Phoenix is the biggest city in The Valley of the Sun. It might be in the middle of the desert but there’s quite a lot to see and do in this city that gets sunshine all year long. It’s a capital city with all the urban attractions you can think of. From malls to museums & bars, it’s got it all. The outdoors are close by, and there are numerous trails to be hiked and buttes to be climbed. Here’s a list of the top 10 things to do in Phoenix, Arizona.
1. Look at Phoenix through a hole in the rock
A short drive east of the city will take you to a cluster of red sandstone buttes among which is the famous hole-in-the-rock rock in Papago Park. An easy hike from the parking lot to the rock will take you inside a chamber in the red sandstone formation. Inside are several holes in the rock, a result of water erosion. Look out through the natural window on the western part of the chamber and you will be looking at downtown Phoenix in the distance. You’ll also be able to see the airport from there.
Look around the chamber and you’ll see a hole in the ceiling too. It’s believed that that opening was used by the natives to watch the sun and its positions, as the markings on the rock wall will tell you.
2. Explore Papago Park
The whole of Papago Park itself is a well-touristed place because in it are several different attractions. This Municipal park is mostly in the southeastern part of the city and some of the park is located in the city of Tempe. In the 1500 acres of the park, visitors can golf, fish, hike, picnic, visit a fire museum & learn some local history. It’s a wonderful addition to the top 10 things to do in Phoenix.
Some of the most popular points within it are the Phoenix Zoo, the Hole-in-the-Rock that you just saw, Governor Hunt’s pyramidal tomb & the Desert Botanical Garden.
3. Get to know some desert plants
The Desert Botanical Garden in Papago Park is an unmissable spot. When you’re in the Sonoran Desert, you have to see the vegetation native to the area. This is the place to go to see not just the plants that grow in AZ but also desert vegetation of neighboring California and places as far as South America & Australia.
Out of the 140 acres of land here, they have cultivated plants in 55 acres and there are around 5000 plant displays in the many exhibits around the garden. A visit to this desert attraction means you can take a tour to do some bird-watching or book a private group tour. Or you could explore its many trails.
There’s a trail that will show you the desert landscape, another that shows you desert wildflowers, and yet others that will tell you more about the people and the vegetation of the area.
And every now and then the garden hosts events like art shows and a butterfly exhibit in spring, to name a couple of them. And I have to say that the garden is quite a sight at night with of all its lights turned on!
4. Hike to the top of Camelback Mountain
Camelback Mountain is one place that every visitor to Phoenix with a liking for the outdoors goes to. Situated north of Papago Park, this place is easy to get to. However the way to the top of it is a bit of a strenuous hike. There are two trails to the top. Both are 2.5 miles long but the Cholla Trail is the easier of the two. The Echo Canyon Trail is steeper and treats you to great views.
Named for the way it looks from afar, you’ll get to see some animal life of the Sonoran desert on your way to the top of the camel-back-shaped rock. This mountain is a must in the area, earning it an easy spot on the top 10 things to do in Phoenix.
5. Explore South Mountain Park
Yet another place to enjoy the Arizonan landscape in Phoenix is South Mountain. This park and preserve lies south of the downtown area and conserves desert fauna & flora.
There are more than 50 miles of trails for people to go hiking, biking or horseback riding. You can also do a scenic drive here. Apart from that, the company that offers the riding tours into the area facilitates petroglyph tours on the weekends.
For a panoramic view of the city of Phoenix and the mountains around it, make your way to the top of the Dobbins Lookout. The stone structure over there allows you to take in the views from a height of 2,330 feet.
6. Revisit the past at Pueblo Grande
This is one of the places to go to learn about the people native to these parts of the United States. Pueblo Grande is an archaeological site, and a very cool opportunity to experience something different in the top 10 things to do in Phoenix.
Here you will see remnants of houses of the Hohokam Indians and canals built by them. There are also replicas of their dwellings & community ovens. There’s also an interpretative trail and an interpretative garden to tell you more about the people and their lifestyles.
7. See native American art at Heard Museum
Heard Museum focuses on native American art. It’s where you go to see art, sculpture, jewelry & kachina dolls made by the natives. It’s also a place that educates the public on the subject and tells stories about the people. The museum also hosts exhibitions & festivals from time to time.
The Heard Museum is privately owned and a not-for-profit undertaking. The museum started off with the personal collection of the Heards, way back in 1929.
There are guided tours as well as a garden tour offered at the museum these days.
8. Visit a huge display of musical instruments
This musical instrument museum is a unique place in Phoenix. Not only is it one of the largest of its kind in the world, but it enables visitors to listen to what each one of those instruments sounds like. This place is known for hosting music events, too.
This museum holds within its walls over 7000 instruments from over 200 countries. There are even some instruments that once belonged to the greats in the music world. And it encourages visitors to try out the instruments at the instrument gallery within its premises.
9. Enjoy some street art at Roosevelt Row
Roosevelt Row in the northern part of downtown Phoenix is the city’s art district. Take a stroll through the area and it will treat you to a large number of murals of all kinds of art.
The Row has several eateries & bars too and you might get some ideas on how to spend the late evening. This is a great place to experience the artistic side of the city in the top 10 things to do in Phoenix.
10. Experience Phoenix’s nightlife
Roosevelt Row even has a film bar where you can enjoy some beer along with some popcorn and an indie film. But if a film is not your idea of nightlife, you can still go and pick a drink from the bar at Filmbar or other bars in the area.
Whether you want to dance, listen to some live music or just enjoy a drink, Downtown Pheonix has in it several bars, nightclubs & cocktail parlors. You’ll even find a place that couples vintage arcade games with a cocktail or beer!