The subtle transition from the Arizona heat of summer to the more moderate temperatures of fall -- typically warm and sunny with temps in the upper 70s -- makes Phoenix an ideal fall destination, especially if outdoor activities are on your agenda.
Visit Phoenix invited me for a fall desert getaway. Although the weather was uncharacteristically wet and cooler than usual (days were in the upper 60s during my visit), it was still a great opportunity to get outdoors, explore the botanical gardens, and take a hot air balloon ride, or stay indoors to indulge in first-class dining that boasts seasonal ingredients, plus unique cocktails and a little spa-treatment pampering. Phoenix in the fall means plenty of outdoor fun, plus seasonal foods and flavors.
1. Discover Downtown Phoenix On A Pedal Cab Tour
What better way to immerse yourself in the sights of downtown Phoenix -- sports arenas, Arizona State University’s downtown campus, the museums, theaters, art galleries, and of course the murals that highlight the culture and vibrancy of the area -- than on a pedal cab tour? Billy Oxford, dressed in a Santa hat for our visit, owns Arizona Pedal Cab and takes visitors through the city giving narratives of history and sights, and offering suggestions for places to step off and visit on foot. The pace is perfect for viewing many of the murals of Phoenix.
2. Taste The Fall Flavors
The Phoenix dining scene, and the city is only recently getting the recognition it deserves for its cutting-edge creations. In the fall, chefs incorporate seasonal foods into their menus, creating vibrant salads and other unique dishes that utilize local produce.
Corn is a fall harvest, and The Gladly, one of Phoenix’s best new restaurants, utilizes this grain in its Original Chopped Salad and with its pan-seared scallops served atop sweet corn grits, belly bacon, sauteed pea greens, and a drizzle of cola gastrique. At Beckett’s Table, Thursday nights are the house-made pasta night, and the featured pasta during our visit was a corn pasta. Or try the award-winning fig and pecan pie made with locally sourced ingredients. You’ll want to stop by LON’s Restaurant for crepes made with mesquite flour or the seasonal pecan apple tart. No matter what you choose at LON’s, enjoy the fall weather in the outdoor heated dining room, voted one of the top 100 Most Romantic Restaurants on OpenTable.
3. Relax With A Spa Treatment
The JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort and Spa may be Arizona’s largest resort, and it’s also big on luxury. The AAA Four-Diamond resort is set on 316 acres in the Sonoran Desert and features a spa. After your spa treatment, enjoy lunch at the Revive Spa Bistro overlooking the pool and cabanas. A perfect fall treatment is the Turquoise Blue Sage Body Ritual, during which you’ll be scrubbed with a desert salt body polish, then covered in a clay mask and wrapped in a cocoon, followed by a full-body massage using Turquoise Sage Massage Oil. I was so relaxed after the treatment, which uses Native American modalities to revitalize and refresh, that I took a long nap.
Another relaxing oasis awaits at Aji Spa and Salon. Just as the Pima and Maricopa people have used hot rocks to alleviate pain and soothe the soul, Aji Spa’s Gila River Rock Massage utilizes warm stones applied to the body and to massage muscles to clear toxins while restoring the body to its natural state of balance. Stay in your robe after the treatment and spend some time poolside. Relax in the hot tub or eat lunch at one of the outdoor tables.
4. Hike The Gateway Loop At McDowell Sonoran Conservancy
The McDowell Sonoran Conservancy is designed to protect 30,580 acres of pristine natural beauty and preserves 950-plus different types of plants and animals. It’s also home to 225 miles of trails. The Gateway Loop is a 4.5-mile loop that involves a moderately difficult hike. You can also consider one of these easy phoenix hiking trails to experience the desert environment if getting outside is a must during your fall visit.
5. Ride In A Hot Air Balloon
First, you’ll experience the majesty of watching as the Hot Air Expeditions balloons are inflated. Climb on board and take off for an approximate one hour flight floating at different elevations, up to 5,000 feet. View the Sonoran Desert from above, see local wildlife, plant life, and landmarks. After the adventure, enjoy a toast with chilled champagne and gourmet cuisine from the award-winning Vincent on Camelback, set up outdoors with tables, linens, and china. Hot Air Expeditions has been voted Best Balloon Flight in Phoenix by Fodor’s Travel for the past 24 consecutive years.
6. Tour The Desert Botanical Gardens
Take a walking tour of the collection of arid plants from the deserts of the world in a unique outdoor setting at the Desert Botanical Garden. With more than 50,000 desert plants on display, you’ll explore themed trails that illustrate topics like conservation, desert living, plants and people of the Sonoran Desert, and desert wildflowers. Afterward, peruse the gift shop and enjoy brunch at Gertrude’s, where they serve sustainable, refined American meals. Exhibits throughout the gardens change, but the current exhibit is the Wild Rising by Cracking Art, an installation of more than 1,000 animal sculptures made from colorful and recyclable plastic -- showing that plastic does not have to fill landfills, but can instead be reinvented into something eye-catching and thought-provoking.
7. Enjoy A Unique Drinking Establishment
Quirky, fun bars await in Phoenix. Enjoy the fall flavors at unique drinking establishments like Merkin Vineyards where regional, sustainable, and a sense of place are the goals. One of the owners, musician Maynard James Keenan (lead singer of the bands Tool and A Perfect Circle), created the vision with his wife, Jennifer. The fruits used in the wines are farmed by Randee Larremore and Maynard’s father, Mike Keenan, in their Verde Valley greenhouses, gardens, and orchards.
At UnderTow, you’ll walk inside Sip, a coffee and beer bar, then take the stairs down to the basement to find UnderTow. Set up like a 19th-century clipper ship, there are port windows to watch the view, scenery, and sound effects. It’s a small location that only seats about 18 guests for each 90-minute reservation. Enjoy one of their seasonal craft cocktails and learn the story it accompanies.
Or for a taste of the local prickly pear, stop by LON’s Last Drop bar to taste the house-bottled cocktail, The Stetson. Made using locally sourced ingredients and herbs from their garden, The Stetson includes El Silencio mescal, curacao, lime juice, prickly pear, and agave nectar. It’s red and tart and slightly sweet -- a perfect concoction to sample this local taste.
8. Shop At An Outdoor Market
The Churchill is a unique shopping and dining establishment that is home to 10 small businesses, all start-up entrepreneurs. The focus is on collaboration versus competition, and the businesses find ways to benefit each other. Set in shipping containers, you’ll find restaurants, bars, and shops surrounding a covered outdoor 9,000-square-foot courtyard where you can socialize, drink, and learn. The courtyard is also a space for a curated speaker series, art classes, fitness classes, sports viewing, and pop-up artist galleries, creating a community-focused experience.
9. Sleep In An Artist’s Residence
The Hermosa Inn was built by the legendary cowboy artist Lon Megargee in the 1930s. Originally his home and studio, the Hermosa Inn now provides modern-day comforts while preserving the original charm and authentic touches. LON’s, located on site, is Arizona’s only remaining authentic hacienda. The elegant adobe dining room is set in the midst of stunning walking paths filled with flowers and desert plants. This luxury boutique inn has an intimate feel, with Lon’s original artwork hanging on the walls, a flourishing garden, an outdoor pool and hot tub -- perfect for a fall swim -- and upscale furnishings in the rooms.
Interested in Arizona Wine Country? Here’s what to know before you go.