Sunshine, dry weather, golf courses and baseball spring training bring thousands of visitors to Phoenix, Arizona each winter, but there are many other things to do and see in the city.
1. Heard Museum
Dedicated to the advancement of American Indian art, the internationally-recognized Heard Museum exhibits art ranging from ancestral artifacts to contemporary paintings and jewelry. Baskets, beadwork, pottery, textiles and other art pieces in twelve exhibition galleries tell the stories of the American Indians of the Southwest.
Scheduled guided tours are included with the cost of admission, but you can also wander through the museum on your own. Events throughout the year include lectures, dance performances and art sales. The Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair & Market, held the first weekend in March, is the largest art market in Arizona featuring more than 600 Native artists and live performances.
2. Musical Instrument Museum
The Musical Instrument Museum contains over 15,000 musical instruments and associated objects from countries around the world. A section of the museum contains instruments from music icons such as Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Tito Puente, John Lennon and others. The Experience Gallery contains a collection of instruments for visitors to play.
Not only can you see an impressive collection of instruments and read about their histories, audio and video technologies allow you to hear their sounds and see them played in their original contexts. The more obscure variations of familiar instruments may surprise you. Stories about the meaning and use of other instruments will fascinate. The pieces of music you listen to will put a smile on your face.
Given the overwhelming size of the museum and its collection, allow plenty of time to explore or consider making more than one visit.
3. Papago Park
Located just minutes from downtown, Papago Park offers hiking and biking opportunities among sandstone buttes. Trails are generally easy to walk with smooth footing and low elevation gains. One of the most popular trails takes you on a dirt and step path around Hole-in-the-Rock Butte, a large wind-eroded hole providing views over the Phoenix metropolitan area. Don’t forget sunscreen, a hat and water.
4. Desert Botanical Garden
Head to the Desert Botanical Garden to the enjoy the beauty of the desert. The garden contains over 50,000 plants on 55 cultivated acres. Six major trails loop through the garden, each with its own focus. See wildflowers, cacti and other desert plants and learn about strategies for working with nature in a desert environment. One trail shows how desert plants have been used by native peoples for food, medicine and building materials.
A Butterfly Pavilion is home to butterfly exhibits in spring and fall. A number of special events are held throughout the year, the most well-known being the Chiles & Chocolate Festival in November and las Noches de las Luminarias in December.
Paths are easy to walk. Strollers, electric scooters and wheelchairs are available for rent on a first-come, first-served basis.
5. Rosson House
Heritage Square in the midst of modern, downtown Phoenix reminds you of the city’s Victorian past. In the last remaining residential block of the original townsite, buildings dating to the 1800s house museums, restaurants and bars. The 1895 Queen Anne Victorian Rosson House stands on the corner of Heritage Square.
The 4,200 square foot house was one of the most expensive and modern at the time. Today the house has been restored as a museum and decorated with period furnishings. Guided tours provide a look at 1890s life and the history of Phoenix.
6. Phoenix Art Museum
Downtown Phoenix is home to the largest art museum in the Southwestern United States. Permanent galleries in the Phoenix Art Museum contain a vast collection of American, Asian, European, Latin American and Western American art. There are also fashion and photography collections. The Thorne Rooms exhibit features twenty detailed miniature rooms created by Narcissa Niblack Thorne.
7. South Mountain Park
South Mountain Park is one of the largest municipal parks in the United States. Its 16,000 acres offer trails for horseback riding, hiking and mountain biking, but perhaps the greatest appeal of this park for visitors to the city is its panoramic view of Greater Phoenix. Dobbin’s Lookout, the highest accessible point in the park, has an observation platform looking north over the city and the Valley of the Sun.
Note that Summit Road, the main road through the park, is closed to motorized traffic on the fourth Sunday of each month.
8. Mystery Castle
In the foothills of South Mountain Park, you’ll find a quirky house constructed of salvaged materials. Boyce Luther Gully built the 8,000 square foot Mystery Castle over a period of 16 years for the daughter he left behind in Seattle when he moved to Phoenix because of ill health. He remembered her request to build her a strong castle after sand castles they built together on the beach washed away.
Gully incorporated a number of innovations into the rambling house, such as an eye-level oven and a drain in the stone kitchen floor to easily wash it. Rooms are full of memorabilia and furniture of unusual design. A number of patio areas separate rooms.
When Gully died in 1945, his daughter moved into the house and lived there until her death in 2010. She supported herself by giving tours of the house. Tours are still available Thursdays to Sundays, October through May. Note that the house is not wheelchair accessible and some walkways are uneven.
9. Pueblo Grande Museum & Archaeological Park
Pueblo Grande Museum & Archaeological Park contains ruins of buildings and irrigation canals built by the Hohokam people 1,500 years ago. The Hohokam people lived in the area from around 450 to 1450. A museum on site contains artifacts and information about the life of this sophisticated civilization. As you walk past remnants of specialized rooms and a ball court in this mound village, you may feel transported to an ancient time. Planes flying overhead to and from nearby Sky Harbor are a reminder you are still in the twenty-first century.
10. Arizona Biltmore
The Arizona Biltmore hotel has been a landmark since it opened in 1929. Known as the Jewel of the Desert, the building was designed by Albert Chase McArthur, a former student of Frank Lloyd Wright. Wright worked as a consultant on the project for six months, but objected to many aspects of construction including the height of the building. He felt it should be three stories, not four. Years later in 1973, after Wright was no longer alive, the architectural firm he founded worked on renovations after extensive fire damage.
During the hotel’s first 44 years, it was not open to the general public. Invitations to stay were sent to movie stars and famous people. Today no special invitation is needed to stay at the hotel or visit one of the restaurants. On Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings, the hotel offers 90-minute history tours of the hotel. The tours are complimentary for resort guests. Non-guests pay $10. It is a chance to see the hotel’s impressive architecture and the pool where Irving Berlin wrote “White Christmas,” hear about the famous people who stayed at the hotel and view Frank Lloyd Wright-designed sprites in the courtyard.
11. Tovrea Castle
Perched on a high point, surrounded by 44 acres of preserved desert and visible to people driving by on the Red Mountain Freeway, Tovrea Castle makes an impressive site. The tiers of its four stories has earned it the nickname “Wedding Cake Castle.”
Tovrea Castle originally opened as a hotel in 1930, but it was not successful and the owners sold it the following year. The Tovreas, owners of the Arizona Packing Company, bought the building and occupied it until 1969. Today the castle is owned by the City of Phoenix. Docent-led tours are available Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Note that occupancy limits affect tour group size. Tours must be booked in advance and sell out months in advance.