If you thought that the large and sprawling Los Angeles was the largest urban area in all of the Southwest, well, guess again! Clearly, we’re talking about a relatively large number of square miles, but there is a city that, in terms of surface area, exceeds even the City of Angels. This city is Phoenix, which has 1,530,000 inhabitants spread out over 518 square miles.
This large modern city is known as Greater Phoenix and Valley of the Sun, two apt nicknames, and it is surrounded by desert and arid mountain ranges, and besieged by an inhospitable climate. In the summer, temperatures exceed 100 F. The urban area of Greater Phoenix is divided into smaller cities, and among them, the most interesting are the following three cities: the suburban Mesa, the elegant Scottsdale, which retains the style of the Far West, and Tempe, the university town to the east of the city.
Arizona’s capital city has magnificent and exciting museums, desert botanical gardens, sophisticated modern architecture and western neighborhoods. So what are the best things to do in Phoenix? What are the best excursions to explore the natural and cultural landscapes of the city? Let’s take a look.
- What to Do in Phoenix? Cultural Attractions
- What to Do in Phoenix? Natural Attractions
- What to see near Phoenix?
- Day Trips from Phoenix
- Where to Stay in Phoenix
What to Do in Phoenix? Cultural Attractions
Here are Phoenix’s main cultural attractions. Most of them are concentrated in the Downtown area.
These are the museums you should visit:
This is one of the most popular museums in Phoenix and it is dedicated to the history, culture, and rituals of Native Americans in Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico. The museum in this elegant white building follows modern and effective concept to present sacred statues, weapons, jewelry, clothing, work tools and everyday objects of Native Americans in attractively designed spaces and rooms that make the visit more enjoyable.
Phoenix Art Museum
Another place you should see in Downtown Phoenix is the Phoenix Art Museum, a refined and diverse collection of artwork. In addition to the American exhibition, the collection of works and installations by contemporary artists, especially European and modern ones, which contain works by Auguste Rodin, Baron Antoine-Jean Gros, Ferdinand-Victor-Eugene Delacroix, Gustave Courbet, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau and many others.
Don’t miss the Western American Collection, a visual journey to discover artistic mediums that beautifully recreate the landscapes and culture of the Southwest.
Arizona Science Center
The Arizona Science Center offers astronomy lessons in an IMAX planetarium, interactive insights into the force of gravity and other fundamental forces, training courses on the human body, dynamic experiences on geological movements and sunlight, exhibitions on the digital world, as well as workshops, seminars for families, interactive experiments… the futuristic Arizona Science Center will delight science and technology enthusiasts.
Musical Instrument Museum
If you have been strolling through the Science Center’s and want to see something different, and you’re wondering what to see outside of Downtown Phoenix, you absolutely must visit the Musical Instrument Museum, which is located in the outskirts north of the city. It’s an unexpected, fantastic collection of musical instruments of every shape and size, which will please fans of classical, tribal, rock and all kinds of music, even alternative music!
What to Do in Phoenix? Natural Attractions
Museums aren’t for you? All right! If you’re in Phoenix in the summer, leave your hotel in the middle of the afternoon dressed for the hot weather, grab your hat and water bottles and venture out to discover Papago Park, an interesting nature reserve in an urban setting, east of Phoenix Airport towards Scottsdale.
The landscapes of Papago Park
All of Arizona is condensed into Papago Park, located in the heart of Phoenix. In addition to a few golf courses, you will find vast desert expanses dotted with saguaro cacti, fascinating lakes, and arid western landscapes with bizarre stocky mountains that have unforgettable sunsets. Climb the hill called Hole in the Rock to look out the window in the rock overlooking the park, or take the trail to the top of Big Butte.
Desert Botanical Garden
Located at the northeastern end of the park, the Desert Botanical Garden is a fabulous desert-themed garden where cacti of all types and colors “bloom”, scattered along well-structured and easy paths. This is ideal for those who do not mind a pleasant walk and… in the desert! It is a unique experience, but the cost (about $23-29), perhaps, is excessive.
What to see near Phoenix?
What is there to see in Phoenix besides museums and Papago Park? We recommend that you head east to Scottsdale, which is a suburb of Phoenix.
Old Town Scottsdale
In addition to Downtown and parks of Phoenix, it is worth visiting Scottsdale, which is known for its characteristic Old Town, where you can walk around and immerse yourself in an engaging and picturesque Far West atmosphere.
There are themed souvenir shops, reconstructed buildings in early-20th century style, peculiar men wearing broad-brimmed cowboy hats walking on wooden balconies, statues of Native Americans and cowboys on horseback, a few creepy animal skulls hanging on the facade of restaurants, saloons and ranches where you can ride on mechanical bulls…
Taliesin West, located 15 miles to the north of Scottsdale in the middle of the desert, is the residence-studio that the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright, which was built in the late 1930s, also used as a school of architecture.
The most interesting feature of this building is also its structural concept, which involved the use of natural materials such as wood, rock, glass and concrete, fused together to create the so-called organic architecture, of which Wright was the admirable creator. It is a style that began right here, in the desert north of Scottsdale.
There are some tours available during which you can visit the sophisticated venues designed by the visionary Wisconsin architect, who died in Phoenix in 1959.
Arcosanti, 70 miles north of Phoenix, is the prototype of an ideal city designed by Paolo Soleri, an Italian architect who met with Lloyd Wright in Arizona and conceived the concept of archology, an architectural-ecological theory of the 1960s that aims to build arched buildings with a science fiction look, human hives that regulate urbanization, preventing overpopulation and environmental waste. It is possible to book a tour to visit this unusual futuristic place.
Day Trips from Phoenix
Phoenix is considered by many to be an excellent strategic point to visit some of Arizona’s beautiful natural landscapes. One of which is the Grand Canyon, but there are many other places to explore.
Grand Canyon Tours from Phoenix
Grand Canyon Helicopter Tour
This is a great package that includes transportation from Williams, Flagstaff and Sedona and a helicopter flight with views of the vast Grand Canyon.
Tour of the Grand Canyon on Route 66 and Williams
Tombstone Tour from Phoenix
This characteristic day trip will allow you to take a plunge into the past. Tombstone is an iconic town in southern Arizona that has preserved an incredible western atmosphere. Here’s an in-depth article –> Tombstone, Arizona.
Sedona Tour from Phoenix
Sedona is a place known to preserve a charming, natural heritage. We would dare say that it is “mystical”. This tour includes a visit of the city surrounded by beautiful red mountains and a jeep excursion in its surroundings. If you are not familiar with this city, here is an article on what to do in Sedona.
Apache Trail with Boat tour of Canyon Lake
This is a classic day trip from Phoenix to the Apache Trail in the heart of the Superstition Mountains. The tour includes a stop at a ghost town called Goldfield and a boat ride on Canyon Lake.
Where to Stay in Phoenix
Now that we have recommended what you should see in Phoenix, here are some tips on where to spend the night. If you want to stay in the city, you can book a hotel in Downtown Phoenix, but it lacks character. It’s worth going all the way to Scottsdale and looking for accommodations near Old Town.