As the highest peak in Phoenix, Camelback Mountain is probably the most popular hiking spot in the city. Soaring 2,704-feet high, Camelback’s summit offers spectacular views of Phoenix and Scottsdale and can be reached from the 1.2-mile (incredibly steep) Summit Trail. If you’re looking for a more low-key hike, the 1.5-mile Cholla Trail on the east side of the mountain offers a more gradual incline, at least until you near the summit. You can also try one of the several beginner-friendly trails that circle Camelback’s base. Hiking Camelback Mountain is best attempted earlier in the morning or later in the afternoon when the desert heat is bearable. But no matter when you decide to climb, make sure you have plenty of water and sunscreen.
Camelback Mountain is located in Echo Canyon Park approximately halfway between Scottsdale (to the southeast) and the Phoenix Mountains Preserve (to the northwest). Trails are open from sunrise to sunset (or around 7 p.m.) and entry is free.
The Phoenix Zoo is a great place to enjoy nature without your little ones dying of boredom. There are four trails that wind through the numerous habitats represented on this 125-acre chunk of land. Stroll past the baboon family that lives in the African savannah, the polar bears in the Arctic area and the Galapagos tortoises in the Central and South America exhibit. Take younger tots to the Big Red Barn petting zoo and the Butterfly Pavilion. When their little legs start to tire, consider the 30-minute narrated safari train tour, which only costs a few dollars and provides a good orientation of the zoo.
Sitting just southwest of the Desert Botanical Gardens in Papago Park, the Phoenix Zoo operates seasonal hours so check ahead on the Phoenix Zoo website before heading over. Entry to the zoo costs about $16 for adults, $7 for children ages 3 to 12 and free for children under age 3.
South Mountain Park Scenic Drive
Watching the Arizona Diamondbacks play at Chase Field is a worthwhile experience, even if you aren’t a diehard baseball fan. According to one TripAdvisor user, “It is one of the greatest experiences a baseball fan can have … On a cool night the roof will be open and fans are able to watch the game under the stars.” Even if you don’t plan on seeing a game, tours of the field are available Monday through Saturday throughout the year. Afterwards, grab a bite to eat or a cold one at Chase Field’s beer garden while the kids cool down at the field’s swimming pool.
Chase Field is located one block south of the Arizona Science Center in the downtown area. Tours cost approximately $7 for adults and $3 to $5 for children. Tour schedules vary depending on game schedules. For more information, check out Chase Field’s website.
Phoenix Art Museum
Housed within a prime example of contemporary architecture is one of the largest art museums in the Southwest (with more than 17,000 works of art, some of them dating as far back as the Renaissance). From Diego Rivera to Frederic Remington, Henry Moore to Frida Kahlo, the Phoenix Art Museum’s permanent collection caters to a wide variety of tastes, and often welcomes top-notch traveling exhibits. Be sure to check out the popular Thorne Miniature Collection, and if you’re traveling with kids, make sure to take advantage of the museum’s youth-oriented activities.
The Phoenix Art Museum sits several blocks south of the Heard Museum in Downtown Phoenix and is open Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday afternoons. General admission ranges from $10 for adults to $4 for children ages 6 to 17, although you can see the collection for free between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. on Wednesdays. Entry to special exhibits costs extra. For more information, visit the Phoenix Art Museum website.
Desert Botanical Garden
Sprawling across 50 acres in Papago Park, the desert may seem like the last place you’d expect to find flora. Yet the Desert Botanical Garden is home to thousands of species of cacti, trees and flowers from all around the world. The garden’s brightly colored plants sharply contrast the Sonoran Desert’s cinnamon-red buttes, and numerous hiking trails — like the “Plants and People of the Sonoran Desert” and the “Desert Wildflower” trails — allow you to experience the region’s natural wonders the way early settlers once did. The Desert Botanical Garden also hosts numerous events, including bird-watching expeditions and outdoor concert series.
Located just south of downtown Scottsdale, the garden is open every day with varying admission costs based on age. For more information about special events, check out the Desert Botanical Garden website.
Despite being surrounded by desert, Phoenix is emerging as a premiere golf destination. In fact, the Valley of the Sun is home to several hundred courses with difficulty levels ranging from beginner to expert.
Finding the right course may be a feat in itself, thanks to all of the options. But for an authentic Phoenician golf experience, follow in the footsteps of movie stars and politicians and head to the Arizona Biltmore Golf Club. Constructed in 1928 and known as “the granddaddy” of Phoenix country clubs, the Arizona Biltmore is home to two 18-hole PGA Championship courses, as well as a driving range, a putting green, a pro shop and a full-service restaurant. Because of its reputation, you’ll want to reserve tee times well in advance, plus, you should plan your tee time for early morning or later in the evening to avoid the Arizona heat. The club is part of the Arizona Biltmore Resort in Downtown Phoenix. Reserve your tee-times online at the course’s website. Prices and availability may vary.
Other courses worth checking out include the two courses at Gold Canyon Golf Resort on the eastern side of the Valley, which has been referred to by both experts and travelers as some of (if not THE) best public courses in Arizona; the Phoenician Golf Club at the base of Camelback Mountain and the Papago Golf Course, which can be found nestled among the red buttes of Papago Park.
Rawhide Western Town and Steakhouse
Rawhide has got to be the best place to take kids from back east that want to be cowboys and cowgirls. At Rawhide you can experience gunfights, stunt shows, stagecoach rides, desert train rides, enjoy the petting ranch, bull riding, gold panning, camel rides, see a working blacksmith, shop in western shops, play games, and go horseback riding. Many of the activities at Rawhide require an admission fee of between $2 and $5. There are also plenty of holiday western-themed events here. Of course, you could just go to Rawhide for the dinner and show, and leave the kids at home.
Arizona Science Center
Seek refuge from the broiling Phoenix weather in the Arizona Science Center, where interactive displays teach kids about everything from electricity to weather patterns to outer space. One TripAdvisor user writes: “We highly recommend the star show … for children at the planetarium. The kids learned a lot about the stars and it was interactive. They wanted to do the show again.” Other popular exhibits include exhibits on sound, gravity and psychology. An IMAX Theater also offers family-friendly, educational entertainment.
As the highlight of Downtown Phoenix’s Heritage and Science Park, the Arizona Science Center is open every day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. General admission costs vary by age (entry to the planetarium and the IMAX Theater costs extra). The museum also hosts special events featuring everything from story time to Superhero science. For more information, check out the Arizona Science Center website.
Frank Lloyd Wright loved the Sonoran Desert, and he used these 600 acres of property at the base of the McDowell Mountains as his winter home and school. With the help of his art and architecture students, Wright constructed apartments, studios and theaters using local materials to help the camp blend with its natural surroundings. This National Historic Landmark is still used as an educational space for budding artists and architects.
Located in Scottsdale, there are several different guided tours of Taliesin West, each focusing on a different aspect of the camp’s natural beauty. You’ll learn more about Wright’s work and life here in Arizona and study certain architectural masterpieces within the facility. Taliesin West’s also hosts a variety of special events ranging from art shows to concert series. For more information on tour schedules, prices and upcoming events, visit the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation website.
Bondurant School of High Performance Driving
If hiking and golf aren’t really your cup of tea, consider a day spent wrapped in seaweed or soaking in mud. Alongside its luscious green golf courses, Phoenix is also known for its outstanding day and resort spas. When winter strikes or everyday life becomes too overbearing, many weary travelers head to the Valley of the Sun for hot rock massages and salt scrubs.
When it comes to lying in the lap of luxury, many agree that there’s no better place than the Golden Door Spa, located inside the Boulders Resort. In addition to spa services, you can also enjoy the resort’s golf courses, hiking trails and yes, facials and mud wraps. As one of the most well-known spas in the Valley, this massive relaxation hotspot offers clients a long list of treatments worth bragging about, including the signature turquoise wrap. However, the prices may stress you out: Most individual treatments cost close to $150, while package deals range from around $300 to $700.
Hot Air Ballooning
The Valley of the Sun is tailored made for hot air ballooning: the weather is always nice, the sunsets and sunrises are spectacular, and there’s enough open space to make it extremely safe. There are several companies in the Phoenix area that offer balloon rides including Hot Air Expeditions (480-502-6999), Arizona Hot Air Balloons (480-282-8686), and Rainbow Ryders, Inc. (480-299-0154). Balloon rides last between one and two hours and reach altitudes of a couple of thousand feet. Rides generally launch in the morning when winds are at their calmest.
In the 1930s, after learning he had tuberculosis, Boyce Luther Gulley started constructing the Mystery Castle for his daughter, Mary Lou. Gulley died in 1945, before finishing the castle, but the structure was nonetheless willed to his wife and daughter who moved in shortly thereafter. Today, the Mystery Castle is open to the public for sightseeing tours. Why do so many people flock to this home which is neither a mystery nor a castle? Well, Gulley built his 18-room, three story citadel out of anything he could find including automobile parts, rail tracks, and telephone poles. It’s said to be held together by mortar, cement, calcium, and goat milk. The castle is open from October through May, Thursday through Sunday.
-information partially from usnews.com, aol travel, phoenixsmarts.com and about.com