A list of the best things to do in Phoenix, Arizona including some general travel tips and advice to help you save money!
I had an absolute blast exploring Phoenix, Arizona! This was my first taste of the US Southwest and I was blown away by the landscapes, hospitality, weather, and food.
So I’ve compiled a list of the best things to do in Phoenix based on my experience and research.
My lovely friend from college lives in Phoenix, so she was my amazing host and tour guide.
She was also my tour guide in Asheville last year. There’s nothing better than having a friend who loves travel and adventure as much as you do!
I also had another friend give me some recommendations for Phoenix, so I’ll combine everything I learned in this article.
How Many Days Do You Need In Phoenix?
As with any city, 3-5 days is a good starting point for exploring Phoenix. It’s a pretty big city with lots of different neighborhoods. Plus, there is SO MUCH nature to explore outside of the city center.
I stayed in Arizona for 6 days, so I explored Phoenix for 4 days and Sedona for 2 days.
4 days was a great amount of time for a quick introduction to Phoenix.
There is definitely so much to do that I felt jealous of my friend who lives there! Even with months and months of living in Arizona, I’m sure she’ll never run out of things to do.
What Is The Best Month To See Phoenix?
Because Phoenix has a hot, arid, desert climate, the cooler months of November through March are the best months to visit.
This is when you’ll have cooler temperatures that are better for hiking and exploring outdoors.
I visited in September, and the temperatures were in the 90s and even low 100s every day (around 32-40 Celsuis).
However, I didn’t mind the heat! The weather was sunny, clear, and dry every day. In August there was a heatwave as well so everyone was happy about the cooler temperatures.
I would just say avoid visiting in the dead of summer. July and August will be super hot, but if you’re a fan of warm weather like me, Phoenix will be pleasant for all other months of the year.
Is Phoenix An Expensive City?
Accommodation is usually the biggest expense while travelling. Especially in the USA, where hostels are uncommon.
One of the best budget travel tips is visiting places where you know people. That way you can stay with them, save money on a hotel, and absorb their local knowledge.
I only visited Phoenix because my friend lives there and I wanted to visit her! But I saved so much money on accommodation by sleeping on her couch for free, so I’m super grateful.
We also saved money by going to happy hours that had cheap drinks, eating snacks for lunch instead of eating out every meal, and trying free activities. I’ll get into some of these free activities in my list of the best things to do in Phoenix!
25 Best Things To Do In Phoenix, Arizona
1. Visit the Desert Botanical Garden
The Desert Botanical Garden is one of the top Phoenix attractions.
It has over 50,000 plant displays that showcase the most fascinating cacti, flowers, succulents, and trees of the desert. Enjoy meandering through the landscaped gardens and trails of the Desert Botanical Garden!
- Cost: $24.95
2. Feast on sushi at Sushi Friend
I never would have expected to eat some of the best sushi I’ve ever had in the middle of the desert. But Sushi Friend in Phoenix, Arizona was unbelievable. It’s a tiny little restaurant with bar seating and a few small tables.
My friend from Arizona recommended this spot and the sushi was so fresh and delicious. Try to visit on a weekday because apparently they get slammed on the weekends.
- Cost: Around $30-$50 per person, depending how much you order.
3. Wander Around Papago Park
One of the best free things to do in Phoenix is explore Papago Park. Both the Desert Botanical Garden and the Phoenix Zoo are located within this 1,200-acre desert oasis.
But you can explore the hiking and biking trails in Papago Park for free. Wander around the scenery of the Sonoran Desert and admire the dramatic rock formations and sandstone buttes.
- Cost: Free
4. Find your zen at the Japanese Friendship Garden
For a taste of traditional Japanese landscaping and culture in the middle of the desert, head to the Japanese Friendship Garden. The carefully landscaped garden symbolizes the bond between Phoenix and its sister city, Himeji, Japan.
With unique plants, koi ponds, tea houses, and peaceful walking paths ponds, this garden is a nice escape from the city.
Throughout the year, the Japanese Friendship Garden also hosts cultural events, tea ceremonies, and seasonal celebrations that offer a deeper understanding of Japanese traditions.
- Cost: $12 or $10 if you book admission online
5. Explore Old Town Scottsdale
Though Scottsdale is a separate city from Phoenix, it’s just a 20-minute drive between the two.
There are plenty of fun things to do in Scottsdale that would fill a whole separate article. But if you’re just here for a few hours, one of the best activities is exploring the Old Town.
Old Town Scottsdale is a charming and historic neighborhood full of Southwestern architecture, captivating art galleries, souvenir shops, eateries, museums, and more.
- Cost: Free, though it’s hard not to buy anything from the adorable shops! I spent about $20 on souvenirs.
6. Ride in a hot air balloon
I personally didn’t try a hot air balloon ride over Phoenix. But I definitely wanted to! A hot air balloon ride has been on my bucket list for some time (it’s expensive, that’s why my frugal self hasn’t done it yet).
With its warm climate and desert landscapes surrounded by mountains, Phoenix is the perfect place to try a hot air balloon ride!
- Cost: $200
7. Tour an art museum
Art lovers should check out one of the many amazing museums in Phoenix.
The Heard Museum showcases indigenous art and culture, whereas the Phoenix Art Museum has a more diverse collection of art from different places and time periods.
Or you can see more modern works at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art.
- Cost: Heard Museum is $22.50, Phoenix Art Museum is $22, Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art is $12
8. Paddleboard on Canyon Lake
Drive about an hour east of Phoenix, through the dramatic Superstition Mountains, and you’ll find Canyon Lake. This breathtaking body of water is surrounded by rugged, towering cliffs and desert vegetation.
Paddleboarding or kayaking is the best way to sightsee, and it allows you to explore all the little rivers that branch off of Canyon Lake.
We spent a few hours paddleboarding on Canyon Lake and went down a hidden stream where there was not one other person. It was just the tranquil sounds of nature and gorgeous scenery.
The Canyon Lake Marina offers water sport rentals, or you can book online at Riverbound Sports.
- Cost: Paddleboard rental is around $40 for the day.
9. Go Golfing
With wide open spaces, captivating desert scenery, and year-round warm, sunny weather, Phoenix is great for golfing.
I’m personally not a golfer, but one thing I had heard about Phoenix before I visited was how good the golf is. Golfing is also one of the best things to do in Scottsdale.
Top courses include TPC Scottsdale, Troon North Golf Club, and Grayhawk Golf Club. If you’re a big golf lover, go for it! But golf is not really an activity for budget travelers. If you plan to golf, make sure you allow a bigger travel budget for Phoenix!
- Cost: Prices vary, but TPC Scottsdale prices start at $199.
10. Find street art in the Roosevelt Arts District
The Roosevelt Arts District is a vibrant, walkable neighborhood of Phoenix. It’s the heart of the city’s creative scene, with galleries, performance venues, studios, and more.
Walk around and admire all the amazing, colorful street art!
Or visit the Roosevelt Arts District on the First Friday of the month from 6pm to 10pm. This is when the area hosts one of the country’s largest self-guided art walks, and local galleries open their doors to the public.
Whether you’re just looking at street art or visiting galleries on the First Friday, exploring Roosevelt Arts District is one of the best free things to do in Phoenix!
- Cost: Free
11. Check out Goldfield Ghost Town
Another one of the best things to do in Phoenix is stroll around Goldfield Ghost Town.
Nestled in the Superstition Mountains, Goldfield was once a bustling mining town during the late 19th-century gold rush era. Now it is a carefully preserved relic that offers a fascinating glimpse into Arizona’s rich history.
Immerse yourself in the spirit of the Wild West by checking out the historic saloon and general store or going on a scenic train ride or horseback ride. You can even pan for gold and tour the Goldfield Mine.
- Cost: Free to walk around Goldfield Ghost Town, see the prices for extra attractions on their website.
12. Visit the Musical Instrument Museum
Touring the Musical Instrument Museum is one of the more unique things to do in Phoenix.
Featuring a collection of over 15,000 instruments, this museum allows you to admire and listen to interesting instruments from every corner of the world, throughout all periods of history. It’s a must for lovers of music and history!
- Cost: $20
13. Visit a coffee shop
Both Phoenix and Scottsdale have a great coffee scene. There are plenty of quirky, eclectic places to grab a brew so you can get energized for exploring.
Songbird Coffee and Tea House has a vibrant menu and First Place Coffee is an adorable red coffee truck.
Lux Coffee has a rustic, hipster vibe and Tres Leches Cafe has Mexican-inspired food and drinks.
Four-Till Four and Jojos Cafe in Scottsdale are top spots in Scottsdale as well.
- Cost: Around $5 for a coffee
14. Drive an ATV through the Sonoran Desert
If you’re someone who loves a thrill, consider a guided ATV tour!
Immerse yourself in the desert by cruising along mountainous trails with a knowledgeable local guide.
This is one of the best things to do in Phoenix for anyone who wants a bit of adrenaline.
- Cost: $100
15. See Live Music
As one of the major US cities, Phoenix has plenty of entertainment options. Big musical acts are always passing through, and there are a few good places to catch more relaxed, local music shows as well.
- Valley Bar: Trendy, laid-back bar with arcade games
- Marquee Theatre: 1,000-seat venue with a variety of performances
- The Van Buren: Historic building with modern music acts
- Nash Jazz Club: Showcases local and international jazz and blues
- The Rebel Lounge: Venue and bar with rock and indie lineups
- Symphony Hall: For Broadway shows and classical music
- Cost: Varies
16. Eat Mexican food and drink Margaritas
With such a close proximity to Mexico, the American Southwest has some delicious, authentic Mexican food. Phoenix is no excpetion!
Definitely indulge in some Mexican food and margaritas with tajín on the rim. This spicy, zesty seasoning takes any margarita to the nexl level!
Palma on Roosevelt Row has amazing frozen margs on happy hour. Tacos Chiwas, Casa Corazon, La Piñata Restaurant, and Barrio Cafe are a few top-rated Mexican eateries in Phoenix.
- Cost: Margs are around $8 at happy hour, meal prices vary
17. Take a day trip to the Grand Canyon
This is a controversial point in my opinion. I’ve never been to the Grand Canyon, but it seems like a place where you would want to spend more than a few hours.
That said, if a day trip from Phoenix is your only chance to see the Grand Canyon, why not try it?
It’s about a 4 hour drive from Phoenix to Grand Canyon National Park.
This day trip gives you about 3 hours to spend at the world-famous Grand Canyon, with a stop in Sedona on the way.
It has over 300 reviews and a 4.8/5 star rating. So these satisfied travellers would probably consider a day trip to the Grand Canyon one of the best things to do in Phoenix!
- Cost: Tour is $235. Going on your means you’ll just pay for gas, food, and the $35 entry fee.
18. Book a driverless taxi
One of the more unique things to do in Phoenix is book a driverless taxi. Yep, Phoenix is one of the first US cities to have driverless cars delivering passengers to destinations around the city.
Waymo is a top-rated, reliable driverless car service that you can book on their app.
It’s a bit unsettling at first, but it’s also hilarious once you get used to it! Phoenix’s roads are set up like a spacious grid and the traffic isn’t too hectic. Waymo did a great job of driving us around and it was a cool experience.
- Cost: Varies
19. Hike Mount Piestewa
One of the best free things to do in Phoenix for nature lovers is hike Mount Piestewa. Rising to an elevation of 2,608 feet (795 meters), this iconic peak offers stunning panoramic views of Phoenix and the surrounding desert.
The summit trail is about 2.4 miles round-trip and takes around 3 hours total to complete.
Keep in mind, there is barely any shade! So pack water, wear sunscreen, and don’t hike at midday if you want to avoid the intense heat.
- Cost: Free
20. Catch a Sports Game
Sports lovers can catch a game while they’re visiting Phoenix. From the Phoenix Suns basketball team, to the Arizona Diamondbacks baseball team, to the Arizona Cardinals football team, there is always a game on in the city!
- Cost: Varies
21. Hike Camelback Mountain
Another one of the best outdoorsy things to do in Phoenix is hike Camelback Mountain.
This peak is shaped like a camel’s back, hence the name. As part of the Phoenix Mountains Preserve, there are two challenging trails to the summit.
Both the Cholla Trail and the Echo Canyon Trail are around 2.5 miles round trip and take 2-3 hours. Like Mount Piestewa, these trails are rugged and have no shade. They may even be closed in extreme heat, so check before you hike!
- Cost: Free
22. Take A Day Trip To Sedona
Though I would recommend spending a few days in Sedona, this place is so amazing that you really shouldn’t miss it. If you only have time for a day trip, do it!
Get up early and drive for about 2 hours north of Phoenix. Then spend the day marveling at the breathtaking red rock formations and rugged mountains.
Cathedral Rock is an epic, short hike that would easily fit into a day trip.
If you don’t have a car or you don’t want to plan your own itinerary, book a guided day tour that includes all the Sedona highlights!
- Cost: Tour is $179. Visiting on your own means you would only pay for gas and food – most hikes are free.
23. Kayak down the Salt River
Located in Tonto National Forest, the Salt River is the perfect place to escape the Arizona heat.
Kayaking down the river provides the most breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and giant cacti.
Lower Salt Rentals offers kayak rentals for $40 a day.
Or you can book a kayaking trip that includes return transfers to Phoenix in an air-conditioned van for just $55!
- Cost: $40-$55
24. Explore South Mountain Park and Preserve
Another outdoor adventure to have in Phoenix is exploring South Mountain Park and Preserve.
Covering more than 16,000 acres, the park is home to miles and miles of trails that are perfect for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding.
No matter what activities you want to try, exploring any part of South Mountain Park and Preserve will be worth it!
- Cost: Free
25. Enjoy the Nightlife
Last but not list on my list of the best things to do in Phoenix – nightlife!
I’m not usually a huge nightlife person, but I was happy to indulge while visiting my friends. We had a blast bar hopping on Roosevelt Row, a popular street in the Roosevelt Arts District.
Downtown Phoenix also has lots of cool venues for eating, drinking, seeing music, and dancing. We had delicious Cuban tapas at Coabana and checked out the assortment of food trucks and DJs and Pemberton.
- Cost: Varies
Thanks for reading my list of the best things to do in Phoenix, Arizona!
I was pleasantly surprised at how much I loved Phoenix. It’s a big, iconic city but it’s spread out, surrounded by nature, and doesn’t feel overwhelming.
It’s a mix of cultures and landscapes, and there are so many fun things to do in Phoenix!
☼ If you’re visiting the USA from overseas, make sure you have a visa before you arrive.
Check out my articles about some other cool US cities:
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