11 Amazing Things to See and Do in Phoenix, Arizona
Phoenix isn’t generally regarded as a tourist destination, but it’s home to an amazing variety of world-class attractions. Here are 11 of my favorites.
Museums in Phoenix
1. Musical Instrument Museum
The MIM was completed in 2010 at a cost of over $250 million. It features more than 7,000 instruments from 200 countries. Computerized headsets allow visitors to hear soundtracks as they approach each exhibit, allowing them to tour the museum at their own pace and visit exhibits in any order.
An important part of the museum’s mission to restore and preserve historical instruments and artifacts.
2. The Hall of Flame
The Hall of Flame is the world’s largest fire-engine museum. The museum is over 70,000 square feet, with more than 130 wheeled pieces and thousands of smaller artifacts. It includes fire-fighting equipment dating from 1725 to 1969.
The exhibits focus on American firefighting, but the museum also features pieces from England, France, Austria, Germany, and Japan.
3. Heard Museum
The Heard Museum of Indian Art and History was founded in 1929 and has built a world-class collection of Native American art and historical artifacts. The two focal areas of the collection are comprehensive cultural collections from the Greater Southwest and contemporary native fine art from North America.
Key collections include Hopi kachina dolls; Navajo and Zuni jewelry, Navajo textiles, Southwestern ceramics from prehistory to the present and baskets from the Southwest, California, the Great Basin and the Northwest.
Natural Attractions in Phoenix
4. Desert Saguaros
The saguaro cactus blossom is the state flower of Arizona. Drive out of town in almost any direction, and you’ll soon see fields of saguaro stretching as far as you can see. The slow-growing saguaro is found only in Arizona’s Sonora Desert and is protected under Arizona state law.
A saguaro starts to flower around 35 years and produces its first “arm” around 50 years of age. At 125 years, a saguaro is generally considered an adult. The lifespan of the saguaro is 150 to 200 years.
5. Desert Botanical Garden
There is an amazing variety of life in the desert! The Desert Botanical Garden features trails passing through a range of desert biomes. Interpretive exhibits showcase the lifecycles of the plants, animals, and people who inhabit this harsh but beautiful world.
The entry of the garden features glass sculptures by famed artist Dale Chihuly.
6. Camelback Mountain
Camelback is a mountain in the heart of Phoenix; the city is literally built around it! Two hiking trails climb to the 2,700-foot peak. Although the trails are short, the climb is steep, and summer heat can make the hike life-threatening.
7. Butterfly Wonderland
Walk through a 30,000 square foot indoor rainforest filled with 70 species of butterflies at Butterfly Wonderland. A 3D theater showcases the lifecycle and amazing migration of the Monarch butterfly.
Historical Attractions in Phoenix
Scottsdale is an upscale suburb of Phoenix. The “old town” section of Scottsdale is made up of buildings dating to the 1800s. Although the buildings may be historic, the occupants are anything but. You’ll find a wide range of shops, galleries, bars and excellent restaurants.
9. Goldfield Ghost Town and the Superstition Mountains
Established in the 1890s, the town of Goldfield grew up around the Mammoth Gold Mine, in the foothills of the Superstition Mountains.
Today, Goldfield—about 45 minutes from downtown Phoenix—features several surviving buildings, a narrow-gauge railroad, mine tours, a shooting gallery and horseback riding.
The OdySea aquarium features 200,000 square feet of exhibit space. There are over 300 species on display, as well as a shark tour, penguin encounter, and helmet diving.
The area around Phoenix is pocketed by Indian tribal lands; you’ll find several Indian casinos featuring poker, blackjack, roulette, slot machines and bingo within an hour of downtown Phoenix.
Heat Precautions in Phoenix
During the summer, daytime temperatures in Phoenix are over 100˚F, and they sometimes exceed 120˚F. The air is very dry, and it’s easy to become severely dehydrated—even on a daytime shopping trip!
The combination of heat and dry air can be life-threatening. Dozens of hikers and tourists die every year in the Arizona heat. Always carry water with you and wear a hat and sunscreen. If you are hiking, turn around when half your water is gone!
Keep at least two gallons of water in your car in case you are stranded, and never leave pets or children in a parked car.
© 2019 Robert Nicholson