55 Best Things to Do in Phoenix (AZ)

Decking the Valley of the Sun is an unending grid system that bleeds into contiguous cities like Scottsdale, Glendale, Tempe and Mesa.

Abrupt rocky clumps at Papago Park, Camelback Mountain, South Mountain Park and Piestawa Peak, break up Phoenix’s sprawl, and bring a western-style desertscape to the middle of the city.

Greater Phoenix’s appeal 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 Scottsdale’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.

Let’s explore the best things to do in and around Phoenix, Arizona:

1. Desert Botanical Garden

Desert Botanical Garden

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Desert Botanical Garden

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 desert plants from Australia, South America and California, while species that grow in more moderate conditions are kept under shadehouses.

On your visit you can walk 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.

Come late in the day to see the flowers that bloom after dark, when the cactuses are also given atmospheric lighting.

From the start of March to the middle of May there’s a butterfly exhibit in a special pavilion where you can find out about their lifecycle.

2. Heard Museum

The Heard Museum, Phoenix

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The Heard Museum, Phoenix

The best way to learn about the many indigenous tribes native to Arizona, the Heard Museum is one of the top museums for American Indian art in the country.

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.

The Heard Museum is famed for its award-winning exhibits, both permanent and temporary.

The linchpin is “Home: Native People in the Southwest”, which presents more than 2,000 works, among them textiles, jewellery, pottery, basketry, beadwork and ritual items.

Check out the seven-metre mural, serving as a cultural portrait of the Yaqui people, or the full-sized Navajo hogan.

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.

Check out the recommended hotels in Phoenix, Arizona (AZ)

3. Taliesin West

Taliesin West, Scottsdale

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Taliesin West, Scottsdale

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.

The only way to visit Taliesin West is by guided tour.

You can take the standard 90-minute Insights Tour, visiting the drafting studio, music pavilion and Wright’s personal quarters, or choose a more in depth experience like the three-hour Behind the Scenes Tour.

Book in advance to guarantee a place.

4. Camelback Mountain

Camelback Mountain

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Camelback Mountain

An official Phoenix Point of Pride, the 825-metre 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 north-east 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 steeper Echo Canyon Trail has handrails to help you up, and benches for hard-earned breaks, while the Cholla Trail is smoother, but requires some scrambling over large boulders towards the end.

By the trails are mesquites and prickly pears, and you might come across a desert tortoise, cottontail rabbit, chuckwalla lizard or rattlesnake (take care). All that effort will be paid back tenfold by 360° views from the top.

Go early in the day and pack lots of water.

5. Phoenix Zoo

Phoenix Zoo

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Phoenix Zoo

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 organised 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 you’ll encounter lions, giraffes, cheetahs and gazelles, while the Tropics Trail brings you close to jaguars, Asian elephants, orangutans, Sumatran tigers and spider monkeys.

The Children’s Trail introduces younger zoo-goers to smaller animals from across the globe, like wallabies, an ocelot and golden-mantled tamarins.

Phoenix Zoo has a 4D theater, with shows using scent, wind and other ambient effects, while there are water play areas in summer, and all kinds of animal encounters available each day, like feeding giraffes, walking among squirrel monkeys and touching the backs of stingrays at Stingray Bay.

6. Phoenix Art Museum

Phoenix Art Museum

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Phoenix Art Museum

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 and is renowned for its wealth of modern art, by the likes of Picasso, Alexander Calder, Georgia O’Keeffe, Henry Moore and Henri Rousseau.

The European collection covers Renaissance and Impressionist painting, while museum’s fabulous cache of Latin American art includes works by Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, but also exceptional decorative arts and furniture.

Families will love the Thorne Miniature Rooms, dozens of meticulously decorated interior scenes pieced together using antique furniture on a 1:12 scale.

Temporary exhibitions are often high quality at the Phoenix Art Museum.

For a year, from August 2018 to October 2019 Yayoi Kusama’s spectacular installation, “You Who Are Getting Obliterated in the Dancing Swarm of Fireflies”, dazzled the crowds.

7. Papago Park

Papago Park

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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, mesmerising 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. Get hold of an Arizona fishing license and you can try your luck at landing tilapia, carp, rainbow trout, catfish and largemouth bass at the lagoons.

And while this may be desert terrain, 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

8. Hole-in-the-Rock

Hole-in-the-Rock

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Hole-in-the-Rock

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.

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 opening is known to have been used by the Hohakam 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 to downtown Phoenix in the distance warrant the short but stiff climb.

9. Musical Instrument Museum (MIM)

Musical Instrument Museum

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Musical Instrument Museum

A musical trip around the world, the MIM has instruments from almost 200 different countries.

The galleries at this grand building, opened in 2010, 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 is the “Steinweg” piano, officially the first ever Steinway, assembled by the Steinweg family in their house in Seesen in 1936.The Experience Gallery is a treat, allowing you to play many of the instruments that you’ve seen in those globe-trotting galleries, like a theremin, gong and Peruvian harp, while the Artist Gallery holds instruments that belonged 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

Orpheum Theater, Phoenix

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Orpheum Theater, Phoenix

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 a lot more.

What will strike you right away is just how opulent this building is, especially following a $14m restoration in the 90s.

The Orpheum Theater abounds in intricate mouldings, 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.

Tours are given every other Tuesday at 12:00 and 13:00, and you’ll get to hear the organ in action.

11. Arizona Museum of Natural History

Arizona Museum of Natural History

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Arizona Museum of Natural History

The only natural history museum in the Phoenix Metropolitan Area 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-storey waterfall and where you can see and hear the beasts of the Mesozoic Era.

The Dinosaur Hall is filled with skeletons of theropods, sauropods, ceratopsians and iguanodonts, while the outdoor Paleo Dig Pit lets children play the role of palaeontologists, unearthing fossilised 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

Grand Canyon Sunrise

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Grand Canyon Sunrise

When the most celebrated natural wonder in the United States is a few short hours away you’d be remiss not to take a day trip.

You could make the whole experience a lot more convenient by booking a tour through GetYourGuide.com.

On the Grand Canyon Day Tour you’ll cruise along the historic Route 66, through the town of Williams, before skirting the south rim of the canyon.

You’ll get three hours to spend in the National Park, plenty of time to marvel at this iconic mile-deep chasm, 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.

13. Golf

Golfing

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Golfing

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 desert 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 Scottsale of course, the venue for the PGA’s Phoenix Open.

There’ 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

Scottsdale Fashion Square

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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.

On three floors and with more than 225 tenants, Scottsdale Fashion Square is almost 60 years old, but has constantly evolved with expansions, the most recent in 2018. There’s a neat balance here between premium brands like Prada, Jimmy Choo, Gucci, Burberry and Tiffany & Co., and midmarket storeslike Gap, H&M, Zara and Foot Locker.

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

Chase Field, Phoenix

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Chase Field, Phoenix

One of the two most recent MLB franchises, the Arizona Diamondbacks were 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 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.

A hallmark is the 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.

16. Spas

Spa Avania At Hyatt Regency

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Spa Avania At Hyatt Regency

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 neighbouring 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 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

Pueblo Grande Museum

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Pueblo Grande Museum

A captivating glimpse of Phoenix’s distant past, the Pueblo Grande Museum and Cultural Park preserves the largest archaeological site in the city.

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.

In the museum are three galleries showing off artefacts 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

Arizona Science Center, Phoenix

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Arizona Science Center

Like all the best science museums, the Arizona Science Center is as hands-on as possible, with 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 synthesise tornados, wildfires, a monsoon and a volcanic eruption.

Also here is the Dorrance Planetarium, one of the largest and most advanced in the United States.

The museum’s must-see exhibition in 2019 was Mummies of the World, putting together the largest collection of mummies ever assembled (40), from Ancient Egypt, Europe and South America and accompanying them with a wealth of riveting artefacts.

19. McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park

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 kilometres of track, a tunnel and six locomotives (three steam and three diesel). One static attraction that 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

Children's Museum Of Phoenix

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Children’s Museum Of Phoenix

Opposite Heritage Square and the Arizona Science Center, the Children’s Museum of Phoenix is all about encouraging children up to 10 to learn through play.

The museum’s highly interactive exhibits are designed to engage little ones’ minds, imaginations and muscles, for open-ended, creative play.

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

Goldfield Ghost Town, Arizona

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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.

OK, so 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 Day with Dolly Steamboat Tour from Phoenix

22. Tempe Town Lake

Tempe Town Lake

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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 the 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.

You can even sign up for a Segway tour if you’re in the mood.

If you purchase an Arizona fishing licence you can cast a line for sunfish, catfish, bass, tilapia and trout.

And after dark the Tempe Town Lake Bridge puts on a little LED light show every time a Valley Metro train passes over.

In November the swimming leg of the Ironman Arizona Triathlon is held in the reservoir.

23. Tempe Beach Park

Tempe Beach Park

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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.

Tempe Beach Park is the place to rent bikes and scooters to zip off on that five-mile trail, or hit the water on kayaks, rowboats, pedal-boats and paddleboards.

There’s a splash playground in the park for smaller children and an amphitheatre 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.

The baseball diamond at Tempe Beach Park harks back to the 1930s, and hosts little league and softball games.

Check out the recommended hotels in Phoenix, Arizona (AZ)

24. Roosevelt Row

Roosevelt Row Mural, Phoenix

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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 neighbourhood has bounced back since the 1990s as artists moved into the cheap boarded-up buildings and former crack houses.

Something else to love 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.

More on the well-supported First Fridays Art Walk below.

Related tour: Indigenous Roots of Phoenix Food & Culture Tour

25. First Friday

First Friday, Phoenix

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.

The official event takes place from 18:00 to 22:00, but there are lots of after-hours happenings at bars and restaurants.

Artlink, the organisers, 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.

Head to the Artlink website for an interactive map of the destinations and stops for the trolleys and light railway.

26. State Farm Stadium

State Farm Stadium, Glendale

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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 guides you 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

Tovrea Castle

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Tovrea Castle

This theatrical stuccoed building off the south-west 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.

You can savour the Art Deco interiors decorated by the same Italian artisans who worked on the Orpheum Theater.

You’ll see many of Della’s possessions, and a bullet hole in a ceiling created during an armed robbery when she was 80 years old.

28. Castles N’ Coasters

Castles N' Coasters

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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-metre drop tower, a go-kart track and four fun-packed miniature golf courses.

29. Japanese Friendship Garden (Ro Ho En)

Japanese Friendship Garden

A collaborative project between Phoenix and its sister city, Himeji, 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 -metre 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

South Mountain Park, Phoenix

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South Mountain Park, Phoenix

First plotted in the 1920s, South Mountain Park is one of the largest urban parks in the United States and 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.

You can go on your own Wild West adventure on a 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

Dobbins Lookout

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Dobbins Lookout

The highest accessible point in South Mountain Park is this heart-lifting vantage point at 710 metres.

The Dobbins Lookout is named for J.C. Dobbins, 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 north-east.

There’s also a stone ramada so you can marvel at the views out of the glaring desert sun.

32. Talking Stick Resort

Talking Stick Resort

South-east Scottsdale borders the Salt River Pima–Maricopa Indian Reservation, and 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, capacious Grand Ballroom, two golf courses and a casino with hundreds of slot machines and more than 50 table games.

On the 14th floor is one of the best spas in Scottsdale, set in the open-air and graced by invigorating views of The Valley . You can also get a sense of the heritage of the Pima and Maricopa people at a cultural centre in the hotel lobby with an exhibition of painting, jewellery 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 summer 2019.

33. Heritage Square

Heritage Square, Phoenix

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Heritage Square, Phoenix

To get an idea of what Phoenix looked like in its earliest days, make for Heritage Square, east of downtown and moments from big visitor attractions and venues like Chase Field and Talking Stick Resort Arena.

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.

We’ll talk about the Rosson House next, but the Visitor Center in the Carriage House 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

Rosson House Museum

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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 dates to 1895 and was built for physician and surgeon Dr. Roland Rosson and designed by San Francisco architect A.P. Petit.

Pay a visit and admire its period woodwork, furniture, decorative art, wallpaper and curtains on a guided tour.

Your guide will be 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

Old Town Scottsdale

Source: Cre8 design / shutterstock

Old Town Scottsdale

On Scottsdale’s original town site, dating back to the 1920s, Old Town Scottsdale is an exciting neighbourhood of bars, restaurants, nightclubs, design shops, fashion boutiques and art galleries.

For a bit of culture you can drop by 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

Piestawa Peak

Source: Pat Chuturbhuti / shutterstock

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 metres is the second highest point in the Phoenix Mountains after Camelback.

The only route to the top is the Summit Trail, 1.2 miles to the top and down again.

That might sound short, but this is not a climb to take lightly, as the going is rocky and the calf-shredding path is as steep as they come.

Brave the hike and you’ll be compensated with a complete panorama of Phoenix down to the South Mountain Park.

Piestawa Peak is named in honour of Lori Ann Piestawa (1979-2003) the first Native American woman to be killed in combat in the U.S. Military.

37. Wrigley Mansion

Wrigley Mansion, Phoenix

Source: BCFC / shutterstock

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-metre 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 a tour.

38. Paolo Soleri’s Cosanti

Paolo Soleri’s Cosanti

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 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 windbells, which helped fund his architectural projects and are still produced and sold at Cosanti.

39. Arizona Capitol Museum

Arizona Capitol Museum

Source: Nagel Photography / shutterstock

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 artefacts from Arizona’s state-owned collections.

The Neoclassical statehouse was completed in 1900, 12 years before the territory became a state.

Here you can 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

Mystery Castle, Phoenix

Source: Sue Stokes / shutterstock

Mystery Castle

Blending with the northern foothills of South Mountain Park, Mystery Castle is a bizarre 18-room three-storey 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.

Come to hear the story, tour the house, and enjoy supreme views of downtown Phoenix.

41. Desert Belle Cruise Sightseeing Cruise on Saguaro Lake

Desert Belle Sightseeing Cruise On Saguaro Lake

Source: viator.com

Desert Belle Sightseeing Cruise On Saguaro Lake

A reservoir high on the Salt River, Saguaro Lake is walled by the steep, rust-coloured slopes of the Tonto National Forest.

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.

You can travel on the shaded upper deck or in an air-conditioned cabin, and will have lots of time to view the cactus-strewn desert terrain and catch sight of some of its wildlife.

You may 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.

Saguaro Lake is roughly 45-minutes east of downtown Phoenix, and the cruise aboard the Desert Belle is available through Viator.

42. Hall of Flame Fire Museum

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 are 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 motorised engines up to 1969. There’s also an absorbing collection of arm patches and a gallery documenting the history of firefighting in the wilderness in the United States.

43. Desert Ridge Marketplace

Desert Ridge Marketplace

Source: jessica.kirsh / shutterstock

Desert Ridge Marketplace

You could follow 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

Sahuaro Ranch Park

Source: Carubery / shutterstock

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, well house, along with the handsome Main Mansion.

The ranch was bought up by 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.

45. Talking Stick Resort Arena

Talking Stick Resort Arena

Source: tishomir / shutterstock

Talking Stick Resort Arena

Not far from Chase Field in downtown Phoenix, Talking Stick Resort Arena is home court for 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 works 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 recent performers have been Jennifer Lopez, Ariana Grande, Paul McCartney and Queen + Adam Lambert.

46. Phoenix Fan Fusion

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, videogames, 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 on 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.

Come for celebrity panels, photo ops, signings and a multitude of workshops by industry experts in everything from costuming and cosplay to writing.

47. Luhrs Tower

Luhrs Tower

Source: PICTOR PICTURE COMPANY / shutterstock

Luhrs Tower

This gorgeous 56-metre 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

Luhrs Building

Source: You Touch Pix of EuToch / shutterstock

Luhrs Building

The Luhrs Tower’s neighbour 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 storeys 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.

On the street look up to check out the fine marble mouldings on the upper floors, with a corbelled balustrade, rosettes, cornice and garlands.

49. Salt River Fields

Salt River Fields

Source: Thomas Trompeter / shutterstock

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, and you may need to book tickets when the box office opens in January to guarantee tickets.

50. Big Surf

Big Surf

Source: phoenix.org

Big Surf

Just a good old-fashioned Waterpark, Big Surf is the sort of attraction families can’t do without during a Phoenix Summer.

A few minutes away in Tempe, the park goes back to 1969 and had one of the first wave pools in the United States at the time, which is where the name comes from.

The waves in this 9,500,000-litre pool are big enough for surfers, who would share the pool with regular bathers, although this doesn’t happen anymore for obvious safety reasons! You can rent rafts and boogie boards during normal hours, while there’s a host of slides to try out, like the high-speed Hurricane Slides, Tornado Twisters and Black Hole, or more sedate Kilauea Cove and White Serpentine.

For the littlest visitors there’s a big child-friendly area with slides, fountains, obstacles and water cannons.

51. SEA LIFE Centre Arizona

SEA LIFE Centre Arizona

Source: facebook.com

SEA LIFE Centre Arizona

Also in Tempe and an easy day out from Phoenix is this 2,415-cubic-metre aquarium, keeping sharks, rays, green sea turtles and all sorts of colourful tropical fish.

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 programme.

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.

52. Casa Grande Ruins National Monument

Casa Grande Ruins

Source: Traveller70 / shutterstock

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument In Arizona, USA

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 south-east of the Metropolitan area.

The Casa Grande Ruins National Monument preserves a walled farming compound, established around 1350 CE and abandoned about a century later.

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.

Go carefully and you may see round-tailed squirrels, cottontails and even great horned owls, which are huddled in the ruins.

53. Lake Pleasant Regional Park

Lake Pleasant Regional Park

Source: akslocum / shutterstock

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 south-east 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 too lookouts on the shore.

54. Biltmore Fashion Park

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 a 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.

55. Security Building

Security Building, Phoenix

Source: tishomir / shutterstock

Security Building, Phoenix

The 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-moulded 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. As of 2019 the Security Building is occupied by offices for Maricopa County.

Where to stay: Best Hotels in Phoenix, Arizona (AZ)
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List of Image Sources

55 Best Things to Do in Phoenix (AZ):

Pioneer Living History Village

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  • The Heard Museum, Phoenix: Manuela Durson / shutterstock
  • Taliesin West, Scottsdale: EQRoy / shutterstock
  • Camelback Mountain: Leslie Rogers Ross / shutterstock
  • Phoenix Zoo: Gregory E. Clifford / shutterstock
  • Phoenix Art Museum: BondRocketImages / shutterstock
  • Papago Park: Gregory E. Clifford / shutterstock
  • Hole-in-the-Rock: meunierd / shutterstock
  • Musical Instrument Museum: Paul R. Jones / shutterstock
  • Orpheum Theater, Phoenix: Paul McKinnon / shutterstock
  • Arizona Museum of Natural History: wikipedia
  • Grand Canyon Sunrise: prochasson frederic / shutterstock
  • Golfing: photogolfer / shutterstock
  • Scottsdale Fashion Square: BCFC / shutterstock
  • Chase Field, Phoenix: Rebekah Zemansky / shutterstock
  • Spa Avania At Hyatt Regency: booking.com
  • Pueblo Grande Museum: LunaseeStudios / shutterstock
  • Arizona Science Center: Robert Byrd / shutterstock
  • McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park: Dru Bloomfield - At Home in Scottsdale / Flickr
  • Children’s Museum Of Phoenix: facebook.com
  • Goldfield Ghost Town: Nick Fox / shutterstock
  • Tempe Town Lake: You Touch Pix of EuToch / shutterstock
  • Tempe Beach Park: KishoreJ / shutterstock
  • Roosevelt Row Mural: Nagel Photography / shutterstock
  • First Friday, Phoenix: www.visitphoenix.com
  • State Farm Stadium: DCornelius / shutterstock
  • Tovrea Castle: Gregory E. Clifford / shutterstock
  • Castles N’ Coasters: facebook.com
  • Japanese Friendship Garden: ksblack99 / Flickr
  • South Mountain Park, Phoenix: Harry Beugelink / shutterstock
  • Dobbins Lookout: Gregory E. Clifford / shutterstock
  • Talking Stick Resort: www.talkingstickresort.com
  • Heritage Square, Phoenix: Sarunyu L / shutterstock
  • Rosson House Museum: Manuela Durson / shutterstock
  • Old Town Scottsdale: Cre8 design / shutterstock
  • Piestawa Peak: Pat Chuturbhuti / shutterstock
  • Wrigley Mansion: BCFC / shutterstock
  • Paolo Soleri’s Cosanti: Paul Comstock / Flickr
  • Arizona Capitol Museum: Nagel Photography / shutterstock
  • Mystery Castle: Sue Stokes / shutterstock
  • Desert Belle Sightseeing Cruise On Saguaro Lake: viator.com
  • Hall of Flame Fire Museum: www.hallofflame.org
  • Desert Ridge Marketplace: jessica.kirsh / shutterstock
  • Sahuaro Ranch Park: Carubery / shutterstock
  • Talking Stick Resort Arena: tishomir / shutterstock
  • Phoenix Fan Fusion: Gage Skidmore / Flickr
  • Luhrs Tower: PICTOR PICTURE COMPANY / shutterstock
  • Luhrs Building: You Touch Pix of EuToch / shutterstock
  • Salt River Fields: Thomas Trompeter / shutterstock
  • Big Surf: phoenix.org
  • SEA LIFE Centre Arizona: facebook.com
  • Casa Grande Ruins National Monument In Arizona, USA: Traveller70 / shutterstock
  • Lake Pleasant Regional Park: akslocum / shutterstock
  • Biltmore Fashion Park: www.visitphoenix.com
  • Security Building, Phoenix: tishomir / shutterstock
  • Pioneer Living History Village: americanprofile