14 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in Phoenix
Phoenix, the state capital of Arizona, is known for its warm, dry climate that attracts huge numbers of sun-lovers during the winter months. The Greater Phoenix Area is a large sprawling city with a mix of modern high-rise buildings, Indian and Spanish colonial influences, and a touch of the Wild West. The city offers abundant art and cultural attractions, historic neighborhoods, museums and a diverse art community. Many people also come to the Phoenix area to enjoy the outdoors. There are numerous golf courses, and three mountains around Phoenix that provide the opportunity for hiking, biking, and climbing.
See also: Where to Stay in Phoenix
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.
Address: 2301 North Central Avenue, Phoenix
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.
Address: 12345 North Taliesin Drive, Scottsdale
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.
Address: 1201 North Galvin Parkway, Phoenix
4 Heritage Square
Heritage Square, part of Phoenix's original townsite, is a popular tourist area with eight lovingly restored houses from the city's early days. These buildings typically date to the late 1800s and early 1900s, and many now house shops and restaurants.
The Victorian Eastlake style Rosson House, built in 1895, is the cornerstone of this city block and the main tourist attraction. The Burgess Carriage House, located in the center of Heritage Square, was built around 1900 and today serves as the Rosson House ticket office and information center. The Arizona Doll and Toy Museum resides in the 1901, Midwestern style, Stevens House. Also of note in Heritage Square are the Silva House, Bouvier-Teeter House, Stevens-Haustgen House, Thomas House, and the Duplex.
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.
Address: 1625 North Central Avenue, Phoenix
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.
Address: 6101 East Van Buren Street, Phoenix
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.
Address: 75 North 2nd Street, Phoenix
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.
Address: 600 East Washington Street, Phoenix
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.
Address: 625 North Galvin Parkway, Phoenix
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.
Address: 455 North Galvin Parkway, Phoenix
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.
Address: 10919 South Central Avenue, Phoenix
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.
Address: 12950 North 7th Street, Phoenix
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.
Address: 1700 West Washington Street, Phoenix
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.
Address: 800 E Mineral Road, Phoenix
Where to Stay in Phoenix for Sightseeing
Phoenix has a vibrant historic downtown, and this is one of the best places to stay if you are visiting the city and don't want to do a lot of driving to access major attractions, shopping, and dining. Below are a number of highly-rated hotels in convenient locations:
- Luxury Hotels: The Westin Phoenix Downtown has a great location and all the regular amenities, nice views, and an elegant outdoor pool. In the same vicinity is the Sheraton Grand Phoenix, next to the Phoenix Convention Center and close to museums, theaters, and shopping. If you are in Phoenix to relax and are less concerned with staying in the downtown area, the Royal Palms Resort is a luxury resort hotel in a beautiful setting at the base of Camelback Mountain. This is a great place to hang around the pool and soak up the desert scenery.
- Mid-Range Hotels: In the heart of the city center, the Renaissance is an upper-end mid-range option with a heated rooftop pool. Of the same caliber is the Hilton Phoenix Suites, also with a good location in the downtown area. Further out from the city center is the Courtyard by Marriott Phoenix Camelback, offering decent size rooms with balconies and a nice courtyard pool area.
- Budget Hotels: America's Best Value Inn is a basic hotel with nice rooms, set in a convenient downtown location. At the high end of the budget hotels are the Fairfield Inn and Suites, within walking distance of the Heard Museum and the Phoenix Art Museum, and the Hampton Inn, just a little further out from the Fairfield but still within walking distance of several attractions and restaurants.
Tips and Tours: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to Phoenix
- Sightseeing: For a fun family outing in Phoenix, a Segway Tour is a nice way to spend a couple of hours exploring the city sites. If you want to experience a little nature, the Sonoran Desert Adventure from Phoenix offers a morning tour of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, with a leisurely hike, and a 90-minute cruise on Saguaro Lake. This is a five-hour tour, with hotel pickup and drop-off in Phoenix or Scottsdale.
- Day Trips: One of the greatest attractions in Arizona and America is just a day trip away from Phoenix. If you haven't seen the Grand Canyon, taking a tour from Phoenix should be on your to-do list. The Small-Group Deluxe Grand Canyon and Sedona Day Trip offers the perfect opportunity to see some of the incredible Arizona landscape. This tour includes transportation in a luxury van to the Grand Canyon, including a stop in the picturesque town of Sedona, a picnic-style lunch, and a visit to a Navajo Nation Trading Post. If flying over the Grand Canyon is on your wish list, the Grand Canyon Helicopter and Ground Tour from Phoenix offers a similar tour, with the addition of a 50-minute helicopter ride over the canyon and a gourmet lunch.