On the far northern edge of the Sonoran Desert, the vast, empty landscape ends and the Saguaro cactuses give way to the skyscrapers of the aptly named Phoenix, Arizona. To call Phoenix a ‘desert oasis’ would be an understatement. At a population over just 1.5 million people, Phoenix is the fifth-most populous city in the US and the most populous state capital in the nation. Phoenix’s arid desert backdrop and metropolitan culture make it a unique and phenomenal mix of city culture and other-worldly landscapes, natural parks, and outdoor adventures. If you’re lucky enough to visit the southwest, make sure you check out some of these things to do in Phoenix, Arizona by downloading our PDF below.
Just northwest of Arizona State University lies an opportunity to check out ancient artifacts, ruins, and structures from the Hohokam, a tribe of people who inhabited the rugged land of Phoenix from 450 to 1450 A.D. Learn about the fascinating methods these incredible people used to irrigate and farm the Salt and Gila River Valleys and see the remnants of their structures, some of which partially remain almost 500 years later.
Sample the unique and incredibly tasty Fry Bread (aka “Indian Fry Bread”), a specialty of Indigenous peoples native to the area of northern Mexico and the southwestern United States. Fry bread can be prepared sweet or savory along with plenty of familiar dishes of Mexican-American fusion, like salsa, rice, beans, burritos, and tacos. This casual, charming spot is a Phoenix favorite and something hard to find anywhere else in the country.
An hour outside of Phoenix is Tonto National Forest. Don’t let the name fool you (‘Tonto’ is Spanish for ‘dumb’, i.e. ‘Dumb National Forest’), this world-class wilderness encompasses almost three million acres and has a diverse landscape from low, arid desert to high, piney forests at almost 7,400 feet. The Mongollan Rim (pronounced MOH-gee-on) is an incredible geologic feature & canyonland that’s worth the drive if you have the time. Just make sure to check weather conditions as the climate can vary wildy, and bring plenty of water.
If you need to get out of the heat for a little while, make sure to stop by the Westgate Entertainment District. This sprawling indoor/outdoor shopping and restaurant complex has just about everything you could want, from live music, to movie theaters, to kid-friendly fountains, and plenty of access to air conditioning. Westgate Entertainment District is also adjacent to State Farm Stadium, home of the Arizona Cardinals.
The best free thing to do in Phoenix? Watch the sunset. They don’t call it “Valley of the Sun” for nothing! Phoenix’s colorfully painted sky puts on a show just about every clear night before the stars come out. Pick a spot, whether it’s a restaurant, park, or a rock on the outskirts of town, and experience one of the best parts of Phoenix. Here are our picks for great sunsetting locales:
Whether you’re in town for just a weekend, or getting to explore the surrounding area, you’ll never find another place like it.
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