Though once considered a remote cattle outpost, the quaint town of El Mirage, Arizona is now nearly a suburb of Phoenix – a city that is expanding at a previously unimaginable pace.
Located in the Valley of the Sun’s northwest corner, El Mirage is just south of some of the largest retirement communities in the United States: Sun City, Sun City West, and Sun City Grand.
It’s also located near some of metro-Phoenix’s largest and most majestic parks, which encompass thousands of acres of land – some of the most spectacular scenery you’re ever likely to see.
Below are 15 things to do in El Mirage that should be on your radar.
1. Challenger Space Center
Located in nearby Peoria, the Challenger Space Center is Arizona’s home for all things related to space, space travel, and the amazing universe we’re all part of.
Part school and part fun center, the museum is chockfull of exhibits, relics, memorabilia and first-hand accounts of those who played their part in the exploration of space.
The center also offers instructional classes in other areas of popular science besides space, like electricity and magnetism.
It’s a great place to take refuge from the brutal sun, enjoy some wonderful AC, and learn a thing or two.
Check out their website for specifics.
2. The Heard Museum
Bar none, the Heard Museum is the place to visit in Arizona to learn about the state’s Native American art, culture, and history.
Located in downtown Phoenix, it’s considered one of a kind – not just in Arizona, but in the world.
Founded in 1929 by the Heard family, the museum has been operating since then, with a mission to preserve and promote the art and culture of the many Native American’s that call Arizona and the southwest home.
The museum includes an amazing gift shop and café. Throughout the year, it hosts many art shows and festivals, all of which are related to its Native American theme.
3. Sahuaro Ranch Historic Area
Cattle ranching has always been a big part of Arizona’s economy, and many places that are now part of metro-Phoenix were once rural areas of desert where the herds roamed free.
Located on nearly 20 expansive acres in Glendale, Sahuaro Ranch Historic Area is thought to be the oldest ranch in Maricopa County, with documented history going all the way back to the mid-1800’s.
With renovated buildings, gardens, barns and an orchard, there are plenty of places to explore.
Determined to preserve the valley’s rich ranching history, the site offers tours, hands-on activities, and displays that’ll educate and excite.
4. Castles ‘n Coasters
Located just off Interstate 17 north of downtown Phoenix, Castles ‘n Coasters is the definitive location for rides, slides, boats, and games in the Phoenix area.
The park is so popular that at peak times like weekends and holidays, it can get downright crowded.
If you’d like to enjoy all it has to offer without all that chaos, think about going on a weekday, or in the morning before the crowds show up.
From mini-golf and roller-coasters to a wet and wild water area, if you can’t find something fun to do here, you’re not trying hard enough.
5. Pioneer Living History Museum
Located on West Pioneer Road in Phoenix, just off Interstate 17, The Pioneer Living History Museum is sometimes called Pioneer Village. It consists of 30 buildings from the 1800’s that have been renovated to near-original condition.
The museum sits on nearly 100 acres and is one of the best places to go in the area if you’d like to learn about the state’s fascinating pioneer history – back to when Arizona was only a territory.
The museum’s history goes back to the ‘50s when a group of civic-minded locals began to notice with dismay that many of the town’s historical building were being demolished.
Their efforts created the museum and it’s been preserving the site ever since.
6. Thunderbird Conservation
Located on North 59th Avenue in neighboring Glendale, Thunderbird Conservation Park consists of nearly 1,200 acres on the northwest edge of the city.
Named after the mythic thunderbirds common in Native American stories, the park is a great place to walk through nature and see the superb mix of urban and rural scenery that few other cities offer.
The park has a visitor’s center which will give you important information and an all-important trail map so you won’t get lost.
There are restrooms and covered picnic areas, as well as wildlife viewing areas along the trails.
7. Catch a Ball Game or Two
If you’ve never heard of ‘the cactus league,’ it refers to the major-league baseball teams from all over the United States that flock to Arizona’s warm climate before the official season kicks off, to practice and play pre-season games against one another.
To accommodate these teams – which are a big boon to the local economy – Phoenix and its surrounding towns have built world-class complexes, which are big tourist attractions in the mild Arizona winters.
In 2017, the parks drew nearly two million visitors, and with good reason; they’re inexpensive and family-friendly places to spend some time in the shade and watch America’s favorite pastime.
8. Westgate Entertainment District
Located near the University of Phoenix Stadium – just off Route 101 not far from El Mirage – the Westgate Entertainment District is a swanky area of shopping, dining and drinking establishments aimed at those with deep pockets.
The area hosts live music, and many of the restaurants have outdoor seating around a massive courtyard complete with fountains, which are great places to sit in the shade, relax and enjoy a cold beverage.
There are also brand name designer outlets too, where with a little effort and legwork you’ll be able to pick up some cool duds on the cheap.
9. Hike the New River Trail
Phoenix and the surrounding towns like El Mirage are purportedly home to some of the fittest Americans, which you won’t find too hard to believe if you hit the trails and find they’re crowded with hikers, walkers, and bikers of all ages.
The trail is located on West Thunderbird Road in Peoria, between El Mirage and downtown Phoenix.
With nearly 13 miles of trail that follow the course of the New River, it’s paved over its entire length.
The New River is often dry in many spots, but there are special wildlife viewing areas where you may get a glimpse of desert critters that are usually most active in the morning and evening.
10. University of Phoenix Stadium
Though it’s called the University of Phoenix Stadium, it’s really the home of the Arizona Cardinals football team.
Located just a stone’s throw from the aforementioned Westgate Entertainment District, the stadium was completed in 2006 but still has that new car smell – if you know what I mean.
Though tickets to the football games can be pricey and hard to come by, you can take tours of the stadium that sports nearly 65,000 seats.
At different times through the year, it is home to other live events and has even hosted the Fiesta Bowl and the Super Bowl.
The tours are inexpensive and a lot of fun.
11. Shop at Cabela’s
If you’re a boater, fisherman, hunter, or just an all-around outdoor enthusiast, then a trip to Cabela’s in nearby Glendale is a great diversion from all the sun and history you’re probably fed up with.
Boasting some of the most impressive aquariums you’ll find anywhere, the sporting goods store is kind of like a museum, restaurant and outdoorsman’s emporium all rolled into one.
They’ve got clothes, books and more outdoor gear than you could possibly use in a lifetime.
It’s a place you could get lost in for hours; you could also spend an entire paycheck too if you aren’t careful, so don’t get carried away.
12. El Mirage Dry Lake Off-Highway Vehicle Recreation Area
If barbecues, burgers, loud trucks with big tires, and hotrods sounds like a great way to spend an afternoon or weekend, then the El Mirage Dry Lake Off-Highway Vehicle Recreation Area is the place you need to be.
The site is a flat lake bed – similar to the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah – where amateur car and truck enthusiasts can race their vehicles without fear of getting a hefty ticket for an excessive speed violation.
The site is family-friendly, and RVs and camping is allowed, though you’ll need to bring food and drinks with you, as there’s really nothing else around.
13. White Tank Mountain Regional Park
Encompassing nearly 30,000 acres of wild Arizona desert, White Tank Mountain Regional Park near El Mirage is less visited than some of the area’s more accessible parks, making it a gem of a find for those who don’t mind a 25-minute drive outside of town.
As a resident of Arizona for 10 years, the White Tank Mountains were a favorite spot of mine to escape the city’s chaos and disappear into the wild for a few hours.
The park boasts nearly 26 miles of trails and has RV and camping facilities, restrooms and a modest visitor center.
Keep in mind much of the park is habitat for many animals, some of which are dangerous. I’ve personally had two encounters with rattlesnakes in the park, but I was well off the trail, which isn’t very wise.
Stay on the well-marked trails and you’ll be fine.
14. Paint and Sip
The Phoenix metro area, including El Mirage, has experienced a bit of a rebirth in recent years, especially in the areas of art and wine.
If those are two things you enjoy, why not combine the two and head to The Painter’s Lounge on North 3rd Avenue in Phoenix and see what the hub-bub is all about.
Located in a cool, gallery-style suite, the lounge is set up for amateur artists of all degrees; you’ll get all the paints, brushes and canvas you need, in addition to a little instruction.
Supposedly, the lounge is a great way to meet available singles too – or so I’ve been told.
15. Surprise Community Park
Located just a short drive from el Mirage on North Bullard Avenue in Surprise, the Surprise Community Park is a wonderful free place to enjoy some outdoor activities like tennis, volleyball, fishing, and jogging.
Due to its convenient location in downtown Surprise, it’s near a public pool and aquatic center, which are great places to visit with the little ones when the sun is at its worst.
The park has paved walking trails and covered gazebos near the lake.
It’s an especially great place to be as the sun is slipping behind the western mountains somewhere over neighboring California.