Phoenix offers a multitude of things to see and so. Whether you are looking for outdoor adventures, quirky art, or top tier food and drink, Phoenix can deliver. If it is your first time visiting the city, it can be hard to know where to start! This weekend in Phoenix guide will highlight all of the can’t-miss places and best sights around the city, for any type of traveler.
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Phoenix is the capital of Arizona, with the metropolitan area covering over 14,500 square miles. Widely known for the towering saguaros in Phoenix, the desert nature is only part of the charm here. There is a lot to explore!
In fact, a quick weekend in Phoenix will likely leave you wanting to come back and explore more. Here are some of the best things to do around the city, as well as practical information that will help you make the most of your trip.
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The good thing about any Phoenix itinerary is that it is easy to reach. Travelers will fly into Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, which is located just minutes from the busy downtown area.
If you plan on exploring outside the city limits (which we highly recommend), renting a car upon arrival is the best choice. Phoenix transportation options can be hit or miss, and some of the best sights are only accessible with a vehicle.
The Valley Metro bus system operates in Phoenix and the surrounding area, and the Valley Metro Rail (light rail) runs from east Mesa, through Tempe, and into Phoenix. These are your options for public transportation in Phoenix.
No matter what type of transportation you choose, there are plenty of ways to experience all the vibrant local culture and stunning desert landscape that Phoenix has to offer.
When is the best time to visit Phoenix?
When planning your trip, you’ll want to consider the best time of year to visit.
The climate in Phoenix is predominantly hot and dry throughout the year. However, the temperatures are relatively more bearable during the months of November to April. These months are typically considered the peak season, attracting a significant number of tourists who want to enjoy the pleasant temperatures.
If you’re traveling on a budget and looking to save money, the hot summer might be your best bet. Crowds will be thinner. The hot off-season runs from May through October, with temperatures hovering over 100 degrees. But again, the lower prices and smaller crowds may be worth it for travelers on a budget.
Note that during the hotter months, all strenuous activities should be done first thing in the morning, even before sunrise.
For travelers looking for a good time, Phoenix hosts a number of yearly festivals and special events, such as the Arizona State Fair in October and the McDowell Mountain Music Festival in March. If you prefer a lively crowd and fun times, these can make for an enjoyable experience during your weekend in the city.
Best Things To Do on Your Weekend in Phoenix
1. Hike the iconic Camelback Mountain
This rugged peak is one of the most popular hikes in the city, and offers stunning views worthy of the effort. The mountain, true to its name, bears a striking resemblance to a camel’s back when viewed from a distance.
Hikers have two different trail options to choose from, both of which are fairly challenging and require hikers to be physically fit. The Canyon Trail is shorter and steeper, measuring approximately 2.5 miles round-trip with an elevation gain of 1,400 feet. In contrast, the Cholla Trail is longer and less steep, spanning around 3 miles round-trip with an elevation gain of 1,200 feet.
No matter which trail you choose, be sure to prepare well in advance with the proper desert hiking essentials, especially if you have never hiked in the desert before. You’ll need proper clothing and gear, as well as plenty of water and sunscreen, no matter what month of the year you visit.
On these hikes, expect deep rocky terrain and a tough climb towards the top. But the panoramic views of the Valley of the Sun from the city’s highest point make it well worth the effort! Don’t forget to start your morning hike as early as possible.
Note: If you are looking for easy hikes, head to South Mountain, the largest municipal park in the United States. The park has over 50 miles of trails for hiking and mountain biking, some leading to spectacular views of the Phoenix valley below.
2. Learn about local flora at the Desert Botanical Garden
The Desert Botanical Garden is an incredible sight in the middle of the desert. It covers over 140 acres of land and features an impressive variety of plants from around the world.
Most impressive are of course the cacti of the Sonoran Desert, there’s everything from prickly pear, to barrel and saguaro cacti. These are especially interesting for those who have never seen Arizona’s natural environment before.
Visitors can explore the garden’s ten themed areas, with opportunities for education through exhibits on the local ecosystem and regional agricultural history. Both children and adults will enjoy a visit here.
3. Explore the Quirky Roosevelt Row Area
Be sure to spend one evening downtown, exploring the colorful street art murals of Roosevelt Row. This artistic community in downtown Phoenix is full of cute boutique shops, trendy restaurants, and live music. During the day, the main attraction is the colorful street murals throughout the area.
You will come across many diverse themes, colors, and styles when exploring Roosevelt Road’s street art. Expect to be impressed by the vibrant creativity, from brightly painted murals on main streets to hidden artwork in alleyways, off the beaten path.
End the night at one of the many bars nearby, where you can enjoy refreshing cocktails at a happy hour and great eats.
4. Tempe Beach Park
Historically, Tempe Beach Park hasn’t been recommended for tourists, but the city of Tempe has decided to put their efforts into revitalizing the area. Tempe Beach Park sits on Tempe Town Lake and is an absolute playground full of sand, water, and sun. It’s the closest beach to Phoenix and worth a stop on a long weekend in Phoenix.
If you visit during the summer, Tempe Beach Park is a great option to beat the desert heat. It’s great for swimming, lounging, and relaxing. But it is also a great place for adventure.
Here you’ll find hiking trails, bike paths, and water sport options, like paddleboarding, kayaking, boating, and more.
Tempe Beach Park is a great place to have a cookout too, as there are grills on site for public use.
5. Visit one of the many museums
In the hot summer months, you will need some indoor attractions to get you out of the sun. Luckily, Phoenix has many world-class museums, worth visiting in every season!
The Phoenix Art Museum is a great choice for art lovers. It features an impressive array of American, Asian, European, and contemporary art in its vast collection. The exhibitions rotate throughout the year, so check their offerings during your visit.
Alternately, the Heard Museum is a great choice for history buffs. This museum is dedicated to Native American tribes of the Southwest, with an interesting collection of pottery, textiles, and jewelry on display. Visitors will learn about the traditions of the indigenous people of Phoenix through their powerful exhibitions.
The Arizona Science Center is a popular museum for all ages. The majority of the exhibits are hands-on and you are sure to learn a thing or two. This is one of our favorite things to do in Phoenix with kids.
If there is an architecture lover in the group, you won’t want to miss spending time in the Scottsdale area, particularly at Taliesin West which was the home and studio of Frank Lloyd Wright.
Lastly, consider visiting the Arizona Capitol Museum, which provides an engaging and informative look into the history of Phoenix and the state of Arizona. The museum houses a variety of artifacts, documents, and photographs that tell the story of the area’s settlement, development, and growth over time. It is also home to the original copper contained within the dome of the capitol building in Phoenix.
6. Stroll the Japanese Friendship Garden
Spend a morning at the Japanese Friendship Garden, walking around the lily pad covered lake in a serene and natural setting. It is a breathtaking stretch of greenery tucked away in the heart of Phoenix.
The Japanese Friendship Garden features a large pool of water surrounded by walking paths, stone arrangements, and an on-site Tea House, showcasing traditional Japanese themes and motifs.
Visitors can enjoy cherry blossom trees and koi ponds at this must-see attraction for locals and visitors. The garden provides a peaceful and tranquil environment.
7. Head to Mill Avenue
If you’re looking for a lively area to hang out for the night, a good place to start is Tempe’s Mill Avenue. This area is frequented by the college students from Arizona State University, which is right next door. However, many locals and tourists enjoy spending time here as well. Trivia nights, drink specials, and Ladies Night can all be found up and down Mill, as can tasty snacks and dinner spots.
If you prefer the trendy bars and clubs, head to neighboring Old Town Scottsdale. This is less of a college crowd, and it’s the perfect place for a night out with friends.
8. Visit Tortilla Flat
Consider visiting Tortilla Flat, a genuine Old West stagecoach town found east of Phoenix in the Superstition Mountains. It is a historic landmark and a favorite destination as a day trip from Phoenix.
Today, the town has a population of just 6 people. But in the olden days, miners, settlers, and travelers would stop here to rest and buy supplies before continuing their journey.
For anyone interested, you can even rent horses and go trail riding nearby, for a true western adventure! The O.K. Corral Stables does guided group tours through the picturesque mountains.
9. Catch a Desert Sunset
The nice thing about the city of Phoenix is that many parks are interspersed between the high rise buildings. Two of the best desert parks in Phoenix are the South Mountain Park and the Usery Mountain Regional Park.
Both of these parks have breathtaking views of the sunset as well as plenty of trails to explore before the sun goes down. In South Mountain Park, the best sunset spot is easily found at the top of Dobbins Lookout, which you can reach via an easy scenic drive.
In the Usery Mountain Regional Park, be sure to catch a sunset at the Wind Cave Trail, which is located at a higher elevation and provides great photo opportunities as the sky lights up.
No matter which park you choose, you are sure to be impressed by the beauty of a desert sunset.
10. Hit the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM)
Phoenix is full of great museums, but perhaps one of the most unique is the Musical Instrument Museum. It is a must see during your weekend in Phoenix, especially if you are a musician yourself. The museum is unique in that it’s a quiet museum. Everything you learn is from a guided tour via headphones, with music included.
Inside you’ll find musical instruments from every corner of the globe, including the U.S., Europe, and Asia. There is also a performance area where you can see some amazing musicians if you are lucky.
The Musical Instrument Museum is open every day, and the exhibits are sure to entertain visitors of all ages.
Where to Eat in Phoenix, AZ
Phoenix is known for its delicious food, with everything from fried ice cream to chimichangas and Sonoran hot dogs. The city has everything from food trucks to the AAA Five Diamond restaurant, Kai, serving its spin on Native American cuisine. It would take too long to list all of the best restaurants in Phoenix, so here are a few favorites:
- The Herb Box: Offers seasonal menus and some delicious sharing plates.
- Barrio Café Gran Reserva: Upscale Mexican food made with fresh, local food.
- Hash Kitchen: Huge breakfast and lunch portions with a make-your-own Bloody Mary bar. A DJ provides the entertainment while you enjoy your meal.
- Postino: Trendy wine bar with multiple locations throughout the area, their bruschetta boards and panini shouldn’t be missed.
Additional Phoenix Weekend Tips
- Most hotels and apartments have outdoor pools on site. These are essential in the hot summer months!
- Phoenix is known for trendy restaurants and eateries. Make it a point to stop into at least one, even if you are traveling on a budget.
- Remember to start your hikes early in the morning, year round. This is especially important in the summer.
Where should I stay in Phoenix?
Phoenix has many different neighborhoods worth exploring, so deciding where to stay can be tough. Luckily, if you have a car, all of the things to do here are easy to reach.
Downtown Phoenix provides a vibrant atmosphere with numerous entertainment and nightlife options. Anyone seeking trendy drink spots and lively nightlife may want to stay in this area.
For options outside of downtown, Scottsdale and Tempe are good options. These areas are usually more budget friendly and still offer a variety of restaurants, attractions, and hiking trails in close proximity. There are also plenty of family friendly resorts in Scottsdale!
No matter which area you choose to stay, you are bound to have a fun time exploring the nature, arts, and history of this great city.
Author’s Bio: This article was written by Monica of This Rare Earth, a solo female world traveler who has so far crossed six continents. She can usually be found exploring off the beaten path destinations around the world.