The hundreds of beautiful sunny days per year certainly lend a hand when exploring the best attractions in Phoenix. From the nationally acclaimed Phoenix Zoo (the largest privately owned, non-profit zoo in the country) to Camelback Mountain, which gets its name from its shape when seen from a distance, you'll notice that some of the best things to do in town involve the outdoors—and why not? When in Phoenix, you'll want to revel in the weather as much as possible.
Lovers of the indoors, worry not: we've got you covered (no pun intended). Our list of top attractions includes a bunch of must-see restaurants and bars, outstanding in both décor and offerings.
And, yes, at the top of our ranking is a hotel—but not just any hotel. The Phoenician is stunning, has been visited by Presidents and shares property with the Jokake Inn, a private home from the 1900s that is now used for special events. That is surely attractive now isn't it?
Best attractions in Phoenix
One of the first luxury resorts in town, the Phoenician is a gem that has been visited by past Presidents, famous performers and professional athletes. It boasts spectacular views, both casual and fine dining culinary delights and incredibly comfortable room. The space has undergone a major transformation recently that has added a slew of new amenities to the destination. Attention to detail is what makes this resort special. While on the property, see the Jokake Inn, a private home from the 1900s now used for special events. Don’t miss out on the meditation and yoga classes on offer.
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/The Phoenician
The Musical Instruments Museums displays over 6,000 objects and is the world’s only global instrument museum, representing 200 of the world’s countries and territories. An award-winning Smithsonian Affiliate, it uses state-of-the-art technology to allow guests to see the instruments, hear their sounds and watch them being played in their original contexts. Founded in 2010 by Robert Ulrich, the CEO emeritus of Target Corporations, the venue displays many instruments on loan from current musicians. Expect contraptions used by John Lennon, Carlos Santana and Taylor Swift.
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Ed U.
T. Cook’s, an iconic Mediterranean restaurant, is the centerpiece of the Royal Palms Resort and Spa. The resort was once a 65-acre private property owned by Delos Cooke, a New York-based financier who moved to Phoenix with his wife in need of warmer weather. The restaurant is warm and inviting, making guests feel immediately at home, yet very sophisticated at the same time and serving exceptional food. Established in 1997, the restaurant’s offerings are made with plenty of fresh ingredients imported from Spain, France and Northern Italy.
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Rochelle M.
Doughbird is a new concept restaurant created by Arizona restauranteur Sam Fox. Its menu includes a variety of homemade pizzas prepared in wood-burning ovens. Located in a 5500-square foot bright and open space, the creative culinary mashup serves classic comfort foods and a thought-out drink menu. Patrons can try over a dozen pizzas adorned with creative toppings—think Brussels sprouts, charred corn and shishito peppers. Or order one (or all) of the four slow-roasted rotisserie options with unique sauces, like chipotle barbeque or jalapeño pesto. The gluten free pizza is excellent and the dessert is definitely worth the calories.
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Rochelle M.
Roaring Fork is known for its flavorful cuisine, cooked in wood fire and an open flame grill. Created over two decades ago by Guy and Larry Restaurants Inc., it is still owned by the duo (Guy Villavaso is from Arizona). Given its excellent happy hour deals and overall low price point, the space is always packed. With choice like the Huckleberry frozen margarita and the guava mojito, the drink menu is uniquely exciting.
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Dan F.
Leave the Arizona desert behind when you walk into the largest indoor butterfly pavilion in the U.S. Thousands of floaty creatures from all over the world take over the conservatory, which boasts rainforest temperatures, flowing waterfalls, tropical plants and a large Koi pond. Guests may also visit the emergence gallery, home to butterflies in various states of life—many even undergoing metamorphosis. Also stop by the fresh quarter aquariums on premise, filled with exotic fish a honeybee colony.
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Ann G.
About a million people visit the 30-acre McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park each year. The perfect destination for a day spent with young kids, visitors have fun aboard the vintage Allan Herschell carousel and the mini train with three steam locomotives, two diesel and one electric engine. Go see the 10,000-square-foot model railroad building where trains zip by and don’t miss the museum, which houses the Roald Amundsen Pullman car, best known for being used by every president from Herbert Hoover through Dwight Eisenhower.
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Bekah S.
The Phoenix Zoo first opened its gates in 1962. Founded by Robert E. Maytag, the grandson of the founder of the Maytag appliance company, it’s the largest privately owned, non-profit zoo in the United States and is home to over 3,000 animals. Get close to nature with interactive exhibits like the monkey village, where you can walk into an open area filled with squirrel monkeys that scamper through bushes and trees just inches away. Ride on a camel if you dare or take a guided tour.
Founded in 1939, the Desert Botanical Garden boasts the world's biggest outdoor desert plant collection. A beautiful place to discover desert flora and fauna, it was created to protect, research and conserve the various organisms. Visitors can check out five thematic trails featuring towering cacti, alluring succulents and colorful wildflowers. Wildlife abounds in the garden, from the butterfly exhibit hosted yearly to hummingbirds and the occasional snake slithering by.
Camelback Mountain is smack in the middle of Phoenix, Scottsdale and Paradise Valley, within the Camelback Mountain Echo Canyon recreation area. The mountain owes its name to its silhouette, which looks like a camel’s back when seen from a distance. Visiting hikers have two options, a challenging trail and an easier, yet longer, one. Opt for the steep Echo Canyon trail, the front side of the 2,704-feet mountain, or the Cholla trail, which winds around the area. Just don’t forget to brings lots of water with you.
Downtown Phoenix boasts an artsy district known as Roosevelt Row that is walkable and is known for its art galleries, award-winning restaurants and live music events. Hundreds of people turn out for the aptly named “First Friday” self-guided art walk on the first Friday of every month. Galleries, restaurants, bookstores and shops are all open from 6 to 11pm and artists and street performers turn out to entertain the crowds.
Check out the relatively new OdySea Aquarium, the largest aquarium in the Southwest, home to over 30,000 animals, 50 exhibits and an aquatic presentation that involves guests sit in a theater and rotating around an enormous tank filled with sharks, sea turtles, seals and sea lions. See African penguins swim in a water tank, watch the otters get fed, walk through the “Great Barrier Reef” tunnel filled with ocean life and take the kids to touch starfish in an open pool of water.
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Raquel Baranow
One of the hippest restaurants in town, AZ88 offers a patio, restaurant area and bar that attract a fashionable and trendy crowd. Known for its excellent drinks, the eatery also serves fresh food in generous portions. Make sure to order the St. Petersburg potatoes, house chips topped with Scottish smoked salmon, sour cream, radish, cream cheese, onion and cucumber.
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Ken F.</em<
A visit to Phoenix is not complete without a day spent learning about the city’s history at the Heard Museum. Founded in 1929, the venue hosts over 200,000 visitors a year and is dedicated to the advancement of American Indian art. There are 11 exhibit galleries that showcase Hopi katsina dolls, Navajo and Zuni jewelry, Navajo textiles and Southwestern ceramics from pre-history to the present. Go see the outdoor courtyards, which feature traditional and contemporary American Indian art.
Taliesin West, located in the foothills of the McDowell Mountains, was originally Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home, studio and architectural campus. Wright and his students created theaters, apartments and studios with the goal to utilize and maximize the natural surroundings of the Sonoran Desert. When visiting this National Historic Landmark, guests will walk into buildings made of rock and sand. There are a few guided tours to choose from, each focusing on different aspects of the location.
The spirit of the Wild West comes to life at Scottsdale Museum for the West. The museum honors the men and women who built 19 states of the American West with hard work and vision. It showcases historical artifacts, such as saddles, guns and poker chips, as well as paintings and sculptures. Go see the sculpture garden and notice how the heating and air conditioning systems are used to preserve the environment.
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Gregory P.
The Phoenix Art Museum is home to more than 18,000 works of art from all around the globe. The permanent exhibits include paintings, fashion pieces, sculptures and photographs. Make sure to visit the Thorne miniature rooms, which are tiny replicas of rooms from different time periods. The European section boasts works of art by Rodin, Delacroix, Courbet and Monet, while the American section showcases pieces by Picasso and Cocteau, to name just a few. Eat at the museum restaurant, Palette, where both the service and food are excellent.
Located in the luxurious Westin Kierland Resort is the Nuevo Latino restaurant Deseo. It’s where the connoisseurs go for the ceviche and caipirinhas. The menu is filled with delicious dishes that combine flavors from Mexico, Central and South America and the Caribbean. Tapas are a big draw, as are the muddled drinks, which are creative, flavorful and can be made sans alcohol as well.
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Pepper T.
The Wild West is alive and kicking at The Horny Toad restaurant, the oldest original restaurant in Cave Creek, Arizona. Owned by the same family for over 40 years, it is where diners dig into BBQ beef ribs, fried chicken and fries. Drink a sarsaparilla root beer while sitting on the covered outdoor patio or enjoy one of the many dining rooms. While the clientele is often made of tourists, plenty cowboys and bikers also permeate the premise, which, of course, makes the entire experience that much more authentic.
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Gloria E.
Do take a tour, but don’t even think of stepping on the carefully guarded grass at Chase Field, home to the Major League Arizona Diamondbacks. The stadium is best known for its retractable roof, which allows for the games to be air conditioned during the hot summer months. Oh, and if fans aren’t cool enough, they can take a dip in the right field pool.