I’ve lived in Arizona for almost 10 years. I wasn’t born here, nor have I lived the majority of my life here, but Arizona’s my home. I’ve been to a lot of states, but I really love the Grand Canyon state, state “48.” It has so much to offer!
As a frequent host of out-of-town visitors, I often get asked, “What are the best things to do here?” Well, let me tell you, my friends. I’ve applied my travel expertise on my hometown and compiled a list of my favorite places and things to do. Enjoy!
Close to home
Dobbins Point, South Mountain, Phoenix, AZ [map]
Make the drive up to Dobbins Point in South Mountain for a beautiful view of downtown Phoenix; go at sunset to catch the amazing burning Arizona sky.
Most challenging hike
Echo Canyon, Camelback Mountain, Phoenix, AZ [map]
This ain’t no midwest “hike” (and I can say that cause I’m from Minnesota), it’s a double black diamond. Climbing 1,423 feet over a distance of 2.4 miles, Camelback requires climbing and scrabbling over rocks and is not for the unfit. Dress the part, bring water, and get ready to weave as this trail is often pretty crowded. Dogs are not permitted.
Favorite still-challenging, less-busy hike
Tom’s Thumb, McDowell Mountain Preserve, Scottsdale, AZ [map]
This hike is still in town, but doesn’t have the throngs of visitors that descend on Camelback Mountain during tourist season. It’s my “just right” hike: the perfect length and difficulty (1,236 foot elevation gain over 4 miles) with views that can’t be beat; plus, I can bring my pup Penny.
Best place to walk and hang out
Old Town Scottsdale, Scottsdale, AZ [map]
Old Town is primarily made up of restaurants/bars, art galleries, and souvenir shops in signature Western style to cure your nostalgia for the Wild West. Some of my favorite spots to take visitors: the Rusty Spur, a tiny “saloon,” Grapevine, an intimate setting for every-day karaoke, and the Sugar Bowl, for tasty soda fountain shop ice cream. Head towards the Civic Center and snap a photo with the LOVE sculpture; for nightlife, congregate in the entertainment district and dress to impress.
Runner-up: Mill Ave in Tempe, AZ [map]
Learn some stuff
Musical Instrument Museum, Phoenix, AZ [map]
Prepare to spend hours immersed in the musical history of countries and cultures at the top-rated Musical Instrument Museum (MIM for short).
Fun in the sun
Salt River, Mesa, AZ [map]
When it’s 90s and beyond, get a group of friends together and a cooler of White Claws, rent some tubes, and float down the Salt River. It’s relaxing and a bit rowdy.
Runner-up: Lake Pleasant, Peoria, AZ [map]. Rent a paddleboard at the marina at Lake Pleasant Regional Park. The water’s so calm, you can hold a beer in one hand and the paddle in the other (true story).
Favorite outlet mall
Phoenix Premium Outlets, Chandler, AZ [map]
I like this new-ish outdoor mall for its premium retailers. (Thank God for the misters in the summer!)
Favorite farmer’s market
Uptown Farmer’s Market, Bethany Home and Central, Phoenix, AZ [map]
Who doesn’t love a farmer’s market on a Saturday morning? I pick up local goodies like honey, peanut butter, and bakery items. Dog-friendly.
Runner-up: Old Town Scottsdale Farmer’s Market
Favorite seasonal event
Scottsdale Culinary Fest (every April for one weekend) [map]
Some of my best memories were had at the Scottsdale Culinary Fest (in the beer garden, no less). Be prepared to throw down some money, but the experience is priceless.
Favorite sporting event
Spring Training (end of Feb through end of March) [10 locations]
Half of America’s professional baseball teams hold their practice games in Florida; the other half descends on the valley. Teams in the Cactus League have daily practice games at the various stadiums across the Phoenix metro area. Games are more of a social event than a sporting event; buy lawn seats and bring a blanket for more casual seating arrangements.
Sedona, AZ [map]
Day trip out to Sedona to take in the absolutely breathtaking red rocks (favorite scenic spots include Cathedral Rock and Devil’s Bridge), wander the town’s local shops and offerings, and wind down with some wine tasting on Sedona’s outskirts. Take 89A for an ultra scenic drive.
(north of Phoenix ~ 2 hours drive)
Tombstone, AZ [map]
Fully embrace the kitschiness of this historic western town, the site of the infamous OK Corral shootout. Catch the several-times-daily gun fight reenactment and hop the shuttle for a guided tour. Don’t miss the sarsaparilla!
(southeast of Phoenix ~ 3.5 hours drive)
South Rim, Grand Canyon, AZ [map]
Because when one of the seven wonders of the world is in your backyard, you should make the trip. Walk the paved rim trail and take pics, or descend into the canyon for a challenging day hike back up. (Overnight camping requires a permit.)
(northwest of Phoenix ~ 3.5 hours drive)
Antelope Canyon, Page, AZ [map]
One of the most photographed locations in the world, Antelope Canyon is a sandstone slot canyon; the magic happens when sunlight trickles in. Since it’s on Navajo National land, you must book a guided tour at both Lower and Upper Antelope Canyon. Make sure to stop by Horseshoe Bend if you’re already in Page! More on my visit to Antelope Canyon here.
(northeast of Phoenix ~ 4 hours drive)
What are your favorite places in Arizona? What else do I need to see? Leave me a comment below!