Phoenix is a large desert metropolis with a decidedly suburban feel, which can prove challenging to first-time visitors unfamiliar with the city's layout and attractions. Visitors will get the most out of their stay in the Valley of the Sun with a rental car, although it's now possible to get around downtown aboard the city's efficient and popular Metro Light Rail transit. This itinerary is specifically designed to highlight uniquely Phoenix attractions that are just as popular with locals as they are with tourists.
The Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix might be the only place in the city where you can catch a glimpse of a Northern Cardinal. — Photo courtesy of Desert Botanical Garden
Start your day with breakfast at Matt's Big Breakfast, one of downtown's perennially popular breakfast cafes. The lines are long but the people-watching is nearly as much fun as digging into a plate of homemade griddlecakes. Try The Five Spot, a breakfast sandwich on a roll with two eggs, two slices of thick-cut bacon, American cheese and grilled onions.
Next, head to the Desert Botanical Garden, hands-down one of the city's best attractions. This scenic 145-acre park celebrates the diversity of deserts around the world, with emphasis on the flora and fauna of the Sonoran Desert. Walk the Sonoran Desert Nature Loop Trail, where glimpses of desert quails, lizards and jackrabbits are known to make a regular appearance. Enjoy lunch at Gertrude's, the garden's new restaurant specializing in wholesome, organic fare.
A rustic, wood-fired pizza pie at Phoenix's Pizzeria Bianco. — Photo courtesy of Pizzeria Bianco
After your visit to the Desert Botanical Gardens, head back downtown for a visit to the Phoenix Art Museum or Heard Museum, both located within easy driving distance of each other in the midtown museum district. The Phoenix Art Museum has gained national acclaim for its excellent collections of Asian, Latin American, European and Modern Art. The Heard Museum is an internationally recognized repository of Native American arts and crafts. This is a must-see collection for visitors interested in the history, culture and art of the Southwest.
For dinner, follow the lines to Pizzeria Bianco, which opened its doors in downtown Phoenix back in 1994 to national acclaim. Several notable food critics named this pizza the best pizza in the country, and things have never been quite the same since. Long lines begin to form well before dinner service. If you're patient enough to wait for one of Chef Chris Bianco's fresh, rustic pizza pies, chances are you'll have a good story to tell the foodies back home. While you wait for your table, soak in the turn-of-the-century vibe of Heritage Square.