The Phoenix arizona area is full of cool things to see and do. Here are 50 must-do items to add to your bucket list. We’ve grouped the list by things to do, sites to see or places to eat.
Have time to explore the rest of the state? Check out our top 25 things to do in arizona Arizona, including the Grand Canyon.
Best outdoor activitiesDesert Botanical Garden in Phoenix
Behold the desert in a different light during the Desert Botanical Garden’s Las Noches de Las Luminarias. More than 8,000 hand-lit luminaria bags, inspired by the Mexican holiday tradition, line the trails of the garden from November’s end through December. The Phoenix event features music, carolers, food and holiday-themed cocktails and spiked hot drinks.
With 1,200 animals, there’s always some swinging (and crawling and scurrying) at the Phoenix Zoo. But this zoo knows how to throw a party. ZooLights from November through January features more than 500 light sculptures and two different Music in Motion shows. Boo! at the Zoo! in October spotlights amphibians with costumes, games, music and crafts. Winter in July beats the heat with real snow, animal feedings of fish-sicles, blood-sicles, fruit-sicles and other ice-cold treats and water play areas.
Camelback Mountain in Phoenix
Hike the Valley’s Mount Everest at sunrise — Camelback Mountain, so named because its shape resembles the animal that typifies desert adaptation. So, like Everest, we caution that this hike is strenuous. At 2,704 feet, it’s one of the premiere views in Arizona, but it’s steep and rocky. For an easier approach, try the Cholla Trail. It’s longer but not quite as steep in some areas.
Arizona Renaissance Festival
Would thou wish to partake in a giant, greasy turkey leg whilst watching a live jousting tournament? There’s no place better than the Arizona Renaissance Festival, where 30 acres are transformed from desert to a 16th-century English village filled with costumed nobles and commoners. A dozen entertainment stages showcase music, acrobatics and comedy amid craft shops and booths for smoked turkey legs, crepes and wine. Huzzah!
DETAILS: arizona.renfestinfo.com. 12601 E. Highway 60, Gold Canyon. 520-463-2600.
Dobbins Point on South Mountain in Phoenix
Up-high views and down-home food: Take a drive up to Dobbins Point on South Mountain — the largest municipal park in the U.S., by the way — and watch as sunset colors the Valley landmarks laid out below. The road is paved, so the only challenge is the twists and turns (and steep drop-offs) along the way. Then headout of the park and a few miles up Central Avenue to Lo-Lo’s Chicken and Waffles. You’ll blow your calorie limit for the day, but it will be worth it.
Cactus League spring-training
Play hooky from work and attend a Cactus League spring-training game. The trick to scoring tickets on the morning you decide to cross out “work” from your to-do list is to be flexible. A little advice: weekday games earlier in March offer the widest selection of seats. And the best seat selection is often for games in the West Valley, where nine teams play at stadiums in Peoria, Surprise, Goodyear and Phoenix, including Maryvale.
Arabian Horse Show in Scottsdale
Take a free barn tour at the Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show in February. More than 2,000 of the world’s most expensive and decorated Arabians compete while the barn tours offer fun facts about the breed. Did you know the breed has fewer back vertebrae and bigger brains than other types of horses?
Golf at TPC in Scottsdale
Play the 16th hole at the TPC Scottsdale a few days before the start of the annual Waste Management Phoenix Open that tees off in late January. The bleachers are up and ready for the crowds and the playing experience at “The Loudest Hole in Golf”‘ will make you feel like a bona fide pro. Once the tournament begins, stop by the Bird’s Nest, also described as the Mardi Gras of Arizona with as much live music and cleavage.
arizona DETAILS: tpc.com
Ostrich Festival in Chandler
Gawk at the large birds at the Chandler Ostrich Festival in March. The city’s namesake, Dr. A.J. Chandler, is said to have had a farm of ostriches, whose plumes were used in women’s hats in the 1900s. Now, the festival has music, food, rides and a score of events. But the main attraction is the ostrich races in which handlers race the birds , which weigh more than 200 pounds, on their backs and chariot-style.
Soleri Bridge and Plaza in Scottsdale
Visit the Soleri Bridge and Plaza during the summer solstice. Scottsdale Public Art has activities celebrating the day, but the star is the 130-foot-long bridge designed by Italian architect/artist/philosopher Paolo Soleri, which demonstrates solar movement by marking the equinox and summer solstice.
Kayaking with Fort McDowell Adventures
Rent a kayak from Fort McDowell Adventures for a few hours and float down the Salt River so you can see the cows and wild horses. Just about every possible desert flora and fauna can be viewed along the way.
Hole-in-the-Rock at Papago Park in Phoenix
Picnic inside the prehistoric-looking red sandstone of Hole-in-the-Rock at Phoenix’s Papago Park. It’s an easy climb to the opening, which offers vista and mountain views. Note: a near constant wind blows through the hole so opt for hearty hand-held picnic food that won’t be blown away.
White Tank Mountain Regional Park trail
Take a trip back to the Stone Age at Waddell’s Waterfall Trail in White Tank Mountain Regional Park. On a clear spring day the easy hike may offer a view of downtown Phoenix about 25 miles east, and you may even glimpse a waterfall after a rain. But the real payoff is Petroglyph Plaza. The collection of ancient Hohokam rock art depicts animals, humans and geometric figures.
‘LOVE’ sculpture in Scottsdale
Grab onto some love and visit the Robert Indiana “LOVE” sculpture on the Scottsdale Mall. The sculpture is large and can be climbed on and touched, making it an ideal site for picture taking.
Goldfield Ghost Town near Apache Junction
Watch a gunfight at Goldfield Ghost Town near Apache Junction. This resurrected arizona mining camp got its start in 1892 but was abandoned a few years later when the gold ran out. It was later reborn as one of the last vestiges of the Old West with a mining tunnel, a photo shop and a chance to pan for gold. You can keep any gold slivers you find.
Arizona’s ghost towns fade into memory
‘Bat Cave’ in Phoenix
Brave the depths of your fears and dare to witness as many as 20,000 bats journey out to their nighttime feeding. The “bat cave” is on the north bank of the Arizona Canal, several hundred yards west of 40th Street, north of Camelback Road. Position yourself at a specially built deck at that location at dusk.
Wildlife World Zoo in Litchfield Park
Experience close encounters of a different kind at the Wildlife World Zoo and Aquarium in Litchfield Park. It’s OK to touch and feed many of the animals, including giraffes. We recommend feeding apple slices to the colorful Lory parrots.
Bob Bondurant School of Driving in Chandler
Satisfy your need for speed at the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving in Chandler. The military elite go there to learn the stunts of movies like ramming roadblocks and spinning 360 degrees. But you, too, can feel the fast fusion of control and power.
Boyce Thompson Arboretum
Botany and natural history never seemed so cool as a trip to the Boyce Thompson Arboretum. Col. William Boyce Thompson created this 320-acre oasis in the 1920s to study desert plants. It now features several gardens, including herb, cactus, rose and a touch-and-smell one for kids. Watch for such flying spectacles as butterflies, hummingbirds and turkey vultures.
DETAILS: azstateparks.com. 37615 U.S. 60, Superior. 520-689-2723.
Dolly Steamboat at Canyon Lake
Book a twilight dinner cruise on the Dolly Steamboat at Canyon Lake. As you ooh and ahh over the 28 miles of shoreline below red-rock cliffs, the captain shares legends and truths about the Superstition Mountains. About 14 miles from Apache Junction, the lake is more on the outskirts of the Valley. But as desert dwellers, it’s best to celebrate any nearby water respite we can.
Cattle Track Arts Compound in Scottsdale
Experience a rustic oasis in the heart of Scottsdale by visiting the Cattle Track Arts Compound. This 13-acre artists colony was built in 1937 by local engineer George Ellis. The enclave is where many a printmaker, architect, artist, blacksmith and musician have worked, are working or stop by to learn new tricks. Three of the buildings at Cattle Track, so named because cowboys once drove cattle through it, are registered with the National Register of Historic Places.
Arts compound a little known gem
Top places to visitBarrett-Jackson auction in Scottsdale
See the finest and rarest of automobiles at Scottsdale’s Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Event in January. Even if you’re not a gearhead, it’s a great place to people watch with such celebrities as Paul McCartney, David Spade and rockers Alice Cooper and Bret Michaels.
DETAILS: Things to know about Barrett-Jackson car auction
Heard Museum in Phoenix
Be seen at the Heard Museum during its two-day Indian Fair and Market in March. The two-day fair features dancers, and more than 500 artists, many of whom inform about their crafts — jewelry making, painting, pottery and sculpture.
Musical Instrument Museum in Scottsdale
Play the theremin at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix. Or not. But do check it out. With more than 15,000 instruments from hundreds of cultures, the place is pure fun.
Why the Musical Instrument Museum is special
Get a glimpse of Phoenix’s culture, interact with artists and enjoy some great food on Roosevelt Row. As part of the downtown Phoenix redevelopment, Roosevelt Row has become a polished gem with boutiques, art galleries and restaurants within walking distance. Visit on First Friday for an even bigger affair with live performances and vendors.
Wrigley Mansion in Phoenix
Tour the Wrigley Mansion. William Wrigley Jr., known for his chewing gum and the Chicago Cubs, bought the Arizona Biltmore hotel in the ’20s and had the nearby mansion built as a 50th-anniversary gift for his wife. Built in 1932, the grand home that sits atop a knoll in Phoenix is as historic as the Valley gets, with a salute to Mediterranean, California Mission and Spanish architecture.
Tovrea Castle in Phoenix
Tour Tovrea Castle, the structure that resembles a wedding cake, seen from the Loop 202 freeway. Built in 1929, it was later sold to cattle baron E.A. Tovrea and wife Della. The kitchen has a bullet hole from when Della was robbed and beaten in 1968. She died two months later.
Arizona Science Center’s Bed of Nails
Prove mind over matter at the Arizona Science Center’s bed of nails in Phoenix. Visitors can lie down on a Plexiglas platform with tiny holes in it. When they press a button, 1,000 nails rise underneath them. It’s your chance to bed down with a celebrity — Ellen DeGeneres tried the bed on her television show.
Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art
Surrender to the magnificence that is a hole in the wall arizona dubbed “Knight Rise” at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. The permanent “skyspace” was created by acclaimed artist James Turrell. View at sunset on a Thursday evening, when SMoCA is open late and it’s free.
Arizona Capital in Phoenix
Tour the Arizona State Capitol and discover which two of Arizona’s 5 ‘C’s — copper, cattle, citrus, climate and cotton — was left out of the state seal on the main floor. Completed in 1900 at a cost of $136,000, the building is made from indigenous malapai and granite and has a copper dome. One room is dedicated to the USS Arizona, which was destroyed in the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Open-Mike Night at Tempe Center for the Arts
Sing with Walt Richardson, Valley reggae/folk legend and host of the walk-in Wednesday open-mike night at Tempe Center for the Arts. The free event provides a spotlight for singers, players and songwriters . If they’re good, they may be offered a chance to participate in the Songwriters’ Showcase with professional musicians and regional headliners.
Rosson House in Phoenix
Spook yourself with a candlelit Halloween tour of the Rosson House in downtown Phoenix. Built in 1895, its Gothic features provide the perfect backdrop for stories of unexplained footsteps, turning keys and creepy sensations. If no ghosts are spotted at least you can see the Victorian residence’s antique furnishings, tin ceilings, and parquet floors of oak, walnut and mahogany.
Real haunted places in metro Phoenix
Orpheum Theater in Phoenix
See a show at the Orpheum Theatre in Phoenix. Built in 1929 as a vaudeville house, the Orpheum was restored in 1997. Go early and check out the lobby’s Spanish Baroque Revival decor that mirrors a medieval nobleman’s art gallery. Inside, gaze upward at the hand-painted ceiling, which depicts a bright sunset turning into a starry night sky.
Taliesin West in Scottsdale
View the product of genius that becomes even more relevant with the green movement today at a behind-the-scenes tour of Taliesin West in Scottsdale. The campus, designed by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright, offers many tours but one of the most spectacular is the evening tour, with dramatic sunset views of the Valley. It’s sure to impress out-of-town guests.
Native Trails in Scottsdale
Grab a front-row seat and witness history during Native Trails. The series of song, dance, storytelling and traditional Native American foods is held most Thursdays and Saturdays at the Civic Center Mall in Scottsdale. The event is well-attended by German tourists and out-of-towners; how about you?
Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix
Splurge with an overnight stay at the Arizona Biltmore. Architect Frank Lloyd Wright consulted on the design of the hotel, which opened in 1929. The Ocatilla wing features upgrades of everything from bed linens, bathroom shampoo and French press coffeemakers. It has hosted many a U.S. president and countless Hollywood royalty.
Japanese Friendship Garden
Enjoy a tea ceremony at the Japanese Friendship Garden in Phoenix. The 3.5-acre park features 1,500 tons of hand-selected rock and more than 50 varieties of plants and a koi pond with more than 300 fish. Taking a respite at the teahouse where a formally trained tea master offers a taste of spiritual refreshment is a way to live in the moment.
Cool places to eatFour Peaks Brewing Company in Tempe
Toss one back at Four Peaks Brewery in Tempe. Brewpubs abound these days, but these beers — highly recommended — are served in a red-brick building constructed in 1892, and the food is as good as the brews. Favorites are the Thai Hummus and the Salmon BLT.
Durant’s in Phoenix
Drink a dry martini at Durant’s and sink into the red vinyl seats and feel the red-flocked walls. This snapshot of the 1950s in Phoenix remains primarily a steakhouse where regulars enter through the backdoor into the kitchen and business leaders and politicians still make deals. A good time to possibly hear political gossip is from January through April, when the Legislature is in session.
Separating legend of Jack Durant and his steak house from movie myths
Carolina’s in Phoenix
Savor the taste of an authentic tortilla at Carolina’s in Phoenix. Large, thin and chewy, the tortillas have been turned out at this institution for 50 years. Never has a simple mix of flour, water, lard, baking powder and salt been so satisfying.
Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix
Lunch on the best pizza in the U.S. — so say plenty of experts — at downtown Phoenix’s Pizzeria Bianco. Lunch during an Arizona summer may mean you get in for under the usual three-hour wait. Order either the Rosa or the Marinara, which happen to be owner Chris Bianco’s favorites.
James Beard Dinner in Scottsdale
Pay for a seat at the table of Scottsdale Culinary Festival’s Friends of the James Beard Dinner. In April, a lineup of eight James Beard award-winning chefs put together a five-course, wine-paired dinner prepared table-side.
Schnepf Farms in Queen Creek
Pick the peaches at Schnepf Farms in Queen Creek. On the second and third weekends in May, the farm provides the boxes to pick as many ripe peaches as desired. The real treat, though, are the peach pancakes served up hot and gooey.
Arizona is known for its Mexican food, and it’s in fairly rich supply around the Valley. However, for a great taste try Barrio Cafe. With five restaurants in the Barrio family, chef Silvana Salcido Esparza has become a key part of building up Phoenix as a destination for exceptional food. Pop into the original Barrio Cafe in Central Phoenix, Barrio Urbano at the Yard in Phoenix, Barrio Avion at Terminal Four in Sky Harbor or the newest location on Grand Avenue.
Organ Stop Pizza in Mesa
Witness the mighty Wurlitzer pipe organ in action at Mesa’s Organ Stop Pizza. After “talkies” took over cinema and the Great Depression hit, the Wurlitzer was rarely heard. This one was damaged in a fire but restored and purchased in 1975.
14 fun facts about Organ Stop Pizza in Mesa
Mrs. White’s Golden arizona Rule Cafe in Phoenix
So maybe Arizona isn’t what you think of when you think “southern.” But that doesn’t mean you should deny yourself one of the Valley’s tastiest offerings at Phoenix’s Mrs. White’s Golden Rule Cafe. Get the classic fried chicken, smothered in gravy and served with sides of greens, red beans, black-eyed peas or sweet potatoes and cornbread.
DETAILS:Mrs. White’s Golden Rule Cafe celebrates 50 years
Cerreta Candy Co. in Glendale
Savor a French mint truffle at Glendale’s hometown chocolate factory, Cerreta Candy Co. Tour the facility and marvel at how the chocolate is made and molded. And now the health conscious can get their antioxidants in the extra-dark chocolate bars.
Quiessence in Phoenix
Rev up the romance and reserve the exclusive Brick Oven Table at Quiessence at South Mountain. The customized dining experience for two to four people each night is set among pecan groves and vegetable gardens in an old-time Arizona ranch house. The multicourse dinner offers such food as pan-roasted monkfish medallions and a savoy cabbage wrap filled with guinea hen and foie gras.
Jade Bar in Scottsdale
Watch a haboob (dust storm) — Arizona’s very own inclement weather — roll in from the comfort of Jade Bar at Sanctuary Camelback Mountain Resort. Sit safely at the round wooden bar behind expansive glass and sip the signature Fiery Mandarin to view Mother Nature’s dust devil.
Compass Arizona Grill at the Hyatt Regency
Dine atop the Compass Arizona Grill at the Hyatt Regency. Perched like a flying saucer on the 24th floor of the hotel, the revolving restaurant opened in 1976 and is the only Arizona restaurant of its kind. Reserve a window seat 30 minutes before sundown to watch the sun glint off Phoenix landmarks.