoenixGolf, RecreationTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDGolf, RecreationTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
Despite its desert surroundings, Phoenix is emerging as a premier golf destination. In fact, the Valley of the Sun is home to several hundred courses with difficulty levels ranging from beginner to expert.
Finding the right course may be a feat in itself, thanks to all of the options. For an authentic Phoenician golf experience, follow in the footsteps of movie stars and politicians and head to the Arizona Biltmore Golf Club. Constructed in 1928 and known as "the granddaddy" of Phoenix country clubs, the Arizona Biltmore is home to two 18-hole PGA Championship courses, as well as a driving range, a putting green, a pro shop and a full-service restaurant. Because of its reputation, you'll want to reserve tee times well in advance, plus, you should plan your tee time for early morning or later in the evening to avoid the Arizona heat. The club is part of the Arizona Biltmore Resort in downtown Phoenix. Reserve your tee times online at the course's website. Prices and availability may vary.
- #9View all Photos#9 in PhoenixSports, ToursTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDSports, ToursTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Watching the Arizona Diamondbacks play at Chase Field is a worthwhile experience, even if you aren't a die-hard baseball fan, according to recent visitors. Reviewers appreciated the kid-friendly atmosphere, air conditioning and retractable roof, and the park's unique amenities, including the lifeguard-staffed pool and hot tub that sits 415 feet from home plate. Even if you aren't in town for a game, you can still see the ballpark on a tour, which are available three times a day Monday through Saturday throughout the year. After, grab a bite to eat or a cold one at Chase Field's beer garden.
Chase Field is located one block south of the Arizona Science Center in the downtown area. Tours cost approximately $7 for adults and $3 for children. Tour schedules vary depending on game schedules. For more information, check out Chase Field's website.
- #10View all Photos#10 in PhoenixSpasTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDSpasTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
If hiking and golf aren't really your cup of tea, consider a day spent wrapped in seaweed or soaking in mud. Alongside its luscious green golf courses, Phoenix is also known for its outstanding day and resort spas, which are often set among jaw-dropping desert scenes. When winter strikes or everyday life becomes too overbearing, many weary travelers head to the Valley of the Sun for hot rock massages and salt scrubs. And since many spas incorporate Native American traditions and botanicals sourced from the Sonoran Desert into their treatments, a visit to the spa can be as educational as it is restorative.
When it comes to lying in the lap of luxury, many agree that there's no better place than the 33,000-square-foot spa the Boulders Resort. In addition to spa services, you can also enjoy the resort's golf courses, hiking trails and yes, facials and mud wraps. As one of the most well-known spas in the valley, this massive relaxation hot spot offers clients a long list of treatments worth bragging about, including the signature turquoise wrap. However, the prices may stress you out: Most individual treatments cost close to $150, while package deals range from about $300 to $700. You'll find the resort nestled in Carefree along the edge of Tonto National Forest.
- #11View all Photos#11 in PhoenixMuseumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDMuseumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Seek refuge from the broiling Phoenix weather in the Arizona Science Center, where interactive displays teach kids about everything from electricity to weather patterns to outer space. Other topics covered across the center's four levels of exhibits include sound, gravity and psychology, among others. An IMAX Theater also offers family-friendly, educational entertainment.
Recent visitors were pleased with the activities offered here, especially the temporary exhibits. However, some felt the tickets were pricey, especially for families. Reviewers also suggested purchasing your tickets online in advance to avoid having to wait in long admission lines.
- #12View all Photos#12 in PhoenixMuseums, SightseeingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDMuseums, SightseeingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
History and archaeology buffs should put a trip to Pueblo Grande, a National Historic Landmark and the largest preserved archaeological site within Phoenix, at the top of their list of things to do. This site features the ruins of an ancient Hohokam village – which approximately 1,000 people once called home – that mysteriously disappeared around A.D. 1450. Walk among what's left of houses, storage facilities, play areas and cemeteries on a short, accessible trail. You can also view artifacts found during the site's excavation at the small on-site museum.
Recent visitors called this site a "hidden gem" and praised the well-maintained grounds, as well as the small museum. Reviewers recommend setting aside at least an hour to enjoy the attraction, though some reported spending more than two hours here. Though there are a few interactive exhibits in the museum for children, most said this attraction is best enjoyed by adults.
- View all PhotosMuseumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDMuseumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Boasting more than 300 play experiences across three floors, the Children's Museum of Phoenix is a hit with kids. Spanning more than 48,000 square feet, the museum offers a range of exhibits suitable for infants and kids up to age 10. Exhibits include a miniature market, a noodle forest, a child-sized cafe and a fort-building area, among other activities.
Recent visitors loved the museum, saying it was a great place for kids to burn off energy. Many families said they spent several hours here thanks to the variety of exhibits. Others appreciated the museum's efforts to cater to infants and toddlers, with designated spaces in each of the exhibits suitable for the museum's youngest visitors. However, some warn that adults likely won't be entertained as all of the exhibits are created with little ones in mind.
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