Here are 15 fun things to do in Phoenix Arizona from outdoor adventures to fascinating museums to adults-only and kid-friendly activities. Phoenix is a booming desert city with a cool vibe and plenty of great year-round activities.
Phoenix recently surpassed Philadelphia as the fifth largest US city and local tour guides mention the historical five C’s—climate, copper, cattle, citrus, and cotton.
We were hosted guests of Visit Phoenix but this content is carefully crafted with the McCool Travel audience in mind.
Fun Things to Do in Phoenix Arizona for Outdoor Lovers
The Sonoran Desert and Superstition Mountains surround Phoenix with gorgeous landscapes waiting to be explored. Use caution in summer and avoid hiking, especially in the afternoon when temperatures soar and dry desert air leads to dehydration.
Hot Air Balloon over the Phoenix Desert
If you love adventure, Phoenix is an ideal place to go hot air ballooning. Infrequent storms and open deserts give Phoenix the most flyable days per year of any US city. Hot Air Expeditions has been taking guests aloft since 1991 and has grown to a fleet of 10 balloons.
Part of the fun is watching the crew inflate your balloon, before you fly up, up, and away over the Sonoran Desert. Whether you’re floating high or low, the views are incredible as you slowly drift over the desert landscape. You may see jackrabbits, quail, coyote, and other wildlife and you’ll definitely get a new perspective on the land around Phoenix. A champagne toast and light breakfast complete your trip while the crew packs up.
Check here for best Hot Air Expeditions rates and reviews.
McCool Travel tip: Book a morning flight if possible because afternoon flights are more susceptible to weather-related cancellations.
Hike the Gateway Loop at McDowell Sonoran Conservancy
Phoenix is a beautifully unique hiking destination, full of rugged mountain and desert trails. The Gateway Loop Trail is a 4.5-mile hike that climbs gently to a ridge with expansive views in both directions. Cacti and wildflowers line the trail, and we saw eagles and other birds during our trek. 650 feet of elevation gain make this a moderately difficult hike. There are shorter and easier trail options nearby, including an easier loop and a half-mile nature trail.
Mountain Biking with REI Co-op Experiences
McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale has over 30,000 acres to explore, including 225 miles of trails for desert mountain biking and hiking. REI Adventures offers guided Sonoran desert mountain biking tours and my adventure met at Brown’s Ranch Trailhead and included an 8 mile ride with Cathedral Rock as the highlight. I was inspired by a couple who flew in that day from Northern Virginia, had lunch, and then joined this bike ride—what a memorable long weekend getaway from the Washington DC area.
Hike to the Hole at Papago Park
Take a short hike to one of the most unique natural features in Phoenix at Papago Park. Climb the carved steps to Hole in the Rock, a cavelike opening in the sandstone cliffs, for gorgeous views of the desert and downtown skyline. The view is especially pretty at sunset, but expect to share the space with others at this popular spot.
The park also features a nature trail and playground and is home to the Phoenix Zoo and a golf course.
Explore and Dine at the Desert Botanical Garden
A visit to the Desert Botanical Garden should be near the top of your “must do in Phoenix” list. If you once pictured deserts as dry and empty, get ready to change your view. The Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix shares the rich diversity of desert landscapes through 5 loop trails. Learn about the plant and wildlife of the Sonoran Desert, as well as the people and cultures that once thrived here.
Extend your visit with a meal at Gertrude’s Restaurant, which sits just inside the entrance to the garden. Dishes highlight fresh farm and pasture ingredients from Arizona and the southwest. The outdoor patio, surrounded by cacti, is a lovely spot to dine.
Stroll or Bike the Canal Walk
The canal system carries water throughout the Phoenix area, and many of the canal banks are open to recreation. Walkers, runners, cyclists, and dog-walkers take advantage of the paved and dirt, level paths to enjoy an outdoor stroll through the downtown and other neighborhoods. Plan your outing with the SRP Canal Walk site, or just look for entry points in the areas you are visiting.
More Great Places to Visit in Phoenix and Scottsdale
The Phoenix area is home to excellent museums and one of the newer UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the United States. Outside the city are scenic drives and western towns to explore.
Musical Instrument Museum MIM
The Musical Instrument Museum (aka the MIM), is one of our favorite things to do in Phoenix with kids, though it’s ideal for all ages. Visitors explore the incredible variations of musical instruments and music styles organized by continent and country. A brilliant audio technology allows you to walk up to a display and hear the featured videos automatically. As you move between displays, the audio transitions seamlessly and you are instantly immersed. Additional galleries feature memorabilia and music of iconic performers like David Bowie. Music-lovers of every age can have fun playing instruments from around the world in the Experience Gallery. Allow at least half a day to experience all the fantastic displays at the MIM.
Check here for best Musical Instrument Museum rates and reviews.
Tour Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West is one of the most important places to see in the Phoenix area for architecture lovers. Take a 90-minute Insights Tour to explore the terraces and many of the buildings of Wright’s desert masterpiece. As you walk through Taliesin West, your docent shares stories and history of Frank Lloyd Wright, his wife Olga, and the apprentices of the Taliesin Fellowship who lived here. Other tours offer in-depth, behind the scenes, and nighttime views of the space.
Explore Indian History of the Southwest at Heard Museum
Learn about the cultures and history of American Indians of the Southwest at the critically acclaimed Heard Museum in downtown Phoenix. With 11 galleries plus outdoor sculptures and spaces, there is a lot to explore. Do not miss the heartbreaking gallery devoted to American Indian Boarding Schools, which shares the stories of children taken from their families, homes, and cultural traditions by the U.S. Government in the late 1800s.
Check here for skip the line Heard Museum rates and reviews.
Take a Scenic Drive to Tortilla Flats
Combine a beautiful scenic drive near Phoenix with a fun lunch stop at the Tortilla Flat Restaurant and Saloon. The Apache Trail (Route 88) winds through the Superstition Mountains from the eastern edge of the city. There are several spots to pull off and enjoy the desert landscape, including beautiful views of Canyon Lake. The Tortilla Flat Restaurant celebrates a kitschy version of the old west with saddle stools and walls covered with dollar bills.
Fun Things to Do in Downtown Phoenix
Downtown Phoenix is a hot spot for cool bars, historic places, and edgy art.
See Downtown on an Arizona Pedal Cab Tour
Get a truly unique and fun introduction to downtown Phoenix on an Arizona Pedal Cab Tour. Tour guide Billy Oxford tells stories, shares history, and entertains as he peddles visitors around the downtown blocks. Pedal cabs are also a great way to get around in the downtown area, and you can schedule a shuttle or call on-demand to travel between sites in style.
Dine and Play at The Churchill
There are plenty of delicious Downtown Phoenix restaurants to try, but we love the vibe and flexibility of The Churchill. This cool venue, built with up-cycled shipping containers, combines 10 restaurants, bars, and shops in a shared space. There are menu options from burgers to pizza to vegan bowls, and two bars offering craft beer, wines, and cocktails. Shops surround an open space of picnic tables, couches, and outdoor games where you can gather with friends.
Check Out the Vibrant Murals
Unique murals give a visual boost to cities, and Phoenix has a great collection. Street artists create a beautiful and sometimes edgy backdrop to streets, and the alleyway behind The Churchill is one excellent example to check out. Use the interactive map on the Murals of Phoenix website to locate more murals sprinkled around the city.
Top Phoenix Activities for Adults
Spa Treatment at The Phoenician Spa
The Phoenician Spa opened in 2018, part of a massive renovation of The Phoenician resort in Scottsdale. Indulge and rejuvenate with one of the spa’s luxurious treatments, then head to the Relaxation Room, hydrotherapy area, and rooftop pool for more “me time”. Visitor day passes are available, but we highly recommend booking a treatment. The two-hour Desert Serenity Scrub, Wrap, and Massage treatment is incredible! Read our full review of The Phoenician in Where to Stay in Phoenix: Cool Resorts for an Arizona Getaway. Check here for best rates at The Phoenician.
Sample Craft Cocktails, Wine, and Beer
The drink scene is strong in Phoenix. The downtown area has some of the most unique and tasty cocktail bars we’ve ever visited, and most are within walking distance or a short Uber ride from each other. For a truly unique experience, book a table in the train at Century Grand, where you enjoy your cocktails on a 90-minute “journey” through Colorado.
Stefan says swankiest place to go in Phoenix is Century Grand. Enter the speakeasy and take a train ride through Colorado.Hosted by Visit Phoenix
Posted by Charles McCool on Tuesday, January 14, 2020
At Bitter & Twisted, a circus-themed menu introduces an extensive menu of kitschy cocktails and tasty dishes in a former Prohibition Headquarters. Just a block away, Little Rituals is a more intimate venue for sampling a range of classic cocktails and unique concoctions. Beer lovers can sample from a big list of local and US brews at Angels Trumpet, less than a mile away.
Congratulations to Little Rituals for being nominated as a James Beard award semi-finalist for Outstanding Bar Program. See all 2020 James Beard semi-finalist nominees here.
In old town Scottsdale, Merkin Vineyards pours from a big list of excellent wines from their winery in Jerome, Arizona. The high-elevation wines focus on delicious Spanish, French, and Italian varietals.
Whether you visit for a family vacation, a break from winter weather back home, or a weekend getaway, you’ll find plenty of things to do in Phoenix for every age and interest. Check the Visit Phoenix web site and Facebook Page for more Phoenix activities and planning tips for your visit.
Article by Julie McCool, whose Northern Virginia travel site FuninFairfaxVA.com helps locals and visitors find fun places to explore, dine, drink, and travel in and from the Virginia and Washington DC region.
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