11 Amazing Things to See and Do in Phoenix, Arizona

Updated on December 3, 2019
R Nicholson profile image

Robert Nicholson is a frequent traveller whose interests focus on history, outdoor activities, and food.

Historic Orpheum Theatre in Downtown Phoenix
Historic Orpheum Theatre in Downtown Phoenix | Source

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

Musical Instrument Museum
Musical Instrument Museum | Source

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.

Hall of Flame
Hall of Flame | Source

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.

Heard Museum
Heard Museum | Source

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

Desert Saguaros
Desert Saguaros | Source

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.

Desert Botanical Garden
Desert Botanical Garden | Source

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.

View of Phoenix from Camelback Mountain
View of Phoenix from Camelback Mountain | Source

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

8. Scottsdale

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.

View of the Superstition Mountains from the Goldfield Narrow Gauge Railroad.
View of the Superstition Mountains from the Goldfield Narrow Gauge Railroad. | Source

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.

Miscellaneous Attractions

10. OdySea

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.

11. Casinos

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.

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 Robert Nicholson

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      • Eurofile profile image

        Liz Westwood 

        2 months ago from UK

        This is a well structured and very informative article. It is a good resource for anyone planning a visit to Phoenix, Arizona.

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