Six Vacation Activities in Phoenix
What do you imagine when you think of a vacation in Phoenix, Arizona? Cowboys? Sunsets? Air conditioning? Well, you are likely to see at least two of those things when you visit the nation’s sixth-largest city, where the temperature is high and the vast expanses of Arizona sky create beautiful evening vistas. Cowboy-spotting might be a bit limited in the city itself, but there is still plenty of fun to be had. Here are a few must-do Phoenix vacation activities.
A variety of great Phoenix museums cater to different tastes. Among the most popular is the Heard Museum, an exploration of Native American history and anthropology that includes a renowned exhibit of Hopi kachina dolls. It’s just north of downtown Phoenix. Continue your cultural exploration at the Musical Instrument Museum, or MIM, in north Scottsdale. The MIM’s claim to fame is its quest to display musical instruments from every country in the world; it already has thousands from nearly 200 different nations and territories, and it features special events, concerts, and child-friendly playrooms. Another good place for kids is the Arizona Science Center, located downtown, where a family can spend hours checking out the hands-on exhibits. If you’d prefer something outdoors, head to the magnificent Desert Botanical Garden, near Papago Park and the Phoenix Zoo. You’ll stroll through informative displays and learn about desert wildlife and history, but remember to drink plenty of water, especially if you’re visiting during the summer.
The hiking trails spread throughout the city are one of Phoenix’s greatest assets. Many visitors spot Camelback Mountain, so named for its shape that resembles a camel lying on the ground, as they fly into the city. Camelback’s Echo Canyon trail is a challenging and invigorating climb that thousands of visitors and local hikers have tried at some point. Another popular hike is Piestewa Peak (formerly Squaw Peak) in central Phoenix, especially its Summit Trail. On the southern and northern sides of town, respectively, you have South Mountain and North Mountain. The former is part of South Mountain Park, the largest municipal park in the U.S., and the latter is a smaller park with a few hiking trails and picnic areas that nonetheless offer great views of the city. Whichever hike you choose, be sure to bring plenty of water. You’ll probably want to hike either early in the morning, when the air is still relatively cool, or in the late afternoon, when you get the added bonus of watching the beautiful sunset begin. Head back down the trail before dark, though, because a lot of desert wildlife is nocturnal; some snakes and other critters are more likely to come out at night.
Phoenix is a great city for baseball fans. The Arizona Diamondbacks play in a climate-controlled downtown stadium with a retractable roof which means it won’t be too hot to enjoy the game no matter what the temperature is outside. The Valley of the Sun is also home to the Cactus League, and attending spring training games is a very popular activity. Those smaller stadiums are located throughout the metropolitan area including Phoenix, Mesa, Peoria, Scottsdale, Tempe, Glendale, and Surprise.
What better way to cool off in the desert than to go for a swim? Although lots of residents have backyard pools, water parks are still popular, and many hotel resorts include large swimming pools and water slides for their guests. The big non-hotel parks are the classic Big Surf, located in Tempe; Wet n’ Wild, in the northern part of Phoenix (at the location formerly home to WaterWorld Safari and Oasis); and Golfland/Sunsplash in Mesa.
There are loads of restaurants in Phoenix – bistros, brunch hotspots, steakhouses, Italian, Indian, you name it – but you have to eat some authentic Mexican food at least once while you’re there. Tourists are often pointed to Macayo’s, which has several Valley locations, but any locals you ask will be able to recommend a favorite Mexican spot in their area of the city.
Another great option during your Phoenix vacation is to head out of town for the day. There are some great small towns very close by, including Cave Creek and Carefree to the northeast and Wickenburg to the northwest; in the other direction you have Apache Junction to the southeast, where you’ll find Lost Dutchman State Park but probably will not find the legendary Lost Dutchman Mine, a gold mine many have tried to locate over the years. Drive a little farther to visit Sedona to the north and Tucson to the south; either city is a feasible day trip from Phoenix. The Grand Canyon is a bit more difficult to do in a day, as it’s a four-hour drive, but if you leave very early and don’t mind having a limited amount of time in the park, you can glimpse that natural wonder and make it back to Phoenix late in the evening, or make it an overnight trip and stay in Flagstaff.
Whether you take a day trip or just stay in Phoenix, it can be helpful to rent a car, but if you stick to central Phoenix attractions, restaurants, and hotels, you can easily commute by light rail, bus, and taxi. Horseback riding, sadly, is no longer a viable transportation option in the cities of the West, but even if you don’t spot an actual cowboy, you will probably at least see someone wearing a fashionable cowboy hat.