Beautiful Usery Mountain Park in Mesa, Arizona

When it comes to shopping, Phoenix is home to a seemingly endless supply of enticing options. From high end designer shopping, to bargain outlets, to beautiful open air complexes, Phoenix truly is a shopping mecca with a little something for everyone. It’s no secret that the Phoenix metro area is home to some of the best shopping malls in the country. In fact, it’s impossible to drive even 15 minutes without seeing another luxurious, nicely landscaped shopping plaza.

Beautiful Tempe and Desert Ridge Marketplace, along with Biltmore Fashion Park are all gorgeous outdoor malls to enjoy during the beautiful sunny, mild winter season. The Scottsdale Fashion Square and Chandler Fashion Center are wonderful indoor centers to check out during the hot summer months when it’s just too uncomfortable to spend extended periods of time outdoors.

That being said, Phoenix is much more than simply a shopping destination. Sadly, many visitors come and go without exploring the beauty of the Sonoran Desert. Many tourists spend the majority of their time in their car, not knowing of all these gorgeous natural places! That would be too bad as the scenery really is exotic and enchanting.

Tall cactus at Scottsdale McDowell Preserve - Scottsdale, Arizona

I have comprised a list of 20 fun non-shopping attractions and activities to enjoy on your next trip to Phoenix. As expected, many of these center around the gorgeous natural recreational areas found scattered around the region. The Sonoran desert offers endless recreational opportunities for outdoor and fitness enthusiasts. So, next time you find yourself in Phoenix, venture away from the malls for a bit to explore the natural wonders of the desert.

in no particular order…

1. Complete the rough, yet totally rewarding journey up Camelback Mountain

Camelback Mountain in Phoenix, Arizona

Camelback Mountain is one of the most popular recreational areas in Phoenix. Despite the hefty crowds, it’s a wonderful natural area to explore. 2 trails (the Cholla and Echo Canyon) travel up to the 2704 foot summit, for a total elevation gain of approximately 1400 feet. Both trails are difficult, although the Cholla is a bit longer (3 miles RT compared to 2.3) and a tad easier. Whichever route you choose, you will be treated to outstanding views of the city and desert. Be sure to arrive early to guarantee a parking spot, and if possible, visit on a weekend.

2. Take a relaxing morning walk around The Phoenix Zoo

The beautiful Phoenix Zoo

Phoenix is home to a great little zoo which stands out for its’ beautiful landscaping, easy walkability, and diversity of animals. Plan your visit in the early morning before it gets too hot and crowded, especially during the extreme summer months. Conveniently, the zoo opens at 7am July-August. Grab a coffee (Starbucks is available) and enjoy a light, leisurely morning workout surrounded by beautiful desert landscaping and all your favorite animals. More info on the Phoenix Zoo.

3. Cool off at a waterpark

Lazy river at Sunsplash in Mesa, Arizona

Not surprisingly, the Phoenix metro area is home to a number of mega waterparks. During those brutal summer months when you still want to be outside (without dying of heat exhaustion), a water park is your best bet. And nothing says summer quite like a hot, sunny day out in the water. Sunsplash in Mesa features a relaxing lazy river, 16 slides, a wave pool, and extended night hours. Wet N’Wild in Glendale is even more spectacular with over 30 attractions including a water roller coaster!

There are some great options in the Phoenix region. Check out Sunsplash in Mesa or Big Surf in Tempe.

4. Explore the serene trails of Usery Mountain State Park

Beautiful cactuses lining the Merkle Trail at Usery Mountain Park in Mesa, Arizona

Usery Mountain is by far the top attraction to add to your Mesa to-do list. This peaceful, beautiful oasis in the Sonoran desert is the perfect place to get in a workout, whether you are seeking a nature walk or an intense heart pumping exercise session. Trails range from easy hikes to all day adventures. All trails offer spectacular views of the mountains and unique desert plant life.

The Merkle Trail (a quick 2 mile trek) is a great starting point for anyone new to desert hiking. Here you will find plenty of gorgeous Saguaro cactus to photograph, solitude, and peaceful views of the Goldfield mountains.

5. Savor a fantastic espresso at Cartel Coffee Lab

Cartel Coffee Lab in Tempe, Arizona

Bypass the standard chain offerings in exchange for an eclectic local choice like Cartel Coffee Lab. Cartel roasts their own beans (which they source from small farms around the world) at the original Tempe location. Although there are 6 locations to choose from, the Tempe cafe is especially interesting and features quirky decor and artwork. And the coffee itself? Absolutely delicious! Cartel is a great choice for anyone not in a rush, so take a break and enjoy a morning caffeine boost before hitting the trails.