Best Things to Do in Phoenix

10 Best Phoenix Attractions, Landmarks and Activites to Explore in the Valley

What to do during your next stay in Phoenix? Here we round up some of the best places in Phoenix to experience this vibrant desert metropolis. 

Explore the natural beauty of the desert at the Desert Botanical Gardens, one of the city's indisputable gems. There's no better place to learn more about the desert than by exploring the trails at this star attraction.

If you still have energy after that, head next door to the Phoenix Zoo, a treat for both children and parents. The zoo offers interactive exhibits such as the Giraffe Encounter, camel rides, and a petting zoo. It's the largest privately owned, non-profit zoo in the United States.

Although Phoenix is a young city, you'll want to make time to explore the city's small but vibrant historic quarter, known as Heritage Square. The city block is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and makes for an easy, pedestrian friendly walk in the heart o bustling downtown.

Of course, you can't leave Phoenix without experiencing for yourself one of the Valley's famous desert sunsets. Although it can be difficult to secure parking and it's a steep climb, it's worth making a trip to the Camelback Mountain Echo Canyon Recreation area. The local landmark offers sweeping views of the Valley. 

A more accessible (but no less beautiful) place to watch the sunset is South Mountain Regional Park. Make the drive up the mountain to the popular Dobbins Lookout point for unforgettable panoramic views of the city.


The Musical Instrument Museum, also known as the MIM, celebrates art, music and culture by documenting the history of musical instruments from around the world. Everyone from Carlos Santana to Tony Bennett have sung the praises of this bright, open museum, which also hosts a full calendar of live music events. The museum collection includes instruments from 200 countries from around the world, with emphasis on ethnic, folk, and tribal music. Guests are given wireless headsets so they can hear instruments being played at each display, and flat-panel monitors throughout the museum give guests the opportunity to see instruments being performed live. Whether you love Chinese opera or Big Band jazz, the MIM celebrates the joy of musical expression in all its forms.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: The Musical Instrument Museum is one of the most unique museums in the country. Come here to learn about music from every region on Earth.

Patricia's expert tip: Check the daily schedule for Museum Encounters, thirty-minute musical demonstrations that allow musician-teaching artists to perform for and interact with museum guests. Museum Encounters are free with admission.

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Housed in a dramatic building next to the city's historic Heritage Square, the Science Center offers well over 300 interactive exhibits. A giant-screen IMAX theater shows educational films, and the planetarium boasts one of the largest domes in the west. Exhibits are organized into galleries that explore human physiology, physical forces, transportation, geology, computers, and applied sciences. Most of exhibits are interactive and hands-on and cater to children of all ages. The Science Center also plays host to regular "Adults Night Out" nights, featuring special lectures, exhibits, and even adult beverages. Classes, camps and other learning programs are offered throughout the year.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: The Arizona Science Center offers hands-on educational fun for kids and adults of all ages.

Patricia's expert tip: Every first Tuesday of the month, visitors age 62+ are invited to visit Arizona Science Center for free.

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Historic Heritage Square is a part of Heritage & Science Park, which also includes the Arizona Science Center and the Phoenix Museum of History. Since it contains several Victorian homes from Phoenix's original settlement, the city block is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the attractive city block is ideal for an afternoon stroll. Be sure to visit the fully restored 1895 Rosson House â€" it was originally one of the most prominent homes in town. Heritage Square is also home to some of the city's most notable eateries and pubs, including Pizzeria Bianco, the Rose and Crown Pub and Nobuo at Teeter House, a traditional Japanese teahouse and restaurant.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Historic Heritage Square in Phoenix offers visitors a glimpse into some of the city's oldest and best-preserved houses.

Patricia's expert tip: Families with young children may want to venture across the street to the popular Children's Museum of Phoenix.

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Pueblo Grande Museum and Archaeological Park

This museum and its adjacent park are built on the site of 1500-year-old Hohokam Indian ruins. Exhibits showcase lifestyles of the Hohokam and of other Southwestern tribes, and visitors learn about Phoenix's cultural heritage through displays of arts and crafts created and used by Native Americans. An informative and fun hands-on exhibit encourages children to learn more about archaeology. A fully accessible 2/3 mile trail takes visitors through the prehistoric site, which includes a partially excavated platform mound, ballcourt, and replicated prehistoric houses. The site is conveniently located minutes from downtown Phoenix next to Sky Harbor International Airport. It's a National Historic Landmark and Phoenix Point of Pride site.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Pueblo Grande Museum and Archaeological Park lets visitors walk amongst 1500-year-old Hohokam Indian ruins.

Patricia's expert tip: Pueblo Grande also hosts monthly lectures and demonstrations with local artists.

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One of the most popular hiking trails in the valley is the Echo Canyon trail at Camelback Mountain. The Echo Canyon Recreation Area is made up of layered sandstone and comprises the "head" of Camelback Mountain. Prepare to catch of glimpse at some of the smaller animals of the Sonoran Desert, including cottontail rabbits, snakes, lizards, Harris antelope squirrels as well as a variety of birds. Rattlesnakes are also common on the trail. Native desert flora include saguaro, barrel, hedgehog, pincushion, jumping cholla, christmas, staghorn, cholla and prickly pear cacti. The Echo Canyon trails were recently upgraded with new restrooms and drinking fountains.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Camelback Mountain Echo Canyon Recreation area is one of Phoenix's most iconic hiking spots.

Patricia's expert tip: This is a busy hiking spot with very little parking. Carpooling to the area is recommended.

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Plan to spend a day with the animals, over 1200 of them (including many endangered species), in this expansive park. The animals live in spacious enclosures, similar to the habitats they would have if they were in the wild. in addition, visitors can enjoy attractions like the tropical rainforest exhibit, train rides, and a fabulous childrens' petting zoo. Get up close to a giraffe, ride a camel, and pay a visit to the Stingray Bay. During the summer season, arrive early to see the animals when they're most active. Special seasonal events, including the mega-popular holiday celebration known as ZooLights, are held throughout the year.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Phoenix Zoo is one of the city's best and most kid-friendly attractions.

Patricia's expert tip: Pedal boat rides are available on a seasonal basis, great fun for family members of all ages.

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A maze of well-maintained hiking trails crisscrosses one of the largest municipal parks in the world. For a spectacular view, drive to Dobbins Lookout Point and gaze at the city from 1200 feet. Then, trek to Happy Valley via a trail through South Mountain Park. The place is magnificent, especially in springtime when the terrain is knee-deep with wildflowers. Free maps are available at the entrance, but no glass containers are permitted on the premises. If you want to drive to the top, arrive no later than 9pm. This is one of the largest municipal city parks in the country, so make sure to bring plenty of water, especially if you're planning a visit during the summer months.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: South Mountain Park is one of the largest city parks in the country and a great Phoenix hiking destination.

Patricia's expert tip: Horseback riding stables and horse rentals are available near the entrance to the park.

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Phoenix Art Museum
Photo courtesy of Phoenix Art Museum

The scope of The Phoenix Art Museum is indisputably international with works representing American, Asian, European and Latin American art. The museum also features exhibits on fashion and the Thorne miniature rooms (rooms from different historical periods, scaled down to hatbox size). With more than more than 18,000 works of American, Asian, European, Latin American, Western American, modern and contemporary art, expect to spend some time exploring the halls of this vibrant museum. Major exhibitions, film screenings and various cultural events fill the calendar at this popular attraction. Make sure to stop by the gift shop on your way out for unique, art-inspired items.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: The Phoenix Art Museum is the largest art museum in the Southwest, with strong Asian, Latin American and Western American collections.

Patricia's expert tip: Free admission/voluntary donation is available on Wednesdays from 3-9 p.m.; First Friday of every month from 6-10 p.m.; Second Saturdays from 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; and Second Sundays from 12 p.m.-5 p.m.

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Heard Museum of Native Cultures and Art

The well-regarded, world-famous Heard Museum is one of the world's leading repositories of Native American art. It also features works by contemporary Southwestern artists, craft demonstrations, amphitheater performances, a caf--, and a gift shop. Paintings, drawings, and sculpture figure into the collection, along with domestic objects, textiles, pottery, dolls, and jewelry. The museum's revolving calendar of exhibitions offer new insight into Native American tradition, history and cultural trends. Anyone with even the slightest interest in Southwestern history and culture should make this a must-see destination when visiting the Valley of the Sun. Along with the original Heard Museum in central Phoenix, the museum also has branches established in other parts of the city, including Heard Museum North in Scottsdale, and Heard Museum West in Surprise.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: The Heard Museum is one of the world's best living repositories of authentic and rare Native American art.

Patricia's expert tip: Stop by the Heard Museum gift shop for a large collection of authentic, handmade artwork, Navajo rugs, Kachina dolls, jewelry and home decor.

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Located in Papago Park, this garden features one of the world's largest collections of desert flora. A vast array of colorful wildflowers has been strategically placed to create a spectacular display and delight visitors in the springtime. Not only is this park a treat for the eyes, but it also provides exercise for the body and mind. One of the main highlights, an informative ethnobotanical walking trail, meanders through the grounds. The trail explains the many vital ways in which plants were integrated into Native American tribal life, thus illustrating the importance of plants beyond their natural beauty. You'll feel like your a world away from the city, although the garden is only a few miles from downtown Phoenix.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Desert Botanical Garden is one of Phoenix's premier attractions, a sun-washed feast for the eyes and senses.

Patricia's expert tip: Music in the garden and seasonal festivals are held throughout the year. Many of these are ticketed events, it's recommended you check with the garden before your visit to see what's new.

Read more about Desert Botanical Garden →


Meet Patricia Escarcega

Patricia Escarcega works as a writer and editor in Phoenix.