Love Art? The outdoors? The stars? Beer? Greater Phoenix has a tour for you. | By Nora Burba Trulsson
Sure, you could take a generic tour of Phoenix or Scottsdale to learn about the cities, but you might find yourself nodding off after an hour of driving around in a van or ducking into a coffee shop to ditch a walking tour. Instead, delve into the details of the Valley—and beyond—by joining local outfitters that offer unique tours. You might find yourself searching for scorpions in a darkened desert, hunting for ghostly spirits around town, or paddling past herds of wild horses on a scenic river. Here are just a few out-of-the-ordinary treks that won’t lull you to sleep.
Poke around town
Urbanistas can tour Phoenix and Scottsdale via school bus, bikes, or Segways to learn those cities’ secrets. Former librarian Marshall Shore now calls himself a “hip historian” as he leads groups on gossipy tours of Central Phoenix in a yellow school bus. Sporting a trademark goatee and sports jackets artfully decorated with Arizona imagery, Shore gathers participants at a designated hotel for tours that explore local movie history, view holiday lights, look for ghostly presences in historic buildings, or delve into topics like the places and timeline associated with the infamous Phoenix “trunk murderess” Winnie Ruth Judd.
Phoenix Rising Tours lets you get an up-close view of wall-art masterpieces with its downtown art and mural bike tour. You’ll be riding lime green Grid Bikes, a bike-sharing program, leisurely cruising a guided loop of about 7 1/2 miles from downtown and back. The two-hour pedal pushing makes stops at about a dozen murals—where you’ll learn about each artist and his or her vision—as well as Civic Space Park, home to a notable sculpture by artist Janet Echelman.
In Scottsdale, you can explore the art, history, and architecture of Old Town on your own motorized two-wheel vehicle. Segway of Scottsdale starts out with a safety and training session before you and your small group roll out on a two-hour city tour. You’re equipped with a helmet and audio receiver so you can hear the guide as you glide past sights like the San Francisco Giants’ Spring Training stadium, the famous Love sculpture by Robert Indiana, the Soleri Bridge, art galleries, and more.
If trekking makes you thirsty, consider a hop around local craft breweries with Arizona Brewery Tours. Aboard a bus, the guide traces the history of beer and navigates the Phoenix brewing scene, then you’ll stop at three breweries for flights, tours, and maybe even some hands-on brewing experience. At one stop, you’ll also get a full meal that’s paired with the beers. Don’t have a half day for a tour? There’s a shorter version with two breweries and appetizers instead of a meal.
Venture off road
Segways—plus Hummers—can also get you out in the middle of the Sonoran Desert just outside the metro area. Take a Segway off road with Adventures Out West’s special tour that rolls along desert trails on native land at the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation. Your cowboy guides share riding and safety tips before taking you out on a 1 1⁄2-hour loop past saguaro, prickly pear, and other cacti. Along the way, you’ll stop for views of the landmark Four Peaks formation and the Verde River, learn about American Indian history and culture, and possibly see critters like coyotes, rattlesnakes, bald eagles, and wild horses.
Search for scorpions and Saturn after dark with Stellar Adventures’ stargazing and night-vision tours. Loaded up in a Hummer or M1009 Blazer, you’ll head out to Tonto National Forest, far from city lights. There, you’ll meet with an astronomer who will guide you through the night skies. Before and after, the driver makes stops at known watering holes where, seasonally, night-vision binoculars will help you look for javelinas, coyotes, deer, and those scorpions (thanks to an ultraviolet light), all from the safety of the vehicle.
Among its tour offerings, Arizona Outback Adventures counts a liquid experience—kayaking on the Salt River. No experience is needed to join these guided floats. Just hop in a van to the river, where you’ll receive instructions and get equipped with a life vest, double or single kayak, and, of course, a paddle. During the 2 1/2 hours you spend drifting past cliffs and desert, watch for wild horses, herons, bald eagles, and even a rare beaver or otter. The outfitter also offers kayaking—as well as stand-up paddle boarding—on nearby Saguaro Lake.
See more of the state
Two outfitters will take you farther afield, beyond the city limits to the serpentine road that is Apache Trail, and to the red rocks and wineries in and around Sedona. Along with other guided van tours they offer statewide, Across Arizona Tours motors along scenic Apache Trail—at least the paved portion of the famous road that winds past desert, lakes, canyons, and mountains. You’ll stop for a short walk through the desert, then board the Dolly Steamboat for a 90-minute interpretive cruise on Canyon Lake. The end of the trail is Tortilla Flat, an Old West saloon, restaurant, and shop, where you can enjoy a burger, beer, and a scoop of prickly pear gelato.
By offering small-group van tours, Arizona Scenic Tours lets you and your fellow travelers have flexibility in your stops, something that’s particularly nice if you join their day-long Sedona and wineries tour. You might want to linger longer for photo ops at Bell Rock Vista, one of the first Sedona stops, or meditate inside the architecturally significant Chapel of the Holy Cross. There’s always plenty of time for shopping and eating at Tlaquepaque or Uptown Sedona before ending your trek with a happy hour at several bucolic wineries in nearby Verde Valley.