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Phoenix, AZ
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The best things to do in Phoenix

Art fiends, history buffs and nature enthusiasts will love this list of the very best things to do in Phoenix

Written by
Asonta Benetti
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The Valley of the Sun is rapidly changing; over the last decade, the country’s fifth-largest city has grown not only in population but as a destination for visitors. Yes, Phoenix offers first-class golf courses, spas, and resorts, but the city has evolved to more. A quickly rising culinary destination, well-kept hiking trails, a multitude of world-class cultural centers and events—Phoenix is truly the place to be.

While summers can be brutal, the city is well-versed in keeping people cool. Enjoy some of the top-rated indoor activities offered, like the Musical Instrument Museum or Arizona Science Center—both great options for families. Turn it up at night, when the temps drop (slightly), at the hip Cobra Arcade Bar or at hot spot Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour.

Once the heat drops off, that’s when Phoenicians truly come out to play. Walk the myriad of galleries open late during First Friday Art Walk or relax in the tranquil Japanese Friendship Garden. Explore the outdoor Pueblo Grande Museum or just stroll through the ever-evolving downtown landscape. You’re sure to see something new and exciting to enjoy on our list of the best things to do in Phoenix. 

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Best things to do in Phoenix

Various neighborhoods in downtown Phoenix get extra artsy on the first Friday of each month. Thousands gather to see artworks in more than 70 galleries. Happening for more than 20 years, this is a great way to take in the city’s diverse art scene. The monthly events feature rotating exhibitions by artists working with all mediums. Also expect to see live street performers and nosh on goodies from area eateries and food trucks.

Not only does this 140-acre garden have a spectacular vista but it's also the sunny home of an extraordinary amount of living creatures – you've just got to know how to spot them. Spend some time visiting here and you can expect to take a flashlight tour, a group tour of self-paced trails where attendees are armed with flashlights to see and hear what dwells in the desert after dark. This is the prime spot to peep desert plants and learn about the area’s landscape.

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Nogales Hot Dogs
Photograph: Nogales Hot Dogs

3. Nogales Hot Dogs

Featured on the Travel Channel's Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern, the local destination serves the Sonoran Dog, a popular Phoenix late-night, post-party snack. But since they're open from 7pm to 12:30am, you don't need to be out dancing to enjoy one—they're just as tasty after a long day at the office or following an afternoon of sightseeing. You absolutely must sample these grilled, beefy hot dogs wrapped in bacon. Oh, they’re topped with pinto beans, cheese, onions, tomatoes and mayo. They’re as sloppy as they are delicious and they are well worth the mess.

Once you catch sight of this interesting structure, you’ll want to tour it right away, which is the only way to see the inside of the 5,000-square-foot landmark. As you make your way through, learn about the three different families responsible for this feat of architecture coming to fruition. A four-story castle, viewable from the freeway, that stands out like a beacon amidst the desert landscape; be sure to schedule a tour, it's well worth it.

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Only one of downtown Phoenix's best and brightest spots for live music and fun events—and it's actually below street level. Yup, adding to the mystical intrigue is the fact that you’ll have to enter the premises from a back-alley door—like a prohibition speakeasy. On most nights of the week, this is where to find the coolest bands playing all sorts of genres, from punk and garage to indie rock and honkytonk. On non-music nights, there’s plenty to do, from trivia competitions to comedy. You can also just hang out in the Rose Room, chatting and sipping drinks with pals.

This Mexican restaurant strives to stay away from the Tex-Mex style, focusing on healthier regional fare from Baja and Cancun. Dining in finds you surrounded by an array of paintings by contemporary Mexican artists. The food is ridiculously delish but the salsa bar is what ups the ante. Expect all kinds of red and green varieties—boasting different levels of heat, of course—but may we suggest opting for out-of-the-box options like a fruity strawberry salsa or a creamy pecan one?

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Show off your video gaming prowess while you maneuver Ms. Pac-Man around the screen, gobbling dots for points. That’s just one of the classic games you’ll find here. There’s a slew of others available to play with, including Centipede, Donkey Kong and Super Mario Bros. Signature cocktails like the Krazy Kong and Death Star keep up with the venue’s theme. This is a fun destination for the 21 and over crowd who like to mix drinking and gaming.

This walkable area features a mix of indie shops, restaurants, bars and galleries, but visual art is a big draw. Long-running art galleries like Modified Arts and Eye Lounge share the ‘hood with street art, pop-up galleries and festival events. Make sure to check the sides of buildings and wander the alleys, that’s where you’ll see the awesome murals that originally turned this area into a destination.

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The largest preserved archaeological site in Phoenix sits quite near Sky Harbor Airport and is a great stop for anyone interested in history. There is a short, walkable trail that takes visitors through the ruins of an ancient Hohokam village sat right in the heart of the city along with artifacts uncovered. The Museum also hosts events and classes throughout the year for both children and adults. 

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The DIY vibe thrives at the Hive, a central Phoenix collective that brings together independent businesses and visual and performing arts purveyors. There’s just so much to do (and buy) here. Shoppers who love vintage clothes and goods will find it hard to walk out of the Bee’s Knees empty handed. There’s also an art gallery with rotating exhibitions and the Window Coffee Bar to keep you buzzing.

Named Ro Ho En, this 3.5-acre tea garden and tea house is a nest of calm and beauty so unassuming that it’s easy to miss even though it’s located in the heart of central Phoenix. It’s a tranquil and gorgeous getaway where you can admire lush plants, take part in a traditional Japanese tea ceremony or convene with koi fish. Regular events that feature Japanese artists, dancers, food and musicians are great ways to mingle with other garden dwellers.

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This north Phoenix boutique for men and women blends a mom-and-pop feel with a chic environment, offering clothing items, home goods and more. A relaxed desert vibe threads through the product offerings here, whether it’s a cool cactus T-shirt or copper earrings by an innovative designer, or a fancy candle ready to release its smoky, earthly scents. Get shopping.

The central Phoenix museum was founded in 1929 and is dedicated to the advancement of American Indian art. Browse through rotating exhibitions, a permanent collection and signature events that are both fun and educational. Get educated on all things Native American, with a special focus on artists from the Southwest. Learn about artistic traditions and evolutions through paintings, sculptures and textiles.

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This old-school ice cream shop has been building an ever-growing fan base since first opening back in the 1950s. The black-and-white tile floors and old-fashioned vibe are indeed charming, but the homemade ice cream is what will keep you coming back. Flavors like black licorice and salted caramel cashew are on the hefty menu. Take it to the next level and get yours served in a homemade waffle cone.

A state-of-the-art collection housing more than 8,000 instruments from across 200 countries, the Musical Instrument Museum is one of the cultural gems of Phoenix. Rooms take visitors around the globe with exhibits that encourage hands-on interactions; make sure to look at the events calendar for a wide-range display of the world’s best musicians performing at the center.

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The oldest arts organization in Arizona has been providing world-class performances and premieres for the last century. With its geographic proximity to Los Angeles, it’s easy to skip over Phoenix as a cultural destination. However, places like The Phoenix Theatre Company are proud reminders that the city’s strong arts scene is anything to be missed. Located near the Phoenix Art Museum and Heard Museum, this producing regional theatre company packs both stages with a lineup of classic and new productions every season.

Temperature aside, Phoenix is a premier hiking destination, with trails and mountains to conquer all over the city. One of the best places to get your adventure on is at South Mountain Park, a 16,000 acre urban park with outstanding views and well-preserved trails and wildlife. With over 50 different trails you can walk, bike, or horseback through, there’s a path for every level and the views of the city are worth the effort.

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While this makes a great indoor activity for families during the height of summer, the Arizona Science Center is a fun-filled place year-round. Exhibits explore various aspects of the scientific world with an emphasis on participation and a constantly changing lineup of programs and presentations make each visit unique, including an outstanding planetarium.

This verdant and lush park is a hiker’s dream. With various winding trails fit for every experience level, Papago Park is also known for its big buttes. A fantastic starting spot for even the most unsure beginners, this Phoenix hiking spot offers so much more than your average walk in the park. If you're looking for a more chilled out route, the dirt and sandstone trails are easy-to-moderate and offer scenic surroundings and captivating views. Rather not spend all day on your feet? If you're more partial to wheel-based exercise, turn it up a gear and bring your mountain bike.

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