As the fifth-largest city in the U.S., Arizona’s capital city of Phoenix offers a virtually inexhaustible list of fun things to do, must-see attractions, and iconic Southwest experiences.
Made up of 24 communities, the Greater Phoenix area — known as the Valley of the Sun — is perhaps most famous for its gorgeous desert landscape dotted with giant saguaro cacti, its award-winning golf courses and resorts, and its sizzling-hot summers and beautifully warm winters. But there is so much more to this metro area. Think countless outdoor activities, diverse and delicious eateries, elegant art galleries, varied professional sports, and authentic Native American culture.
Here are nine fantastic things to do on a visit to sunny Phoenix, Arizona.
1. Desert Botanical Garden
For a spot that perfectly showcases Phoenix’s stunning Sonoran Desert terrain, the Desert Botanical Garden is a not-to-be-missed destination.
With jagged mountains as a backdrop, the garden features a cool network of trails and loops that take visitors past an astonishing array of the distinctive plants that thrive in the Sonoran Desert. The garden is also a great destination for year-round special events that include live music, pet-friendly days, and Flashlight Nights.
Pro Tip: Papago Park And Phoenix Zoo
The Desert Botanical Garden is located in the Papago Park area, and while you’re there, be sure to check out the picturesque Hole-in-the-Rock hiking trail, a 0.3-mile route that leads to sweeping views of the city. The kid-friendly Phoenix Zoo, with its Masai giraffes, Bornean orangutans, and Asian elephants, is also located in the Papago Park area.
2. Downtown Phoenix
Described by Visit Phoenix as the epicenter of restaurants, live music, pro sports, craft beers, and cocktails, downtown Phoenix is a sprawling area where historic neighborhoods mingle with modern hotels and convention centers.
Visitors can take in classic areas like the walkable Roosevelt Row Arts District, as well as the fun Cityscape entertainment area, and Heritage Square, home of the famous Pizzeria Bianco. You’ll also find excellent museums like the Arizona Science Center and the Children’s Museum of Phoenix.
A host of other museums and gardens are located in the downtown area as well, including the Phoenix Art Museum, Japanese Friendship Garden of Phoenix, Pueblo Grande Garden Museum Archaeological Park (renamed the S’edav Va’aki Museum), and the Hall of Flame Fire Museum (Firefighting Museum).
Another major downtown Phoenix attraction is Chase Field, which sits right in the center of the Phoenix sports scene and is the home field of the Arizona Diamondbacks, the local National Baseball League team.
Visitors will find in-person and virtual information about guided tours and travel guides at the downtown-area Greater Phoenix Visitor Center.
Pro Tip: Musical Instrument Museum
Outside the downtown area, another museum that is a top attraction is the Musical Instrument Museum, a popular venue for music lovers that features more than 6,800 instruments, as well as kids’ programs, concerts, and events.
3. Old Town Scottsdale
Scottsdale, one of the major cities in the Phoenix metro area, lies just to the northeast and offers a host of fun and fascinating things to do. Old Town Scottsdale is known for its walkable historic area, varied art galleries, western-themed public art, lively nightclubs, and numerous trendy restaurants.
Pro Tip: Taliesin West
For an opportunity to take in world-class architecture, head to Scottsdale’s Taliesin West, the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed desert laboratory that served as the home and studio of the famous architect during the mid-20th century.
4. Camelback Mountain
Sweeping views of the metro area and gorgeous desert terrain await at the top of Camelback Mountain, the mountain resembling a camel’s back, visible all over the community.
There are two main hiking trails to get to the summit — the Echo Canyon Trail and Cholla Trail. Both are rated as difficult and should not be attempted in hot weather or by inexperienced hikers. For tips on hiking Camelback, see 12 Tips For Successfully Hiking Camelback Mountain In Phoenix.
Pro Tip: South Mountain Park
For an opportunity to hike and mountain bike in a sprawling desert area, head to the 16,000 acres within South Mountain Park and Preserve. Not only are there gorgeous trails like the Mormon Trail and the National Trail, but also the cool Dobbins Lookout that offers a picture-window view of the valley spread below.
5. Heard Museum
Native American art and culture are front and center at the Heard Museum, a beautiful complex in central Phoenix that “celebrates the art and culture of Indigenous peoples of the Southwest,” according to its website.
The Heard features a number of collections and exhibits, as well as a museum shop and Courtyard Café. Each March, the museum hosts the Annual Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair & Market, one of the largest American Indian art markets in the world, which celebrated its 65th year in 2023.
6. Golfing And Swimming
With its warm winters and hot spring, summer, and fall seasons, Phoenix is a magnet for everyone from winter snowbirds looking to escape the cold in northern states to spring-breakers looking for a hot getaway to year-round vacationers out to soak up the sun. The multiple resorts and golf courses in the Phoenix area are the perfect destinations for all of them.
7. Salt River
Phoenix’s main waterway, the Salt River, is known largely for two delightful features — tubing and wild horses. The 40-mile Lower Salt River is located about 40 minutes from downtown Phoenix, near the suburb of Mesa in the Tonto National Forest, and is “a real-life lazy river,” according to Visit Phoenix. The river is a cool magnet for everyone from families to groups of friends.
Also popular with the whole family is the herd of wild horses said to be descendants of the Spanish horses brought to Arizona in the 17th century. Today, the horses can often be seen grazing along the banks of the river and rolling in the sand.
8. Superstition Mountains
Gold-mining legends, ghost towns, and a scenic byway through rugged terrain all come together in the Superstition Mountains, an outdoor-recreation playground for the Valley of the Sun.
The Apache Junction-area mountain range known for its spiky peaks is the home of the incredibly scenic Apache Trail Byway; the trails and views of the Lost Dutchman State Park; the pretty Saguaro Lake with its kayaking, horseback riding, and camping; and the Old West family-friendly amusement park atmosphere at Goldfield Ghost Town.
Pro Tip: Kid-Friendly Spots
Other kid-friendly attractions to check out in the Phoenix area include Scottsdale’s OdySea Aquarium and adjoining Butterfly Wonderland; the McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park; the Endangered Species Carousel at the Phoenix Zoo; and the biking and boating at Tempe Town Lake.
9. The Grand Canyon
Thanks to its location near the center of the state, Phoenix makes a great base for taking day trips and long weekend getaways to other parts of Arizona. Obviously in the Grand Canyon State, the Grand Canyon is a must-visit destination.
At about 3 hours and 15 minutes north of Phoenix, the Grand Canyon is best done as a multi-day trip rather than a day trip. Plan to stay at one of the beautiful hotels on the Grand Canyon National Park’s South Rim. Then, spend a day driving the gorgeous Desert View Drive and another day hiking to one of the awe-inspiring day-hike sites along the South Kaibab Trail, such as Ooh Aah Point or Cedar Ridge. Remember that any hike into the canyon is considered difficult. See 10 Tips For Hiking Into The Grand Canyon for some of the basics.
Pro Tip: Sedona Getaway
Another not-to-be-missed Arizona destination is Sedona, the community known worldwide for its spectacular red rocks. At just under 2 hours to the northeast of Phoenix, Sedona could be done as a day trip but is better as a multi-day visit. Check out 11 Must-See Spots In Sedona for inspiration.