Start your driving tour in south Phoenix with breakfast at The Farm at South Mountain, which is home to several good restaurants, including the Morning Glory Cafe, a signature breakfast spot serving house-baked pastries and muffins, seasonal omelets, locally made sausages and other made-from-scratch treats. Farm-fresh ingredients are harvested right on the premises.
Be sure to enjoy a stroll under the pecan groves before leaving.
Head north on Central Avenue, which will take you through downtown Phoenix and its modest yet still eye-grabbing cluster of high rises. At McDowell Road, head east. You'll drive through a busy stretch of central Phoenix. But after a few minutes the traffic will recede and you'll drive through the Papago buttes - large, red sandstone formations that have been carved and smoothed by wind, weather and time.
A drive through the Papago buttes in Phoenix is one of the most scenic rides in town — Photo courtesy of Taro the Shiba Inu
There are lots of pull-out spots for motorists who want to get a closer look at the buttes. You can pull over to snap a picture, or keep driving to access Papago Park. To get to the park, head straight on McDowell Road and then turn south at 64th Street, which quickly turns into Galvin Parkway. Follow the signs to the sprawling park, which has restrooms, drinking fountains, picnic ramadas and fishing lakes.
Even if you're not a hiking enthusiast, be sure to get out of the car for a few minutes to check out the Hole-in-the-Rock Trail. This very short trail leads to a weather-sculpted butte with large holes worn away in the center of the rock. It's a popular landmark and a good spot to enjoy sweeping views of the city. The hike is easy and well worth the short walk.
Back in the car, continue on scenic Galvin Parkway to the Desert Botanical Garden. This is one of the city's top attractions, a 140-acre garden that celebrates desert flora from around the world. There are several walking trails and exhibits, and the garden frequently hosts special events, including a music in the garden series.
Gorgeous desert blooms abound at the Desert Botanical Garden — Photo courtesy of Adam Rodriguez / Desert Botanical Garden
Quench your thirst and hunger with lunch or dinner at Gertrude's, the garden's new restaurant. The eatery has a modern American farm-to-table menu featuring many ingredients harvested on site. The restaurant also has a thoughtful selection of beer, wine and spirits, plus an excellent dessert menu. The restaurant is accessible without having to pay garden admission.
If a walk through the garden doesn't whet your appetite, continue south on Galvin Parkway for a stop at the Phoenix Zoo. This is the largest non-profit, privately owned zoo in the United States. Exhibits like Stingray Bay, Giraffe Encounter, Monkey Village and the Safari Train are both educational and entertaining, especially if you're traveling with little ones.