14 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Phoenix
Phoenix, the state capital of Arizona, lies in the valley of the Salt River, in a basin known as the Valley of the Sun. The warm, dry climate attracts many sun-lovers, particularly in winter, and also appeals to senior citizens. Tourism is an important factor in the city's economy.
The city acquires a special character from the juxtaposition of high-rise modern buildings with architecture showing Indian and Spanish colonial influences, together with a touch of the Wild West. Sport plays a great part in the life of Phoenix, with numerous golf courses and tennis courts as well as its local football and basketball teams, the Arizona Cardinals and the Phoenix Suns.
Phoenix offers abundant art and cultural attractions, historic neighborhoods, museums and a diverse art community. Some of the highlights include the Phoenix Art Museum, Heard Museum, and the Phoenix Symphony Hall. The artistic tapestry in Phoenix includes Native American, Hispanic, African and Asian influences. There are three mountains around Phoenix that provide the opportunity for hiking, biking and climbing. Horseback riding and water recreation are also popular.
Around 200 BC the Phoenix region was occupied by Hohokam Indians, who already knew how to make the desert fertile by irrigation. Amid the remains of settlements and irrigation channels left by the Hohokams, who mysteriously disappeared in the 13th or 14th century, a white settler established himself in 1864 to supply the needs of an army post. In the 1870s a new settlement grew up on the remains of the lost Indian culture and was named after the mythological phoenix which rose from its own ashes. In 1889 Phoenix became capital of Arizona, and after the completion of the Roosevelt Dam in 1911 developed into a regular boom town, which was given an additional boost by the coming of the railroad in 1926.
Further stimulus came to the economy after the Second World War and from the "Sun Belt" migration which began in the late sixties. Since the end of the war the population of Phoenix has multiplied more than tenfold.
1 Heard Museum
The renowned Heard Museum in Phoenix is devoted to the art and culture of the Indian peoples of the Southwest, with displays of basketwork, pottery, jewelry, textiles, and a large collection of kachina dolls.
The museum's exhibit galleries and outdoor courtyards feature traditional and contemporary Native American art. This is a great place to learn about native history and see traditional arts. Outside, visitors can wander through the outdoor sculpture garden or take a garden tour of the museum.
2 Taliesin West
Located in Scottsdale, Taliesin West was the home and architectural school of the celebrated architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Situated in the foothills of the McDowell Mountains, the school is now the international headquarters of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation and the home of the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture. The building was constructed out of native materials such as rubblestone and redwood, and built entirely by Wright and his apprentices from 1937 to 1959.
3 Desert Botanical Garden
Located in Papago Park, the Desert Botanical Garden has examples of vegetation from deserts in different parts of the world and a cactus garden. The garden covers about 140 acres, with 55 acres under cultivation, containing tens of thousands of plants. It is well tended with over 1,000 volunteers and more than 100 people on staff. In the spring the plants come to life as they bloom in an array of colors. There are many trails and visitors should plan on spending a good amount of time walking. This is a great way to see close up the life that exists in the desert.
4 Heritage Square
Heritage Square is a popular tourist area, lined with restored historic homes, some of which house shops and restaurants. These buildings typically date to the late 1800s and early 1900s. One of the houses contains the popular Arizona Doll and Toy Museum.
5 Phoenix Art Museum
The Phoenix Art Museum has a collection covering the art of the European Renaissance and Baroque, the Far East, and the American West. The museum also presents modern and contemporary works, fashion design, live performances, and films. The stunning exhibitions bring masterpieces from around the globe to your own backyard. The museum's founding in 1959 and eventual development into the leading art museum in the American Southwest reflects the constant commitment from the community and mirrors the growth of Phoenix from a small desert town to the current metropolis it has become. The classically progressive look of its 203,000-square-foot building is a work of art in itself. Designed by New York architects Tod Williams/Billie Tsien & Associates in the mid 1990s and expanded by them in 2006, it integrates art and architecture with the southwestern landscape and provides sweeping interior spaces.
6 Hall of Flame Fire Museum
The Hall of Flame Fire Museum, which also sponsors the National Firefighting Hall of Heroes, is both a historical look at the profession and a tribute to firefighters who have been killed in the line of duty, or noted for their heroism. On display at the museum are exhibits dating back to 1725, including old fire-engines and some very curious types of fire-extinguisher. While most of the focus is on the history of firefighting in America, there are also exhibits from Europe and Japan, offering a more international perspective on the profession.
The National Firefighting Hall of Heroes displays the names of those killed since 1981. There is also a memorial to the firefighters and police officers killed at the World Trade Center in 2001.
7 Phoenix Symphony
The Phoenix Symphony performs classical, pops, chamber, and family programs from September to May at Symphony Hall in the Phoenix Civic Plaza Convention Center. The Phoenix Symphony is Arizona's only full-time, professional orchestra.
8 Arizona Science Center
The Arizona Science Center has hundreds of interactive exhibits in five galleries, each with a unique theme. In addition, there are also featured exhibitions, an IMAX theater, and a 200 seat planetarium. The Science Center also seeks to promote global awareness on issues such as Global Warming and Climate Change through a variety of programs.
9 Papago Park
This 1,200 acre park offers fishing lagoons, cycling paths, nature trails and a golf course. Located in Papago Park are the Phoenix Zoo and the Desert Botanical Garden. This is a nice place to come for a walk, particularly in the morning before the heat of the day. You can sometimes see wildlife, primarily rabbits but occasionally bighorn sheep up on the hill.
10 Phoenix Zoo
Located in Papago Park, the Phoenix Zoo is famed for its Sumatran tigers and orangutans. There are more than 1,400 animals, including numerous endangered species, who call this zoo home. There are four different trails that visitor's can follow: the Africa Trail, Tropics Trails, Arizona Trail, and Children's Trail. This zoo is a particular favorite with children and offers all kinds of children's programs, events, and play areas. Some of the highlights are the petting zoo, camel rides, Stingray Bay, and daily animal shows.
11 South Mountain Park
South Mountain Park in Phoenix is the largest city park in the United States, covering over 16,000 acres of desert landscape. The miles of trails which run through the park are ideal for hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking. Views out over the desert and beyond to the city are fabulous. This is a nice place to come at night, with a wonderful view over Phoenix and the city lights. The highest point in the park is Mount Suppoa at 2,690 ft but the highest lookout which can be reached by trail or road is Dobbins Lookout at 2,330 feet.
12 North Mountain Preserve and Shaw Butte
North Mountain Preserve is a popular recreational area with all kinds of hiking trails. North Mountain stands at an elevation of 2,104 ft and Shaw Butte, the tallest mountain in the preserve, stands at 2,149 ft. Together these mountains are a landmark feature in Phoenix. The more advanced hiking trails in the preserve lead to the summit but easier hikes offer access to all levels of abilities. This is a lovely way to experience the local flora and fauna, with many plant species, including saguaro cactus. It is also home to rattlesnakes and various hazards so care should be taken on the trails.
13 Arizona State Capitol Museum
Set among beautiful gardens is the old State Capitol, built in 1900, which was the seat of government until 1974. The imposing state building is now a museum focusing on the history of Arizona.
The museum features traveling and temporary exhibits.
14 Mystery Castle
The Mystery Castle is located just south of downtown Phoenix near the entrance to South Mountain Park. It was built by Boyce Luther Gulley before his death in 1945 but his daughter lived here for decades afterwards. The castle is a unique piece of architecture to say the least. It is made largely of stone and other odd pieces that were recycled into use. The house has all kinds of whimsical features and inlaid pieces. Although most people would not consider it a castle or a masterpiece, it is definitely a one of a kind building.