If you had only one day in Phoenix, what would you do or see? Believe it or not, I get asked this question fairly often. Interesting to ponder, but impossible to answer. There are just too many factors. Will there be children along? Do you like to walk or drive? Is it summer or winter? Do you like museums or shopping? Greater Phoenix has so much to offer. There are so many options—how do I recommend just one or two attractions or activities?
We have picked out couple destinations/activities that I think are unique or not to be missed when visiting the Phoenix area. You’d never get these done in even a week, but some attractions will appeal to you more than others. Visiting when it’s hot outside? The selections I’ve marked with a double asterisk (**) are indoor, cool, and comfortable. The others may not be appropriate in the summer heat, or only if you are able to visit very early in the morning. They are all suitable for both adults and children, but some may be more kid-oriented than others.
One more thing. These places of interest are not listed in any particular order. It was tough enough to come up with only 20, so please don’t make me rank them!
Every major city and most minor ones have museums. The Heard Museum is unique, however, not only in the exhibits that are displayed but the style and grace with which it displays them.
I never tire of visiting the Heard Museum, with its more than 32,000 pieces of cultural and fine art. There are permanent exhibits, like the famous Barry Goldwater collection of Kachina Dolls, as well as special exhibit year-round. Some of the special annual events include the World Championship Hoop Dance Contest which is held each February, and the Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair & Market each March.
Desert Botanical Garden
The Desert Botanical Garden has one of the world’s finest collections of desert plants. It is one of only 44 botanical gardens accredited by the American Association of Museums. At the Desert Botanical Garden, you will find 50 acres of beautiful outdoor exhibits. Home to 139 rare, threatened and endangered plant species from around the world, there is no finer place to enjoy desert beauty than the Desert Botanical Garden. The Garden is located in Papago Park in Central Phoenix.
Chase Field and University of Phoenix Stadium**
Chase Field was the first baseball facility in the world to combine a retractable roof, air conditioning, and a natural turf field. Chase Field’s retractable roof can be closed in less than 5 minutes! If you are a baseball fan, a visit to this state-of-art facility will be a special treat. If you aren’t that interested in going to an Arizona Diamondbacks game, or if one isn’t scheduled when you’ll be in town, you can still see the stadium.
Just go to lunch or dinner at Friday’s Front Row Sports Grill, open 363 days a year. If the Arizona Diamondbacks are playing that day, you have to call them to buy tickets to eat there. Chase Field is located in downtown Phoenix. There’s a light rail station nearby. What? You say it isn’t baseball season? On the other side of town, the Arizona Cardinals play NFL football at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale. That’s also where the Fiesta Bowl is played, as well as the Super Bowl when it is our turn. It is another amazing and unique facility, and, yes, you can take a tour even when it isn’t football season.
Musical Instrument Museum**
In North Phoenix, we have an amazing destination for music lovers, world culture enthusiasts, and people who just plain enjoy listening and learning.
It’s a colorful and impressively designed major collection of musical instruments from all over the world, complete with audio vignettes for your listening pleasure. MIM is a place for all ages. If you’d rather sit in one place and be entertained, MIM also has a concert hall where they present musical performers from around the world. There’s not a museum like this one anywhere else, and it’s always on my list for visitors to the area. As for locals, you have an advantage, because you can go whenever you please—it will take a couple of visits to see the whole museum at a reasonable pace.
Climb Piestewa Peak or Camelback Mountain
Piestewa Peak, formerly known as Squaw Peak, is part of the Phoenix Mountains Preserve. The elevation of Piestewa Peak is 2,608 feet; the total elevation gain for the Summit Trail is 1,190 feet. That might not sound high, but hikers of all levels can get a great workout climbing this mountain, and get a great view of the city when they get to the top. If you decide to hike the Summit Trail, though, you won’t be alone. According to the City of Phoenix. it is one of the most heavily used trails in the nation with 4,000 to 10,000 hikers per week. Dogs and bicycles are not permitted on the Summit Trail. Camelback Mountain has two major trails. Neither one is especially long, but they are considered moderate to difficult hikes. Echo Canyon is the most popular and is steeper. Cholla Trail is not as steep, but rockier.
Scottsdale Art Walk
There are more than 100 art galleries in Scottsdale. You can enjoy Scottsdale ArtWalks every Thursday evening, year-round (except on Thanksgiving) from 7 to 9 p.m. Each week, Scottsdale Gallery Association members host special exhibits, many with artist receptions, and join together for an informal come-and-go “open house” throughout the district. Casual and eclectic, it’s a great time to visit the galleries and learn about featured artists. Several times per year, the Scottsdale Gallery Association holds Special Event ArtWalks with live music along the streets and special themed events.
Boyce Thompson Arboretum
The Boyce Thompson Arboretum, an Arizona State Park, brings together plants from the Earth’s many and varied deserts and dry lands. Approximately 3,200 different desert plants can be found within the arboretum, and most of them can be seen along the 1.5-mile main trail. During wildflower season, the Boyce Thompson Arboretum is especially beautiful, displaying all the wonderful colors of the desert. Are you a bird lover? More than 250 species of birds have been recorded at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum.
Arizona Capitol Museum**
I don’t know exactly why this museum doesn’t get more attention—I love this place and it’s free! There’s no better way to learn about the history of Arizona, from territorial days, through the creation of the state, and into the current century. Visit the first Governor’s Office, the original Congressional chamber, and other cool places. This museum is located in the government complex near Downtown Phoenix. It’s actually right next door to our current House and Senate buildings. While you are there, stop across the street and walk around Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza with memorials to various historical figures, individuals, and organizations, as well as a 9-11 Memorial.
Drive Apache Trail**
The Apache Trail will be one of the most memorable drives you’ll ever take. Your adventure will begin in Apache Junction, about 25 miles east of downtown Phoenix. The 46 miles between Apache Junction and Roosevelt Lake provides not only the most scenic part of the trip but also the most challenging driving. Please don’t close your eyes! Along the way, you’ll pass (or you can stop) at the Lost Dutchman State Park, Goldfield Ghost Town, Saguaro Lake, the Canyon Lake Recreation Area, the Theodore Roosevelt Dam site, and the Tonto National Monument. The Apache Trail has been designated a USFS Scenic Byway by the U.S. Forest Service, as well as an Arizona Scenic Historic Byway. It’s a great day trip! Seriously, if you are a nervous driver or passenger, this drive might not be for you.
In the middle of Phoenix, atop a hill, there sits a building that looks something like a wedding cake. For many years people drove by, wondering what that building was all about. After the City of Phoenix purchased it, they developed it so that your questions could be answered. You can take a tour of the grounds and the building, learn about the families that lived here and discover how they influenced the history of Phoenix.
South Mountain Park
At over 16,000 acres, South Mountain Park and Preserve often is considered the largest municipal park in the country. There are more than 50 miles of trails for horseback riding, hiking and mountain biking. Dobbins Lookout, at 2,330 feet, is the highest point in the park accessible by trail. If you aren’t into hiking, biking or riding, you can simply drive to Dobbins Point to get a fantastic view of the Valley of the Sun. It’s just over 5 miles from Central Avenue to Dobbins Lookout.
Many cities have places where you can see and walk among butterflies. Our own Desert Botanical Garden even has a butterfly garden, once in the spring and once in the fall. What makes this place unique is that it is the largest butterfly atrium in the United States. Grab the kids, bring the camera and check out the thousands of pretty little flying insects. Butterfly Wonderland is located in North Scottsdale.