17 Cool Things to Do in Phoenix On Your Arizona Vacation

Planning a trip to Arizona? Kick-start your itinerary by exploring all the best things to do in Phoenix, AZ. As the state’s biggest city, Phoenix is the perfect introduction to the Grand Canyon State and one of Arizona’s must-see travel destinations. With extensive travel links into the city via its major airport, “The Valley of the Sun” is an ideal Southwest USA vacation spot for anywhere from a couple of days to a longer, more leisurely stay to escape a cool winter.

The top tourist attractions in Phoenix thrill travelers of all ages. Experience world-class museums like the Phoenix Art Museum or the Heard Museum, home to one of the finest collections of Native American art in the United States. Bask in the warm weather and sunshine and marvel at the natural beauty in one of the city’s many beautiful parks, including the lovely desert landscape of Papago Park. Or lace up and tackle the hiking trails in the surrounding mountains for a more active adventure.

After a long day of sightseeing, tourists can slip over to Downtown Phoenix to refuel with delicious food and cold drinks at one of the city’s top-notch restaurants and bars. End the evening with a dash of culture by catching one of the shows, concerts, or performances at the performing arts centers or live music venues scattered around the city center.

Not sure what to do and where to go on your holiday? Plan the perfect trip itinerary and discover all the best places to visit in Phoenix, AZ, with this ultimate guide!

Must-see places to visit in Phoenix, AZ

Phoenix Zoo

Looking to meet some of the kings and queens of the animal kingdom? Beeline for the Phoenix Zoo, home to some of the most famous and beloved species on the planet. Over 3,000 animals, spanning 400 species, call the zoo home. With its wide variety of experiences, the Phoenix Zoo is a must-see for your Arizona bucket list, especially if you’re traveling with children.

Phoenix Zoo

Explore the zoo’s Africa Trail to come face-to-face with majestic African lions, giraffes, cheetahs, and zebras. Traipse along the Arizona Trail to meet animals from the region, like coyotes, javelinas, and Mexican gray wolves.

Along the Tropics Trail, discover species of the world’s rainforests, including Komodo dragons, orangutans, and Sumatran tigers. Kids, on the other hand, will be delighted by the animals Nina Mason Pulliam Children’s Trail. Highlights include farm animals, emus, and—everyone’s favorite!—Fernando the Sloth.

The Phoenix Zoo operates as a non-profit organization designed to promote conservation efforts and educate its visitors to become ambassadors for the wild world around us. Sprawling over 125 acres of land, the Phoenix Zoo is one of the largest, privately owned, non-profit zoos in the United States.

PRO TIP: Book your tickets online before you travel, and you’ll save $2 per ticket on admission. (That’s money towards ice cream right there!)

Desert Botanical Garden

For most travelers, Arizona conjures up images of expanses of dusty sands, with the occasional cacti and desert plants. But greenery? Not likely. And if that’s your perspective, the Desert Botanical Garden is here to prove you wrong! The park entrance lies just north of Papago Park, a short 20-minute drive from Downtown Phoenix.

Desert Botanical Garden

With over 50,000 plants and designated nature hikes through the Sonoran Desert, the Desert Botanical Garden is a great day out for the whole family. Experience the beauty of the desert landscape on the Sonoran Desert Nature Trail. Wind through the organ pipe cactus forest to the summit, where hikers can marvel at stunning mountain views.

On the Center for Desert Living Trail, get a sense of everyday life in the desert through its diversity of fragrant herbs and fresh vegetable plants. Spot a variety of towering succulents and other desert flora on the garden’s main trail, the Desert Discovery Trail.

See the desert as you’ve never thought possible along the Harriet K. Maxwell Desert Wildflower Trail. Dazzle at the brightly-colored desert flowers as pollinators like bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies flutter about. Opening in spring 2024, the Christensen Family Desert Oasis will give visitors yet another glimpse of the wonders of desert flora, along with water features, a bridge, and a seasonal plant collection.

As the Desert Botanical Garden is one of the top tourist attractions in Phoenix, it’s always a good idea to book your tickets in advance online. The garden is open daily from 8 am until 8 pm.

Papago Park

Want to get out and explore the great outdoors? One of the most popular places to go in Phoenix for nature lovers is Papago Park. Wedged between Scottsdale and Tempe, the 1,496-acre desert park is full of everything from hiking trails to recreational amenities.

Papago Park

This free municipal park is home to hundreds of hikes and biking trails, ranging from accessible to challenging. Start your adventure on the easy Hole-in-the-Rock Trail. Clocking in at just 0.2 miles, the popular trail takes hikers around the Hole-in-the-Rock Butte. The trail ends at a stunning viewing hole overlooking lagoons, the city, and mountains in the distance.

PRO TIP: Visit the Hole-in-the-Rock Butte later in the day to join the crowds of tourists and locals seeking out one of the finest sunsets in the Phoenix area!

In Papago West Park, other easy hiking trails await, including the Big Butte Loop Trail and the Little Butte Loop Trail. For the full experience on the west side, set your sights on the Double Butte Loop Trail. At just 2.3 miles and with only 50 feet of elevation gain, the trail is one easiest ways to sneak in the highlights of this section of the park.

While roaming around the park, also keep an eye out for Governor Hunt’s Tomb. Built in 1932 by Arizona’s first governor, George W.P. Hunt, the white pyramid tomb is one of the area’s most recognizable landmarks. Climb to the tomb’s perch for beautiful views over the park, including Tthe Hole-in-the-Rock, the Phoenix Zoo, and Eastern Phoenix.

Unlike other popular hiking spots in Arizona, there’s plenty of parking available at Papago Park. Gather up the whole family and head out into the wilderness!

Taliesin West

For architecture buffs, no Phoenix area attraction is more worthy of a visit than the iconic Taliesin West. Located about 25 miles northeast of Phoenix in Scottsdale, Taliesin West is the former winter home of legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright. And as you’d expect from this architectural master, his landmark home at the foot of the McDowell Mountains doesn’t disappoint!

Taliesin West

Completed in 1937, Taliesin West is a striking example of the organic architectural style that made Frank Lloyd Wright a household name. The National Historic Landmark and UNESCO World Heritage Site sets a series of wood structures upon stone walls created by boulders found in the area’s natural landscape.

Take a guided tour of the historic house to marvel at the intricacies of its distinctive Organic Architecture style and the rich history of the building. (As these tours are extremely popular, it’s a good idea to book your tickets in advance here.)

RELATED: What to Do in Scottsdale, AZ

Taliesin West is also home to the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation and is the main campus of the School of Architecture at Taliesin. Before leaving, don’t miss the chance to stop by the gift shop to pick up souvenirs for all the modern art history buffs and architecture lovers back home!

Heard Museum

Want to learn more about Native American art on your Phoenix trip? Dazzle at one of the largest collections of Native American art in the United States at the Heard Museum. Founded in 1929, the Heard Museum is the oldest private museum in Arizona. Today, this popular institution, located in the heart of Midtown Phoenix, is a must-see for anyone with a passing interest in the indigenous cultures of the Southwest.

Heard Museum

Given the huge influence of Native American heritage throughout Phoenix, the Heard Museum is a fitting celebration of the region’s indigenous culture and art. One of the most popular museums in Phoenix, this historic landmark institution is home to over 40,000 pieces of American Indian art and artifacts, including jewelry, paintings, baskets, textiles, ceramics, and photos.

Aside from its collection, the Heard Museum also hosts a variety of educational events, workshops, and cultural demonstrations. Check out the museum’s events calendar to see what’s up during your stay in Phoenix.

Children’s Museum of Phoenix

Traveling to Phoenix with kids in tow? Keep the whole family entertained at the Children’s Museum of Phoenix! Located in the heart of downtown, this educational museum is listed as one of the top three children’s museums in the country. It’s the perfect spot for kids not only to enjoy some fun indoor activities while on holiday but also to learn something new!

Children's Museum of Phoenix

With over 300 interactive activities and exhibitions, the Children’s Museum of Phoenix has enough indoor activities to fill your entire Phoenix vacation. The target age ranges from infants up to 10 years; if you’ve got a couple of little rascals with you, there’s bound to be something to interest and inspire them here!

Bring out your kids’ inner artists at the Art Studio, where visitors can express their creativity with hands-on art activities. Budding engineers will love building an array of play structures with various materials at the Building Big exhibit. Or, to burn off some energy, set the kids loose on a climbing adventure at The Climber.

The Children’s Museum of Phoenix is open daily from 9 am until 4 pm. General admission is $17 per person.

After checking out the museum, slide across the street to explore Heritage Square. Occupying Block 14 of Phoenix’s original townsite, Heritage Square shines a light on the Southwest city’s Victorian past. Pop into the beautiful Rosson House Museum at Heritage Square for a glimpse at the city’s most stunning examples of Victorian architecture.

Goldfield Ghost Town

Are you a fan of the old Wild West—or just have a penchant for abandoned towns? Stick Goldfield Ghost Town at the top of your list of what to see in Phoenix!

Goldfield Ghost Town

As an old mining town that slowly died out once its main mine closed, Goldfield Ghost Town has been transformed into a Wild West-themed tourist attraction. The town is located at Apache Junction, about a 50-minute drive outside the city.

Take a stroll down Main Street to admire its historic buildings. Enjoy a relaxing lunch while soaking up the old-fashioned vibes at Mammoth Steak House and Saloon. Cool down in the hot Arizona sun with a lick of ice cream at the Miners Grill & Ice Cream Parlor.

While you’re out of the city, check out Canyon Lake or Superstition Mountain on your drive back; they’re beautiful attractions in their own right!

The Japanese Friendship Garden of Phoenix

Seeking to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and settle into some much-needed tranquility? Look no further than the Japanese Friendship Garden of Phoenix.

The Japanese Friendship Garden of Phoenix

Nestled within 3.5 acres of gorgeous greenery, the Japanese Friendship Garden of Phoenix pays homage to the calming and beautiful gardens of Japan, complete with a koi pond, waterfalls, and hundreds of indigenous plants.

Looking for one of the most unique things to do in Phoenix? Head to the Japanese tea house and take part in a traditional Japanese tea ceremony. You’ll completely forget that you’re in Arizona!

South Mountain Park and Preserve

Feel the need to roam wild and free on your Southwest vacation? Stretch out on 16,000 acres of parkland right in the city at the South Mountain Park and Preserve. Just 20 minutes from downtown, South Mountain Park and Preserve is one of the largest municipal parks in the United States and is a favorite spot for locals to escape the buzz of the city. 

South Mountain Park and Preserve

South Mountain Park and Preserve is home to 58 miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking, and even horseback riding. For expansive views over the area, nothing beats Dobbins Lookout. At 2,330 feet, Dobbins Lookout is the highest accessible peak in this urban park, unleashing incredible vistas from its summit. If you’re not keen on the challenge of hiking up, you can take a leisurely drive up Summit Road instead.

Besides going for a hike, walk, or bike, you can also find plenty of spots around South Mountain Park and Preserve to enjoy a tasty and well-earned picnic lunch. There are also well-maintained restrooms at the visitor center and trailheads.

Enchanted Island Amusement Park

Need an attraction where your kids can blow off some steam? Shuttle them along to Enchanted Island Amusement Park, one of the top Phoenix tourist attractions for family-friendly excitement.

Enchanted Island Amusement Park

Located in Encanto Park, this 7.5-acre amusement park is designed for children aged ten and under to run around, explore, and have a good time. With a choice of eleven rides and activities, there’s plenty here for a day of family fund.

Take a leisurely tour of the grounds on the C.P. Huntington Train. Older kids and adults can challenge their fear of heights and see the city from above on the sky-high Parachute Tower. Future pilots can test their skills on the popular Red Baron ride, where you’ll take control of your own plane. Or on a hot summer day, grab your swimsuit and cool down in the water the Splash Zone.

Need a break from all the activity? The theme park also has plenty of covered picnic areas and BBQ grills where you can regroup and recharge before heading out for even more fun.

Phoenix Art Museum

Looking to get your fill of art and culture on your Arizona vacation? Get inspired by centuries of beautiful artwork at the extensive Phoenix Art Museum. Located in Midtown, this world-class institution is the largest art museum in the Southeast USA, with over 20,000 individual pieces from across the world.

Phoenix Art Museum

The collections at the Phoenix Art Museum span the entire globe, ranging from contemporary art to Renaissance-era works. Dig into more than 1,000 works from Latin American artists, including prominent paintings by Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Browse the European collection to spot 14th- to 19th-century masterpieces from famed painters like Claude Monet and Auguste Rodin.

In addition to exploring the thousands of paintings in the galleries, the Phoenix Art Museum also hosts a variety of special events and demonstrations throughout the year. Check the museum’s official events calendar to see what’s coming up.

Traveling to Phoenix towards the start of the month? Entry to the Phoenix Art Museum is free on the first Friday of the month between 3 pm and 9 pm!

Wrigley Mansion

Whether you’re a history buff or just enjoy exquisite fine dining, a visit to the iconic Wrigley Mansion is a must for your Phoenix trip. Located in the Biltmore Area, the Wrigley Mansion was built between 1929 and 1931 by chewing gum magnate William Wrigley Jr. The landmark building was designed with a mix of distinctive architectural styles, including Italianate and Spanish Colonial.

Wrigley Mansion

Hop onto a guided tour of the Wrigley to learn all about its rich history and to marvel at the exquisite architectural details of one of the city’s most important landmarks. (There might even be a few good ghost stories thrown in for good measure!)

If you’re hungry, the Wrigley Mansion is also home to several fine dining options. Take your tastebuds on a ride through time at Geordie’s Restaurant and Lounge. Enjoy a superb meal by Chef David Brito, surrounded by the true opulence of Wrigley’s original vision. (Think: Italian royalty meets Great Gatsby in the heart of Arizona!) Besides its fine food, Geordie’s is also famed for its extensive wine list, with over 14,000 bottles in the cellar.

Foodies will also cherish the opportunity to savor the unique flavors of Christopher’s at Wrigley Mansion. Headed up by James Beard-awarded Chef Christopher Gross, this fine-dining restaurant rotates their menu options daily for a wide array of unique tastes and textures.

Arizona Science Center

Want to learn something new on your next trip to Phoenix while keeping everyone in your travel party entertained? The Arizona Science Center ticks all of those boxes—and more!

Arizona Science Center

With exhibits and interactive activities to suit all ages and interests, the Arizona Science Center will pique the curiosity of any visitor. Escape the Arizona heat with fun indoor activities like creating STEM projects at the CREATE Makerspace or taking a bike ride suspended 15 feet in the air at the Evans Family SkyCycle.

Peer into the cosmos beyond the Arizona skies at the Dorrance Planetarium, one of the largest planetariums in the United States. Or watch educational films and documentaries on the mega-sized Irene P. Flinn Giant Screen Theater.

Located in Downtown Phoenix’s Heritage and Science Park, the Arizona Science Center is open daily from 10:30 am to 4 pm. Check the website for new and exciting events and exhibitions.

Musical Instrument Museum

Whether you can play any instrument you touch or just love all things musical, carve out time to visit the Musical Instrument Museum. Located 25 minutes north of the city, this destination is a hidden gem for tourists. An absolute must-visit for music fans, it’s a great way to spend half a day and learn more about the musical culture of different regions and countries.

Home to 15,000 instruments from over 200 countries, this unique niche museum is a firm favorite with visitors all over the globe. So much so that the Musical Instrument Museum has been voted the number one tourist attraction in Phoenix!

Browse the Geographic Galleries to see and hear instruments from every corner of the earth, including rare and one-of-a-kind finds. Create unique sounds with exotic instruments from around the world at the Experience Gallery. Or, if you’re traveling with children, set them loose to discover their musical talents at the Encore Gallery.

The Musical Instrument Museum is open from 9 am to 5 pm every day of the week. Admission is $20 for adults, $15 for teens, and $10 for children. Buy your tickets in advance online by clicking here.

Arizona Capitol Museum

If you’re curious to see how state government works and what’s kept Arizona going in years gone by, check out the Arizona Capitol Museum. Located in the old seat of territorial power in Arizona, this museum features a handful of interactive exhibitions. It also hosts regular one-off events and workshops, delving into the cultural, political, and social history of the Grand Canyon State.

Arizona Capitol Museum

Explore the museum’s variety of exhibits covering topics related to Arizona statehood. See prominent landmarks and cities on the interactive model train exhibit built by the Arizona Historical Science. Sift through artifacts from the USS Arizona, a battleship that famously sunk during the attack on Pearl Harbor, propelling the country into World War II. And don’t miss the massive LEGO Arizona Flag, comprised of over a hundred thousand LEGO bricks.

If you’re traveling during the summer months, guided tours aren’t available, but you’re free to walk around and enjoy the exhibits at your own pace. It’s also worth noting that the Arizona Capitol Museum isn’t open on weekends during the summer months.

Pueblo Grande Museum Archeological Park

Got an expert eye for archeology? Venture over to the Pueblo Grande Museum Archeological Park, one of the top places to see in Phoenix for history buffs.

Pueblo Grande Museum Archeological Park

Located in the Salt River Valley, the Pueblo Grande Museum Archeological Park is home to some of the foremost pre-Columbine ruins and artifacts in the area. Important archeological features at the park include a prehistoric platform mound and irrigation canals that were well ahead of their time. You can also visit replica buildings to learn about how life might have looked in this region in years gone by.

RELATED: Must-Do Day Trips from Phoenix

The Pueblo Grande Museum Archeological Park is closed on Sundays and public holidays; if you want to visit, you’ll want to factor this into your Phoenix trip itinerary.

Tempe Beach Park

Want to have some fun out on the water? Head to the neighboring college town of Tempe and check out the beautiful and fun-filled Tempe Beach Park on beautiful Tempe Town Lake.

Tempe Beach Park

With paddleboards, kayaks, and sailboats available to rent, you can take to the waters of Tempe Town Lake and enjoy some water sports in the gorgeous Arizona sunshine. While you can’t swim in Tempe Town Lake, you can fish here.

If you want to stay on dry land, break a sweat on the jogging and cycle routes around Tempe Beach Park, or challenge your friends to a game of beach volleyball. Getting a bit hungry? Enjoy a snack in the picnic areas, firing up the BBQ grills.

RELATED: Best Time to Travel to Phoenix

With events on at Tempe Town Lake & Beach Park throughout the year, it’s worth checking out their website and social media accounts to see what’s coming up.

Where to stay in Phoenix for sightseeing

As it’s one of the biggest cities in the US, choosing where to stay in Phoenix isn’t always easy. Most first-time visitors start their search in the Downtown area, where you’ll find many of the city’s top-rated hotels. If your interest in Arizona’s capital leans more toward its outdoorsy side, Camelback East Village/Biltmore is another fantastic choice.

FOUND:RE Phoenix Hotel

FOUND:RE Phoenix Hotel

Located in the Roosevelt Row area of downtown, this cozy boutique hotel charms with its industrial-chic motifs. Before settling down in its trendy rooms, cool off in the year-round outdoor pool or sip cocktails and indulge in apps at MATCH, the hotel’s on-site restaurant & bar.

Hyatt Place Phoenix/Downtown

Hyatt Place Phoenix/Downtown

Nestle into the heart of downtown in the sleek and contemporary Hyatt Place Phoenix/Downtown. Relax in the beautifully designed, modern rooms, set with separate sleeping and chilling areas. Extra amenities include a snack bar, breakfast, and a fitness center.

Royal Palms Resort and Spa, part of Hyatt

Royal Palms Resort and Spa, part of Hyatt

Escape the streets of Arizona’s biggest city by engulfing yourself in paradise at the Royal Palms Resort and Spa in Camelback East. Modeled after a Spanish villa, this luxury resort features stunning tropical foliage, walled gardens, and stone walkways—all in the shadow of Camelback Mountain.

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17 Fun & Cool Things to Do in Phoenix, Arizona


Ryan O'Rourke is a seasoned traveler and the founder & editor of Treksplorer, a fiercely independent guide to mid-range luxury travel for busy people. With over 20 years of extensive travel experience, Ryan has journeyed through over 50 countries, uncovering hidden gems and sharing firsthand, unsponsored insights on what to see & do and where to eat, drink & stay. Backed by his travel experience and in-depth research, Ryan’s travel advice and writing has been featured in publications like the Huffington Post and Matador Network. You can connect with Ryan on Twitter/X at @rtorourke.

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