Abrupt rocky clumps at Papago Park, Camelback Mountain, South Mountain Park, and Piestawa Peak break up Phoenix’s sprawl and bring a Western-style desert scape to the middle of the city.
The appeal of Greater Phoenix lies in these pockets of desert wilderness, the year-round sunshine, and the many chances to study Arizona’s indigenous cultures. You can indulge every whim at Phoenix’s opulent resorts, tee off at innumerable golf courses, watch big sporting moments at heavyweight arenas, and brush up on America’s greatest architect at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West architecture lab.
I am a travel enthusiast and a resident of Arizona who has visited the City of Phoenix several times. Visiting this vibrant city can be overwhelming, especially if it’s your first time. So to help, I recommend you these 54 best things to do in Phoenix.
1. Desert Botanical Garden
If you want to be near nature and discover a myriad of plant species you’ve never seen before, I think visiting the Desert Botanical Garden of Phoenix is worth it.
At the north end of the sprawling Papago Park is a glorious botanical garden collecting desert species from around the world. Of the 4,000 taxa represented at the Desert Botanical Garden, one-third are native to the Sonoran, around Phoenix. There are 50,000 plants in all, counting large collections of cactuses and agave.
There are also desert plants from Australia, South America, and California, while species that grow in more moderate conditions are kept under shade houses. You can also witness a butterfly exhibit in a special pavilion where you can find out about their lifecycle from the Start of March to the end of May.
During my visit, I walked a series of themed trails, presenting brilliant desert wildflowers, delving into the topic of conservation, and revealing the plants and people of the Sonoran Desert. I was also able to witness the flowers that bloom after dark when the cactuses are also given atmospheric lighting.
2. Heard Museum
If you want something educational and worthwhile, visit the Heard Museum, one of the top museums for American Indian art in the country. The best way to learn about the many indigenous tribes native to Arizona is by visiting this great place.
The Heard Museum is famed for its award-winning exhibits, both permanent and temporary. It was founded in 1929 by the collector and philanthropist Maie Bartlett Heard and her husband Dwight, who a few years before had acquired Phoenix’s La Ciudad Indian Ruin, which yielded many of the pieces in their collection.
When I visited there, I marveled at the seven-meter mural serving as a cultural portrait of the Yaqui people or the full-sized Navajo hogan. I also admired the collection of more than 2,000 works, among them textiles, jewelry, pottery, basketry, beadwork, and ritual items.
The Heard Museum has also made a name for its events, like the Hispanic El Mercado de Las Artes in February and the Indian Fair and Market in early March, showcasing hundreds of Native American artists and drawing thousands of visitors, which I hope I can witness again next year.
3. Taliesin West
Posted on a mesa above Paradise Valley is Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home and architecture school, now also the headquarters for the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation.
Taliesin West was built in 1937, and much of the construction cost came from the deep well needed to provide the campus with water. In line with his philosophy for organic architecture, Wright used low, tilting planes and materials like local desert sand and rocks so the complex could coexist with its environment.
Wright also oversaw the finest details, designing the furniture to measure and even taking a hammer to parts that he wanted to change when he arrived each year after a summer in Wisconsin.
Before my visit to this historic and revolutionary place, I booked in advance as the only way to visit Taliesin West was by guided tour. I took the standard 90-minute Insights Tour, visited the drafting studio, music pavilion, and Wright’s personal quarters, and chose a more in-depth experience like the three-hour Behind the Scenes Tour.
4. Camelback Mountain
An official Phoenix Point of Pride, the 825-meter Camelback Mountain looks like the hump and head of a kneeling camel and soars over the Phoenix Metropolitan Area. This reddish granite and sandstone mass rises between Arcadia and Paradise Valley to the northeast of downtown.
It lies within the Camelback Mountain Echo Canyon Recreation Area and attracts a steady stream of hikers, despite the steep, rugged ascents. The two ways to the top are the Echo Canyon Trail and the Cholla Trail, and both paths are less than 1.5 miles but aren’t for the faint of heart.
The Echo Canyon Trail has handrails to help you up and benches for hard-earned breaks; while the Cholla Trail is smoother, it requires some scrambling over large boulders towards the end.
I chose the Echo Canyon Trail, which was steeper, but thankfully, I was able to rest and chat with some fellow hikers from time to time. By the trails, I witnessed some mesquites and prickly pears. All my efforts paid back tenfold with the 360° views from the top.
If you decide to visit, I advise bringing your camera as you might come across a desert tortoise, cottontail rabbit, or chuckwalla lizard. You also have to be careful as rattlesnakes occupy the area. I also recommend going early in the day and packing lots of water as it can be hot.
5. Phoenix Zoo
I recommend this place for a nice and unforgettable bonding with your loved ones. The highly-rated zoo in Papago Park opened in 1962 and has been oriented towards conservation since it opened. As you’d hope, the zoo only keeps species that are comfortable in Phoenix’s hot desert climate.
The main areas are organized along four different “trails”: Arizona Trail, Africa Trail, Tropics Trail, and Children’s Trail. Arizona Trail has animals native to the Sonoran Desert, like coyotes, bobcats, cougars, and turkey vultures.
On the Africa Trail, I encountered lions, giraffes, cheetahs, and gazelles, while the Tropics Trail brought me close to jaguars, Asian elephants, orangutans, Sumatran tigers, and spider monkeys.
Moreover, the Children’s Trail introduces younger zoo-goers to smaller animals from across the globe, like wallabies, an ocelot, and golden-mantled tamarins.
One of my most unforgettable moments at Phoenix Zoo is its 4D theater, with shows using scent, wind, and other ambient effects. I also took a glimpse of its marvelous water play areas. And, of course, I never missed the chance to participate in some great animal interaction activities they have, like feeding giraffes, walking among squirrel monkeys, and touching the backs of stingrays at Stingray Bay.
Book online: Phoenix Zoo Tickets
6. Phoenix Art Museum
Are you looking for something creative and inspirational? Then you don’t have to go far, as the Phoenix Art Museum, which houses modern masterpieces by renowned artists around the world, will satisfy your creative side.
The origins of Phoenix’s art museum can be traced back to a community art collection established just after Arizona became the 48th state in 1912. The museum itself was inaugurated in 1959 to house a myriad of masterpieces made by world-renowned artists.
I witnessed its wealth of modern art by the likes of Picasso, Alexander Calder, Georgia O’Keeffe, Henry Moore, and Henri Rousseau. I also contemplated the European collections of Renaissance and Impressionist paintings.
And, of course, I completed my visit by going into the museum’s fabulous cache of Latin American art, which includes works by Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, but also exceptional decorative arts and furniture.
I’m also sure families will love the Thorne Miniature Rooms, as dozens of meticulously decorated interior scenes are pieced together using antique furniture on a 1:12 scale. Also, temporary exhibitions are often high quality at the Phoenix Art Museum.
7. Papago Park
Almost 1,500 acres of desert landscape across Phoenix and Tempe, Papago Park contains golf courses, trails, seven acres of stocked fishing lagoons, picnic areas, sports facilities, rugged hills, mesmerizing sandstone formations, and a few of the attractions on this list, like the Desert Botanical Garden and Phoenix Zoo.
In places, the vistas are awe-inspiring, like at Hunt’s Tomb, a pyramid built by Arizona’s first governor, George W.P. Hunt, for his wife in 1931 and also his final resting place when he passed away in 1934.
As I have an Arizona fishing license, I was able to try my luck at landing tilapia, carp, rainbow trout, catfish, and largemouth bass in its lagoons.
And while this may be desert terrain, I assure you that the natural diversity is immense on trails lined with mesquite, Fremont thorn bush, desert tobacco, and the giant saguaro cactus.
Related tour: Tempe Town Lake & Papago Park Tour
One of the most rewarding hikes in Papago Park will deposit you at this natural wonder, not far south of the Desert Botanical Garden on the east side.
Visiting this place brought me to a whole new world. I felt like I was on another planet, surrounded by unique boulders of rock. What’s more incredible is the valuable lessons I obtained from my tour. I have learned that the Hole-in-the-Rock is a low sandstone hill perforated with openings created by the flow of water over millions of years.
There’s a chamber with a wide entrance and an aperture in the ceiling. This space and its ceiling’s opening are known to have been used by the Hohokam culture (300 to 1500 CE) as a kind of calendar to mark the seasons, recording the position of sunlight on annual landmarks like the solstices and equinox. The light at sunset is out of this world, and the views of downtown Phoenix in the distance warrant the short but stiff climb.
9. Musical Instrument Museum (MIM)
If you’re a music enthusiast, I assure you that your visit to Phoenix’s Musical Instrument Museum will be worth it. You will have a musical trip around the world as the MIM has instruments from almost 200 different countries.
The galleries at this grand building opened in 2010 and display more than 6,800 pieces from Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Europe, Oceania, Latin America, and the United States/Canada, accompanying them with multimedia so you can explore the cultures that produced them and hear the instruments in action.
One outstanding piece I witnessed here is the “Steinweg” piano, officially the first ever Steinway, assembled by the Steinweg family in their house in Seesen in 1936.
The Experience Gallery was also a treat, as it allowed me to play many of the instruments that I’ve seen in those globe-trotting galleries, like a theremin, gong, and Peruvian harp.
I also visited the Artist Gallery that houses the instruments belonging to the likes of Elvis, Tito Puente, John Lennon, Santana, Taylor Swift, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, and Ravi Shankar. The MIM is also a performance venue, booking artists from around the world
10. Orpheum Theater
Built for vaudeville in 1929, the sumptuous Orpheum Theatre has a Spanish Baroque style and can seat 1,364 for touring Broadway musicals, ballet, stand-up comedy, family shows, live music, podcast recordings, and much more. What will strike you right away is just how opulent this building is, especially following a $14m restoration in the 90s.
My trip was awe-inspiring as the Orpheum Theater abounds in intricate moldings on the frieze and balcony outside and inside on the fan pattern over the beautiful Peacock Staircase, the proscenium arch, and the gilded Solomonic columns lining the auditorium’s walls.
The murals are also glorious and intended to evoke a shifting sky as if you’re watching a show in the courtyard of a Spanish villa. The venue was a cinema for most of its history, and there’s still a playable Wurlitzer organ for silent movies.
11. Arizona Museum of Natural History
If you want to travel back in time, it would be great to visit the Arizona Museum of Natural History. This is the only natural history museum in the Phoenix Metropolitan Area and is a little way east of downtown Phoenix in the city of Mesa.
Founded in 1977, the museum is in what used to be Mesa City Hall, a building raised in 1934 and expanded to house extra galleries in the 80s and 90s.
The dinosaurs are the stars at the Arizona Museum of Natural History, not least at Dinosaur Mountain, where there’s a three-story waterfall and where you can see and hear the beasts of the Mesozoic Era.
I satisfied my curiosity in the Dinosaur Hall, which is filled with skeletons of theropods, sauropods, ceratopsians, and iguanodonts, while the outdoor Paleo Dig Pit lets children play the role of paleontologists, unearthing fossilized bones and eggs.
Arizona Through Time presents a complete chronology of the state’s natural history via the formation of rocks and minerals, Palaeozoic seas, Triassic forests, and Cretaceous seas. Also fascinating are the galleries devoted to the native cultures of the Ancient Americas and Western North America.
12. Grand Canyon Day Tour from Phoenix, Scottsdale, & Tempe
When the most celebrated natural wonder in the United States is a few short hours away, I advise that you don’t miss this day trip. You could make the whole experience much more convenient by booking a tour through GetYourGuide.com.
During my Grand Canyon Day Tour, we cruised along the historic Route 66, through the town of Williams, before skirting the south rim of the canyon.
I also had three hours to spend in the National Park and had plenty of time to marvel at this iconic mile-deep chasm. I think it would be great to take as many photos as possible, shop for souvenirs, and check out some of the man-made landmarks like Hopi House (1904) and El Tovar Lodge (1905).
Your van on this tour will be air-conditioned and equipped with captain’s seats for all passengers, while bottled water is included in the fee.
One of Phoenix and Scottsdale’s great draws, especially in the winter, is the 200 golf courses within reach of the metropolitan area. This is a region with 300 days of sunshine and a golf industry that has gone into overdrive in the last three decades.
Award-winning 36-hole resorts accompanied by spas have infused this otherwise forbidding environment with real luxury. The dessert course is king here, at courses like Troon North at We-Ko-Pa, where you’ll play through a romantic Sonoran landscape of saguaro cactuses, prickly pear, cholla, and giant granite outcrops.
As the name might tell you, the two courses at The Boulders are even rockier, while for high luxury, the Arizona Biltmore has been played by U.S. presidents and a roll-call of Hollywood celebrities.
We can’t leave out TPC Scottsdale, of course, the venue for the PGA’s Phoenix Open. There’s a piece of history here at the 13th where the one-ton boulder moved for Tiger Woods by fans in 1999 is the heaviest loose impediment in the history of golf.
14. Scottsdale Fashion Square
It’s appropriate that a city of casinos, nightspots, and luxury spas should have the largest mall in Arizona and among the most visited in the United States.
I was struck by the size of the mall, which has three floors and more than 225 tenants. Scottsdale Fashion Square is almost 60 years old but has constantly evolved with expansions, the most recent in 2018.
I witnessed a neat balance here between premium brands like Prada, Jimmy Choo, Gucci, Burberry, and Tiffany & Co. and midmarket stores like Gap, H&M, Zara, and Foot Locker.
Furthermore, the six anchors are Dick’s Sporting Goods, Dillard’s, Macy’s, Neiman Marcus, and Nordstrom, while if you’re up for a movie there’s a branch of Harkins Theatres. For food, you’ve got fast casual big guns like Five Guys, Chipotle, Johnny Rockets, Shake Shack, and Panda Express.
15. Chase Field
One of the two most recent MLB franchises, the Arizona Diamondbacks, was formed in 1998. Their home ballpark is the unique Chase Field, completed in time for the Diamondbacks’ first season and a venue that needs to be visited even outside the baseball season (April-autumn). The Diamondbacks won the World Series just three years later, becoming the fastest expansion team in the major leagues to claim a championship.
Chase Field holds 48,686 fans and has a retractable roof to cope with Phoenix’s blazing heat and sudden summer storms. A new touch I witnessed during my visit is the APS Solar Pavilion over the plaza by the ballpark’s west entrances, providing needed shade and 75 kilowatts of solar power for the stadium.
There is also a hallmark, an open-air pool in right-center field, rented as a suite for any group of Diamondbacks fans with extra money to burn.
You can take a tour of Chase Field Monday to Saturday all year round to check out that pool, one of the largest high-definition scoreboards in MLB, and to find out about that retractable roof.
I once visited the Spa at Camelback Inn for some relaxation after an exhausting hike or trip in Phoenix. No sooner had the city been founded in the late-19th century the Phoenix area became a honeypot for health tourists, particularly tuberculosis sufferers, for the restorative desert climate.
By the first half of the 20th century, there were health spas across the city and neighboring desert communities; these have been succeeded by a slew of high-luxury resorts, many welcoming day visitors for a few blissful hours of steaming, massages, pampering, and beauty treatments.
A few premium picks I would like to recommend to you based on my experience are Spa Avania at Hyatt Regency, Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Gainey Ranch, The Spa at JW Marriott Scottsdale Camelback Inn, Joya Spa at the InterContinental Montelucia Resort & Spa, and the Arizona Biltmore Spa.
One harking back to the 1920s is the Mediterranean-style Alvadora Spa at Royal Palms, still among the most indulgent for its in-house herbalist crafting botanical treatments, as well as Vichy showers, hot stone massages and a watsu pool for in-water massages.
17. Pueblo Grande Museum and Cultural Park
If you want a captivating glimpse of Phoenix’s distant past, visiting the Pueblo Grande Museum and Cultural Park preserves the largest archaeological site in the city, should be on your itinerary.
Belonging to the Hohokam culture and occupied from 450 CE to 1450 CE, Pueblo Grande is a sophisticated network of irrigation canals, a platform mound, and the remnants of ballcourts on the north bank of the Salt River. There’s an interpretive trail, 2/3 of a mile long, winding around the site and taking in these remains, as well as reconstructed and furnished houses.
During my visit here, I had a stroll in its three galleries showing off artifacts like pottery and tools recovered from this site and more than 350 other prehistoric settlements in the region.
The museum also puts on a lively schedule of workshops, talks, markets, demonstrations, tours, and auctions, shedding light on Hohokam and other local indigenous cultures.
18. Arizona Science Center
Like all the best science museums, the Arizona Science Center is as hands-on as possible. I experienced its four levels of fun exhibits demonstrating natural forces like gravity, magnetism, friction, and electricity, Earth’s relationship with the sun, information technology, and the science behind the human mind and body.
Forces of Nature meanwhile uses immersive technology to synthesize tornados, wildfires, a monsoon, and volcanic eruptions. Also located here is the Dorrance Planetarium, one of the largest and most advanced in the United States.
19. McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park
A wonderland for any train aficionado, the McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park is on a piece of a ranch donated to the City of Scottsdale by Anne and Fowler McCormick in the 1960s.
Anne’s son, and Fowler’s stepson, Guy Stillman, was a rail enthusiast and had constructed a complete narrow gauge railroad, the Paradise & Pacific Railroad, on the property.
This ridable line was the basis for the park’s array of rail-themed attractions and exhibits and is still running today, with more than 1.1 kilometers of track, a tunnel, and six locomotives (three steam and three diesel).
One static attraction that I think deserves your attention is the Magma Arizona Railroad Engine #6, built in 1907, as does the Roald Amundsen Pullman Car, dating to 1928 and used by Herbert Hoover, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and Dwight Eisenhower. Also charming is the working Charro Carousel, built by the Allan Herschell Company in 1950.
20. Children’s Museum of Phoenix
A trip should not just be fun for the adults but for the children as well. It would be great to bring your kids to the Children’s Museum of Phoenix, where they can learn through play. It is opposite Heritage Square and the Arizona Science Center
The museum’s highly interactive exhibits are designed to engage little ones’ minds, imaginations, and muscles for open-ended, creative play. My visit here reminded me of the i.d.e.a Museum I once visited.
Kids can scramble to new heights and gain physical confidence on the Schuff-Perini Climber, build something extraordinary at BlockMania, have fun with grownup interactions at The Market, negotiate the wacky wilderness of the Noodle Forest, go to work at the Texture Cafe and ride tricycles to their hearts’ content at Pedal Power.
21. Goldfield Ghost Town
On the east flank of the Valley of the Sun is the old mining town of Goldfield, where you can take a day trip back to the Old West.
The town was established in 1893 when gold was discovered in the surrounding Superstition Mountains, which look like a backdrop from a John Ford Western.
It wasn’t long before the gold vein faulted, and Goldfield slipped into a slow death. The reconstructed town is a bit touristy, but anyone enchanted by the history of the Southwest will be caught up in the joy of the Superstition Narrow Gauge Railroad, a tour of the historic Mammoth Gold Mine, and an Old West gunfight with talented re-enactors.
Included in (top-rated tour): Apache Trail Small Group Tour with Canyon Lake Cruise
22. Tempe Town Lake
A desert oasis at the heart of the Phoenix Metropolitan Area, the two-mile Tempe Town Lake was formed in the 1990s by damming a section of the dry Salt River and replenishing it with water from the Colorado River.
For recreation, people flock to Tempe Beach Park, which has been around since the 1920s and was renovated when the reservoir was filled in 1999. Tempe Town Lake’s circumference is about five miles, and the way is paved for cyclists, walkers, rollerskaters, and joggers.
I highly recommend you sign up for a Segway tour if you’re in the mood. Since I had an Arizona fishing license, I was able to cast a line for sunfish, catfish, bass, tilapia, and trout. And after dark, I marveled at the Tempe Town Lake Bridge’s little LED light show every time a Valley Metro train passed over.
23. Tempe Beach Park
The recreation base for Tempe Town Lake is a grassy 25-acre park on the south shore, opposite Papago Park, and a lovely spot to watch the sun go down.
My visit here at Tempe Beach Park was filled with fun-filled bicycle rides within the five-mile trail and hitting the water on kayaks, rowboats, pedal boats, and paddleboards.
There’s also a splash playground in the park for smaller children and an amphitheater holding 5,000 people and hosting all sorts of concerts and shows throughout the year, like the Independence Day celebrations on 4 July. On the west side, the Tempe Center for the Arts is a modern venue for plays, live music, dance, and live comedy. Also, the baseball diamond at Tempe Beach Park harks back to the 1930s and hosts little league and softball games.
24. Roosevelt Row
Do you want an outdoor art exhibit where you can take great selfies and memories? I highly suggest you visit Roosevelt Row Mural. This walkable arts district in downtown Phoenix is on Roosevelt Street, from 7th Avenue in the west to 16th Street in the east. It’s an area of head-turning murals, thriving local restaurants, bars, intriguing one-of-a-kind shops, artists’ studios, and galleries.
The concrete for some of the sidewalks on Roosevelt Row was poured in 1909 before Arizona had become the 48th state, and for much of Phoenix’s history, this strip has been a hub for local businesses.
Re-zoning in the 1970s brought about a steep decline, but the neighborhood has bounced back since the 1990s as artists moved into the cheap boarded-up buildings and former crack houses.
Something else I loved about Roosevelt Row is the line-up of quirky gatherings and festivals, like the Chile Pepper Festival in September and the Pie Social in November.
25. First Friday
Over 80 galleries and studios in downtown Phoenix’s various arts districts throw open their doors on the first Friday of the month for an art extravaganza. More than a simple art walk, First Friday involves lots of live music, street performers, and outdoor vendors while all sorts of quirky boutiques join in the fun.
When I went here, the official event took place from 6 pm to 10 pm, but there were lots of after-hours happenings at bars and restaurants. Artlink, the organizers, encourage people to leave their cars at home with free hop-on/hop-off shuttles that run three routes linking Roosevelt Row, Grand Avenue, the Warehouse District, and Mid-town Phoenix.
Also check out my guide on the best day trips from Phoenix.
26. State Farm Stadium
A monumental piece of sports architecture and the home of the Arizona Cardinals, Glendale’s State Farm Stadium is one of the top NFL venues in the country and the stage for Super Bowl XLII (2008), XLIX (2015), and LVII (2023). This $500m stadium can seat 64,400 for regular season games and has no obstructed seats, while the capacity can be boosted by another 8,800 for the biggest events.
The State Farm Stadium is one of the few in the NFL with a retractable roof and the only one with a roll-out grass field. You may find it tricky to get to one of the Cardinal’s eight regular season home games, but there are three tours a day from Wednesday to Saturday, outside of game days.
The Behind the Scenes tour guide took me to the press box, the visiting team’s locker room, and out onto the field to gauge the amazing dimensions of this marvel of engineering and design.
27. Tovrea Castle
This theatrical stuccoed building off the southwest corner of Papago Park went up in the middle of the Great Depression in the early-1930s and was supposed to be the anchor for a desert resort that never followed.
It was then bought by Della Gillespie Tovrea, wife of cattle magnate Edward Ambrose, and would be her home until she passed away in 1969. For decades Tovrea Castle nicknamed the “wedding cake house,” was left to decay but is now part of the Phoenix Parks System and was restored along with its terraced cactus gardens in the 2000s.
Since 2012 it’s been possible to take tours of this curiosity perched atop a granite outcrop. I was able to savor the Art Deco interiors decorated by the same Italian artisans who worked at the Orpheum Theater and took a glimpse at Della’s possessions. One that fascinated and scared me a bit was a bullet hole in the ceiling created during an armed robbery when Della was 80 years old.
28. Castles N’ Coasters
Right by the Metrocenter Mall, where scenes from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989) were shot, there’s an endearing theme park with lots to keep the family on board.
The headline ride is Desert Storm, a double-looping rollercoaster, while the smaller Patriot is a gentler ride around a massive Stars and Stripes, and Splashdown is a log flume with two sharp splashdowns. There’s a small world of other amusements, like a huge video arcade, bumper cars, bumper boats, a swinging Viking shop, a 40-meter drop tower, a go-kart track, and four fun-packed miniature golf courses.
29. Japanese Friendship Garden (Ro Ho En)
This is one of the most memorable places I would recommend to you. This is a collaborative project between Phoenix and its sister city, Himeji, in Japan. The Japanese Friendship Garden is a peaceful escape just north of Downtown Phoenix.
This 3.5-acre garden, rich with birdlife, was laid out by landscape architects from Himeji starting in 1987. On a rambling path, you’ll stroll past 50 plant varieties, lanterns, and more than 1,500 tons of rock shaped by human hands.
There are bubbling streams crossed by little footbridges, as well as a four-meter waterfall and a large pond with more than 300 koi. Every third Saturday of the month outside summer, there’s an authentic Japanese tea ceremony at the Musoan tea house, while the garden hosts regular craft workshops, tai chi sessions, and flower arrangement classes, as well as a summer jazz night in June.
30. South Mountain Park
First plotted in 1920s, South Mountain Park is one of the largest urban parks in the United States and is listed as an official Phoenix Point of Pride. The park boasts more than 16,000 acres of unadulterated desert terrain, navigable by almost 60 miles of trails for hiking, cycling, and horseback riding.
I highly recommend this for your Wild West adventure. On my visit, I enjoyed my horseback tour with Ponderosa Stables (10215 S. Central Ave), which arranges special trips to see petroglyphs on Saturdays.
The desert environment at South Mountain Park is noted for its elephant trees and unusual abundance of chuckwallas (large lizards). You may be curious about the Sonoran desert as a habitat, in which case South Mountain Environmental Education Center (10409 S. Central Ave) is full of information about its plants, animals, and human history, as well as tips for recreation in the park.
31. Dobbins Lookout
The highest accessible point in South Mountain Park is this heart-lifting vantage point at 710 meters. The Dobbins Lookout is named for J.C. Dobbins, a member of the three-strong park committee and chairman of the Phoenix planning commission.
Equipped with a toposcope to identify the many visible landmarks, the Dobbins Lookout faces north, with a clear line of sight to downtown Phoenix and the city’s surrounding ranges like Camelback to the northeast. There’s also a stone ramada that allowed me to marvel at the views out of the glaring desert sun.
32. Talking Stick Resort
South-east Scottsdale borders the Salt River Pima–Maricopa Indian Reservation. There’s a high-end casino right here, within an easy trip of downtown Phoenix.
Talking Stick Resort incorporates a luxury hotel, a 650-seater showroom, a capacious Grand Ballroom, two golf courses, and a casino with hundreds of slot machines and more than 50 table games.
On the 14th floor, I had a great time at one of the best spas in Scottsdale, set in the open air and graced by invigorating views of The Valley. I also felt a sense of the heritage of the Pima and Maricopa people at a cultural center in the hotel lobby with an exhibition of paintings, jewelry, and photography.
Being a big-hitting resort, there’s a big helping of entertainment, and Jay Leno and Foreigner were a couple of the names on the bill in the summer of 2019.
33. Heritage Square
To have the best trip in Phoenix, I suggest you don’t miss out on the grandeur of Heritage Square Phoenix. In this place, you’ll get an idea of what Phoenix looked like in its earliest days.
Ensconced in greenery, Heritage Square has an assortment of residences and business properties raised between 1881 (Forest Burgess Carriage House) and 1923 (Hughes-Stevens Duplex). This is the last surviving set of buildings from the original Phoenix town site, and these interesting pieces of heritage have been put to use as bars, restaurants, gift shops, and museums.
I once went to the Visitor Center in the Carriage House, and it has a worthwhile exhibit on Phoenix’s history, while the Stevens-Haustgen Bungalow hosts the Heritage Gallery, showing how early Phoenix’s original 98 blocks became the dynamic downtown of today.
34. Rosson House Museum
This elegant Queen Anne-style Victorian house on Heritage Square is an early example of a building constructed in Phoenix with fired bricks rather than adobe. Rosson House, dated 1895, was built for physician and surgeon Dr. Roland Rosson and designed by San Francisco architect A.P. Petit.
This place has long been on my list. Paying a visit and admiring its period woodwork, furniture, decorative art, wallpaper, and curtains on a guided tour was all worth the wait and saving. I assure you that your guide is well-versed in both the history of this residence and Phoenix at the turn of the 20th century, sharing facts that might even surprise long-term Phoenicians.
35. Old Town Scottsdale
On Scottsdale’s original town site, dating back to the 1920s, Old Town Scottsdale is an exciting neighborhood of bars, restaurants, nightclubs, design shops, fashion boutiques, and art galleries.
For a bit of culture, I dropped by the Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West, exploring the art and history of 19 states in the American West. The Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art is in a minimalist concrete building and puts on temporary exhibitions that also branch out to design and architecture.
There’s a farmers’ market on Saturdays outside the summer months and lots of events that celebrate Scottsdale’s Native American heritage and Western traditions but also show off the city’s contemporary side, like a Thursday Art Walk.
The best way to start an evening is under the stars on a patio with a prickly pear margarita in hand, while if you’re on the hunt for something unique to take home, you’ll surely find it at the scores of independent shops and art galleries on Main Street.
36. Piestawa Peak
The mountains on Phoenix’s horizons hold an undeniable allure for walkers, and you may find your eye drawn to the Phoenix Mountain Preserve, a brief drive along the Piestawa Parkway from downtown Phoenix.
In this small massif is Piestawa Peak, which at 796 meters is the second highest point in the Phoenix Mountains after Camelback. The only route to the top is the Summit Trail, which is 1.2 miles to the top and down again.
That might sound short, but this is not a climb to take lightly. I attest that the trail can be rocky, and the calf-shredding path is as steep as they come. Despite this, I’m still happy to brave the hike and be compensated with a complete panorama of Phoenix down to South Mountain Park.
Piestawa Peak is named in honor of Lori Ann Piestawa (1979-2003), the first Native American woman to be killed in combat in the U.S. Military.
Related tour: Sonoran Desert Guided Hiking Adventure
37. Wrigley Mansion
The chewing gum industrialist and owner of the Arizona Biltmore Hotel, William Wrigley Jr. (1861-1932), ordered this labyrinthine Italianate mansion just south of Piestawa Peak. Despite having 24 rooms, this was actually the smallest of Wrigley’s properties and was only used for a few weeks of the year.
It rests atop a 30-meter knoll gazing over the Phoenix Metropolitan Area, which sweeps out to the south. The mansion, now an event and fine dining venue, is lauded for its tile work, which was produced at Wrigley’s tile factory on Catalina Island off the coast of California, and then carried hundreds of miles by mules. You can learn the story of its construction and the lifestyle of the Wrigley Family on your tour.
38. Cosanti Originals
In 1955 the Italian-American architect Paolo Soleri (1919-2013) set up his studio and home on a plot in Paradise Valley. Solieri had been a student under Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin West and created his own headquarters just a few miles away.
Looking like the houses on Tattooine in Star Wars, Cosanti is a complex of experimental, earth-cast concrete structures, all imbued with Soleri’s sense of creativity and positioned partly underground for natural insulation.
Well, I think this is ahead of its time. Cosanti has lots of sustainable elements, like south-facing apses to collect sunlight in the winter and deflect it when the sun is higher in the sky in summer.
Soleri also used a modified earth-casting technique to craft his popular ceramic and bronze wind bells, which helped fund his architectural projects and are still produced and sold at Cosanti.
39. Arizona Capitol Museum
The oldest wings of the Arizona State Capitol building are maintained as a museum telling the story of the state and presenting artifacts from Arizona’s state-owned collections. The Neoclassical statehouse was completed in 1900, 12 years before the territory became a state.
My visit here helped me learn about the sinking of the USS Arizona battleship at Pearl Harbor in 1941 and view the silver service from the ship. There’s a detailed timeline explaining how Arizona became a state, and you can enter the Governor and Secretary of State’s original offices or take a seat at the Historic House Chamber.
One captivating exhibit deals with the “Merci Train,” a trove of objects gifted by the people of France in return for a shipment of fuel and food during the country’s reconstruction following the Second World War.
40. Mystery Castle
Blending with the northern foothills of South Mountain Park, Mystery Castle is a bizarre 18-room, three-story mansion, like a cross between a Gothic castle and a hacienda. The story behind this monument, a Phoenix Point of Pride, is fascinating.
On learning that he had tuberculosis in the 1930s, the Seattleite Boyce Luther Gulley fled his family for Phoenix without telling them, purchasing a mining stake and spending the next 15 years constructing this property on it.
Mystery Castle was built with whatever Boyce could get his hands on, be it stone, adobe, rail tracks, automobile parts, or telephone poles. When his family received news of his death in 1945 they were shocked to discover that he had built this castle for his daughter, Mary Lou Gulley.
In his will, Boyce stipulated that if his family lived there for three years they could open a trap door in the house. This was revealed to contain two $500 bills, a gold nugget, and a Valentine’s Day card Mary had made for her father years earlier.
My visit to Mystery Castle allowed me to hear its wonderful story, tour its premises made with love, and enjoy the supreme views of downtown Phoenix.
41. Desert Belle Cruise Sightseeing Cruise on Saguaro Lake
Saguaro Lake is walled by the steep, rust-colored slopes of the Tonto National Forest and high on the Salt River. One unforgettable way to soak up this evocative desert scenery is on the Desert Belle (1964), a restored sightseeing boat making gentle 90-minute cruises on the lake.
I once traveled in a shaded upper deck with an air-conditioned cabin and had lots of time to view the cactus-strewn desert terrain and catch sight of some of its wildlife.
You may also see bald eagles swooping overhead or bobcats, bighorn sheep, and coyotes in the brush. There’s also live narration by the captain, calling your attention to landmarks and animals you might have missed, and a concession stand if you get thirsty.
Also read: 25 Amazing Hidden Gems in Arizona
42. Hall of Flame Fire Museum
This attraction on the west side of Papago Park chronicles the history of firefighting but is also the setting for the National Firefighting Hall of Heroes, which pays tribute to firefighters who have died in the line of duty or have been decorated for feats of heroism.
In the museum’s galleries, I witnessed more than 90 preserved pieces of antique firefighting equipment, the oldest dating back to 1725. These pieces come from as far afield as Japan, Germany, and England and include beautiful horsedrawn carts and motorized engines up to 1969.
There’s also an absorbing collection of arms patches and a gallery documenting the history of firefighting in the wilderness in the United States.
43. Desert Ridge Marketplace
I also recommend following up a visit to the Musical Instrument Museum with a shopping expedition at this palm-shaded outdoor mall in North Phoenix.
Desert Ridge Marketplace is as much about entertainment and dining as stores. There’s a plush, 18-screen AMC cinema, street performers on weekends, and upwards of 30 dining options, from In-N-Out Burger to Islands and Dave & Buster’s.
CB Live blends dining with entertainment as a full-service eatery and bar combined with a stage for nightly DJ sets, live comedy, and up-and-coming bands.
As for shops, there’s a broad selection, including H&M, Target, Old Navy, Kohl’s, Hot Topic, Barnes & Noble, and other major chains. When things heat up in summer there’s a water feature in front of the cinema where kids can play and cool off, while an outdoor fireplace takes the edge off the cool desert nights in winter.
44. Sahuaro Ranch Park
The finest public park in Glendale is a reminder of the city’s agricultural beginnings. Set up as a commercial operation by the rich Illinois businessman William H. Bartlett in 1886, Sahuaro Ranch was planted with pecan and citrus orchards and raised cattle, horses, and hogs.
Bartlett constructed an ensemble of buildings for the workers employed here, many of which are still standing. There’s an authentic 1890s outhouse, a smithy, a wagon and early automobile garage, a pump house, a good house, along with the handsome Main Mansion.
The ranch was bought up by the City of Glendale in the 1970s, which preserved these structures, as well as the orchards and historic irrigation ditches. Peacocks wander the grounds, while there are picnic areas, playgrounds for youngsters, sports fields and courts, and a dog park.
Related reading: 15 Best Things to Do in Downtown Phoenix
45. Talking Stick Resort Arena
Not far from Chase Field in downtown Phoenix, Talking Stick Resort Arena is the home court for the NBA’s Phoenix Suns and a stage for some of the city’s top concerts.
The arena was completed in 1992 and has been renovated a couple of times, with more work announced in 2019. One thing you say about the Suns, formed in 1968, is that they are normally competitive: Remembered for the likes of Charles Barkley, Steve Nash, Paul Westphal, and Dan Majerle, this franchise has the second-highest win percentage of a team never to win an NBA Championship.
The arena holds 18,422 and is also the home of the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury. In summer, the major recording artists play a date or two at the Talking Stick Arena on nationwide tours. Some performers who have been here are Jennifer Lopez, Ariana Grande, Paul McCartney, and Queen + Adam Lambert.
46. Phoenix Fan Fusion
Like all the top comic conventions, Phoenix Fan Fusion (formerly Phoenix Comic Fest) has widened its scope to encompass a big swathe of pop culture from the worlds of movies, video games, television, anime, horror, or fantasy novels.
Phoenix Fan Fusion started out as a humble gathering at the Best Western Hotel in Ahwatukee in 2002 and has grown year after year into a massive event at the Phoenix Convention Center, pulling in upwards of 100,000 fans and inviting ever more famous guests.
Stan Lee was a regular in the late-2000s, and the past few editions have welcomed William Shatner, Will Wheaton, George Takei, Jeff Goldblum, Jason Momoa, Elijah Wood, and Christopher Lloyd.
Visiting Phoenix Fan Fusion was so thrilling for me as there were celebrity panels, photo ops, signings, and a multitude of workshops by industry experts in everything from costuming and cosplay to writing.
47. Luhrs Tower
This gorgeous 56-meter Art Deco tower on West Jefferson Street made an appearance at the beginning of Psycho (1960) when Marion Crane gets ready to take flight with the deposit she was supposed to make for her boss.
The Luhrs Tower was commissioned by George Luhrs Jr., a member of a family whose past is entwined with Phoenix’s early years. The tower opened in 1929, was designed by El Paso’s Trost & Trost architects, and may have been a template for El Paso’s O.T. Bassett Tower, completed in 1930 and designed by the same firm.
48. Luhrs Building
The Luhrs Tower’s neighbor on West Jefferson is this handsome L-shaped Beaux-Arts-style block completed five years earlier in 1924. At that time, the Luhrs Building, ten stories high with a brick facade, was the tallest building in the city and believed to be the largest building between El Paso and Los Angeles. From the streets, I marveled at the fine marble moldings on the upper floors, with a corbelled balustrade, rosettes, cornice, and garlands.
49. Salt River Fields
It’s not just the snowbirds who fly to Phoenix for its warmer climes. Half of Major League Baseball’s 40 teams are based in the Greater Phoenix area for Spring Training before the start of the new season in April.
During this time, teams compete in the Cactus League, usually beginning around the end of February and lasting for a month. Talking Stick’s Salt River Fields, the first MLB park to be built on Native American land, opened in 2011 and is the spring base for the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Colorado Rockies.
There’s a game scheduled every day at Salt River Fields for these four weeks at a time when the big MLB fields are still painting their lines. The stadium broke its attendance record in March 2019 when 14,030 people came to watch the Diamondbacks against the Cubs.
More on Arizona: 15 Amazing Waterfalls in Arizona
50. SEA LIFE Center Arizona
As I always wanted to explore the sea, visiting Sea Life Center and having an easy day out with its 2,415-cubic-metre aquarium, keeping sharks, rays, green sea turtles, and all sorts of colorful tropical fish was a memorable experience.
The stars at SEA LIFE Arizona might be the seahorses, which have their own exhibit, Temple of the Seahorse, and are bred at the aquarium as part of a worldwide breeding program.
The Shoaling Ring is impressive, with hundreds of barred flagtails in one silvery mass, while the Interactive Tidepool lets you touch rockpool species like starfish and sea urchins. Try to catch one of the many talks and feeding times, especially at Ocean View, for a better look at the whitetip reef sharks, rays, and sea turtles.
Book online: SEA LIFE Arizona Aquarium Tickets
51. Casa Grande Ruins National Monument
If Phoenix has piqued your interest in the Ancient Puebloan Hohokam culture, you could make the comfortable drive to this riveting adobe archaeological site to the southeast of the Metropolitan area.
The Casa Grande Ruins National Monument was preserved as a walled farming compound established around 1350 CE and abandoned about a century later.
As for my experience, the most substantial portion of the ruins is the Great House or Casa Grande, protected under a large canopy. It is not known whether this monolithic structure was a gathering place or simply a waymarker in a vast network of irrigation canals.
The surrounding desert is rich with ironwood, mesquite, and palo verde, as well as barrel, prickly pear, and hedgehog cactuses. I advise you to go carefully, and you may see round-tailed squirrels, cottontails, and even great horned owls, which are huddled in ruins.
52. Lake Pleasant Regional Park
Almost half of this mountainous landscape in the Northwest Valley is taken up by the 10,000-acre Lake Pleasant reservoir, which was dammed in 1927. On the southeast shore sits Go Paddle AZ, which rents out kayaks and paddleboards and arranged experiences on the water like paddleboard yoga.
When things get really hot in Phoenix you’ll see people lazing in the water on tubes and rafts around Fireman’s Cove, Humbug Cove, and Coles Bay. If you plan on swimming, a life vest is recommended, as the water temperature can fluctuate suddenly.
There’s an educational Visitor Center outlining the history of the reservoir and the wildlife on the shores and in the water. You can also walk a light half-mile interpretive trail from the Visitor Center or take the more challenging but very scenic Roadrunner Trail to lookouts on the shore.
53. Biltmore Fashion Park
In the district of the same name, the Biltmore Fashion Park is a snazzy open-air shopping plaza with roots going back to 1963. In those early days, A-listers like Princess Grace, Sophia Loren, and John Wayne would shop here, and all sat for photographs at the Gittings Portrait Studio.
The mall was redeveloped in the 1990s when it gained its lawns, fountains, and trees. Saks Fifth Avenue has been around since the 1960s and is accompanied by Macy’s and brands like Ralph Lauren, Sephora, L’Occitane, and J. Crew.
To dine, you’ve got a choice of full-service restaurant chains like Cheesecake Factory, True Food Kitchen, and the Capital Grille.
54. Security Building
If you’re yearning for another historic visit, checking out Phoenix’s Security Building will be worth it. A property magnate Dwight B. Heard (1869-1929) of the Heard Museum, was the president of the Security Improvement Company, which commissioned this distinguished landmark in downtown Phoenix.
On the National Register of Historic Places, the Security Building is in the Second Renaissance Revival style and is composed of copper and hand-molded bricks on a steel frame with marble hallways.
It was designed by Claude Beelman, who conceived a wealth of landmarks in Los Angeles, like the Board of Trade Building and the Garfield Building. Look up, and you’ll see the loggia-style arches of the penthouse on the ninth floor, added in 1958.
To sum it all up, my travels in Phoenix were filled with adventures, humbling moments, and lessons. I was able to meet great people, discover places, and learn more about myself.