Welcome to the first installment of our Phoenix preseason/spring training series (be sure to check out the intro if you missed that). If you are planning to head to the desert to check out Sporting Kansas City or the Kansas City Royals, we’ve got you covered.
Kicking off this mini-series is “things to do” in Phoenix. As you read through, please keep in mind no hiking will be discussed since there is so much of hiking, it gets it’s own post. Most of my time in Phoenix was spent as a parent, so you may notice more kid-friendly items listed. Hopefully, my pre-kid days will give some good ideas, though!
The way I’ve broken this down is by location. I’ve broken this down into two parts of the valley. Central and the East Valley.
Central will cover areas such as Phoenix, Scottsdale, Paradise Valley, and Fountain Hills.
East Valley will cover the following cities Tempe, Mesa, Chandler, Queen Creek, Gilbert, Apache Junction, & San Tan Valley. The east valley is mostly the Phoenix suburbs, but worth checking out due to the hiking and restaurant options. Also, sorry to the west valley. I only went to the west side for football or hockey, so I don’t have any quality recommendations.
So let’s do this.
Things to do in Phoenix
Let’s start with all things with a Phoenix address. Honestly, my list will only touch the surface of what there is to do, but hopefully, it will give you some ideas.
The Phoenix Zoo: I’d recommend if you’re traveling with kids. The zoo is equivalent to the Kansas City zoo. With over 3,000 animals, there is something for everyone. The zoo is a lot larger than it appears. Also, if you go, say “hi” to Sheena, the elephant for me. I’ll discuss this more in my hiking special, but Hole in the Wall is an easy hike next to the Phoenix Zoo parking lot. I’ve seen people in flip-flops and slippers do this hike.
There is a fee to visit the zoo. However, Hole in the Wall is free.
Desert Botanical Garden: Next door to the Phoenix Zoo is the Desert Botanical Garden. It’s gorgeous, especially if you can go during Christmas. If you want a family picture of your trip, there are some great photo ops with native Arizona cacti and plants. They have free admission on the second Tuesday of the month, but you must reserve the tickets on their website ahead of time.
There is a fee to visit.
Hall of Flame Museum: I’ve never been, but it’s next to the Phoenix Zoo and Desert Botanical Garden. This would be another great option if you wanted to keep it close.
There is a fee to visit
Tempe Town Lake: Less than 10 minutes from the Zoo is Tempe Town Lake. This is an excellent option for a leisure stroll and mountain views, all in the heart of Tempe. If you’re into kayaking, I highly recommend visiting Tempe Town Lake. With two miles of water, there’s something for everyone. Also, check out Tempe Beach park, home of festivals throughout the year.
Free to visit, but a charge for a kayak or other rentals to go on the water.
Mill Ave: If you’re near Tempe Town Lake, you should head to Mill Avenue. Near the Arizona State University campus, Mill Ave is host to local restaurants and shops. If you’re younger or clinging to your youth, this is the spot to be at night. Low Key Piano Bar is always a fun time.
A.S.U. Gammage Hall: If you’re into Broadway, Gammage Hall is on the Arizona State University campus and is the premiere spot to see musicals.
There is a fee to visit.
Arizona Coyotes: If you enjoy hockey, going to a Coyotes game is a must! The only downside is the tickets might be hard to get since their venue only holds 5,000 people currently.
There is a fee to visit.
Tempe Marketplace: An outdoor mall that often has free concerts. There are some good restaurants as well.
Changing Hands Bookstore: If you enjoy reading, you will love the charm of Changing Hands bookstore. There are a few locations, but if you go to the Tempe location, I recommend going to lunch at Wildflower Bread Company next door. It’s a local chain and so delicious. It’s one of the places I miss eating at (don’t worry, food stops will get their own part of this series as well).
Marquee: If you’re looking for a concert, the Marquee is my favorite venue. It’s a smaller and more intimate environment. It reminds me a little of the Bottleneck in Lawrence. There is a fee to visit.
Children’s Museum of Phoenix: If you have younger kids, eight and younger. They will love it here! With three stories of arts, imaginative play, building, and more. It’s a great time, even for adults. There is a fee to visit.
Arizona Science Center: A few miles from the Children’s Museum is the Arizona Science Center. If you like Science City, this is worth checking out. We attended before we had kids, and it was a great time. There is a fee to visit.
Phoenix Suns: If you enjoy sports checking out a Suns game should be top of your list. There is a fee to visit.
Japanese Friendship Garden: In the hustle and bustle of Phoenix, there is a calmness at the Japanese friendship garden. You forget for a moment that you’re in the desert because of the gorgeous views and greenery at the Japanese friendship garden. Also, shout-out to my best friend who introduced me to the garden when she got married there!
There is a fee to visit.
Roosevelt Art District: If you enjoy the Crossroads, you should check out the Roosevelt Art District. They have a great first Friday. The link will help you plan your visit. There’s lots of art and some great food options in the area.
Scottsdale/Fountain Valley/Paradise Valley
Old Town Scottsdale: A great area during the day full of southwest local shops and fun at night to go bar hopping. If you’re into Karaoke, check out The Grapevine. While in old town, consider doing a drinking bike tour of the area. I’ve never done it, but it looks like fun.
Scottsdale Fashion Square: If you’re into high-end fashion, Scottsdale Fashion Square is the best place in Phoenix to shop.
McCormick Still Railroad Park: For anyone traveling with kids, McCormick Still Railroad Park is a must-visit. It’s suitable for kids six and under.
If riding the train, there is a fee.
Golf: Phoenix has a lot of golf courses. This is a fun daytime activity if you enjoy the sport or want to be outdoors. I’d recommend looking at Groupon for discounted courses because they can be very expensive in the winter.
Fountain Hills Fountain: Before we moved to Kansas City, I had a list of things I wanted to see before we left. I had always seen this fountain on hiking trails from a distance, but seeing it in person was cool. It’s 560 ft. in the air, which is three times the size of Old Faithful. It runs every hour on the hour for 15 minutes. It’s free, and there’s a nice walking path around it. Free to explore.
My heart belongs in the East Valley since that’s where we resided. However, if you’re visiting and in your 20s, it may be too suburban for you. However, it’s got better nightlife than when we first moved there.
Downtown Gilbert: It’s primarily full of restaurants, but if you’re looking for a nightlife scene, country singer, and Arizona native, Dierks Bentley has a country bar, Whiskey Row, worth checking out.
Plus, downtown Gilbert is cute. Every Saturday is the Gilbert Farmer’s Market, where I spent many of my Saturday mornings. The Gilbert Farmers Market will have something for you if you enjoy taking home local flairs. R.A. seasonings create unique seasonings for cooking. Herbs from the Hearts have excellent teas that would be easy to bring home., However, Biscuit Freaks and Morning Kicks were my favorite food trucks! :
Hale Theater Arizona: If you’re into live theater, the Hale theater is a cute intimate experience worth visiting. There is a fee.
3D miniature golf: Last time we visited, we stopped by Gilbert 3D Golf, and it was a fun and trippy experience. That being said, my daughter loved it, and we had a good time. The owners were sweet. There is a fee.
San Tan Village: If you’re in Gilbert, it’s worth checking out the San Tan Mall. The mall is similar to Zona Rosa; only the layout makes more sense, no offense to Zona. I love you, but you’re kind of confusing to navigate around. My favorite shop is Sip and Shop. It features booths from 50 small local businesses. Food-wise: Dog Haus and Salt Tacos Y Tequila were among my favorites. Free to visit.
Gilbert has some great parks if you have kids or enjoy scenic walks.
- Riparian Preserve - There are a lake and nature trails, great for all ages. After, check out the library next door. It’s gorgeous. Free to visit.
- Veterans Oasis Park - My favorite park. I think it’s technically considered Chandler, but lots of native Arizona landscape and great views of the San Tan Mountains. There’s also lots of wildlife. We’ve seen roadrunners, jackrabbits, and coyotes on the trails. Free to visit.
Queen Creek Olive Mill: One of my favorite places to visit. I never actually took the olive tour, but the shop is cute. I also recommend their farm-to-table dining. The outside patio is the perfect place to be on a breezy day. On the weekends, there is typically live music. Free to visit.
Mesa is more for families with kids. However, if you enjoy a cute downtown, Mesa has one. There are some local shops and restaurants to check out. There’s also the I.D.E.A. Museum which is excellent for younger kids. It’s interactive and an opportunity for children to be creative. It’s smaller than the Phoenix Children’s Museum but worth visiting if you need something to do with the kiddos. There is a fee.
The Arizona Natural Museum is also nearby. We’ve been a few times, and kids enjoy the dinosaur exhibits and mining for gold. There is a fee.
Finally, Mesa Golfland Splash is fun for all ages. We only went miniature golfing without our daughter. Perhaps next time we visit, we will have to take her. It’s a fun and inexpensive way to spend some time outside. There is a fee.
Hopefully, this guide has something for everyone. In the winter and spring, there are also a lot of events worth checking out, such as the Innings Festival, Barret Jackson, and the Phoenix Open. The Birds Nest is the concert that happens after the W.M. Phoenix Open, it was one of the craziest and best concert experiences I’ve had. Here are some of the events going on around the city.
In the next installment we will discuss the best hiking trails around the valley! Thanks for taking this trip around memory lane with me.