This desert metropolis is a rising desert star on the cultural radar. It may look like a cookie-cutter city of chain stores and suburbs at first glance but, as many are discovering, there’s something quite special about Phoenix and the Sonoran Desert. Are you willing to give Phoenix a chance?
As you know, Phoenix is in the middle of a desert and enjoys more than 300 days of sunshine a year, but it’s best to avoid booking flights to Phoenix in the summer (June to August) when temperatures push 100°F. The rest of the year, this place caters to all types of travelers, whether you love to hike, take Instagram photos of succulents, enjoy opera or symphony performances or are an iced coffee aficionado. Here’s the best of what Phoenix has to offer if you’re a first-timer.
1. Camelback Mountain
Camelback Mountain is the highest peak in Phoenix and is also one of the most scenic hiking spots in the area. If you’re looking for the perfect morning activity, before the sun gets too hot, head to Camelback. Give yourself at least 2 hours to enjoy this soaring 2,704 foot glory!
2. Chase Field
Even if you’re not an Arizona Diamondback fan, a visit to Chase Field is still a must. Catch a baseball game while you’re visiting Phoenix, and don’t miss a chance to swim at the field’s pool or grab a pitcher of lager in the stadium’s beer garden.
3. Phoenix Art Museum
Get your art fix at the Phoenix Art Museum, which has a collection of works that span from European Renaissance and Baroque to present day. It’s the exhibitions though that really shine, bringing some of the best art together from around the world, making it the leading art museum in the American Southwest.
4. Desert Botanical Garden
Think the desert is just dry and sandy? Think again! This botanical garden is located in the beautiful Papago Park and puts the best of desert flora on show, particularly in the spring. It’s simply spectacular! The park’s brightly colored flowers stand out against the contrasting Sonoran Desert’s buttes.
5. Heard Museum
The Heard Museum has been heralded again and again as one of the best Native American museums in the U.S. If you’re interested in discovering more about the Indian peoples of the Southwest, then this is the place. It has a fine collection of all the things you’d expect from a Native American museum, including basketwork, pottery, textiles and beautiful kachina dolls.
6. Taliesin West
Frank Lloyd Wright, among many others, fell in love with the Sonoran Desert and made Scottsdale his winter home and school. The architecture school was build using only local materials by Wright and his apprentices. Today it’s a National Historic Landmark and has been called an “architectural gem” in the middle of the desert. It’s a charming place that is still used by art students and architects today.
7. Pueblo Grande Museum & Cultural Park
If you have a couple of hours to spare, and are still looking for more history after a trip to the Heard Museum, head to Pueblo Grande. The site features the ruins of an old Hohokam village, which once was home to around 1,000 people. They mysteriously left around 1450 AD and today you can wander around the village’s houses, storage bunkers, play areas and cemeteries.
8. Heritage Square
Step back in time as you walk around Phoenix’s Heritage Square. This was the city’s original townsite and features eight meticulously restored houses from Phoenix’s early days in the late 1800s. Don’t miss the Victorian Eastlake style Rosson House, from 1895, and the Burgess Carriage House in the center of the Square, from 1900.
9. South Mountain Park
South Mountain Park is the largest city park in the entire country! It covers a whopping 16,000 acres of desert landscape, just waiting to be discovered. Pull out your hiking book and explore the trails on foot, horseback or by bike. The views over the desert and the city are unparalleled, especially at night. Head for Dobbins Lookout at 2,330 ft for sunset and remember, watch out for rattlesnakes!
10. Hot Air Balloons in the desert
One of the most magical ways to experience Arizona’s desert landscape is from the air, in a hot air balloon. These 1 or 2-hour rides are becoming more and more popular and the best time to go up is either at dusk or at dawn to see the gorgeous way the sun lights up the mountains.