13. Enjoy lakeside recreation at Tempe Town Lake

Tempe Town Lake is a great place to enjoy basically any type of recreation, from biking or jogging along the lakeside trail, to old-fashioned paddleboating, to the more recently popular stand up paddleboarding. The Town Lake was creating by damming the dry Salt River and adding water, thus creating a much needed recreational oasis in the middle of a dry desert!

14. Take your picture next to a cactus

Standing next to a tall cactus at the Scottsdale McDowell Preserve

You will have to leave the city to get a quality picture next to a Saguaro without any business interrupting the background. Luckily, there are plenty of fantastic hiking trails nearby. South Mountain is a really beautiful recreational area, which also happens to be really close to the city. Standing next to a super tall Saguaro is the ultimate desert photo opp (not to mention a nice free souvenir to commemorate your trip!).

15. Take advantage of special summer resort deals

The beautiful Paradise Pool at The Arizona Bitmore in Phoenix, Arizona

Wintertime, the 4/5 star resorts in Phoenix are super pricey due to the snowbirds and sunseekers all flocking to the area for a bit of relaxation in the warm desert air. However, as soon as the temperatures begin to crawl into triple digits, the resorts begin to lower their rates, enticing both local residents and anyone else seeking a budget friendly vacation destination.

Despite the heat, the resorts offer a number of great year-round amenities including on-site restaurants, relaxing pools, and special events. The Arizona Biltmore offers a nice all inclusive package, starting at just $200 per night, and including all meals as well as resort fees. We-Ko-Pa is another nice resort which offers great staycation specials.

16. Attend the Phoenix Zoo Lights Spectacular

Phoenix Zoo Lights cactus display

If your visit falls during the winter months, be sure to check out the Phoenix Zoo’s annual Zoo Lights festival. With almost 4 million lights, it is one of the country’s largest zoo light displays, as well as one of the largest holiday light displays in the Southwest. There’s also a nice synchronized show, special holiday events, and lots of cool desert themed light displays that you will not find elsewhere. This event draws big crowds, so pick a weekday for less congestion (you will also receive reduced admission).

17. Take a scenic drive through the Superstition Mountains

Scenic lake view from the Apache Trail Drive near Mesa, Arizona
Scenic views of the lake from the Apache Trail Scenic Drive

The Apache Trail scenic drive is the must-do if you are looking for a nice leisurely cruise through the beautiful Sonoran desert. It’s one of the few places where you can escape all the suburban congestion and enjoy the true beauty of the desert. And, it’s one of the few things you can do even when the temp soars well past 100. Beautiful Saguaro covered hills line this 39 mile scenic byway that starts in Apache Junction and ends near Roosevelt Lake.

You will also pass 2 beautiful lakes along the way. Some great stops along the way include Saguaro and Canyon Lake, Goldfied Ghost town, and Lost Dutchman State Park. Be aware – there are lots of twists and turns and several scary drops offs, so this drive is best avoided by the squeamish!

18. Enjoy a cup of joe overlooking the water

View of the Scottsdale waterfront from Altitudes Coffee Lab

There are numerous local coffee shops to enjoy throughout the Phoenix metro area, however, only one with a fantastic waterfront location! Sip on a specialty espresso drink while you enjoy the serene Scottsdale waterfront area at Lakeview Coffee, featuring a shady outdoor patio overlooking the man made lake. The rare opportunity to enjoy coffee overlooking a lake really sets Lakeview apart.

Really, where else in the desert will you find a coffeeshop on the water? Surely, not at Starbucks! After your drink, grab your bike and enjoying an easy ride along the beautiful Scottsdale Greenbelt, which you can access directly from the coffeeshop!

19. Mountain Bike and/or hike at Dreamy Draw

Hiking at Dreamy Draw Recreation area in Phoenix AZ

The Dreamy Draw recreation area is a great place for easy biking and hiking. If you are looking to enjoy the desert scenery without going all out, or trying to get in a quick workout before the afternoon sun hits, then Dreamy Draw is the perfect choice. The Dreamy Draw Bikeway is an easy, short trail with peaceful views of the surrounding mountains. Overall, Dreamy Draw is just a great place for year-round recreation due to the mix of moderate hikes and easy nature trails.