Arizona’s largest city and capital, Phoenix, lies at the heart of the aptly named “Valley of the Sun.” So, it’s natural that the perpetual sunshine could tempt you to spend your days sipping cocktails next to the swimming pool. But don’t give in! Exploring Phoenix is a delightful experience, as its vast desert horizons are sure to broaden yours. So, what are all the things to do in Phoenix, Arizona (AZ), including downtown? Since it’s set in the sun-scorched Sonoran Desert, the year-round warm weather is perfect for outdoor activities such as rock climbing and hiking? The splendid scenery aside, Phoenix is also a cultural hub in the Southwest. So, it’s home to many magnificent museums and excellent art galleries. If that wasn’t enough, it also boasts an exquisite culinary scene that’s a haven for foodies and gourmands.
So, what are you waiting for? If a sun-kissed vacation is what you have on mind, then head to Phoenix, Arizona. And don’t miss experiencing and indulging in these top 13 things to do in Phoenix, Arizona, including downtown.
Table of contents
- Canyon Lake and the Dolly Steamboat
- Downtown Phoenix
- Goldfield Ghost Town
- Phoenix Art Museum
- Grand Canyon and Sedona
- Old Town Scottsdale
- Desert Botanical Garden
- Phoenix Zoo
- Musical Instrument Museum
- Hot Air Balloon Flight
- Camelback Mountain
- Roosevelt Row
- Arizona State Capitol Museum
- Cool Facts About Phoenix
- Get Some Culture in Phoenix
- Grab A Bite in Phoenix
Canyon Lake and the Dolly Steamboat
Exploring Canyon Lake on board the Dolly Steamboat is one of the most fun things to do in Phoenix, AZ. This gorgeous lake lies an hour east of Phoenix in the Tortilla Flat and is home to the Dolly Steamboat. Since 1983, this lovely little steamboat has operated tours on the azure waters of Canyon Lake and takes up to 142 passengers. Moreover, the cruises range from 1.5 hours to 3 hours and operate both day and night. While the daytime cruises usually start at noon and the evening ones at sunset, it’s best to check the timetable for variations.
This water tour is one of the best ways to enjoy the lake’s breathtaking scenery and wildlife and makes for a unique experience. We’d suggest booking this amazing Apache Trail & Dolly Steamboat Day Trip. This 7-hour tour takes you into the Sonoran desert, through the Superstition Mountains, and then over Canyon Lake. Finally, this fun and informative tour lets you learn a lot about Arizona’s local culture. It’s no wonder it’s one of the best things to do around Phoenix.
If you love all things spooky, this Haunted Downtown Walking Tour is one of the best things to do in Phoenix Downtown. Experience Phoenix’s macabre history by walking its haunted streets as your guide regales you with the city’s dark history and spooky ghost tales. This walking tour takes you to Downtown Phoenix’s most notorious spots, where you’ll certainly feel the chills as you hear stories from its dark past. The tour begins outside the historic Hotel San Carlos, where you’ll learn about the spirits that supposedly inhabit this inn. Then, you’ll continue to St. Mary’s Basilica, where people have seen ghosts in the archway doors! After that, pass Nobuo at Teeter House and finally hear the tragic tale of Melinda’s Alley. Boo!
Goldfield Ghost Town
We continue the spookiness with a visit to Goldfield Ghost Town, one of the most fun things to do in Phoenix, AZ, for intrepid and brave adventurers. If you’re headed into the Superstition Mountains, don’t miss visiting the stunning ghost town of Goldfield. This town, formerly home to a mine that shut down, has been uninhabited since 1926. Today, it’s fun to stroll down Main Street and admire the old-time structures. Or, you could head to the Superstition Saloon and Restaurant. Here, you can sit on horse-saddle bar stools and throw back a sasparilla or a cold brew while admiring the dollar-bill “wallpaper.”
Goldfield happens to be the first stop on this Apache Trail Day Tour. Explore this town at the base of the Superstition Mountain range and get a taste of life in the Old West. It’s no surprise that it’s one of the most interesting things to do in around Phoenix.
Phoenix Art Museum
One of the best things to do in Phoenix Downtown is the Phoenix Art Museum. It’s one of the most notable landmarks in Phoenix and is a treat for art aficionados. What’s more, it boasts an extensive collection with more than 18,000 works that range from the age of the Renaissance to the present day. Moreover, these collections include photography, fashion, European works, Asian ones, American works, and much more. The museum also holds and hosts many events throughout the year. These range from educational programs and festivals to indie art movies and live performances. In fact, the Lemon Art Research library houses more than 40,000 items largely focusing on the museum’s art collection.
Grand Canyon and Sedona
Exploring the Grand Canyon and the town of Sedona is one of the most thrilling and fun things to do in Phoenix, AZ. The Grand Canyon is not just one of the world’s most breathtaking canyons, but it’s also one of the earth’s most amazing national parks. Feast your eyes on Arizona’s stunning scenery on this unforgettable day trip to Sedona and Grand Canyon Day Tour from Phoenix. Your tour begins with spectacular views in Sedona at Bell Rock Vista and the Chapel of the Holy Cross. Later, discover the delights of the rustic, old-west Uptown district, where you can check out art galleries, shop, and enjoy the local cuisine.
After what is one of Arizona’s most scenic drives, you arrive at the breathtaking Grand Canyon, which is one of the world’s most spectacular sunset locations. Stand at two of the most stunning viewpoints of the Canyon and listen to interesting stories of the region by your guide.
Old Town Scottsdale
One of the best things to do in Phoenix Downtown is explore Old Town Scottsdale. This first-timer guide to visit Scottsdale is a great starting point for first-time travelers to begin exploring this gorgeous downtown district. Food, shopping, and fun are only the tip of the iceberg here. Dig into the amazing culinary scene and browse through unique souvenirs, jewelry, and art with a Southwestern flair at the boutique shops. Art lovers will go crazy at the Scottsdale Museum of the West, the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Main Street galleries.
If you want to experience Scottsdale a bit differently, then take this 4-Hour Self-Guided E-Bike Tour. This tour takes you on the Greenway belt, one of Arizona’s most popular bike trails. The best bit? The 14-mile path has many gorgeous golf courses, paths, lakes, and parks along the way.
Desert Botanical Garden
The Desert Botanical Garden, tucked at the northern end of Papago Park, is one of the most beautiful and fun things to do in Phoenix, Arizona (AZ). This picturesque and peaceful space was established in 1939 to protect the fragile desert ecosystem. Today, it’s home to more than 50,000 plants and beautifully combines both nature and art. For instance, the 140-acre complex is dotted with art installations dot the gardens and vegetable displays from world deserts. What’s more, there are even designated gardens for butterflies and hummingbirds, while the extensive walking trails winding around fields of flowers is a great way to explore the park on foot. Today, this garden has grown so much that it includes shrubs, plants, and flowers from as far away as South America and Australia.
Besides the Desert Botanical Garden, Papago Park is also home to the Phoenix Zoo, the country’s largest privately owned, non-profit zoo. Moreover, it’s home to more than 1,400 animals, including many endangered species, and has many special attractions. Moreover, it features four different trails; the Children’s, Arizona, Tropics, and Africa Trails. The zoo is especially well known for its orangutans, Sumatran tigers, and Monkey Village animal encounters. However, one of the most thrilling experiences for kids is the Red Barn petting zoo with horses, sheep, and goats, all happy to engage with them. Other experiences include the camel rides, Stingray bay encounter, and the gentle giraffe encounter. The best bit? There are also children’s events and programs, play areas, and splash pads, so pack your tiny bathing suits and towels!
This Phoenix Zoo One Day General Admission Ticket ensures that you have a wonderful time spending an entire day at the zoo with your family.
Musical Instrument Museum
Exploring the Musical Instrument Museum is one of the most fun things to do in Phoenix, AZ. This place is the world’s largest museum of its kind and houses over 15,000 musical instruments and associated objects! In fact, the collection here has pieces from as many as 200 countries and territories. What’s more, every country’s or region’s exhibit includes a video of the native or indigenous instruments being played by local musicians. As eclectic as it is, the museum is also fabulous for kids as they have a gallery where visitors are allowed to see instruments from various cultures! So, you could be playing Taylor Swift’s or Johnny Cash’s guitar!
Finally, the place has a gift shop, a cafe, and a concert hall. The best bit? The collected instruments here include great famous ones, such as those of Carlos Santana, Taylor Swift, Johnny Cash, John Lennon, and even the king himself – Elvis Presley!
Hot Air Balloon Flight
What could be better than feasting your eyes on the Arizona desert from the sky? Nothing, right? That’s why this Hot Air Balloon Flight with Champagne is one of the best things to do in around Phoenix. Your experience doesn’t begin as you float off the ground; it begins even earlier! You can help the crew inflate the balloon for an authentic “hands-on” adventure. Once the balloon floats into the sky, enjoy the vistas of the Arizona landscape as the desert stretches to the distant mountains. The expert, FAA-licensed pilots, navigate the balloon with deftness as you guys enjoy and snap pictures of a lifetime. As you’re preparing to land, a chase ground crew meets you at the landing site, after which a van takes you back to where you started. After that, you’re given a flight certificate and a celebratory champagne toast to commemorate your unique adventure.
Exploring and hiking Camelback Mountain, which lies just 20 minutes from downtown, is one of the most fun things to do in Phoenix, Arizona (AZ). This Phoenix icon hosts thousands of hikers annually who climb the 1,420 feet-high peak via two difficult trailheads. What’s more, the peak resembles a camel’s hump, hence the name. The first is the 1.5-mile-long Cholla Trail, a semi-steady hike becoming challenging near the end due to the presence of large boulders. The second is the 1.2-mile-long Echo Canyon, but its rocky and steep ascent makes it very difficult. In fact, it requires a fair bit of climbing as well as the help of handrails. So, outdoors lovers and intrepid adventurers will absolutely love this Camelback Mountain Private Hiking Tour, which offers breathtaking 360-degree views at the summit.
The Roosevelt Row is one of the most charming places to see and things to do in Phoenix Downtown. The walkable arts neighborhood, which is lovingly nicknamed RoRo, dates back to even before Arizona was an official state! Today, it’s fun for all kinds of travelers and is home to restaurants, studio spaces, boutique shops, and art galleries. What’s more, it hosts many fun events ranging from the annual Pie Social to the monthly First Fridays Art Walk. In fact, the latter is one of the largest self-guided art walks in the US and draws thousands of visitors from all over. Besides street art and award-winning galleries, the neighborhood is also home to Phoenix’s lively nightlife and has many live music venues and bars.
Arizona State Capitol Museum
The Arizona State Capitol Museum is one of the most fun things to do in Phoenix, Arizona (AZ), for museum geeks and culture vultures. The imposing and majestic State Capital, built in 1900, is set among beautiful lush gardens. It was the seat of government until 1974 and is currently a free museum focusing on Arizona’s history. The spectacular exhibits are spread out over four floors, of which a must-see one is the unique Arizona flag made from 113,998 Lego bricks – yes! In fact, every Lego brick represents one mile in the state. Other noteworthy highlights include the USS Arizona Exhibit, and the “Arizona Takes Shape” exhibit, which showcases the state’s development from when it was a territory to now. Finally, check the Wesley Bolin Plaza memorial and the Capitol Mall for a thought-provoking experience.
Cool Facts About Phoenix
- Phoenix is one of the top things to do in Arizona. Interestingly, it’s one of the country’s sunniest metropolitan areas but sits in a wet, green desert – the Sonoran Desert.
- Tourism is a major industry in Greater Phoenix and has many Five Star/Five Diamond and Four Star/Four Diamond resorts. In fact, there are more than 40 resorts and nearly 500 hotels in the region. Check out some of the best hotels in Phoenix, Arizona.
- Greater Phoenix has transformed into one of the top golf destinations in the world since it’s home to almost 200 golf courses! In fact, it’s one of the world’s top golf destinations that you might want to check out.
Get Some Culture in Phoenix
- The Arizona Taco Festival, Scottsdale: Can you imagine an entire festival being dedicated to tacos? In Phoenix, you don’t have to imagine that! Arizonans unite for their love of all things taco every October at the Salt River Fields in Scottsdale. This all-out taco-topia sees everyone enjoying various tacos from famed and celebrated local establishments such as Wasted Grain, Salty Senorita, El Hefe, and Dos Gringos. Events range from Chihuahua beauty pageants and margarita mixology expos to tequila expos, live music, and taco-eating contests.
Grab A Bite in Phoenix
- Pemberton PHX: This restaurant, or rather multi-purpose space, is home to some of the best food and drink options in the city. When it comes to beverages, drink classic cocktails with agave spirits and offbeat rums, frozen blends, and low-key sangrias. For food, favorites are Street Cuisine and Baja Fish Tacos, as well as Saint Pasta, which serves some of the best Jersey-style pasta in this region.
- Via Della Slice Shop: This downtown favorite uses Italian 00 flour and a long fermentation process to bake pizza with a bready and flavorful crust. What’s more, they serve the pizza by the slice, by the grandma-style square, or whole pie. Some signature orders include a creamy vodka sauce and a white pie defined by sesame seeds and sweet onions. Plus, the restaurant also serves a thoughtful selection of local drinks and fries wings, making it one of the hottest things to do in Phoenix Downtown.