- 1 Cultural Attractions
- 2 Explore by City
- 3 Hiking and Nature
- 4 Events
- 5 Phoenix Foodie: Dinners, Desserts, and More
Phoenix is the largest city in Arizona, and has a central location in the state, so it is a great base for a state road trip, or for anyone hoping to experience some of the culture and history of Arizona. Despite what it has to offer, Phoenix is not one of the United States’ famous urban destinations, so you might wonder what visitors to this desert city should do. If you like art, nature, and delicious food you won’t be bored, that’s for sure, and we are here to point you in the right direction when it comes to attractions and restaurants in Phoenix.
Since we both grew up in Phoenix will be building a comprehensive list of our favorite restaurants, attractions, and hikes in the Phoenix area over the next few years. But before you delve into the nitty-gritty of Nightborn’s suggestions and reviews, check out our quick-and-dirty guide to the Phoenix area.
The Phoenix Art Museum: The Phoenix Art Museum is a respectable representation of large-city art museums. We have many great special showcases, and a few permanent installations that are unique and enjoyable every time.
Gardens and Zoos
The Desert Botanical Gardens: Whether you’ve grown up among desert plants or you are visiting AZ for the first time, the Desert Botanical Gardens is the place to experience and learn more about the amazing life forms that have evolved here.
Immersive Art Experiences: If you like feeling like you are a part of the art, these are the places for you! Our list includes Wonderspaces, the Phoenix Art Museum, and Candytopia.
Explore by City
What to Do in Litchfield Park: As one of the smallest towns in the Phoenix-metro area, Litchfield Park isn’t the #1 tourism attraction in Arizona’s largest city. But this is a great little spot to escape the big city and enjoy a relaxing weekend away from it all.
Central Phoenix in Summer: The Sonoran Desert is a very very hot place in the summer, but there are plenty of indoor activities to be enjoyed in Central Phoenix. From Lunar Golf to VR, we have a full day of activities that will help you beat the heat and boredom in the hotter months here.
Two Great Hotels in Scottsdale: If you are thinking about visiting the popular city of Scottsdale, consider Bespoke Inn or Valley Ho as your accommodation. These are two of the most beautiful and unique places to stay. Bespoke is a great escape while Valley Ho retains its lively, 50s spirit.
Hiking and Nature
For a comprehensive list of desert parks in the Phoenix-Metro area see our guide here.
City of Phoenix
Camelback Mountain is one of the most famous hiking spots in the city, and it is the site of historic, grassroots conservation efforts. Two of the main trails here are very difficult and steep with big (sometimes dangerous) boulders lining the path. It is one of the most iconic mountains in the city.
North Mountain and Shaw Butte are my favorite training hikes in Phoenix, AZ. I have spent countless hours scaling these mountains and trekking through the surrounding desert. All within the city!
Papago Park is home to beautiful buttes, fishing lakes, historic spots and more. Take a morning hike here and then spend the day in the Phoenix Zoo or Desert Botanical Garden.
Shadow Mountain and Lookout Mountain: The two little city mountain preserves are tucked away in some neighborhoods. They probably won’t be high on your list if you are a visitor, but if you are a local trying to hike all of the area trails, you will need to stop off at both.
City of Scottsdale
Pinnacle Peak Park: Pinnacle Peak is a small, insular park in northern Scottsdale. It’s a great place for a short work-out, or jaunt with the family.
Other Metro-Area Cities
The City of Tempe has two great parks for short and/or family hikes- Hayden Butte Preserve and Tempe Papago Park Preserve.
Maricopa County Regional Parks
Cave Creek Regional Park: Cave Creek preserves several smaller mountains north of Phoenix including historic mines, and unique quartz formations. This was also the site of a wildfire in 2020.
Estrella Mountain Regional Park: Located in southwestern Phoenix-metro, this park is perfect for families and trailrunners. Our guide covers one short trail and one long trail.
Hassayampa River Preserve: The River Preserve is located outside of the Phoenix-metro area, near Wickenburg. However, it is part of an extensive regional park system that surrounds the city. For anyone looking for a short day trip and a beautiful place to see a riparian ecosystem near Phoenix, Hassayampa is for you!
McDowell Mountains Regional Park: This is a large piece of flat land at the base of the McDowell Mountains, east of Phoenix and Scottsdale. It is the perfect place for mountain biking, but not so much hiking.
Vulture Peak: Just south of Wickenburg, Vulture Peak is a great place to experience what the Sonoran Wilderness has to offer. It’s quite the steep hike, however, so experience with hiking and climbing is a must for this adventure.
White Tank Mountains Regional Park: There is so much to do here, that I am working on multiple posts. The first is on short hikes in the White Tanks, and the second is on the long, wild loop of Ford Canyon Trail. Finally, with the help of a shuttle, you can explore the upper reaches of the mountains on the Goat Camp Trail.
Two Beautiful but Short Hikes in Phoenix covers the LV Yates trail (in Phoenix) and Blue Point to the Ovens (the outskirts). Both are great examples of the Sonoran Desert and fairly easy!
Flatiron via Siphon Draw is one of the most challenging hikes in the Phoenix-metro area. I would describe it as Camelback Mountain on steroids for anyone who’s familiar with the popular urban trails here.
Boulder Canyon Trail: If you want to check out the Apache Trail, or hang out at Canyon Lake for the day, Boulder Canyon Trail is a great hike to add on to your day. It’s beautiful and you can make it as long or short as you need.
Seven Springs Recreation Area: Seven Springs is the perfect place to go when you are looking for a somewhat cooler place to hike, sans the long drive. There are tons of different trails to pick from in this area, and we detail our favorite day trip.
The Lower Salt River: There are many things to do on the Lower Salt, including tubing, kayaking, and hiking.
The Aloha Festival: Celebrate Hawaiian culture in the middle of the Arizona desert.
Fountain Hill’s Chinese Lantern Festival: Chinese lanterns are amazingly beautiful; it’s an art form that I never knew existed until we got to visit this festival for the first time. If you’ve never seen them before, be sure to visit this one.
Matsuri: The Arizona Festival of Japan: Matsuri is an event that we go to every year, and its a must-visit for any one that loves or is interested in Japanese culture.
Phoenix Foodie: Dinners, Desserts, and More
Chai Tea Adventures: Exploring the Coffee Shops of Phoenix
Short Restaurant Reviews V1 (2022): Learn more about Big Earl’s Greasy Eats, Feeney’s Restaurant and Bar, Glai Baan, Otro Cafe, Sweet Republic, Wren and Wolf, Culinary Dropout and Mochinut.
Oink is one of our favorite breakfast spots in Central Phoenix. If you enjoy bacon flights and classic American dishes, check this little, local spot out. (Part of our 12 hour challenge post).
El Chullo: This is the only place I know of in Phoenix that does Peruvian food.
Glai Baan features Thai classics and less familiar dishes, and everything that they make is amazing.
Culinary Dropout features classic American dishes with a little elevation; it’s a relaxed spot with a huge patio.
Short Leash Dogs is a really tasty place to get delicious twists on the classic hot dog. They have a lot of really wonderful flavor combinations, and they make donuts as well! (Part of our 12 hour challenge post).
King’s Beer and Wine is located just north of downtown Phoenix, and is a great place to sample a wide array of beers, ciders, and more. (Part of our 12 hour challenge post).
Sweet Republic is my favorite ice cream spot in North Phoenix; they have fresh flavors and homemade marshmallows.