15 Best Tourist Attractions and Things to Do in Phoenix: Heard Museum, Camelback Mountain, and More

15 Best Tourist Attractions and Things to Do in Phoenix: Heard Museum, Camelback Mountain, and More

Whether you’re here for the Super Bowl, the Waste Management Phoenix Open, a business trip, or just a desert getaway, there is plenty to do and see around metro Phoenix. Here are our top picks for how to make the most out of your stay in the Valley.

Camelback Mountain

Echo Canyon Trailhead: 4925 East McDonald Drive, Phoenix
Cholla Trailhead: 5150 North Invergordon Road, Paradise Valley

Phoenix’s most famous mountain is a popular hiking destination most of the year for locals and tourists alike. There are two trails up Camelback Mountain: Echo Canyon is about two and a half miles total up and down the mountain, and is considered a difficult hike. Cholla is slightly longer (about three miles total), but is a little less strenuous. Whichever trail you choose, you’ll probably find parking a challenge; in the winter months, Camelback is nearly always busy, so consider taking a rideshare. And even though the weather is beautiful, treat Camelback like a serious hike: Wear good shoes for hiking and take plenty of water.

click to enlarge

The Cosanti studio is the creation of architect Paolo Soleri.

Jessica Jameson


6433 East Doubletree Ranch Road, Paradise Valley

For a unique Arizona experience, head to Cosanti, an entry on the Arizona Registry of Historic Places designed by experimental architect Paolo Soleri. The otherworldly structures are the result of Soleri’s earth-casting technique, and many of these buildings were created by first forming a concrete shell over mounded dirt. Cosanti is still a working studio, and the bells that are created by its artisans are world-famous and highly sought-after. Cosanti is open daily, and there is no cost to visit. Guided tours are held twice daily, and donations, which benefit the nonprofit Cosanti Foundation, are encouraged.

click to enlarge

Sunset views at Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix.

Adam Rodriguez

Desert Botanical Garden

1201 North Galvin Parkway

Experience the beauty of the Sonoran Desert at the Desert Botanical Garden in east Phoenix. The garden boasts 140 acres of native plants along its pathways. Keep an eye out for the giant Mexican cardon cactuses that are more than 75 years old. Currently, the colorful sculptures of artist Rotraut Klein Moquay are on display throughout the garden as part of the “Playing With Stars: Rotraut at Desert Botanical Garden” exhibit that continues through May 14. Also, from February 7 through 14, the garden is staying open late for a special installation: Museum of the Moon by U.K. artist Luke Jerram is a 23-foot-wide glowing moon that provides detailed views of the lunar surface accompanied by a soundtrack by composer Dan Jones. The garden is open daily, and cost is $29.95 for adults and $16.95 for youth (children under 3 are free).

The Heard Museum holds a world-class collection of Indigenous art.

Craig Smith/Heard Museum

Heard Museum

2301 North Central Avenue

The Heard Museum is Phoenix’s world-class collection of Native American art. Nearly 100 years old, the Heard has an enormous number of works in the permanent collection, plus hosts special exhibitions on a variety of topics. The museum recently unveiled “Substance of Stars,” a new permanent exhibition that examines the collection of the Heard Museum from Indigenous perspectives and includes immersive Indigenous storytelling featuring a 360-degree Sky Dome. Also on display through July is “He‘e Nalu: The Art and Legacy of Hawaiian Surfing.” The Heard Museum is open daily. Admission is $22.50 for adults, with discounts for seniors, students, and children.

click to enlarge

You can see the eye-popping spectacle of Immersive Van Gogh in Scottsdale.

Jennifer Goldberg

Lighthouse Artspace

4301 North Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale

Immersive art experiences are all the rage these days. See what all the fuss is about at Lighthouse Artspace in Old Town Scottsdale, which is currently running two such events. Immersive Van Gogh focuses on the work of the Dutch master, and Immersive Monet & The Impressionists shows off the works of more than a dozen beloved artists such as Renoir, Degas, and Cassatt. Lighthouse Artspace switches up the days and times each show is playing, so check the websites for the schedule. Cost varies between $30 and $40 for Monet, and $40 to $55 for Van Gogh.

click to enlarge

Enjoying the serene landscape at the Japanese Friendship Garden.

Airi Katsuta Photography

Japanese Friendship Garden

1125 North Third Avenue

You wouldn’t think that such a tiny, green oasis would thrive in the middle of a desert metropolis, but for more than 20 years, the Japanese Friendship Garden has been delighting visitors to its spot near Hance Park in downtown Phoenix. Created in partnership with Himeji, Japan, one of Phoenix’s sister cities, the Japanese Friendship Garden features a lake with a waterfall, traditional Japanese structures, secluded walking paths, plenty of koi, and a gift shop stocked with Asian goods. Cost is $10 adults, $8 seniors, and $7 students, military, and children ages 6 to 17.

click to enlarge

The Mill Avenue bridges across Tempe Town Lake.

Martin Ely/CC BY 2.0/Flickr

Mill Avenue, Tempe

There’s always something happening on the stretch of Mill Avenue in Tempe that runs from Rio Salado Parkway to the north to University Drive to the south, right next to Arizona State University. By day, people of all ages stroll along the street past tightly packed shops, restaurants, and bars. At night, the vibe gets rowdier as a 20-something crowd comes out to party. You can see a movie at the AMC Centerpoint 11, or snap a photo of Harkins Valley Art, the oldest movie theater in Arizona. Snacks, drinks, and hundreds of games are available at game cafe Snakes & Lattes, and you can sing your heart out every night of the week at 414 Pub Pizza & Karaoke.

click to enlarge

An exquisite piano is part of the Musical Instrument Museum’s new exhibit, Rediscover Treasures: Legendary Musical Instruments.

Musical Instrument Museum

Musical Instrument Museum

4725 East Mayo Boulevard

See thousands of musical instruments from all over the world, spanning thousands of years of history, at the Musical Instrument Museum in north Phoenix. Much of the museum is organized geographically, allowing guests to experience the music of various cultures as they move through the galleries. But there’s also a space for mechanical musical instruments, and the Experience Gallery on the first floor gives visitors a chance to play instruments from around the world — it’s just as much for adults as it is for kids. In the artist gallery and the current exhibition, Rediscover Treasures: Legendary Musical Instruments, guests can see instruments, clothing, and other objects belonging to famous musicians, including Eric Clapton’s 1956 Fender Stratocaster, “Brownie,” and Prince’s purple piano. The museum is open daily. Tickets for the museum plus the Rediscover Treasures exhibition are $27 for adults, just the museum is $20, and just Rediscover Treasures is $10 (tickets for children are discounted).

click to enlarge

You can hang out with the fish whenever you want: Odysea Aquarium is open.

OdySea Aquarium

Odysea Aquarium

9500 East Vía de Ventura Suite A-100, Scottsdale

Yes, there’s an aquarium in the desert. And it’s pretty great. Odysea, the largest aquarium in the Southwest, is the home of 6,000 animals from sharks and penguins to otters and seahorses. The Odysea Voyager is a rotating aquarium experience that takes guests past enormous tanks full of sea life, while the touch pools let them get up close and personal with some of the residents. Odysea is part of the sprawling Arizona Boardwalk, an entertainment complex that includes Butterfly Wonderland, Pangea: Land of the Dinosaurs, a laser and mirror maze, the new UFO Experience, and more.

click to enlarge

Old Town Scottsdale is one of the most popular areas for visitors.

Lynn Trimble

Old Town Scottsdale

Technically bounded by Chaparral Road to the north, Earll Drive to the south, 68th Street to the west, and Miller Road to the east, Old Town Scottsdale is one of the livelier parts of metro Phoenix. There’s world-class shopping at the Scottsdale Fashion Square mall, or if you’re just looking to pick up some souvenirs, streets like Fifth Avenue and Brown Avenue are lined with shops full of Arizona-themed goods. Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West has permanent and temporary exhibitions on view, as does the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. Bars, restaurants, and nightclubs are in heavy supply, and you can hear live music any night of the week at places like Kazimierz Wine & Whiskey Bar, Belle’s Nashville Kitchen, the Rusty Spur Saloon, and Old Town Tavern.

click to enlarge

Mr., Maybe I’ll Go to the Convenience Store – Summer Is Coming, 2021. Acrylic paint and silkscreen print on canvas, 92.51 x 112.2 inches (235.1 x 285.3 cm). © 2021 Mr. /Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Courtesy Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, Seoul, and London.

Phoenix Art Museum

Phoenix Art Museum

1625 North Central Avenue

Phoenix’s premier art museum has several cool exhibitions on display at the moment. “Mr.: You Can Hear the Song of This Town” features the colorful, chaotic, manga-inspired work of the Japanese artist, and the brand-new “MOVE: The Modern Cut of Geoffrey Beene” fashion exhibition shows of dozens of garments by the iconic American designer. And the museum’s permanent collection is no slouch either; highlights include You Who Are Getting Obliterated in the Dancing Swarm of Fireflies, a Yayoi Kusama infinity room, and the Thorne Rooms, a charming set of painstakingly created tiny replicas of historic rooms. Phoenix Art Museum is open Wednesday through Sunday; admission is $24 online or $26 in person, with discounts for seniors, students, and children. Children under 5 and military members with ID get in free.

Phoenix Zoo

455 North Galvin Parkway

Zoos are fun for all ages, and the Phoenix Zoo is no different. The nonprofit zoological park holds about 3,000 animals, including lions, elephants, rhinos, giraffes, and many more. The Arizona Trail is home to creatures you would find in the desert, and the Children’s Trail contains a petting zoo. On display right now is Dinosaurs in the Desert, a section of the zoo that contains a number of life-size animatronic prehistoric creatures. Oh, and if you’re wandering around the zoo and you see a strange white pyramid on the top of a hill, that’s Hunt’s Tomb, the resting place of George W. P. Hunt, the first governor of Arizona.

Roosevelt Row Arts District

Roosevelt Row in downtown Phoenix is one of the most vibrant areas of the city. The official boundaries are Seventh Avenue to 16th Street between McDowell Road and Fillmore Street, and in that area you’ll find art galleries and museums, performance spaces, bars and restaurants, local shops, colorful murals, and more. Catch a concert with local bands at The Trunk Space; have a beer and listen to a local DJ at Jobot; shop at RoRo’s newest store, sports card shop Rip Valley; see work by local creatives at galleries like Eye Lounge and Modified Arts; experience Indigenous art and goods at Cahokia PHX; bowl at Cham Pang Lanes; shop for vintage clothes at Antique Sugar; drink and play arcade games at Cobra Arcade Lounge — you’ll never get bored in Roosevelt Row.

click to enlarge

You can see the whole city from Dobbins Lookout atop South Mountain.

Jennifer Goldberg

South Mountain Park/Preserve

This is the perfect time of year to explore South Mountain Park/Preserve, which at 16,000 acres is one of the largest municipally managed parks in the nation. There are hiking trails for all ability levels, from the family-friendly Kiwanis Trail to the moderate Hidden Valley Trail to the challenging Hau’pal Trail. If hiking isn’t your thing, you can bring your bicycle; take a horseback ride with Arizona-Horses, a stable located next to the park; or drive up to Dobbins Lookout for a spectacular view of the whole city.

click to enlarge

Taliesin West in Scottsdale is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Andrew Pielage

Taliesin West

12621 North Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard, Scottsdale

Architect Frank Lloyd Wright is world-famous for his iconic designs. See where he lived, worked, and taught by visiting Taliesin West in north Scottsdale, a National Historic Landmark and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Taliesin offers two tours: a 60-minute self-guided audio highlights tour that takes guests to some of the most popular parts of the property ($39 adults, $27 students with ID, $19 youth ages 6 to 12), and a 90-minute guided tour that dives deeper into the history of Taliesin and takes visitors into some of the private living spaces ($49 adults, $35 students with ID, $24 youth ages 6 to 12). Taliesin West is open daily.