Although this may come as a surprise to many, there is much more to do in the Phoenix area than simply shopping, dining, and lounging around luxury resorts. With endless sunny days, little rain outside of summer monsoon season, and mild temperatures for more than half of the year, fun outdoor adventures abound all year. Add in museums, art galleries, sporting events, spring training games, beautiful outdoor shopping areas, relaxed dining patios, and so on, and you can easily fill up an itinerary any time of the year you plan a visit. Here are my 25 must-do’s in the Phoenix metro area!
1. Hike a trail at Scottsdale McDowell Sonoran Preserve
Although South Mountain and Camelback are much more popular with both locals and tourists, the Scottsdale McDowell Preserve is the best place to hike for several reasons including the gorgeous dense cactus scenery, the rustic nature far away from the city, and the lack of crowds. A diversity of trails for every level can be found within this massive preserve, with more than 100 miles of beautiful terrain to explore! Trails are open to mountain bikers, hikers, and horseback riders. Best of all – it is completely free! Because it is located aways out of town, this preserve maintains a true desert feeling of being completely out in the middle of nowhere. As you walk the deserted trails, you truly can appreciate the bareness of the Sonoran.
2. Relax on a cruise along Saguaro Lake
Water in the desert? Actually, there are 6 lakes in the Phoenix area, all of which offer the perfect opportunity to escape the brutal summer heat of the desert. 2 of these lakes offer scenic narrated leisure cruises. The better of the 2 is the Desert Belle Cruise at beautiful Saguaro Lake. This narrated cruise is educational and fun with some of the best views you will experience in the area. Don’t worry, the inside is air conditioned for those crazily hot summer afternoons (arrive early to ensure indoor seating!).
Along the way, you will see hundreds of Saguaro cacti and possibly some wildlife. The rare sight of seeing desert plant life surrounded by water makes a visit to Saguaro by far one of the top things to do in the metro area. What a beautiful way to explore the desert, especially during the hot summer season when it is often too hot to enjoy the magnificent desert landscapes in any other way!
3. Stroll around the Phoenix Zoo
The Phoenix Zoo is the largest privately owned non-profit zoo in the country. Asides from all the regular exhibits you find at most zoos (including 30 endangered species), this zoo stands out due to the beautiful landscaping. Although many would think it is off limits during the brutal 100+ degree summer season, surprisingly the zoo provides plenty of shade, as well as misters throughout the grounds to cool you off even more. And during the summer (June 1st-Aug 31st) the zoo offers early summer hours (opens at 7am) so you can walk around before the really hot weather begins. And if you happen to be in town during the months of Nov/Dec, the zoo is rated as having one of the top zoo light festivals with over 4 million lights (very beautiful, although extremely crowded, so avoid weekends!).
4. Hike Camelback Mountain
Camelback Mountain is Phoenix’s most iconic hiking destination. Locals and tourists from around the world come here to hike one of 2 challenging trails to the summit (2704 ft) of this mountain which resembles a camel, hence the name. The super rigorous Echo and Cholla trails are very difficult climbs (even for those in great shape) due to an intense combination of rugged desert terrain, uphill climbing, and the harsh climate, although anyone who toughs it out will be rewarded with some magnificent views of the Valley. Due to the extreme popularity and summer heat, its’ best to avoid summer and weekend visits.
5. Tour Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural masterpieces
Frank Lloyd Wright was a prominent architect and designer who designed over 1000 structures. Tallesin West in Scottsdale was his winter home, of which can be viewed via an educational tour. These tours are quite pricey, and thus, if you are trying to keep your costs down, you may want to consider a tour of the Arizona Bitmore. This property, known as “The Jewel of the Desert,” has been entertaining guests around the world for over 80 years since opening in 1929. History tours are offered 3 times per week (reservations can be made by calling the resort). On an interesting side note, The Bitmore was the inspiration for the holiday classic “White Christmas.”