21 Things to Do

1. ART FOR FREE

Enjoy cultural enrichment with always-free admission at three Phoenix-area museums. Focused on providing the community with a home for the arts, the Shemer Art Center in Phoenix features rotating exhibits, classes, and lectures. Tempe’s ASU Art Museum, located on the main campus of Arizona State University, houses more than 12,000 objects across two buildings with multiple galleries, sculpture terraces, and two museum stores. In addition to hosting a variety of festivals, workshops, and concerts, the Mesa Arts Center also holds the Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum, where visitors can peruse a selection of rotating exhibits and an always-expanding permanent collection.

2. UP, UP & AWAY

If you don’t have 80 days to go around the world, how about a couple of hours to glide over Greater Phoenix? Hot air balloons are a fun way to view the terrain. To drift away on a desert breeze, contact Rainbow Ryders or Hot Air Expeditions. Or fly and feast on a Float Balloon Tour (floatballoontours.com), which pairs a balloon flight with regional Arizona cuisine.

3. ROSES IN BLOOM

Lose yourself among the thousands of blooms at Sahuaro Ranch Park’s rose garden in Glendale. Valley Garden Center in Phoenix features an acre of rosebushes, as well as a 125-year-old mesquite tree. And things look downright rosy at The Rose Garden at Mesa Community College, with a field of nearly 9,000 blooming rosebushes that has been called the largest rose garden in the Southwest. Blooms are at their peak from March to June and November to December.

4. OUTDOOR ADVENTURES

For everything you’ll need to romp through the desert, check out 360 Adventures, which offers guided tours and equipment rentals. Arizona Outback Adventures and Arizona Scenic Tours both specialize in guided tours statewide. If you’re looking for a fun tour of the attractions in Phoenix and Scottsdale—both indoors and out—look no further than Across Arizona Tours.

5. HIDDEN GOLD

You’d have to be very lucky to find the Lost Dutchman Mine—the legendary hiding place of Jacob Waltz’s gold. Waltz was a German prospector who, according to legend, hid a treasure in the Superstition Mountains but fell ill and died, taking his secret to the grave. However, clues to the hidden mine’s location were left behind, and generations of gold seekers have followed. Learn more about Waltz and the area at the Superstition Mountain Museum, northeast of Apache Junction on the scenic Apache Trail.

The Garden mural, Downtown Phoenix (Photo by Donoyazzi/Instagram.)

6. STREET ART

The creative spirit roams freely through the streets of Greater Phoenix as murals and commissioned outdoor works move beyond museum walls to find life on the exteriors of buildings. Outside Barrio Café in Phoenix, the walls serve as a concrete canvas for paintings that tell the stories of Latino culture in Arizona. In Scottsdale, artists Ernest Roberts and Tim Medina celebrate the state’s Wild West roots with a mural of American cowgirls on the wall of Fashion by Robert Black. In Downtown Phoenix, tour Roosevelt Row to view emerging street talent.

7. MOUNTAIN BIKING

For a different spin on a hike when you’re feeling outdoorsy, how about a bike ride on a local trail? For fairly easy rides, visit Estrella Mountain Regional Park or Papago Park, and for a scenic view, try Phoenix Mountains Preserve or White Tank Mountain Regional Park. For the ultimate biking experience, go to South Mountain Park, where there is something for everyone—including the challenging 14.5-mile National Trail. For more information, contact the City of Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department. Try Arizona Outback Adventures in Scottsdale or Try Me Bicycle Shop in Phoenix for mountain bike rentals.

8. YOUR BEST HAND

Grab that change jar for a rendezvous with Lady Luck at a number of casinos statewide. Take a chance at Casino Arizona or Talking Stick Resort, both on Scottsdale’s eastern border; Gila River Hotels & Casinos, with 3 locations throughout Greater Phoenix; and Desert Diamond West Valley Casino in Glendale.

Heard Museum (Photo by Ran1Mo/Instagram.)

9. NATIVE CULTURES

A vast collection of traditional and contemporary American Indian art and artifacts (around 44,000 objects!) make Phoenix’s Heard Museum a fascinating and educational stop for cultural exploration. Continue the journey at the Pueblo Grande Museum and Archaeological Park in Phoenix, which preserves a 1,500-year-old archaeological site featuring a ballcourt, platform mound, and irrigation canals constructed by the Hohokam people. In Scottsdale, the exhibits at the Huhugam Ki Museum showcase the crafts and lifestyle of O’odham (Pima) and Piipaash (Maricopa) Indian tribes who have inhabited the Greater Phoenix area since ancient times.

10. STARGAZING

Yes, you can see stars in the heart of Downtown Phoenix. Admire the night sky at the Arizona Science Center’s Dorrance Planetarium, with lectures on such topics as Arizona’s sky and constellations. For the real thing, visit one of the many Maricopa County regional parks, including Estrella Mountain Regional Park, White Tank Mountain Regional Park, or Lake Pleasant. Maricopa County Parks & Recreation even offers stargazing programs on select dates. For stargazing accompanied by a road trip, drive north to Flagstaff and visit the Lowell Observatory. Open for tours and evening telescope viewing, this is where Percival Lowell discovered the dwarf planet Pluto.

11. ART WALKS

Tour art galleries and museums throughout the metro area. Stroll Old Town Scottsdale during the weekly Scottsdale ArtWalk, Thurs. 7–9 p.m., with live entertainment and artist appearances. First Fridays lets you tour Downtown Phoenix galleries once a month, 6–10 p.m., with free trolley transportation between locations. On the 3rd Fri. of every month, 6–10 p.m., enjoy the Downtown Chandler Art Walk. Explore the shops, restaurants, and galleries along Mesa’s Main Street on 2nd Friday Night Out every month, 6–10 p.m.

12. SO SWEET

Imagine a store where every aisle is the candy aisle. That’s Sweeties Candy of Arizona in Chandler. From nostalgic treats to today’s best, this 13,000-square-foot shop allows you to be a kid in a candy store once again. In Glendale, get a peek at how some of your favorite candy is made at Cerreta Candy Company. Take a tour of this family-owned confectionery, or enjoy your own chocolate experience by decorating a chocolate pizza.

13. MEET THE WILDLIFE

Phoenix Zoo’s 125 acres are home to more than 3,000 animals, including lions, giraffes, and elephants. Encounter land and aquatic animals from all over the globe at Wildlife World Zoo, Aquarium & Safari Park in Litchfield Park. Experience safari tours, a tiger show, zip lining, and more at Out of Africa Wildlife Park in Camp Verde. For sea-creature encounters, complete with ocean tunnels for underwater viewing, head to Scottsdale’s OdySea Aquarium or Sea Life Arizona Aquarium in Tempe.

14. RIDE THE RAILS

Scottsdale’s McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park is just the ticket for little ones with an affinity for trains. Winner of the 2019 Engaging Local Government Leaders’ Knope Award for Best Park & Open Space, this 30-acre railroad park—operated by Scottsdale Parks & Recreation—features the Paradise & Pacific Railroad train ride, Scottsdale Charros Carousel, Arboretum Railroad, Model Railroad Exhibit, Scottsdale Railroad Museum, and two playgrounds.

Arizona Museum of Natural History, Mesa (Photo by Tatasaguirre/Instagram.)

15. IT’S MINE!

Dig into Arizona’s rich history with mining experiences. At Goldfield Ghost Town in the Superstition Mountains, go underground and back in time on a guided tour of the Mammoth Gold Mine. At Scottsdale’s Four Peaks Mining Co., kids can don a hard hat and search for ore and minerals in an interactive mining experience. You can also pick up beautiful handcrafted jewelry—some made with Arizona gems. Mesa’s Arizona Museum of Natural History explores Arizona history, including prospecting for gold and silver in the Lost Dutchman Mine. Examine artifacts and equipment used in the 1800s.

16. IN THE SPIRIT

Arizona Distilling Co. shares the Grand Canyon State with the world one sip at a time. This distillery’s handcrafted spirits include Copper City Bourbon, Desert Durum Wheat Whiskey, and Commerce Gin. Tours and tastings are available. From whiskey to gin to sweet apple pie liquor—made from one of the partner’s family recipes—CaskWerks Distilling Co. has something for all imbibers. The tasting room is open Thurs.–Sat. The handcrafted whiskey, rum, and gin at Adventurous Stills are just some of the spirits made in hand-built copper stills. Try a sample at one of their weekend tours or tastings.

17. SECRET CANYON

Escape from civilization for a spell and unplug. Just a 2-hour drive from the heart of Phoenix puts you into the lush Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness. To disconnect even further, only 50 permits are given each day to enter the preserve, minimizing human encounters while maximizing wildlife sightings. Outside the canyon’s western entrance with the comforts—but not stresses—of home, Aravaipa Farms Orchard and Inn provides an ideal base camp for weekend getaways. 

18. HANDS-ON FUN

 Let the kids flex their creative muscles at Chandler’s Crayola Experience, a 20,000-square-foot play center with more than 15 interactive activities designed to bring out the artistic side of your little Picasso. For aspiring architects, Legoland Discovery Center in Tempe features a dozen Lego-themed attractions designed for kids aged 3 to 10.

19. LIVE MUSIC

Phoenix’s Musical Instrument Museum, or MIM, as locals call it, features a rotating calendar of national and international acts. In Downtown Phoenix, Crescent Ballroom hosts to the latest and greatest acts. To see national bands in a casual atmosphere, check out Tempe’s Marquee Theatre. And at Copper Blues in Downtown Phoenix, the yummy gastropub fare almost steals the spotlight from the national acts that grace the stage.

20. VISIT WICKENBURG

For a taste of the Old West, take a short road trip and spend the day in the city of Wickenburg, an hour north of metro Phoenix. Visit the Desert Caballeros Western Museum for rotating exhibits showcasing Western art and Wickenburg history. The city also offers jeep tours, self-guided walking tours, horseback riding, and a performing arts center, plus some of Central Arizona’s best birding at the Hassayampa River Preserve.

21. GET FIRED UP

Discover the history of firefighting at The Hall of Flame Museum of Firefighting, the world’s largest firefighting museum. See a fine collection of antique engines and equipment from around the world, dating from 1725.

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