The SightDOING Guide to Phoenix

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Before I went to Phoenix, I thought of it as a pass-through city on the way to “better” attractions like the Grand Canyon or Sedona.   That’s a shame because there are plenty of fun things to do in Phoenix itself.  This metropolitan area is an incredible destination for sightDOING: there’s active travel, soft adventure, and hands-on exploration.

Plan a weekend (or longer!) to Phoenix and I guarantee you won’t be bored.

fun things to do in phoenix az
Dive in, be engaged, and get active!

Things to Do in Phoenix

Ready, Aim, Fire

lumberjaxes tempe az
A successful axe-throwing afternoon in Tempe (outside Phoenix)

If you’re like me, your flight into Phoenix was likely to be delayed and a general hassle, so burn off that frustration by throwing axes at Lumberjaxes! It’s harder than it looks, but luckily there’s staff on hand to help you perfect your form. By the time you’ve gotten a few pointers, you’ll be ready to turn axe-throwing into a fun competition.

Test Your Limits

There’s nothing quite like pushing yourself on vacation, and Phoenix’s adventure course will give you that opportunity.  With a zipline, ropes course, rappels, and a “leap of faith” free fall, this is not for the faint-hearted.

Complete the Camelback Mountain Challenge

Camelback is the most well-known mountain in the area, and the Echo Canyon Trail is a strenuous climb!  The incline along this trail is intense, but if you can complete the 1.2 miles to the top, you’ll be rewarded with great views.

fun things to do in phoenix az
Camelback Mountain (Credit: Jtesla16 via Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons License)

TIP: Arrive early in the morning to get a parking space and to avoid Phoenix’s midday heat.  Pack plenty of water and carry whatever you can in a backpack so your hands are free for climbing.

Burn Off Your Lunch

After a tough hike, it’s better to keep walking a little and stay stretched out instead of collapsing like you might want to.  You’ve earned a big meal, and you’ll get one on the Taste It Tour of Phoenix or Scottsdale.  Get an insider’s look at favorite restaurants and sample some great meals.

Prove Your Artistry

I am always in awe of glass-blowers, probably because I’ve tried it myself and failed.  Spend your evening at a glass-blowing or fusing workshop; if nothing else, you’ll leave with a great appreciation for what it takes to make a “simple” vase or bowl.

Dance in the Garden

desert botanical garden exhibit

The Desert Botanical Garden is renowned for its beautiful outdoor exhibits, but on some Friday nights, you can extend your visit into the evening for “Music in the Garden”.  With live music ranging from Latin to swing bands, you can enjoy the garden in your dancing shoes. 

TIP: If you have time, swing into Hole in the Rock for some great views before heading to nearby Desert Botanical Garden.

Balance…Carefully

Head to Tempe Town Lake for a different perspective — the city skyline as seen from the water.  There, try stand up paddle boarding, an activity that requires a little balance.  Don’t worry; if you fall in, the water’s warm enough you’ll be okay.

Get a Birds-Eye View

Several operators offer hot air balloon rides in Phoenix.  This serene journey is worth the early wake-up call and is a scenic ride like no other.  Watch the city wake up from high in the sky and celebrate with a champagne toast when you land.

Search for Nocturnal Wildlife

fun things to do in phoenix az
Sunset in the Sonoran Desert (Credit: Jeff Shewan under Creative Commons License)

Hop into a UTV and head into the Sonoran Desert at sunset to traverse the terrain and take in your surroundings.  Once it’s dark out, look for scorpions, rattlesnakes, desert mice, jack rabbits, coyotes, bobcats, or maybe even a mountain lion!

Hint: For a really cool night out, add on some stargazing in the desert where clear skies can provide great views.

Head to the Wild West

By either horseback or jeep, you can leave modern Phoenix for the Old West town of Coldwater.  When you’re transported back in time, you’ll have the opportunity to try your hand at unique activities like steer roping and tomahawk tossing.  Do you have what it takes to be a cowboy?

Picnic on Piestewa

Formerly known as “Squaw Peak”, Piestewa is the second-most known mountain in the Phoenix region and it’s much more accessible than Camelback.  You can hike if your legs aren’t too sore, or you can simply enjoy a picnic lunch at Phoenix Mountains Park.

TIP: To stretch those legs and clear your mind, add-on a yoga class at Piestewa.

Cool Off at the Lake

fun things to do in phoenix az
Lake Pleasant (Credit: Clintus McGintus via Creative Commons License)

When it gets hot in Phoenix, there’s no reason to retreat to the air conditioning.  Grab a jet ski for a ride on Lake Pleasant.  As the water splashes around you, you’ll look for bald eagles, get a great view of the Wadell dam, and get your adrenaline racing!

What other fun things to do in Phoenix AZ would you recommend doing?  Have you been there yet?

11 thoughts on “The SightDOING Guide to Phoenix”

  1. All of the ideas sound great! Sadly, my family did none of those things when we were there last year. 🙁 I would suggest doing some shopping and eat at some of the local restaurants in old Scottsdale. Nothing spectacular; but, a good trip for lunch or dinner.

    1. @Scott, I’ve unfortunately missed the best restaurants in Scottsdale. I’ve been there twice so far and both times I ended up at super touristy places. Next time I’ll do better 🙂

  2. Look me up? I live near the paddle board place. Love to meet you. Lat thought…when you are here you can use your Radisson 24HrsofRadissonSweeps free nights!!

  3. Camelback is a pretty intense climb but it doesn’t take an athlete to climb it. The trick is to take plenty of water, to move at a comfortable pace, and to rest as much as is necessary. I agree that the views are fantastic.

    Also worth seeing is the Musical Instrument Museum.

  4. My friend has family in Phoenix, and she wants to bring me down there for fall break. I have never been to Arizona and I just wasn’t sure of what we could do down there. For this reason I greatly appreciate your specific suggestions of how to have a good time in this city. I think I will definitely have to check out Piestewa, thank you for all of your helpful information!

  5. I am a Native Phoenician and I still got some ideas from this article! Thanks for the post. By the way did you know that this Saturday the 24th is free national park day? Entry to the Grand Canyon is free.

  6. I have climbed Camelback many times and every time it has just taken my breath! It is not an easy climb but it is definitely worth it when you get to the top. Amazing view!
    The nightlife in downtown Phoenix is also a great time. There is a variety of restaurants, food trucks, bowling, museums, science center, etc. It’s a good time to get out since it is crazy hot during the day.
    I would really like to hop into a hot air balloon though.

    1. @Alexandra, Thanks for sharing your trips – I’ll be back in Phoenix in November and this great for me and other travelers. Hope you get a chance for the hot air balloon soon.

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