10 Things to Do in Phoenix

Phoenix, the capital city of Arizona, is known for its warm climate, vibrant culture, and numerous outdoor activities. With its captivating desert landscapes and a mix of modern and traditional experiences, there’s no shortage of things to do.

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Whether you’re a nature enthusiast, a history buff, or just looking for a fun day out, Phoenix has something for everyone. Let’s dive into some of the must-do activities in and around this dynamic city.

Each activity is accompanied by a special tip highlighting its suitability for kids, ensuring a fun-filled family experience in the heart of Arizona!

Tip: Make sure to read our 10 essential Phoenix visiting tips at the end of the article!

Hot Air Balloon Ride

  • Best Time: October to March, for pleasant temperatures and clear skies.
  • Family Rating: Exciting for older kids and teens, it might be a bit much for young children. The minimum age is 5, but we recommend 7. It was definitely an awesome experience for our 9-year-old!
  • Location: Mostly on the outskirts of Phoenix, with clear views of the Sonoran Desert.

Imagine floating high above the desert, with the vast expanse of the Sonoran Desert stretching out beneath you.

Why is it great?

Hot air balloon rides offer a unique perspective of Phoenix’s landscape. The serene experience of floating above the ground allows travelers to appreciate the vastness and beauty of the desert. Plus, it’s a fantastic opportunity for some unforgettable photos!

What is special?

The sunrise rides are truly magical. As the sun rises, it paints the desert in hues of gold and red, creating a mesmerizing view. Also, after landing, many operators offer a traditional champagne toast, celebrating the age-old ballooning tradition.

Desert Botanical Garden

  • Best Time: Spring, when flowers are in full bloom.
  • Family Rating: Great for all ages, with interactive exhibits for kids.
  • Location: Located in Papago Park, only 10 minutes from downtown Phoenix.

Discover the wonders of the desert flora in this expansive garden.

Why is it great?

The Desert Botanical Garden showcases the beauty and diversity of desert plants. It’s educational, with signs explaining the plants’ adaptations to the harsh desert environment. The garden also hosts various events, from art exhibitions to music nights.

What is special?

The butterfly exhibit is a favorite among visitors. In spring, the garden comes alive with colorful wildflowers, making it a photographer’s dream.

Phoenix Zoo

  • Best Time: Fall and spring, for animal activities and events.
  • Family Rating: Perfect for families, with play areas and petting zones.
  • Location: Located in Papago Park, adjacent to the Desert Botanical Garden.

Get close to your favorite animals and explore various habitats at this popular zoo.

Why is it great?

The Phoenix Zoo houses over 1,400 animals, including many endangered species. It’s educational and fun, with interactive exhibits and animal shows. Kids can even feed some of the animals!

What is special?

The zoo’s ‘Stingray Bay’ allows visitors to touch and feed stingrays, offering a hands-on marine experience. Also, the zoo’s commitment to conservation is commendable, with many programs in place to protect wildlife.

John says: We visited the Phoenix Zoo last summer, and it was a hit with our kids. They especially loved the petting zoo and the splash pads. We spent the whole day there and still couldn’t see everything. Highly recommended for families!

Camelback Mountain

  • Best Time: Fall and spring, for cooler hiking temperatures.
  • Family Rating: Best for older kids and adults due to the challenging trails.
  • Location: Just 20 minutes from downtown Phoenix, with a view overlooking the city.

Challenge yourself with a hike up this iconic mountain and be rewarded with panoramic views.

Why is it great?

Camelback Mountain offers trails for both beginners and seasoned hikers. The climb might be a bit challenging, but the views from the top are worth every step. Plus, it’s a great way to get some exercise!

What is special?

The mountain gets its name from its unique shape, resembling a camel lying down. Also, from the summit, you can see the entire city of Phoenix, making it a popular spot for sunrise and sunset.

Musical Instrument Museum (MIM)

  • Best Time: Year-round, as it’s indoors.
  • Family Rating: Fun and educational for all ages.
  • Location: In North Phoenix, about 30 minutes from downtown.

Experience the world’s music in this interactive museum.

Why is it great?

MIM boasts a collection of over 7,000 instruments from around the world. Visitors can hear, see, and even play some of these instruments. The museum’s design is modern, with state-of-the-art audio-visual systems enhancing the experience.

What is special?

The Artist Gallery features instruments played by famous musicians, and the Experience Gallery lets visitors try their hand at playing various instruments.

South Mountain Park and Preserve

  • Best Time: Fall and spring for hiking, winter for picnics.
  • Family Rating: Suitable for all, with various trail difficulties.
  • Location: Just 20 minutes south of downtown Phoenix.

Phoenix’s natural beauty is on full display at this expansive park.

Why is it great?

It’s one of the largest city parks in the U.S., offering miles of hiking, biking, and horseback riding trails. The park has various lookout points offering breathtaking views of Phoenix.

What is special?

The park is home to a variety of plants and animals, making it a haven for nature lovers. The stone ramadas are also iconic and provide perfect picnic spots.

Heritage Square

  • Best Time: Year-round, though spring and fall are particularly pleasant.
  • Family Rating: Great for families and history buffs.
  • Location: In the heart of downtown Phoenix.

Step back in time and explore Phoenix’s rich history.

Why is it great?

Heritage Square is a block of restored Victorian-era homes, offering a glimpse into Phoenix’s past. The Rosson House Museum, in particular, is a beautifully preserved mansion that offers guided tours.

What is special?

It’s not just about history; the square also has trendy restaurants and shops, making it a blend of old and new.

Papago Park

  • Best Time: Morning or late afternoon for cooler temperatures.
  • Family Rating: Suitable for all, with playgrounds and easy trails.
  • Location: Close to downtown Phoenix, near the zoo and botanical garden.

A natural oasis in the heart of the city.

Why is it great?

Papago Park offers fishing, hiking, and even a golf course. The red rock formations are iconic and offer great photo opportunities.

What is special?

The Hole-in-the-Rock is a must-visit. It’s a natural geological formation with a series of openings caused by erosion. The view from the top is fantastic, especially during sunset.

Phoenix Art Museum

  • Best Time: Year-round, with special exhibitions often in winter.
  • Family Rating: Best for older kids and adults, though there are family-friendly programs.
  • Location: Central Phoenix, a short drive from downtown.

Dive into a world of creativity and inspiration.

Why is it great?

The museum houses a vast collection of art, from European paintings to contemporary works. The exhibitions are thoughtfully curated, and there’s always something new to see.

What is special?

The Thorne Miniature Rooms are a highlight, showcasing detailed miniatures of historical European and American interiors.

Castles N’ Coasters

  • Best Time: Fall and spring for outdoor activities.
  • Family Rating: Perfect for families and thrill-seekers.
  • Location: In North Phoenix, about 20 minutes from downtown.

An adrenaline-packed day of fun awaits!

Why is it great?

From roller coasters to arcade games, Castles N’ Coasters offers a variety of attractions. Whether you’re looking for thrill rides or just want to play mini-golf, there’s something for everyone.

What is special?

The park’s Sky Diver ride offers a unique experience, lifting riders up before letting them freefall. Also, the vintage carousel is a nostalgic treat.

Arizona Science Center

The Arizona Science Center is an excellent location for families to learn about all things science. Plus, it’s an excellent escape from the afternoon heat.

Keep in mind; many other families will have the same idea, so you’ll likely encounter crowds while visiting. Additional exhibits and the IMAX movies have a cost beyond general admission.

Find more information on this activity here: Arizona Science Center.

Heard Museum
  • When: Year-round
  • Where: 2301 North Central Avenue, Phoenix, AZ 85004
  • Price: $20 per adult. $9 per child.

The Heard Museum is a top attraction in Phoenix, AZ. The Heard Museum offers a look into the history of the American Indian people through their art and firsthand accounts.

This activity is an excellent way to learn about the culture of the American Indian people. It also offers a break from the heat for a few hours.

Learn more about the museum and purchase tickets here: Heard Museum.


10 Essential Phoenix Visiting Tips 

1. Stay Hydrated

Phoenix is known for its dry desert climate. Even if you don’t feel thirsty, it’s crucial to drink plenty of water throughout the day, especially if you’re out exploring. This will help prevent dehydration and ensure you have a pleasant experience.

2. In Winter: Dress in Layers

While Phoenix can get incredibly hot during the day, the evenings can sometimes be cool, especially in the winter months. It’s a good idea to dress in layers so you can adjust your clothing as the temperature changes. Don’t forget a hat and sunscreen for daytime outings!

3. In Summer: Plan Outdoor Activities Early or Late

To avoid the peak heat of the day, especially in the summer months, plan any hikes, tours, or other outdoor activities for the early morning or late afternoon. Not only will it be cooler, but you’ll also get to experience the beauty of the desert during sunrise or sunset.

4. Rent a Car

Public transportation options in Phoenix are limited. To make the most of your visit and explore the city and its surroundings at your own pace, consider renting a car. This will give you the flexibility to visit attractions that are spread out across the city and beyond.

5. Explore Nearby Natural Wonders

While Phoenix has a lot to offer, don’t miss out on the natural wonders nearby. Destinations like Sedona, the Grand Canyon, and the Superstition Mountains are just a short drive away and are well worth a visit.

6. Dive into Arizona Mexican Cuisine

Arizona Mexican food ranks second only to Mexico. Phoenix is brimming with family-owned Mexican restaurants. So, during your visit, make sure to indulge in the local delicacies. It’s a treat you won’t want to miss.

7. Explore the East Valley

The cluster of cities including Scottsdale, Tempe, Chandler, and Mesa, known as the East Valley, offers a diverse range of experiences. From the luxury of Scottsdale to the growing amenities in places like Glendale, each city has its unique charm.

8. Enjoy Fine Dining and Shopping

For those who appreciate fine dining, Scottsdale, especially the historic Old Town Scottsdale, is the place to be. Phoenix itself offers great shopping around 24th Street and Camelback Road. And if you’re attending a conference in downtown Phoenix, be aware that options might be limited in the evening, but the Arizona Center is a good spot for dining and entertainment.

9. Experience Phoenix’s Unique Culture

Phoenix is not your typical urban city. It boasts a blend of the desert paradise vibes of Las Vegas with its own distinct cultural diversity. It uniquely combines the serenity of a small town, the business hustle of major cities, and a style that stands out.

10. Set Realistic Downtown Expectations

Downtown Phoenix is different. It isn’t bustling with major retail outlets, but it offers a unique experience with Arizona-based stores. After around 5 pm, many parts of downtown close down, with a few exceptions around the sports stadiums and the Arizona Center.

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